Anoka County History: The history of naming Anoka County places

When someone asks where you live, you respond with the name of your city. However, if you were to travel back in time this simple question becomes a lot more complex.

The name Anoka comes from two Native American words meaning “on both sides,” probably in reference to the fact that early Anoka was between the Rum and the Mississippi Rivers. As it grew, it was “on both sides” of the Rum River. In the spring of 1853, Neil Shaw registered at a hotel in St. Anthony and listed his home as Anoka.  It is believed that Mr. Shaw was the very first person to use the name.

Then in 1857, on May 23, Anoka County was formally organized. The county had eight townships: Anoka, Watertown, Round Lake, Bethel, Columbus, St. Francis, Oak Grove, and Centreville (spelled this way).

Anoka Township included the city of Anoka and all of Coon Rapids, which didn’t separate until 1878. The construction of the dam on the Mississippi River brought a need for worker housing so a construction village grew up along what is now Coon Rapids Boulevard. It became a village and took its name in 1952, and became a city in 1959.

Watertown became Dover, and then Ramsey. It included the old Itasca Village located just inside the county line on Highway 10, where the weigh station is today.

Round Lake became Grow and then Andover.

Bethel was located in two places, one along the railroad depot, and the other farther east, near what is now Highway 65. In 1899, the group by the depot broke away from the township to form the village of Bethel. East Bethel was the name given to the rest of the township, minus the village of Bethel. East Bethel grew faster and bigger than the village, and became a village of its own in 1959. Linwood Township had been formed earlier by taking a chunk of Bethel and Columbus in 1871. It remains the only township in Anoka County today. Columbus has remained unchanged geographically since 1871, and became a city in 2006.

St. Francis still exists, but huge tracts of land were removed from it to form the township of Burns (1869) which incorporated as the city of Nowthen (2008). St. Francis became a village in 1962.

Oak Grove is probably the least changed of the original townships and became a city in 1993.

Centreville, first platted in 1854, took in the entire southeastern corner of the county. Centreville was different from its neighbors in that the people were largely French speaking Canadian settlers. The “downtown” area became a village in 1910. The cities of Circle Pines, Lexington, and Lino Lakes were carved from the old Centreville Township. The spelling morphed into the more English Centerville, despite a few stubborn old timers, who saw the change as a betrayal of their French heritage.

In 1870 the county changed with the addition of Manomen County. We’ll look at that next week.

Maria King is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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