Column: Rum River Shores once part of State Asylum farm

The Rum River Shores housing development is rising along the east bank of the Rum River just north of Bunker Lake Boulevard.
Landmark Development Inc. has selected four builders who are constructing 44 custom homes.

Bob Kirchner
Bob Kirchner

This site was once part of the first State Asylum farm.

But its known history begins with the Native American tribes of Dakota and Ojibway that traversed and canoed passed this land for centuries going to and from their hunting grounds.

Under the Northwest Ordinance of 1783 this land was surveyed into townships. This development site fell into two different townships – a narrow strip along the east bank of the Rum River was in Ramsey Township and the remainder to the east in Grow Township.

The first owners of these parcels were eastern founding families who held the land a short time in the 1850s for speculation. They included Samuel Farnham (Maine), Caleb Woodbury (Massechusets), George Branch (New Brunswick), and his father-in-law John Shumway (Maine).

Then between 1860 and 1895 migrant and immigrant families settled and farmed this land.  They included William Johnson (Massechusets), James Kellogg (Illinois), Peter Wicklund (Sweden), James Hanson (Norway) and Patrick Hoolihan (Ireland).

The 1870 agricultural census showed Peter Wicklund owned two horses, three milk cows and two sheep and produced oats, hay and butter.

But in 1895, when the state of Minnesota began a search to locate an Asylum for long-term care of mentally ill citizens, the city of Anoka offered a site which included this land.

In December 1895, as agent for the city, John S. Woodbury assembled the Hanson and Hoolihan properties and adjacent lands for the State Asylum project.

In January of 1897 the Anoka Herald wrote that “the site offered by Anoka … is one of the most beautiful tracts of land within … the state … picturesque in the extreme.”

Later in 1897 the city of Anoka won the competition and the state appropriated funds for the facility.

But the city of Hastings contested this decision. A protracted battle in the state Legislature and courts unfolded. Eventually, the legislature split the project so both cities won a facility.

The Anoka Asylum opened in 1900 with a working farm of several hundred acres.

A 1915 state report claimed that “fifty different kinds of food stuffs were raised … 20,000 bushels of cabbages, 2,000 dozen of green corn, 108 bushels of watermelons, 255 bushels of tomatoes, 145 quarts of strawberries, 118 quarts of raspberries …  This is a good record.”

But the farming operation ceased in 1966 and a year later the state declared the farmland acres surplus property.

In 1968 the city of Anoka obtained a federal grant and three years later acquired the area north of Anoka High School. The use was restricted to public open space.

In 1974 this land was annexed into the city of Anoka from Ramsey and Grow Townships as Ramsey and Andover became cities and the Rum River became the municipal boundary between them.

Still under use restrictions, other land in the city was set aside in exchange when Bunker Lake Boulevard and the Rum River Bridge were constructed in 1990.

But in 1991 it was learned that the federal use restrictions had expired.

Then this site was offered and seriously considered as a location for a new SciMed corporate campus. But SciMed remained in Maple Grove in a new facility.

Finally, in 2007, 200 acres were declared public open space in the Anoka Nature Preserve and this site to the south was then made available for development.

Now a new residential neighborhood is being planted on land once farmed by residents of the Asylum.

No longer a place for growing crops, Rum River Shores is now a place for growing families.

Bob Kirchner is a local historian, seminary student and retired as the city of Anoka’s community development director.

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