Column: Riverfront Park revives historic Anoka Dock

The city of Anoka is finishing the first phase of improvements to Riverfront Park just north of city hall.

Bob Kirchner
Bob Kirchner

River overlooks will be linked by a paved trail. The very spot once known as the Anoka Dock will again offer boaters dockage on the river.

History is repeating itself.

From the earliest days of Anoka’s settlement, the banks of the Rum River just north of Main Street served as the industrial and commercial heart of Anoka. This land was used for milling of lumber and flour, marketing of agricultural products and warehousing of farm and home supplies.

But in the 1990’s the City began acquiring this area for redevelopment with the intent, now being realized, to turn the riverfront into a public recreation area.

This land on the east bank of the Rum River from Main Street to Harrison Street was first owned, briefly in turn, by land speculators John Rollins, Orrin Rice, Sumner Farnham and Neal D. Shaw.

In November of 1852 Caleb and William H. Woodbury acquired it and the milling industry began. In March of 1871 Caleb and William sold it to their nephew and real estate dealer Charles T. Woodbury. Within a few months he sold it to William D. Washburn.

The following year Washburn built one of the largest sawmills in the United States on this site. Operations continued until timber resources on the upper Rum River were exhausted. It closed in 1889.

Washburn continued to own the land but leased it out for potato warehouses along Second Avenue.

In 1907 the last of the mill structure, including the smokestack, was removed. This opened up access to the river.

From 1907 until the early 1930’s this location was the unofficial Anoka Dock – a great place above the dam from which to commence a Rum River exploration by canoe, fishing boat or launch-towed houseboat.

Then, in August of 1934, the Anoka County Union reported that “Will and Archie Freeburg have purchased from the Pillsbury Mill Company all that part of land lying between Second Avenue and the river from Harrison Street to Van Buren Street, and have begun construction of a group of coal sheds or bins.”

They expanded their business from its original location on Jackson Street. Railroad tracks through this property could hold 20 coal cars.

Bill bought out Archie’s interest and then sold the property to his son, John W. Freeburg, in 1943. Thirty-two years later, in 1975, John sold to his son, Donald W. Freeburg.

For 48 years this business known as Freeburg Fuel Company, and later as Freeburg Lawn and Garden Center, was operated by three generations of the Freeburg family. It was the regional destination for coal, cement, fuel oil, feeds, seeds, fertilizers, pet foods, plants and lawn and garden supplies.

In 1981 Donald retired and closed the business.

In 1985 Philip Pinewski and Peter Wojciechowski purchased the property and used the main building as a warehouse for their Thurston Furniture business located on Jackson Street at Second Avenue.

Then, in 1997, The city of Anoka purchased this property.

After 145 years of private ownership, this land will now be part of Anoka’s Riverfront Park, a community gathering place and dockage for users of the Rum River.

The Anoka Dock will again provide a unique access to the Rum River above the dam in downtown Anoka.

Boat slips are available for lease at

So when you tie up at the Anoka Dock you are doing what Anokans did 100 years ago at this very spot. It will be a great place from which to embark upon your own Rum River adventure.

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

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