Anoka County History: From starch factory to roller rink in St. Francis

Probably the last remaining testament to St. Francis’s importance as a milling town was the starch factory located on the east bank of the Rum River and the south side of Bridge Street, where the Anoka County Highway Maintenance Building now stands. By the late thirties and early forties it was no longer in the business of converting potatoes into starch. Owner Al Lindstrom, who lived across the street from the abandoned factory, tried to make the building commercially viable by holding dances on the spacious second floor of the structure. Unfortunately, the dances attracted rough crowds and that venture was abandoned.

Enter the Olson brothers, Millard and Walter. Although they farmed during the day, the brothers decide to “moonlight” from 7-11 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays by converting the second floor of the old starch factory into a roller rink. The 36-foot by 100-foot maple floor was ideal for roller skating. The closest rink was 12 miles away and the local people were in need of some recreation during those early years of World War II.

The Olson brothers invested in 75 pairs of clamp-on roller skates, an amplifier for the phonograph and rented the space for $5 an evening from Mr. Lindstrom. For 20 cents admission people could skate all evening, stopping now and then to refresh themselves with a nickel bottle of pop.

Only problem was, the locals didn’t know how to skate.

The enterprising brothers solved this problem by holding “learn-how-to-skate” classes for the high school kids after school. “It will keep them off the streets,” they told the school officials, thus gaining their full approval and cooperation.

Their strategy worked and the sport caught on, attracting a nicer group of enthusiasts than the dances ever did. Even though other roller rinks were closer one pair of young swains from Anoka would drive the distance to Elk River to pick up their dates for a night of skating at St. Francis. Soon the Olson brothers had to buy 50 more pairs of skates to accommodate the crowds.

Roller skating thrived on the second floor of the old starch factory until December of the third year when the boiler was condemned. Faced with a winter of cold skating or no skating, the brothers opted for the later. They removed the amplifier and sold the skates to a skating rink in Northeast Minneapolis (probably Ordemans.) Good thing they did, too, for shortly after, the old starch-factory-turned-roller-rink caught fire and burned to the ground.

June Anderson is a member of and volunteer for the Anoka County Historical Society. She is also a member of the Coon Rapids Writers Group.

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