Whatever happened to Cedar? And Johnsville? And Glen Cary? You can’t find them on a map or a road sign.
They were, and still are, neighborhoods rather than towns, yet very important to Anoka County’s history.
Anoka County was first settled primarily by people from Europe, who met the challenges of pioneer life by forming tight communities with their neighbors. Obviously, that was easier if the neighbors spoke the same language, practiced the same religion, celebrated the same holidays, and had similar expectations about community life. Ethnic neighborhoods were formed as clusters of immigrant pioneers built farms and homes in proximity to others of similar background.
Burns (Nowthen) was home to several Swiss families and a large number of Swedes. The French- speaking Canadians tended to settle in Centerville, while Columbia Heights was home to the Polish. The Irish settled in Cedar (Oak Grove) only a few miles from the Swedes and Norwegians of Glencarie (Ham Lake). Germans were scattered throughout the county with a concentration in Lino Lakes. As more people moved into an area, it began to diversify, rapidly becoming a town. However, the initial settlers tended to identify more with their neighborhood than with the town that had grown up around them.
Johnsville began in 1893, when the local farmers built a school to service grades one through five. The site selected was an attempt to be equidistant from the homes of the children scattered throughout the area. During the 1920’s, when automobiles were already using Central Avenue as a major corridor, John Augustson and Henry Trost built a garage and a grocery store along the west side of the road. Both businesses, along with the school and several homes, were destroyed in a storm in 1925. John Augustson was convinced that his location was a good one for his business, ideally convenient for traffic, and likely to become even more significant in the future. So he rebuilt and convinced several other small businesses to join him. His neighbors referred to the area as Johnsville to honor the man whose foresight and enthusiasm kept the area vibrant after the storm had destroyed it.
Johnsville is the area of Blaine, near the intersection of Central Avenue (Highway 65) and County Road 14 (known to old-timers as 242 or Main Street if you’re from Anoka).
Glencarie, or Glen Cary as it later came to be spelled, was a similar community, built much earlier, around the church instead of the school. Seven or eight Scandinavian famers settled together and immediately built a Lutheran church. Glencarie was located in Grow Township in 1856 when it was first platted, and advertised as a future city. Those dreams were squashed the next year, 1857, when a prairie fire burned everything, forcing the settlers to start over. Their faith proved strong enough to tolerate rebuilding but not strong enough to tolerate each other. An argument developed over which language — Swedish or Norwegian — should be used when giving the sermon, resulting in the division of the church into the Swedish Evangelical Church and Glen Cary Lutheran. On Feb. 21, 1871, the Anoka County Commissioners separated the little community from Grow Township, (which later became Andover), and named it Ham Lake. Both churches survive today and both claim to be the original and therefore the oldest church in the area.
A bit to the west of Glencarie, at about the same time, the Irish were building Cedar. Although only a few miles of terrain separated them, differences in language and religion caused the Glencarie Lutherans and Cedar Catholics to have little to do with each other. The 22 Irish families arrived in 1857 just after the prairie fire, and formed St. Patrick’s Church in 1863, although for a very long while, it was only a mission stop on the circuit of a traveling priest. Cedar seems to refer to the southern half of Oak Grove, east of the Rum River, and part of northern Andover. Cedar grew first along Cedar Creek, and later along the railroad tracks, and became a shipping point for the potatoes and dairy grown by farmers of both communities. Much of the neighborhood was destroyed in the same tornado that ravaged the city of Anoka in 1939.
Next time you pass Johnsville School, Glen Cary Church or Cedar Creek you’ll know how those names came to be.
Maria King is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society