Anoka County History: Mary Woodbury’s memories preserve critical information

By Rebecca Ebnet-Mavencamp
Contributing Writer

Mary Woodbury. Photo courtesy of ACHS
Mary Woodbury. Photo courtesy of ACHS

In the late 1920s, Mary Woodbury set pen to paper for a presentation about her experiences in early Anoka to a group of descendants from the colonial era. Nearing the age of 70 when she wrote her reminiscences, Mary preserved a critical view of the county back in its infancy of lumber mills and flour mills, railroads and relations with several native cultures. Below is an excerpt from this original presentation. Her full manuscript is available in a new booklet printed by the Anoka County Historical Society. For a more interactive event, purchase tickets to the “Mischievous Memories” tea featuring a special appearance by Mary at the Mad Hatter Tea House from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28.

“The subject on which I have been asked to talk is a wide one if we are to consider it as reminiscences and recollections. So I shall begin with my early impressions, which are naturally rather chaotic, and save more important incidents, of which I know only through others, and which may be described as really historical, to finish with. …

“… We undoubtedly led the simple life when Anoka was young, wearing calico dresses to school, and wore them until they were worn out. In winter there were serviceable woolen gowns, and for Sunday sometimes we had silk dresses made from the remnants of worn out raiment of our mothers, but the one that was my greatest joy was a five cent calico that Mrs. Gow and I first saw at Mr. Teller’s store. It was, as I remember it, yellow with an all-over pattern of brown and brown polka dots, and we felt that life would be empty if we could not have dresses of it. So we rushed home, and importuned our mothers for that elegance and luxury, and they generously consented. We felt that we were the most fortunate children in town, and proudly wore our five cent finery till it almost dropped from our persons, and when past all mending, I begged my mother to make an apron of the remains, so that I could always keep it. Indeed, I think it is somewhere in the house still.

“Our shoes were good stout calfskin, and stout ones were needed for our strenuous life. I think I have already told you how Mrs. Gow (Maria) and my brother and I navigated the low grounds back of Dr. Kline’s sanitarium and residence. (The point formed by the Rum and the Miss[issippi] to the west of the first river.) That land, during a spring flood, was once covered with water from one to five feet deep, and we, having a barn or cellar door that we salvaged from the flood wreckage, joyfully poled it around in the shallow inland sea between the Rum and the Miss[issippi]. Why we were not swept in[to] the boiling Mississippi Flood, is one of the eternal mysteries necessary to permit healthy and adventurous children to grow to maturity, ‘Those born to be hanged cannot drown or suffer from firing squads.’”