Anoka County, organized on May 23, 1857, almost a year before Minnesota became a state, is located in the eastern part of the state, about midway between the northern and southern boundary limits. It is bounded on the north by Isanti County, east of Chisago and Washington Counties, south by Ramsey and Hennepin Counties and west by Hennepin and Sherburne Counties, and southwest by the Mississippi River.
The first white men known to have trod the ground that became the County of Anoka were (about 1680) Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan monk, and two companions. According to the record kept by Father Hennepin and still preserved, a band of over 100 Indians captured them near Lake Pepin and planned to kill them, but finally decided to keep them for slaves. A few miles below St. Anthony Falls the canoe of the white men was destroyed and they were compelled to walk the long weary miles to Mille Lacs Lake where the villages of the Sioux were located. They remained with their captors. Father Hennepin gave the river, along whose full length they traveled, a more beautiful name than it now bears. He called it the St. Francis (from which St. Francis Twp. took its name), but it later became known as the Rum.
Anoka County lies on both sides of the Rum River which enters the county about 20 miles north of where it enters the Mississippi. The first house in Anoka County was built in 1844 on the east bank near the mouth of the Rum River by Joseph Belanger, a fur trader in the employ of William American Fur Company on the upper Mississippi. This building was abandoned as a fur post after a couple of years but it was used many times, temporarily, by new settlers as one after another came, established his own home and left the old building for someone else’s use.
Other traders came to the post in 1846 and 1847 and a community started to grow as early as 1850 in the neighborhood of Anoka in what is now Ramsey Township. A wooden bridge, the first over the Rum, was built in 1853 and this activity brought people to Anoka. That same year construction of a dam was begun, with logs for the piling being cut near Round Lake and floated down the river. As more settlers came into the area, the community was given the name Anoka from the Indian tongue, meaning “on both sides”, or “from both sides”, as houses and buildings started rising on both sides of the Rum River.
One of the first acts of the Minnesota Territorial Legislature, which convened in 1849, was the organization of the counties of Washington, Ramsey and Benton. The Rum River was the dividing line between the two latter counties, and so the territory now embraced in Anoka County formed a part of both. In 1856, Sherburne County was detached from Benton and that portion of territory lying east of Sherburne County and west of Rum River was also detached and became a part of Ramsey Co.
By an act of the Legislative Assembly, passed on the 23, May 1857, Anoka Co. was organized with the same boundaries as today with the exception of the southeastern tip of the County. The organization at that time did not include the Twp. of Fridley which was organized the same day as Manomin (or Mahnomen as it was also spelled) County. Manomin county contained the exact lines of the former Twp. of Fridley including Columbia Heights and was organized through an error, intentional or otherwise. On the 12, April 1870, a petition, signed by a majority of voters of Manomin Co., for admission as a township, was presented to the County Commissioners of Anoka County, was granted.
The Governor, Samuel Medary, appointed as the first board of commissioners for Anoka County E.H. Davis, J.P. Austin and Silas O. Lum, with George W. Putnam as clerk. These commissioners met at Anoka and appointed the following county officers: Sheriff, James C. Frost; Treasurer, James M. McGlauflin; Coroner, Jos. C. Varney. Eight townships were created: Anoka, Watertown, Round Lake, Bethel, Columbus, St. Francis, Oak Grove and Centerville. The name Watertown was soon changed to Dover and a little later to Ramsey. There were only three voting precincts, Anoka, St. Francis and Columbus. Round Lake Township was later changed to the Town of Grow.