Ham Lake City is situated near the center of Anoka County and consists of mostly level land with soil that is light and sandy with some heavy, dark soil in the southeastern part of the city. Lying partly in the city and near the northeast corner is Coon Lake. Two other lakes, Ham Lake and Lake Netta lie near the center of the city and have sandy beaches surrounded by timber.
The earliest record of settlers in this area goes back to 1855 when a number of men were living in the southern portion. They occupied themselves mainly with hunting. In 1856 a group started a town on what was to later become Berger Titterud’s farm. This was just south and west of the lake shaped like a ham. They platted and sold lots for a town they named, “Glen Carey,” a Scottish name meaning “Beautiful Valley.” Seven or eight houses were built. The place was widely advertised as a future city. Elegantly engraved lithographs proclaiming the names of streets and numbers of blocks were circulated in the cities while titles to lots were offered for sale and found some purchasers. A bill to move the county seat to Glen Carey was placed in the legislative hopper but was killed by timely opposition of a delegation of citizens from Anoka. However, in 1857 the houses were destroyed by a prairie fire. Some of the inhabitants barely escaped with their lives saving only a very few household goods. They soon left the area as they had nowhere to live.
Another attempted settlement was made in 1856 when a Mr. Spence made a claim in the southern portion. During his temporary absence it was “jumped” by two brothers named Lambert who fenced 160 acres but moved away shortly after.
Josiah Hart, a native of Vermont, settled on Sec. 6 in 1857. He was the first settler who remained any length of time as he lived on his homestead until his death in 1876.
John Scully, a native of Ireland, settled on Sec. 31 in 1858. Also about that time a Mr. Conley settled nearby.
There was no more settlement until 1866 when Mads (Mats) Gilbertson, a native of Norway, settled on Sec. 20 being the first of his nationality in this area. He was soon followed by other Scandinavians.
Ham Lake was a part of Grow Twp. but it was detached and separately organized by the Anoka County Commissioners on Feb.. 21, 1871. The Scandinavian settlers found it difficult to pronounce the Scottish name of Glen Carey. since no name had been chosen by the people the commissioners named it “Ham Lake,” after the lake which had acquired that name on account of its shape.
The first election was held on March 11, 1871. The following officers were elected: Supervisors, John Rowe; Chairman, Arne B. Livgard and Christopher Olson; Clerk, Charles Rowe; Treasurer, D.C. Money; and Justice of the Peace, Josiah Hart.
The first recorded birth of a white child in this area was that of Maxel Titterud, in 1869.
Religious meetings were held for several years by the Norwegian and Swedish pioneer families, in private dwellings. Due to language differences each group decided to build their own church in the mid-1870’s. Out of the original five pioneer congregation int he township only one, Glen Cary, remains today. Recently three new churches have been built; Ham Lake Baptist, Fair Oaks Baptist and Kingdom Hall of Jehovah Witnesses.
Four school districts served this area, District #24 (Lake Netta), Dist. #42 (Soderville), dist. #54 (Red Brick), Dist. #57 (Glen Cary) The consolidation of the one room schools took place in the early 1960’s and they all became part of the Anoka Hennepin Ind. School Dist. 311. The schools were closed and sold to local citizens. One large, modern elementary school was built along Constance Blvd., just east of Highway #65 on 14 acres of property donated by the Burton and Chester Livgard families. Dedication was held March 30, 1965 for the new school named McKinley Elementary.
The early settlers found the soil well suited to farming as it wasn’t as rocky as they had been accustomed to in Norway. The agricultural statistics of 1880 show that 677 acres were under cultivation with the products of this township to be: wheat, 4639 bushels; oats, 2103 bushels; corn, 2990; beans, 64 bushels; sugar cane, 105 gallons; cultivated hay, 2 tons; wild hay, 122 tons; apples, 24 bushels; tobacco, 30 pounds; wool, 250 pounds; and butter 12600 pounds. Through the years dairying became an important industry. the pioneer farmers soon found the soil well suited to growing potatoes and this became an important commodity for both cash sales and trading. From the early 1900’s through the 1930’s potato raising was at its peak in Ham lake Township. The only farms remaining are the sod farms in the southeastern part where the ground is low and the soil black and heavy making it well suited to this crop.
There were great weather extremes in the early days. Fierce blizzards and severe drought and dust storms occurred in the summers. There was a bad grasshopper plague from 1873 to 1877.
Early in our city’s history sickness took a heavy toll of life. Whopping cough and diphtheria took the lives of many young children, the year 1884 was especially bad. Tuberculosis and pneumonia took the lives of many adults.
In 1894 when the population was over 400 people a group of farmers joined together to forma cooperative and built a creamery on the east side of Lake Netta. Several general stores were built there shortly afterwards. In 1922 a garage was opened in the northern part of the town. It was followed by a general store.
In the late 1930’s the Rural Electrification Association (REA) came through providing power to those farm families that desired it.
Telephone service was available in 1903 at $6.00 a year. Service was improved when the direct dial system came through in the early 1960’s.
In the early years town meetings were held in the warehouse at Lake Netta and then at Fair Oaks Community Hall. Later they were held for years at Glen Cary School. It became Ham lake Town Hall and later Ham Lake City hall. it has undergone extensive remodeling with a two story addition in 1976 when it was dedicated during the City’s Bicentennial Celebration.
A Fire Department was established 1969 with Eldon Hentges as the first Fire Chief.
Ham lake became a city on Jan. 8, 1974. The first City Council consisted of Eldon Hentges, Mayor; and Cordell Wellman, William Nelson, David Sandstrom and Kenneth Braastad, Councilmen. Anne Roseland was appointed City Clerk, Jan. 17, 1974 and Charlotte Soderquist became Deputy celrk in 1974. Bud Matheson became the first full time building inspector in 1974. Building Permits have been required since 1951.
A Planning and Zoning Commission was established in 1951 to assure orderly growth and development within the city. A street and house numbering system was set up in the early 1960’s to make locating homes easier due to the rapidly increasing population.
The township hired an Engineer, Midland Consultants, in the late 1960’s to help plan road construction and subdivision development. The present Engineer is E.V. Constock. The township hired an Attorney, Landol Locher, in the 1960’s to advise on legal matters.
Gust Johnson said they were crazy! That is what William (Bill) Soderquist, first resident of Soderville remembers Mr. Johnson as saying when he found out that Bill and Gunnard Soderquist were starting a garage on a two-acre tract of land practically in the middle of nowhere. That was from a business point of view as Mr. Johnson ran a store at Cedar where the Great Northern Railroad ran. He couldn’t see putting up a garage in a spot where two dusty country roads crossed each other. There was no bus service, no railroad and Central Avenue (Hwy #65) was only a wagon trail through a lot of swamp land. Yet, the result was the community of Soderville, named for the four Soderquist brothers which developed into the leading business center of the Township of Ham Lake.
It was in 1922 that Bill decided to leave the rented farm of August Gustafson he had been working in Bethel Township and venture into a new business. He bought two acres of land from his brother in law, Freedolph Vanstrom. Next he bought a small four room house from Don Taylor for $125. It had been built by Per August Gustafson and they moved it from Coon Lake during the winter using skids pulled by teams of horses. This was the very first building.
Bill, who had come with his parents and brothers from Vamland, Sweden, was adept at welding and repairing farm equipment. He acquired a small tool shed and set about making necessary machinery repairs for farmers of the area. He also began to sharpen mower blades, saw wood and grind feed for them. He and his brother Gunnard built “Central Garage” in 1922. Gunnard took a course at Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis studying Practical Repair Work and specializing in Automotive and Gas Tractor work.
In 1932 a new garage twice the size of the first was built directly behind the old one. They trucked in all the material for the garage themselves from Anoka. They installed a set of gas pumps and were a dealer for Pure Oil and Gasoline. Their business was growing and expanding, selling motor vehicle licenses and Chevrolet cars and trucks for which they had a franchise.
The garage also became a First Aid Station and a Depot for the Greyhound Bus Company when it began running through in 1929.
The second home in Soderville was a small tile house to which the Soderquist brothers moved their aging parents, Johannes and Anna Soderquist in 1925. Three businesses came in the 1920’s. A cafe and confectionery was built north of the general Store by Julius Jacobson and a hamburger and root beer stand was built south of the store by Mr. Matthews from Anoka. A tavern was built on the Adolph Olson property.
Dwellings were built by Gunnard Soderquist, Albert Soderquist, Ray Dahlman and Donald Steinke. Iver Soderquist built a home on the north edge of town and the apartment above the store which he and his wife Marie occupied was rented to various and also used as a barber shop. The Charles Livgard family moved to the Johannes (John) Soderquist home.
A new school for District #42 was built on County Road #18 east of Soderville in 1941 as a WPA Project. It replaced the out dated school which had been built in the early 1900’s. The new school was a one room structure with a full basement and bell tower.