St. Francis is located in the north west section of the county with the Rum River flowing through the eastern part. It is 12 miles long and 2 miles wide and has 15,560 acres. Population in 1860 was 153, and in 1900 was 483.
Dwight Woodbury came to St. Francis in 1855 and bought large tracts of land and built a dam and grist and saw mill. The first house was built in the same year by Woodbury and later it was used as a hotel. George Armsby and E. Fowler took claims and may be regarded as the first settlers. In 1856, J.P. Austin and W.P, Clark arrived with their families. St. Francis was organized in 1857.
In 1880’s things began booming around St. Francis when a large mill was erected in 1888 and owned by Woodbury. It was called the St. Francis Flour Milling Co. On July 3, 1901 the St. Francis Mill with its 150 barrel roller mill turned out “Best Patent”, “Snow Drift” and “Favorite” Flour. John Quist came in 1874 and was the miller. The saw mill had a daily capacity of 3,000 feet.
On July 18, 1933 the mill burnt down and the dam was also destroyed. Other businesses included: a blacksmith shop owned by Silas W. Celments and Bud Sawyer, a drug store owned by Goodridge and Jennings, a meat market owned by Martin and Andrew Mitchell. This was later turned into a livery stable. H.T. Miller, in 1875 manufactured wagons and sleighs. Pelutiar McClure started a general store in 1879. Blanchette’s Sample Room Beer Parlour opened in the early 1890’s. When the school was consolidated no liquor was allowed near the area so the building became an Ice Cream Parlour. He ran this business until his death in 1933.
Dr. Marshall was the first doctor to practice in St. Francis, arriving in 1857. Four other doctors also practiced in this area: Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Hovland, Dr. Devendahl, and Dr. Vrooman. Dr. Vrooman practiced for 30 years in this town.
The St. Francis Ferry was run on a cable to keep the boat from going down the river. In 1864, the first bridge was built over the dam. However, the bridge was washed away by high waters. A new dam was built in 1880. The bridge was moved 100 feet north and made of two 230-foot spans for $7,000. In 1964 a new bridge was built and the old one torn down.
In 1893 a starch and canning factory was built. The first year, the factory made 600 tons of starch. The average since has been 300 tons a year depending on the season and the price of potatoes. There were about 140 stockholders, nearly all farmers.
The canning factory ran for four seasons, turning out 2,500 cans of corn in a season.
Fourth of July celebrations drew crowds from throughout the county. In 1896 at 4 a.m. a 120 gun salute began the celebration. They had a parade, log rolling contests, tub races, ball games and fireworks. Pioneer Days celebration started in 1964 when the new bridge was dedicated.
Like the horse and buggy, the rural school is slowly becoming a memory. In 1857, school was started at the home of M. Fowler, and Hattie Waterhouse was the first teacher. By 1880 there were two organized districts besides the one in the village. Until the high school was built, those wanting further education commuted to Anoka and the cities. Annie Kelby of Burns was the first teacher in the first school house.
In 1911, a bill was passed by the Minnesota Legislature allowing school districts to vote on consolidation if a petition was signed by 25% of the people. Through the efforts of Dr. Vrooman and Rev. N.J. Rice of the Methodist Church, this petition was taken through seven districts. Finally the bill passed by a vote of 143 to 116, marking the first consolidation in the state of Minnesota. The school was built in 1914 and finished in 1915.
The women’s club was organized in October 1919 with Mrs. Vrooman the first president. Other charter members were: Mrs. S.A. Blanchette, J. Gillespie, Pearl Hunter, Bertha Shaddick and Mrs. J.C. Stewart. They worked on beautifying Woodbury Park, an annual seed exchange, entertaining the faculty of the school, and other social affairs.
St. Francis is a lovely, scenic area which can boast of the Rum River winding its way through the center of the City – and walks along the Rum’s banks have brought many different artifacts: stone axe heads, arrowheads, tools from early settlers, and the like. St. Francis is a most interesting meld of the past in a City with its eyes toward the future.