Historic Street of Early AnokaEarly Settlement

The two rivers, Rum and Mississippi, played an integral part in Anoka’s settlement. Father Lewis Hennepin first visited this area in 1680 and settlers came to stay in 1844. Prior to the 1800’s, the area surrounding Anoka was claimed by the Dakota, but later the Ojibwa pushed the Dakota westward across the Mississippi. The territory of Anoka then became a neutral ground between the two tribes.

The first settler in the Anoka area was Joseph Belanger who built a log cabin on the east side of the Rum River near its mouth. Initially, the cabin was used as a trading post with the Indians, but later was used as a temporary home for a number of early settlers.

Origin of Name

The name Anoka was derived from two Indian words: the Dakota word "a-no-ka-tan-han" meaning on both sides of the river, and the Ojibwa word "on-o-kay", meaning working waters.


In the late 1840’s, the first logging operations took place in the Anoka area. The logs were floated down the Rum River to the Mississippi River to the sawmill in St. Anthony. In 1853, the first dam was constructed on the Rum River at its present location and in 1854 the first sawmill began operation. Other saw mills, wood working plants, and cooper shops-barrel makers quickly sprang up along the banks of the Rum River using water as their source of power. For the next twenty years milling was an important industry in Anoka.

Agriculture Takes Over

After the decline of the sawmills in late 1885, a Board of Trade was organized to encourage other industries to move to Anoka. In 1886, a potato starch factory was built on the west side of the Rum River north of the dam. During this time, before the Red River Valley opened, Anoka was the center of potato production. Also operating at this time was the Anoka Shoe Factory which employed 80 people and produced 800 pairs of shoes per day.


In 1898, a bill was passed by the state legislature to construct a state hospital in Anoka. The hospital is now known as the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center.


In 1856, a ferry was established across the Mississippi river, connecting Anoka with the City of Champlin. After 28 years of operation, the ferry was replaced in 1884 by a steel bridge. The bridge had a turntable in the middle, operated by a hand winch that opened up two channels to allow boats to pass up or down the river. Other transportation in that era was a horse-drawn streetcar system and rail service to St. Paul.


The City of Anoka’s development was severely damaged by fire during its early years. Five major fires between 1855 and 1884 impeded the City’s development. The worst fire in the downtown area, in 1884, destroyed 86 buildings from the Rum River to Third Avenue. Eventually this whole section was rebuilt.

Again, tragedy struck the City in 1939. A tornado swept through the east side of town. Many homes, a church, and the armory were destroyed and three lives were lost. However, Anoka again persevered and completely rebuilt the damaged area.

A Halloween Parade Float with a Lady in a White Dress Riding ItHalloween

It is believed that Anoka was the first city in the United States to put on a Halloween celebration. In early 1920, Anoka merchants and other interested citizens joined together in a move to stop Halloween pranks. The idea was to have a big Halloween party for all the children with free candy and lots of entertainment. In October of 1920, Anoka had its first Halloween celebration.

The celebration has been held every year since, with the exception of two years during World War II. Anoka considers itself to be the "Halloween Capital of the World" and now has many events during October including:

  • Block Parties
  • Costume Contests
  • Football Games
  • Grey Ghost 5K Run
  • Two Parades

Anoka County Historical Society

For more historical information about the city of Anoka, search the Anoka County Historical Society website, visit in person at 2135 Third Avenue in Anoka or call 763-421-0600.