By Holly Broden
Sometimes it takes a while for a city to find its identity and that is true of many of the first settlements in Anoka County. The city of Andover was first named Round Lake Township in 1857, and three years later that name was changed to Grow Township and then later to Andover. Ham Lake, first settled in 1855, was originally named Glen Cary. Finding a name that sticks and lasts is one of the interesting aspects of each city’s history and it is true of the first colony in Anoka County.
Itaska (or Itasca) was the first colony in Anoka County having been settled the spring of 1850. Later it was renamed to Watertown in 1857 and then changed to Dover, on Nov. 15, 1858. Again in the year of 1858 the name was changed and this time it stuck. Any guesses on the name of the city? Here are a few more clues.
The first government wagon road, established in 1852, passed through Itaska coming from Point Douglas, St. Paul, St. Anthony, and Anoka before proceeding north to Fort Ripley. According to historical records from the Anoka County Historical Society, 300 Red River Ox Carts used this road to pass through this city on the way to St. Paul to deliver their cargo of furs and pemmican. In addition to the first government road, rivers were also available for travelling to this settlement.
“At this time there was no ferry across the Rum River everybody had to ford the river, those on foot has to wait for covered wagon if the log raft happened to be on the opposite shore. Sometimes the wagon would be too heavily loaded then the man who was carrying his family provisions, loaded them in or on top of the wagon and swam and waded across,” wrote Daisy Porter Bradley in a 1935 article* on this city.
However, it wasn’t the name of the river that gave this settlement its identity, but rather the appointment of a new territorial governor that began to shape this city’s future in the county. The name that stuck was that of Ramsey cementing the connection between the first Territorial Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey, and the first colony in Anoka County.
Prior to his appointment Ramsey has been involved in the nation’s capitol. “His experience in the nation’s capitol was especially helpful for a territorial executive required to consult Washington on all the major decisions of administration,” according to Minnesota Historical Society records. Additionally, his appointment to Minnesota brought with it substantial migration of Pennsylvanians to the Minnesota Territory.
Family members from the original colonist began arriving in June travelling on the steamboat Governor Ramsey on the Mississippi River. They arrived in a vastly unsettled territory and in colony unprepared for their migration. According to the book History of Anoka County, “One small log house proving rather inadequate for the shelter of eight men and six women to say nothing of the children, some of the colonists were obliged to sleep out of doors the first few nights.” Those few hardy folk endured the hardships of those first nights with many staying to ensure the success of the first settlement in Anoka County, and by doing so, contributed to the history of the city that is named Ramsey.
* The 1935 article written by Daisy Porter Bradley is called, “Ramsey, the Early Years.”