Who's Who in Minnesota

Transcribed by Jodi Magnuson, from "Who's Who in Minnesota", published by Minnesota Editorial Association, 433 Palace Building, Minneapolis; 1941; compiled by C.N. Cornwall, Edited by Esther Stutheit, copyright 1942

ISANTI COUNTY
By MINERVA BARKER HIXSON
First white comers to this region were probably Radisson and Grosseliers, French explorers, who recorded voyages in 1655 and 1659 on a river which seems to have been the Rum, and Father Hennepin who descended the river in 1680, calling it the St. Francis.

This area was then the home four tribes of Sioux Indians, known as the Isanyati or Isantees. As isan in Sioux means 'knife' and ati 'on' or 'at', two theories have been advanced as to the origin of their name, one that it came from the fact of their headquarters on Knife Lake, thus named because of the stones on its banks useful in making knives, and the other that they were the first tribes to receive knives from the Radisson party. Whatever the origin, when Isanti County was set off from Ramsey County in 1857, it received the Indian name.

It was Daniel Stanchfield, a lumber cruiser, who gave the first impetus to the settlement of this section. He ascended the Rum in 1847, climbing a tall tree every six miles to search for pine. He found the country heavily forested but reported only deciduous tress along the banks. The next year he discovered a good stand of pine four miles northeast of Cambridge and logged there two years, claiming that this was the first logging on a large scale along the Rum. However, he found traces of an earlier camp on the lake where he located. A claim mark made on a oak tree in that vicinity bore the name Holden and the date, 1840, and may have been connected with the earlier camp.

Mr. Stanchfield records that timber cut in this camp was used in building Fort Snelling, and that lumber used in the St. Anthony dam came from Dutchman's Grove, Northwest of Cambridge, between Upper and Lower Stanchfield Lakes. These lakes, a town and a township bear the cruiser's name.

Mr. Stanchfield's report of unlimited amounts of timber in this section was wide spread and brought lumbermen from his native state of Maine and other Eastern states, many of them remaining to make their homes here. It was these New Englanders who named most of our towns and townships after places they had left behind. Cambridge, Athens, Oxford, Stanford and Spring Vale are examples.

One of the earliest arrivals was Judge Spencer who located a hunter's camp at the outlet of Blue Lake in about 1854. The later settlement at the outlet of the brook, became known as Spencer Brook. Elbridge G. Clough and Ben McKenzie settled here in 1857, the Donnellys and Scanlans soon following. The first school in the county was organized here in the early sixties and for years the sessions were held in a room in the Clough home, which was a stopping place for lumbermen. Spencer Brook became a thriving community, long retaining the New England atmosphere. Mr. Clough acquired 500 acres of land and was active in County affairs. His son David, who later engaged in the lumber trade in Minneapolis, became President of the State Agricultural Society, State Senator and the thirteenth Governor of Minnesota,

North Branch township, so named because it is crossed by the north branch of the Sunrise River, received settlers in 1855 and built the second school house somewhat later. The first crop was raised by John Shinler in 1857. Other pioneers were the Owens, Hobbs and Huntleys. Although many Indians still lived in the country, there is only one record of any trouble with them. The incident was the Corn Stalk War which resulted in the death of one Indian and one member of the St. Paul light cavalry. There seemed to have been little reason for the episode and some of the settlers, fearing the Indians might seek revenge, left their homes for the city.

Stephen Hewson, Sol Shorrocks, M. Hurley and Rensselaer Grant came to Oxford in 1855. Mr. Hewson's daughters were among the first school teachers and he himself a member of an early legislature.

The first permanent settlers in Athens built along the East bank of the Rum River, just North of St. Francis. John Irwin came from New York state in 1855 and his wife and son the following year. Other early comers were Bennett Bros., Chas Chandler and John Strong, later a member of the House of Representatives.

On October 22, 1856, the first plat of Cambridge Village was recorded, covering a territory of twelve blocks over a mile south of the present location, and in. Isanti Township. Its promoters. Slaughter and Owens, sold these blocks for as high as a thousand dollars to Eastern investors who never saw them. Land speculation of this nature was not rare. The plat of a forgotten town, Ramsey, which is on record, seems never to have materialized. It was located on both sides of the river in Athens and Stanford with an island designated as a public park.

On February 13, 1857 the County was organized. First officers were Wm. Tubbs, Auditor; F. H. Moon, Treasurer; G. G. Griswold, Register of Deeds; Stephen Hewson, Judge of Probate; H. M. Davis, Clerk of Court; George L. Henderson, Sheriff, and Oscar Smith, Hugh Wylie and E. G. Clough forming the Board of County Commissioners. Cambridge was designated as the County Seat and the U. S. Land Office was moved here from Stillwater in 1858. A small settlement sprang up and school was held in the land office building.

But about this time, Alva Conger erected a sawmill a mile north on the river, later adding equipment for grinding flour. A. B. Odell built a stopping place near, Ira Conger established a store and this point attracted more trade than the other.

In 1863 G. W. Nesbitt built a hotel with store and barns south of the original Cambridge at what is now called Old Isanti. As this was on the road from Anoka to the pineries, he carried on a thriving business with loggers. A group of homesteaders backed Mr. Nesbitt, in his attempts in 1869 to move the County Seat to Isanti, while Ira Conger led forces as anxious to secure the honor for his locality, the removing of the land office to Taylors Falls having proved the last straw for the first county seat. It is told that Ira's activity in procuring Indian votes for his side won the battle. Mr. Nesbitt then built the first store block in Cambridge and moved to the County Seat when the building of the St. Paul and Duluth Railway on the east in 1872 interfered with his logging trade.

In 1864 Joseph P. Woodman and his squaw wife acquired the farm where later the depot was located. His house, now the oldest building in the village limits, was used for the first school with Miss Leora Bunker as teacher. The Bunker place marks the location of one of the first farms and Kendall Bunker is said to have harvested the first grain.

The first Courthouse was built in 1871 and Judge C. E. Vanderburgh held court there that October. The building held four offices with a large hall above reached by an outside stairway. The jail was surrounded by a stockade.

During the late fifties and the years following, as the result of crop failures in Sweden, a desire for religious freedom on the part of the non-Lutherans, and active immigration agents, large companies of Swedes sought homes in the county, easily adapting themselves to a climate and scene resembling the one they had known. Friends and relatives kept coming and the county today is occupied very largely by people with Swedish names representing every province in Sweden, although the majority are from the province of Dalarne or Dalecarlia. These pioneers are largely responsible for the religious, law-abiding atmosphere which has prevailed. The Swedes have always made valuable contributions to the musical life of the County.

First to arrive, in 1857, were Daniel Lundquist, Jonas Norell and Olaf Eastlund from Chisago Lake. Mr. Lundquist built the first home on Lake Fanny in Isanti Township. The group which settled here organized the first church in the County, the North Isanti Swedish Baptist in 1860.

Isaac Edblad came from Wisconsin in 1859, building his cabin just north of the present Cambridge. Many of the fellow Lutherans who followed shared his cabin while building their own and came back to it for church services. The first church was organized in 1864. Churches of these two faiths are now found in most of the county and the American language is gradually superseding the Swedish.

Swedes in the early sixties also took homesteads in Stanchfield township farther north. A few years later the land office sent others to the adjacent Maple Ridge, aptly named from the trees and land formation. Here they neighbored with a few scattered families of Easterners, found cranberries in profusion which brought $2.25 a bushel, ginseng, not so plentiful, at $1.25 a pound, and made maple sugar and hoop poles for barrels.

There were several Swedish settlements in Spring Vale in the late sixties. The creek was dammed for power and mills and stores erected. Andrew Bodfors, born in a pioneer dugout here, has become a professor in the Conservatory of Music at Rockford, Ill.

Wyanett is an Indian word meaning beautiful. It may have been named after a town in Illinois. In this township traces of an early burying ground for whites have been found near an Indian mound on the East shore of Green lake.

Dalbo is the only township bearing a Swedish name. It means the home of people from Dalarne province. A large part of the township is swampy and produced hay, cranberries and Christmas trees for the market. The peat soil has been drained and made to produce acres of onions and other vegetables.

There are three distinct German settlements in the county, at Weber in North Branch township, Stanford, and south Bradford. The three church organizations they organized belong to the Missouri synod. St. Johns Lutheran at Weber was the first, organized in 1870. William Henrichs, Gottfried Steinbring and Chas. Waldoff came earliest. Zion Church, at Crown, is the largest, the Butterbrodts and Lemkes being first families. Coming from northern and central Germany, many of the Germans lived in other localities before settling here. Their thrift and hard work have made them valuable citizens.

Bradford township was named by Rev. Chas Booth, an Episcopal clergyman from Bradford, England, who took a homestead near the river and was for years the County Superintendent of Schools. The Klucks, Morasts, Whitneys, Bishops and McKenneys were early settlers.

Isanti County covers 293,024 acres, of which one-tenth is water. The largest lake is Green Lake but its neighbor, Spectacle, has the largest summer resort.

There are 2300 farms, valued at $8,807,402 and three incorporated villages, Cambridge, Braham and Isanti, valued at $1,377,839. The personal property valuation is $2,287,196.

The soil is sandy loam and clay. The early crops were the cereal. In 1892 Isanti County was the banner county of the state in producing navy beans. Several small sorghum mills took care of the sugar cane. Experiments made in potato raising in the late eighties found the soil suitable for that crop, and by the time the log booms and wangans had left the river and there was no more work for our men in the pineries, potatoes were the county's most important crop. In 1895 Isanti led all counties in the state in acreage and yield of potatoes. Cooperative starch factories which paid fine dividends sprang up over the county to take care of the culls and poor potatoes, Cambridge building the first one in the region in 1893. Potatoes were also grown to be used for seed in Southern states. This being no longer a paying crop, farming has become more diversified and attention turned to stock raising. Dairying industry has grown and there are now nine creameries in the county.

The County population has increased from 284 of the first census in 1860, to 7,607 in 1890, and 12,950 in 1940.

After five or six surveys by different companies, the Great Northern Railway finished its Coon Creek Cutoff in 1899, at last linking the county with the outside world by bands of steel. New villages sprang up at Braham and Grandy, old settlements moved to the railroad at Isanti and Stanchfield.

Braham, in the Northeast corner of the county, was incorporated as a village in January, 1901, but already had grown to a lively hamlet with good business and residential sections and a weekly newspaper, established by W. F. Way. Admirers of Lincoln asked the postal authorities to call the postoffice Abraham, but for some reason the first letter was omitted. The first post office was established in Severin Mattson's store. Dr. Chas. Swenson, who came in 1903, built the only hospital in the county. John Munson was a prominent business man. The healthy growth of the town called for the erecting of the present commodious high school in 1924. The 1940 census gave Braham 578 inhabitants.

Isanti also was incorporated as a village in 1901. W. D. Oleson was the first postmaster. With his father, J. L. Oleson, he had established the first business - hardware and farm implements in 1899. A main street was soon well supplied with business houses and a newspaper started by H. J. Hochtritt. The town supports a four-teacher school and had a population in 1940 of 354.

The original plat called the town Manila but Railway authorities named it Grandy. The Omans and Morells have been prominent in its business life, centering about the potato market.

Stanchfield had carried on business in two other locations before the coming of the railroad. Its first postoffice, located at the north end of Long Lake on the Brunswick-Anoka road, with A. B. Odell as postmaster, received mail weekly in 1873. The second location was a mile north of the present site. P. M. Peterson platted the present town which has its share of business places. Cord wood has been an important product, it has a fine semi-graded school.

Dalbo is the liveliest inland town in the county and has the only potato starch factory still operating in the county.

Although it was for forty years an inland town, Cambridge has had a healthy growth and kept up with the times. During those years stages ran to Anoka, Princeton and Harris at various periods. State Highways traversing the county today are Nos 65, 95, 56 and 118.

The first newspaper, the Isanti County Press, was started at Cambridge in 1874 by Peter Magnus and for a time contained some news columns in the Swedish language. John Kienitz, editor of the Independent merged it with his paper some twenty years later as the Independent-Press, which in turn was absorbed by the North Star in 1923. The North Star remains the only county seat paper.

The County Fair Association located its grounds here in 1878 and after two moves occupies a spot near the railroad, where a good group of buildings house collection of exhibits each year and a program of merit is carried out.

For many years the saloon question was a burning one at each village election. During a no-saloon period in the '90s, seven young men formed a club and erected a house, surrounding its purpose and their identity with secrecy. Fired by the eloquence of a temperance speech, a large group of women one day broke in, smashed bottles of liquor and then tipped the house over. Suits were threatened but too many prominent women were involved. The club gave up and the house became an ordinary dwelling with a large Bible in the front window.

The Cambridge Woolen Mills were started by Andrew Bjorklund in 1890 and are still operated by the family. It is the most completely equipped factory of its kind in this part of the state.

The Colony for Epileptics, the newest State institution, located just South of the village in 1925, occupies 359 acres, has 19 buildings, an inmate population of 1,032, and 147 officers and employees.

For nearly twenty years the only High School in the county was at Cambridge where the first class was graduated in 1907. There are now three fine brick buildings which house the grade and High School. The teaching corps numbers twenty-five with the Superintendent. Seventy-two percent of the pupils in the high school are from outside the district. Four buses bring many of them to school daily. There are a hundred in the Senior Class.

There are many persons important in the building of the county but space permits the mention of only a few, not already referred to.

Daniel Anderson, Civil War Veteran, held several county offices and served five terms in the House of Representatives.

Hans Engberg, early merchant, county Auditor, first cashier of the first bank, the Isanti County Bank, organized at Cambridge in 1892, which later became the First National.

G. G. Goodwin, County Attorney and U. S. Congressnan.

H.F. Barker, County Attorney, Editor, Real Estate Dealer, State Senator, president of Cambridge, Minneapolis and Duluth Ry. Co., an 1893 attempt to secure a road for Cambridge, President of Cambridge Starch Co., Cambridge Milling Co., School Board.

0. A. Hallin, most versatile, who held several legislative appointments, miller, merchant. County Clerk, Justice, clerk of School Board, organizer and leader of Cornet Band.

Gouldberg and Anderson ran the largest general store in this section, interested in first bank, Milling Co., Starch Co., Wagon Mfg. and other community enterprises.

E. F. Gillespie, sheriff, horse dealer, hotel owner, merchant, political power.

Hans Southerland, County Attorney and for many years Probate Judge.

Rev. J. P. Neander, many years Lutheran pastor, introduced Triump Potato here, took early choir on tour.

 

Last Updated: 08.1.2017