Elk River Historical Walking Tour
Elk River is a city in Sherburne County, Minnesota, United States, about 34 miles northwest of Minneapolis. It is situated at the confluence of the Mississippi and Elk Rivers. The population was 25,798 according to the 2020 census.
The village of Elk River, which included the City of Orono and "Lower Town", was platted in 1865, but it did not become incorporated until 1880. The city center has shifted since 1865 due to the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, along with highway construct. The hardwood-forested hills in which Elk River is situated, were pushed up by the last glacier that advanced across Minnesota. These hills are made up of coarse materials, which is the reason gravel mining is so prevalent in Elk River, and also the reason much of the area is not considered good farmland.
While the City of Elk River offers many amenities today, there are a number of historic features that can still be seen throughout the city. Some interesting historical facts about Elk River include:
- Elk River was home to the first national bank in Sherburne County in 1870, Houlton Bank, located in downtown Elk River.
- W.H. Houlton, who owned the Houlton Farm, also co-founded the Union Congressional Church in Elk River located at 1118 4th St. NW.
- One of the last executions by hanging in Minnesota took place in the City of Elk River on December 5, 1905 to CD Crawford for the "Box Car Murder".
- Men who fought in the Civil War are buried in Orono Cemetery. The Box Car Murderer is buried in the St. Francis Cemetery.
Enjoy reading about local historic places down below and enjoy taking a self-guided walking tour.
1 Morton Avenue NW
At confluence of the Mississippi and Elk Rivers, Bailey Point Nature Preserve offers a 24.38 acre nature preserve with over 3,300 feet of natural, largely untouched shoreline. This is the historic site where the Elk River battle between the Ojibwe and Dakotah Native American Tribes took place in 1772 and 1773. The tribes met on the Mississippi River bank near the mouth of the Elk River.
This site has been the home to various activities over the years including a golf course, campground, and high school football field. Today the nature preserve along the Mississippi River offers a number of unpaved trails for hiking, cross country skiing, bird watching, and a number of outdoor activities to enjoy year-round.
422 Jackson Ave NW
Elk River's Water Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 (#12000284). The water tower was built in 1920 by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Co. as part of an effort to protect Elk River from fire.
The water tower's elevated tank is known as a hemispherical bottom, a name derived from its design which includes a half-globe shaped bottom. This design was commonly used between the years of 1890 and 1940. Today there are five other water towers with a hemispherical bottom design in Minnesota located on the National Register of Historic Places, including Elk River's.
1133 4th St. NW
Elkhi Stadium, also known as Handke Station ("The Pit"), was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 (#040000540). The stadium actually began as a pond, described as a water and muck-filled depression in the otherwise flat terrain. After a near drowning, the pond was drained and filled in to create the bowl stadium in the 1920s. The site was then turned into an athletic field with the help of local farmers that volunteered their wagons, scrapers and labor. With the support of the local community, Elkhi Stadium was dedicated in 1925. The stone work, which can still be seen today, was installed in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The school building next to the stadium, now called the Handke Center, was built in 1930. The school was named after Robert Handke, who was the school superintendent for a quarter of a century.
This site has been utilized for high school football games, baseball in the spring and summer months, and ice skating in the winter months. In 2014, the site hosted Hockey Day Minnesota where National Hockey League players and numerous spectators come to watch hockey games. Today the site continues to provide enjoyment for local residents and visitors on the ice rinks below.
942 Main St. NW
Two hitching posts are still visible along Main Street outside the Hitchin' Post Condominium.
1326 4th St. NW
The church was established in 1859 and originally named Trinity Church. This name was suggested by J.H. Foster, who helped build the church in honor of the oldest church in his native town of St. John's, New Brunswick. The church was admitted into the Diocese of Minnesota in 1859, represented by Oliver Kelly (whose farm is a Minnesota National Historic Register in Elk River). The original church site was at 1915 Second Street. The church building was moved in 1878 across the street from the present site. The building that can still be seen today was built in 1891 in its current location. When the current building was finished being built in 1891, the Star News reported: "Tuesday last witnessed the dedication of another beautiful little church in Elk River, and adds another mark of civilization to our town." The church was renamed Holy Trinity Episcopal Church of Elk River in 1962. In 1979, the church appointed Reverend Margo Maris as the first woman rector in the county. Since the late 1970s, four women rectors have served Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.
18414 Boston St. NW
Orono Cemetery was originally established as a township cemetery and is the oldest cemetery in Elk River. This cemetery is the burial place for Elk River's earliest members. The first known burial was Lucretia Woodward in 1855. The cemetery contains the remains of at least two "War of 1812" veterans and 29 "Civil War" veterans.
679 Main Street NW
The history of downtown Elk River and the Mississippi River are intimately intertwined. Rivers Edge Commons Park is located in the heart of downtown Elk RIver, Minnesota and is a reminder of this history. The park connects Main Street to the adjacent Mississippi River. This is a location that provides a venue for community festivals, concerts in the park, and a location to admire the Mississippi River year-round.
1118 4th St. NW
Union Congregational Church was established in 1875. The church was built in its current location in 1881 at a cost of $54,000. This is the oldest church building that can still be seen today in Elk River.
A stained glass window showing the Angel of Life and Flanders Field, was installed in 1919 in memory of those serving in World War 1 from Elk River. In 1923, nine additional stained glassed windows were installed as a memorial featuring the names of the World War 1 veterans from Elk River. The names with a gold star next to it in the windows, indicates those who died during the war.
30 Evans NW
John Quincy Adams Nickerson and his wife, Julia Farnham Nickerson established Vernon Cemetery in honor of their young son, Vernon, who had drowned. The cemetery was deeded to the public in 1878.