Another stop along the old Red River Ox Cart Trail (which roughly follows today’s East River Road/Coon Rapids Boulevard), the area probably got its name from the abundance of raccoons along a small river that was named Coon Creek. Farming was the predominant way of making a living. The Anoka Pressed Brick and Terra Cotta Company opened in 1881, churning out bricks from clay it dug from a nearby pit, at least until the pit reached the 90 foot mark and a natural spring; the pit then became a popular swimming hole.
The idea of building a dam at this site was first proposed in 1898 but construction didn’t begin until 1912. A small city sprung up around the construction site that housed about 1,000 workers and engineers. The dam was completed in 1914 and operated by the Mississippi Power Company until taken over by Northern States Power, who ran it from 1916 until 1966. The Hennepin County Park Board purchased the property in 1969 and turned it into a regional park. The dam was rebuilt in 2013, ostensibly as a barrier to prevent invading Asian carp from reaching the water of northern Minnesota. If that dam had been abandoned, the folks who own nice houses upriver would have seen their shorelines retreat several feet.
Coon Rapids developed slowly for decades—it didn’t incorporate as a village until 1952 (and as a city in 1959)—but it grew rapidly after that, jumping from 15,000 residents in 1960 to over 60,000 by 2000.
Exploring the Area
The Mississippi National River and Recreation (651.290.4160) runs for 72 miles through the Twin Cities. While the National Park Service owns very little land along the corridor, it has many programs to help connect people to the river. Visit their website for a complete listing of places to enjoy the river.
Parks along the Mississippi River
- Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park (9750 Egret Blvd.); entry fee (per vehicle)
Where to Stay
Bunker Hills Campground (Highway 242 and Foley Blvd.; 763-862-4970) has 44 sites from primitive to equipped with water and electric hookups.
If you don’t feel like driving to these parts, the Northstar Line commuter railroad has a station at Coon Rapids; the line begins in downtown Minneapolis (at the Target Field Station) and ends at Big Lake.
See the Twin Cities Overview for tips on festivals, getting around, and more.
Continuing downriver? Check out Fridley.
Continuing upriver? Check out Anoka.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2013