Coon Rapids is staking claim to its history.
The city’s historical commission is erecting 20 signs to mark and explain places of historical significance in the city, joining about 10 existing historical markers that are now displayed around town.
Think the suburbs are all about bland strip malls and vanilla subdivisions? Think again, local historians say — especially as places such as Coon Rapids pass the half-century mark.
“Coon Rapids has an identity. The people are proud of their community,” said City Assessor Ned Storla, staff liaison to the historical commission. “They all seem interested in better understanding the history of their city.”
Officials say the signs will tell that story. Moreover, in an effort to make the history lesson more appealing to younger generations, five of the signs now have QR codes which can be scanned with a smartphone to pull up a short historical video.
The Coon Rapids Community Television Network produced the videos on topics ranging from the Coon Rapids Dam, built a century ago to generate power for the region, to Joyce Chapel, one of the area’s first congregations. The videos also can be seen on YouTube and the city’s website.
“It’s a unique way to bring the city’s history alive in a high-tech way,” said Bob Powell, longtime commission member and retired teacher.
The Coon Rapids Lions Club has donated $2,000 for the new signs, following on previous donations it made for the existing signs. The plastic signs will be mounted in 16-by-20 inch frames and look similar to trail signs.
Storla said the locations of the 20 news signs and their content are still being determined. The new signs should be placed sometime this summer, with hopes of adding videos later.
Some of Coon Rapids’ historical highlights include:
• Coon Rapids Boulevard, which started out as a portion of the Red River Trail, an ox cart path used by fur traders that ran between St. Paul and what is now Winnipeg in the 1800s.
• The Anoka County Poor Farm, which housed the needy, disabled and elderly of the region until the 1930s.
• Resorts on the shores of Crooked Lake, once a getaway for Minneapolis residents decades ago.
• A camp with stores and a post office, now long gone, that sprang up in 1913 on the banks of the Mississippi River for the 50-plus workers who built the Coon Rapids Dam for the Mississippi Hydroelectric Co.
• Local clay was used to make bricks to rebuild parts of the city of Anoka after a fire in 1884. One area where the clay was harvested, called the Clay Hole, later became a popular swimming area.
• A drag strip complete with bleachers and a concession stand was a popular draw in the 1970s, Storla said.
• An early air strip, one of the state’s first, was located near present-day Mercy Hospital. It was used from 1927 to 1964, Storla said.
• A trolley system once linked Coon Rapids to downtown Minneapolis.
• Coon Rapids was a major player in the region’s post-World War II housing boom. Famous developer Orrin Thompson built 25 percent of the homes in the city.