It took Mads and Olena Gilbertson three days to travel by team and wagon from St. Anthony to the wilds of Ham Lake in 1866. The Norwegian farmers and their six children were the first permanent European settlers of this Anoka County city.

Amateur historian Mel Aanerud has compiled the story of the city in a new photo book, and one of the first images is that of the stoic-looking Gilbertsons in their Sunday best.

Aanerud worked on “Images of America: Ham Lake” for more than a year and used photographs from nearly 30 sources, including family collections, church archives and the Anoka County Historical Society.

“Nearly everyone was very cooperative and eager to let me use their prized possessions. Those photos are family histories,” Aanerud said.

The book is 128 pages long and contains hundreds of photos. Extended captions explain the area’s history.

The region is rooted in farming, and its first settlers experimented with different crops that would grow in the sand plain and peat that make up the terrain.

“Originally, they were trying to grow beets and corn, but they found this soil is much better for potatoes. For awhile, we were the potato capital of Minnesota,” Aanerud said. “This land grows good sod as well.

Ham Lake became the largest producer of sod in Minnesota.”

The book offers a peek into 19th century farm life. It shows photos of children seated in rows of desks at the Redbrick School, ice harvesting in the winter, boats along the shore of Coon Lake, and the well-stocked counter of the Soderquist general store in 1926.

Proceeds from the book, priced at $21.99, go to the Ham Lake Chamber of Commerce. Aanerud, a chamber board member, donated his time.

The book is on sale on and will be available at Barnes & Noble in Blaine. The Chamber will be selling copies at the annual Fourth of July celebration at Lions Park, 1220 157th Av. NE., Ham Lake. Aanerud will be signing copies starting at 8:30 that evening until fireworks time.