Grant was settled by farmers from the East Coast of the U.S. in the 1850s. The township was organized in 1858 as Greenfield Township, named by Socrates Nelson for his former home in Massachusetts. It originally covered today’s cities of Grant, Mahtomedi, Willernie, Birchwood, and Dellwood and two-thirds of East White Bear Lake. In 1864, learning there was another Greenfield Township in Hennepin County, the county changed the name to Grant, to honor Ulysses S. Grant.
Over the years Grant Township was broken up into smaller units. The western one-third near the lake, which was heavily settled at an early date, became Lincoln Township in 1918. Eventually Lincoln was split up into Mahtomedi, Willernie, Birchwood, Pine Springs, and Dellwood. Grant Township was reorganized as the City of Grant in 1996 and in 2005 boasted a population of slightly over 4,200.
New Yorkers Albion Masterman and William Rutherford were first to open farms in the eastern part of Grant and adjoining Stillwater townships. They were Stillwater men who took advantage of the first land sales in 1849 to buy farmland. As settlers arrived, they formed the nucleus of the Rutherford Settlement. A flour mill was built nearby in 1857 on Brown’s Creek by James Rutherford and S. C. Booth.
At that time, Highway 96 (Dellwood and McKusick Roads), was an Indian trail used as a cart trail by travelers between Stillwater and White Bear Lake. It was the first public road in the township, generally called the Rum River Road because it was the direct route from Stillwater to Anoka on the Rum River and the Mississippi pineries. Another road was surveyed across the township in 1847, connecting Stillwater with St. Paul on a line south of White Bear Lake.
The Stillwater & St. Paul Railroad, completed in the fall of 1870 (and purchased by Northern Pacific in 1878) crossed Grant from White Bear to Stillwater. A townsite plat named Wilson was laid out at the same time near White Bear Lake, but never developed. Another called Eagle City was platted in 1854 in section 27 on the old Stillwater–Little Canada Road. By 1900 the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie (Soo Line) crossed the township. Duluth Junction in Grant was where the Northern Pacific crossed the Soo Line. The old Soo Line is now the Gateway Trail, popular with horseback riders, bicyclists, inline skaters, runners, and, in winter, cross-county skiers. In 1892 the Minneapolis & St. Paul Suburban Railroad Company ran a streetcar line out to Mahtomedi from St. Paul. By 1899 the Twin City Rapid Transit Company had began regular streetcar service from Mahtomedi to Stillwater. Stops were at Parent, Masterman, Lies, Elliot, and Grant crossings.
The Minneapolis & St. Croix Railroad (later meshed into the Soo Line) pushed through Washington County in 1883, placing Grant on the direct line from Minneapolis to Chicago and giving rise to the township’s only village. Withrow developed along the line and in the early 1900s boasted a creamery, blacksmith and general store, bank, elevator and feed mill, stockyards, lumberyard, potato warehouses, and a pool hall. Except for Withrow, Grant was almost exclusively a farming community during its first century, although a small settlement named New Richford at the intersection of the Soo Line with Mendel Road had a feed mill, store, and blacksmith, enough presence to be included on an 1886 map.
Rural character still best describes Grant, which has private well and septic systems and only small amounts of commercial development. The first platted subdivision was Hickory Park, followed by Wake Robin Acres, platted as one-acre lots in the early 1960s. Northport Airport on Highway 96 about midway between Stillwater and White Bear Lake was a general aviation grass-runway field at which more than 3,000 glider pilots trained during World War II. It was torn down in the 1990s and is now the site of a housing development.
In 1996 Grant reorganized as a city to preserve its rural character and protect critical habitat from high density development. There are small commercial zones in Grant along the Highway 36 and 96 corridors where several small businesses operate.