Oakdale Township was organized in November 1858 and survived intact until 1926, when the Village of Lake Elmo split off. In the 1950s the township again began losing property: East Oakdale Township detached in 1951; Landfall and Pine Springs were incorporated in 1959; in the same year another section split off to become Northdale. Oakdale regained some acreage in 1968 when Northdale and part of East Oakdale rejoined, leaving the township with about 12 sections and just over 7,200 acres. Oakdale became a city in 1974.
Early settlers found the land covered with openings of white, bur, and black oak as well as basswood and elm—the name was selected to reflect the many stands of trees. The main occupation in early Oakdale was farming, especially wheat, because the sandy loam soil was suitable for grain crops. The many small lakes also attracted settlers. During the 1930s the main winter industry was the cutting of ice from Tanner's Lake for use during the summer in ice boxes.
The town’s first known settler was Bernard B. “Bun” Cyphers, a Virginian who came in 1848, just before the area became Minnesota Territory. That year Cyphers built a “hotel and stopping place,” called the Lake House, near Sunfish Lake. By 1850 a road suitable for stagecoach travel had been constructed past the Lake House, running from St. Paul to Stillwater and corresponding more to less to Highway 5 (Stillwater Boulevard). In the 1860s the Lake House was the town meeting site.
Cyphers soon moved on, but John Morgan, an early resident of Stillwater and former sheriff of St. Croix County, Wisconsin Territory, became the first permanent settler. In 1849 Morgan built a commodious hotel on the Stillwater–St. Paul Road about a half mile east of today’s Interstate 694. The Halfway House was where the Concord stages of Willoughby & Powers en route from St. Paul to Stillwater changed horses at noon and the passengers took dinner. In 1855 Morgan sold to E. C. Gray. Other settlers, many of them German and Irish, located nearby in the 1850s.
The first post office was established in 1857 on the Woodbury line, but soon was replaced by a post office at the Halfway House, then called Lohmanville. By 1876 the P.O. was at Bass Lake Station, later known as Lake Elmo.
At the southern boundary of the township, the Hudson Road was also established as a stage route from St. Paul to Chicago. This road originally ran diagonally from the southeast, intersecting the Stillwater–St. Paul Road, but by the 1880s had been realigned on an east-west axis, in general following the route of today’s Interstate 94.
The St. Paul & Stillwater Short Line Railroad and St. Paul & Taylors Falls Railroad (later combined into the Omaha line) were constructed in 1870–1871. Stations were opened at Bass Lake (Lake Elmo) and Oakdale. By 1880 a third stop was at on the Ramsey County Line at Castle, named for North St. Paul founder Henry A. Castle. This area was later platted as Midvale. Several small subdivisions were added near Midvale as Midvale Gardens and Fairchild’s Garden Lots. Other commuter suburban tracts were platted near the North St. Paul border on the line of the Wisconsin Central Railway.
Although the Lake Elmo area received the most attention, the beautiful lakes in the northern part of the township were also popular with summer residents. One of the earlier summer residents was Dr. De Montreville, a St. Paul dentist, who owned property on Lake Emma, later renamed for him. Over the years, many small bungalows were built on Lakes De Montreville, Olson, and Jane, but no subdivisions were platted and the area remained rural well into the 20th century.
After World War II some agricultural tracts began to be subdivided for single-family houses. This was especially true on the western edge of the township where development was encouraged by the growth of neighboring North St. Paul as a small industrial center.
Oakdale has been a growth suburb. Interstate 694 bisects the city, attracting industry and retail businesses to the major intersections at Highway 36, Highway 5, Stillwater Boulevard, Minnehaha Avenue, and I-94. In the decade of the 1990s the population of Oakdale soared from just over 18,300 to more than 26,600.