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Judy Spooner: Some local history you might not know

Did you know Cottage Grove was once in the running as a place to build Carleton College?

In 1866, the Minnesota Conference of Congregational Churches wanted to build a college in Minnesota and Cottage Grove was the first community to put in a bid. Soon after, Northfield, Lake City, Wabasha and Zumbrota were also in the running.

Northfield, with a larger population than the others, raised more subscription money and Carleton was built there.

Cottage Grove, what we now call Old Cottage Grove, was also knocked out of the running because it didn't have a railroad.

This bit of history is an excerpt from "A Cottage Grove Timeline 1838 to 1890" put together by Frankie Ratzlaff and given to me.

She, and Bev Gross, Old Cottage Grove residents, are two of the finest historians I've met. Though they share much of their knowledge with South Washington Heritage Society members, I think the community might enjoy some of it as well.

I also serve with them on the Cottage Grove Historic Preservation Commission.

Our area of Washington County saw its first white settler in 1839, a year after the first treaty with the Dakota Nation when Joseph Brown settled on Grey Cloud Island where there was a trading post.

James Norris, whom Norris Square is named after, worked at the Grey Cloud trading post for a time and located the first farm in Cottage Grove in 1842 on 40 acres.

Like Norris, many of the first settlers were from Maine and not immigrants from abroad.

Although, Minnesota was still part of Wisconsin and Iowa territories, other settlers, such as Theodore and J. W. Furber moved to Cottage Grove, which got a post office in 1851.

In the 1850s, the "Lyceum" was incorporated as a place to share books and newspapers. The original building is thought to be a building in the Cottage Grove Cemetery now used for storage.

The cemetery association was formed in 1856 and the first meeting of the Cottage Grove Library Association was in 1858, the same year Minnesota became a state.

The connection with the search for a Carleton College site started with the organization of the First Congregational Church of Cottage Grove in the Furber home in the same year.

In 1868, the church was dedicated. In 1967, it became the current home of Accacia Masonic Lodge. Yes, it's spelled correctly because that's how it was spelled on the original charter.

Military Road was completed in 1858. It was not named Military Road because it was used by the military. Road building was a function of the War Department. It was originally called Post Road because it started at Ft. Snelling and ran to Point Douglas where the bridge to Prescott, Wis., is. It was the site of the first post office in the area, according to George McHattie, father of Ralph McHattie, resident and former city council member.

Let me know if you enjoyed the short walk through history, because there is much more to the story. If you have questions about local history, let me know.

Gross and Ratzlaff have many stories to tell.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600