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Judy Spooner: Some of the history of Highway 61

Highway 61 was once State Route 3 and was one of the first concrete roads in Minnesota. There is still a segment of it, which was built around 1930, that runs in front of Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park located south of the Innovation Road exit.

Highway 61 was made a divided highway from St. Paul to St. Paul Park in 1949 and was extended to Cottage Grove and on to Hastings in 1958.

Having a divided highway, with easy access, led to the development of the Cottage Grove.

There was once a Pizza Hut Restaurant and a Dairy Queen on the west side of Highway 61 in Cottage Grove. Both were removed when the Sieben overpass was built over Highway 61.

The bridge is named after Mike Sieben, father of State Sen. Katie Sieben. While a representative in the Minnesota Legislature from 1973 to 1982, he lobbied for the bridge to be built because of the number of accidents occurring at the old intersection. It connected the east and west sides of Highway 61 and went over the railroad tracks next to the Holiday station.

Cottage Grove's first mayor, Harold Kernkamp, was chair of Cottage Grove Township before the township became the "Village of Cottage Grove" in 1965. He died in the fall of 1969 after serving 18 years in public office.

Villages were renamed "cities" by the state Legislature in the early 1970s.

There is no information in School District 833 meeting minutes about why school board members named the new school, built in 1965, Park High School.

At the time, St. Paul Park residents were angry that St. Paul Park High School had been converted into a junior high school. I can only surmise that the board's decision was made to appease those concerns.

The site of Hollywood Video, now closed, at East Point Douglas Road and 80th Street, was formerly Sambo's Restaurant. Before that, it was Jerry's Restaurant, a very popular independently owned local restaurant.

Rainbow Foods was once the site of the W.T. Grant store, which was sort of a first cousin to Woolworth's, which offered an assortment of general merchandise. It also had a restaurant that was a popular place in town to meet for coffee.

Before locating to the east side of Highway 61, Grants was located in the shopping center that was taken down to build Norris Square.

The area at Highway 61 and 80th Street was known as Atkinson's Corner when John Atkinson lived there in the late 1800s. He started the Atkinson School on his property. He also formed the Atkinson Cemetery Association in the 1870s after his wife died. The cemetery is located next to McDonalds on Point Douglas Road and was annexed to the City of Cottage Grove because it had been abandoned.

After his wife died, Atkinson moved to Afton and remarried.

While traveling down the hill on 70th Street toward Highway 61, look out across the highway and you will see Broadway Avenue in St. Paul Park. Before Highway 61 was built, 70th and Broadway Avenue were connected across State Route 3.

For more information about the history of Highway 61, go to

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