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Judy Spooner viewpoint: Preserving history a story at a time

Judy Spooner tells a story as she is named Cottage Grove Historic Preservationist by the City Council. Also pictured are (from left) Mayor Myron Bailey and council members Jen Peterson and Dave Thiede. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente

More than 10 years ago, after an interesting meeting of the South Washington Heritage Society, a woman sitting in front of me turned to her friend and said, "Someone should write this stuff down."

"But I've been writing it down," I said to myself.

South Washington County is rich in history. I love history, so it was a good match that I should write about it.

I write about the people and places that happened in our past, especially Cottage Grove, but I've also written history stories about St. Paul Park, Newport and Woodbury.

I also serve on the volunteer Cottage Grove Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation.

I take pictures of the people and places but I'm never in the pictures. Last week, there was an exception. I was invited to the first Cottage Grove City Council meeting of the year to accept an award because I was named Cottage Grove Historic Preservationist of the Year.

I came home and put my plaque on the wall next to my computer. I admit it: I feel very proud to have been selected.

City Senior Planner John Burbank and Bev Gross, a local historian and historic preservation commission member, have been partners in my pursuit of history. When John is told that I'm at the reception desk in City Hall, he comes out of his office to greet me.

"What's the history detective up to today?" he says, knowing that he'll have to find me several city plat maps and records of land ownership.

Bev is always ready to investigate all things historic. Among our adventures was a visit to an old school that Bev, and her husband, Bud, found near Point Douglas Road. She got permission from the owner and she and I trekked through some dense woods to find the school that county historians said, in print, had burned down.

The Nessel School was a terrific find and Bulletin readers also found it interesting because the story got the most hits on our website the next week. (We even outdid the daily jail bookings, one of our most popular web destinations on most weeks.)

Bev recounted the exploration at the council meeting as I was getting my award.

Steps to the school, located on an incline, were missing. She boosted me up and into the school where I found blackboards that still had writing on them. I was so excited to take pictures of everything that I gave absolutely no thought to how I was going to get out of the school. Bev caught the camera and sort of caught me as I jumped.

She also helped me to find Mars family members in the Old Cottage Grove Cemetery who are ancestors of Frank Mars, founder of the Mars Candy Company. On my hands and knees, I uncovered grave stones of relatives I found in census records at the Minnesota History Center and records online.

I love history because it's a puzzle waiting for someone to put it together. There is so much to discover about south Washington County.

I'm updating my history "look into" list.

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