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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Not just history, but the stories that go with it

Listening to a talk given by Robert Vogel, who has a treasure trove of knowledge about south Washington County, is like meeting someone who's interesting at a party. Whether he's talking to one person or 20, he communicates an intimate view of history. It's as if he's telling you about the people who owned your house before you bought it.

It's a gift and those who attended his talk at the Newport Library and Community Center last week will attest to that. The talk, hosted by the city's historic preservation commission, drew a larger crowd than anticipated. Every available chair, including a stairway, was filled.

Vogel, who is the historic preservation officer for Newport, worked in the same role in Cottage Grove from 1982 to 2002.

It's not so much the history he conveys, it's the side trips that I enjoy. I love historical quirks. I remember him telling me that early settlers in the area did a lot more visiting in the winter than in summer because the roads were frozen and not full of muddy ruts. It isn't something folks who write history books talk about.

Vogel did not disappoint last week and the side trips were most interesting. (The snacks served by the commission were good, too.)

Vogel touched on the geology of the area including that the Mississippi River runs west to east south of St. Paul, one of only two places on the 2,000-mile river where that occurs. Other interesting notes:

n At the end of the ice age, the bluffs from Newport through Cottage Grove were the river's shoreline.

n Newport is located on bedrock and has its own microclimate because of the topography. That's why there are Baltimore orioles in Newport and none in Cottage Grove.

n Buffalo were extinct in south Washington County by 1820 and the whitetail deer disappeared by 1940, remnants of the fur trade.

n During the steamboat era, there wasn't a tree for a least a mile back from the shoreline. They were all cut down to feed the wood-burning, steam-powered boats.

n The historic log house at Newport United Methodist Church was built by Rev. Kavanah, who ran a mission near Newport. The Red Rock, an important symbol for Dakota people, is also located on the church grounds along with a plaque of historical information.

n Early on, when Dakota people lived on the west side of the Mississippi, white people were invited to "green corn" ceremonies and paid for the privilege.

n When Father Hennepin came up the river in 1683, Dakota people were driving buffalo into the river to kill them, Hennepin observed.

n In the absence of local policing, people generally got along on the frontier. There were many homicides, however, mostly during the winter.

n Hazen Moores married a Dakota woman named Grey Cloud. History presents Hazen as running the fur trade from the island when it was Grey Cloud who was really in charge.

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.
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