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Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Book of poems penned by early Cottage Grove settler found

When Lutheria Bailey and her husband, Levi, celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Feb. 1, 1860, at their Cottage Grove farm, Lutheria cinched up her corset for the special occasion and put on her best dress with the hoop skirt and a dozen crinolines.

She might also have worn it, and her best bonnet, three years later when she and Levi buried their daughter, Jesse, in the Cottage Grove Cemetery, where, through the years, many members of the Bailey family would be buried.

They were probably married in her family’s home because in those days not many weddings were held in churches. Wedding dresses were not white and veils were not common.

To get some perspective on the time period, in 1860 Minnesota had been a state only two years and the tracks for the first railroad in the state were laid two years later.

The “pony express” ran from Joplin, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif. People walked, rode horses or drove buggies. Lincoln was elected president and South Carolina seceded from the Union on the dawn of the Civil War.

Lutheria, when she wasn’t doing farm work, wrote poetry, something she had done since she could write. No occasion was too unimportant to write a poem about.

When she was 75 years old in 1910, she self-published a book of poems called “Memories,” which she dedicated to her friends.

Recently, June Brown, of Cottage Grove, found a copy of “Memories” in her attic. She gave the book to Naomi Pervis-Adams, a Grey Cloud Island Township resident and member of the South Washington Heritage Society, who did an extensive and detailed genealogy.

Gordon Bailey Jr., of Newport and the Bailey family that founded and operates one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the United States, said he hadn’t known about the book.

I’ll be giving the book and the other information to Gordon and Jo Bailey.

I found another copy of the book that will go to the city of Cottage Grove’s archives, along with the genealogy, to be looked after by the city’s Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation.

Lutheria was the only daughter of Henry A. Belden and his first wife, Almira, who died in 1848.  A year later, Belden remarried and had seven other children. Belden Boulevard is named after the family that owned much of the land that Orrin Thompson developed to become the city of Cottage Grove.

The Beldens, who were from Vermont, and other families from the East, came to Minnesota via the Erie Canal and Great Lakes and on into Wisconsin where they settled for a time in Johnstown in Rock County. Lutheria wrote a poem there when she was 18 years old.

Growing up in the Victorian era, Lutheria wrote in rhyme. Although she didn’t write a poem about the death of her daughter that we know about, she did write a group of poems about “consolation.”

A smart woman who educated herself through books, Lutheria included Homer and Milton in her poems and also wrote a tribute to author Robert Burns. She wrote about friendship, love and a sermon by a minister of the congregational church in Old Cottage Grove.

After Jesse’s death, Levi and Lutheria had three children. Ella, who lived in Washington, died at 72, Mary at 92, and Henry at 45.

While Lutheria’s poems are gentle and pleasant, she was also what people of her time would call spunky.

The following is a verse from a poem she wrote for the 1886 Republican convention in St. Louis:

“Aye, listen ye delegates, fond hopes do not blight,

for our nation is looking to you for what’s right.

This grand old republic that boasts freedom for all,

It cannot, it must not, be divided to fall.”

“That’s a powerful message, Lutheria,” I said to myself when I read it.

By the time she became the first president of the Newport Women’s Club, a very influential group, Lutheria’s hoop skirts were dropped in favor of bustles.

She traveled with Levi to Redlands, Calif., and wrote poems about her trip and others she made, including Washington to see Ella.

Lutheria was also a member of the Order of the Eastern Star at the Newport Masonic Lodge.

Levi died in 1907.

In 1920, Lutheria was living with her daughter Mary in St. Paul Park. She died a year later at 86. She and Levi are buried in the Cottage Grove Cemetery. Her gravestone just says “Mother.”

I would like to have met her, but I feel I already know her.

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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