CG 2024 Historic Preservationist of the Year awarded

By Dan Solovitz
Posted 5/22/24

Local residents Cindy Yff and Kathy DeMarre were jointly awarded Cottage Grove’s 2024 Historic Preservationist of the Year award at the May 15 City Council meeting. Known for their previous …

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CG 2024 Historic Preservationist of the Year awarded


Local residents Cindy Yff and Kathy DeMarre were jointly awarded Cottage Grove’s 2024 Historic Preservationist of the Year award at the May 15 City Council meeting. Known for their previous work researching the historical Old People’s Home & Cemetery of the Northwest, Yff and DeMarre’s efforts have now been officially recognized with an award presentation and plaques from the mayor and city council.
The home, which was built in 1907 by the Church of God, served as a place for local elderly residents to live, many of whom were immigrants of Scandinavian origin. The home tragically burned in the early morning of Nov. 16, 1917, forcing its residents to seek lodging in the dorms of the St. Paul Methodist College in St. Paul Park for the better part of a decade. Now, the location is a vacant lot between Granada Avenue and Goodview Avenue on the south side of 70th Street South, marked by a simple plaque that was installed in 1990 by the Washington County Historical Society.
“Annually, the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation (ACHP) nominates a recipient of the award that goes above and beyond in the promotion of Cottage Grove’s history and the preservation of the rich history of the city,” said Cottage Grove Associate Planner Connor Jakes. “This year the ACHP has nominated Cindy Yff and Kathy DeMarre for their work on the preservation of the history and information that they’ve gathered on the Old People’s Home & Cemetery, which is off of 70th Street South. They’ve created a binder of information that will inform generations of future residents, and really hold the history of that site for residents, staff, and anyone interested in Cottage Grove history.”
A video was played at the council meeting, opening on the current location of the abandoned historic cemetery. ACHP committee member Jacob Grundhauser began by saying, “Cindy and Kathy, I want to thank you dearly for your work on the Old People’s Home & Cemetery.” ACHP committee chair Herb Reckinger added, “Due to their efforts in bringing this cemetery back to light, to do what they did, we just felt that they were the most deserving this year.”
The video continued with an interview featuring Yff and DeMarre.
“If you look into the cemetery, you’ll see an empty circle,” said DeMarre. “If you drive by here, you wouldn’t even know it’s here. This is a cemetery - this is at the top of the hill. A little way over was the Old People’s Home. They farmed and did all their own food, and then a church had camp meetings down on what would be Highway 61 now.”
DeMarre continued, “Everyone that I talked to about this when we were in the process - everyone was saying it’s probably just a poor farm. And it’s not a poor farm. These people were here, they were immigrants coming here. Probably, their families brought them with, they got sick, and they needed help, so they ended up there. Also, a lot of our research was difficult because they were Scandinavian. They were all named Nelson, and Johnson, and Larson, and Lars Johnson, and John Larson. So, it wasn’t easy genealogy that you get in other languages.”
Through their work, they have recently secured a grant to build a fence around the property, as well as installing a new, larger plaque telling more of the story to visitors at the site.
“I think it was a forgotten place,” said Yff. “Maybe with our work it won’t get lost again. And it’s kind of interesting, it’s giving them back their voice, and that people just haven’t forgotten them.”
“Not only did you find information that none of us were aware of, but you’ve truly brought forward a full story on the site,” said Grundhauser. “From what was just a simple acre plot on 70th Street, we now have a robust history on the individuals who were buried there and the history of the site that was there before. What you have done in turning a small sign on a one-acre lot into a whole book on the history of this site has significant meaning to the city, and will not only outlast myself, but will outlast all of us.”
Reckinger concluded the video by saying, “Congratulations on this award. I hope you stay with our society, and we hope you keep up your good work. Thank you.”
Plaques commemorating the recognition were presented to both Yff and DeMarre by Mayor Myron Bailey and members of the city council.