Newport and South Washington County: partners in development

Posted 4/13/22

It’s endured for 16 decades and ranked fifth in the district, but come April 21 at the school board and a successful voter referendum this fall it could be slated to close, traded instead for an …

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Newport and South Washington County: partners in development


It’s endured for 16 decades and ranked fifth in the district, but come April 21 at the school board and a successful voter referendum this fall it could be slated to close, traded instead for an early learning center. What is ‘it’?

Newport public education for grades K-12 housed onsite at Newport.

As such, it seems a modest review of the old District 36 school become Newport Elementary is in view, if only to remember what once was, before it’s gone. For in truth the story of Newport predates the State of Minnesota as presently constituted. “The Unique Legacy of Red Rock & Newport Minnesota 1837 – 1989” by compiled by M. Virginia Yelland and Jane Clure and produced by the Newport Centennial Committee provides cliff notes of that time, along with records kept at the Washington County Historical Society in Stillwater, in back of the Warden’s old house.

Our story picks up in the year 1837 A.D. according to the Christian calendar, five years after Henry Schoolcraft traveled to the Itasca basin and found the source of the Mississippi River. The river in those days originated in a less picturesque environ­ment, being cleared of weeds and spruced up by the Civil Conservation Corps to make for a more proper origin of America’s greatest river some 90-plus years later.

At any rate it was in the year 1837 that a most momentous treaty was signed, or rather set thereof, in which Dakota and Chippewa alike (who were long-term enemies) ceded those lands they inhabited in northeast Minnesota and west of and in the Mississippi to outside settlement. Before long the state would be flooded with settlers from the East, come up the river and then on the railroads. Newport itself was then a small river town, across the river from the village of Kaposia and growing up alongside Red Rock, with which it later merged.

The much larger Red Rock township established to the east in 1858, meanwhile, soon became known as “Woodbury” as of 1861, staying largely rural for nearly a century before Woodbury Heights came, as Newport stayed its own river town course along the mighty Mississippi.

In the beginning there were three schools in the area of Newport, as well as a Methodist mission site. Every summer for decades there were camp meetings associated with Methodism, which itself derived from Anglicanism through John and Charles Wesley, giving birth in turn to the Holiness movement and early Pentecostalism.

Prior to the arrival of Christianity the area of Newport was a Dakota shrine known as “Red Rock,” a red granite rock of mysterious origins housed on the site. As time moved on the rock would remain, but those who held it sacred, would not be nearby.

The history of Newport public education, meanwhile, picks up some 23 years after initial arrival, with the forming of the Newport School District on June 6, 1860, first known as District 1 and then changed to District 36 as education spread across the county. There were three schools in and about Newport then, and each was its own ‘district,’ for it would not do in a system of largely rural education with a less than ideal transportation system (the roads turned to muck in spring) to have one vast and spread out area within the same jurisdiction. Rural schools were, however, under a superintendent who could and did make occasional visits.

Come 1889, the districts of Newport and St. Paul Park would merge, both being river towns joined by a common theme. Public education came to St. Paul Park in 1887, while future mergers and splits in the state system would take place as the growing school population necessitated adjustment to new challenges. Among these would be Independent School District 833, otherwise known as South Washington County Schools.

Come the year 1938 and there were many schools in South Washington County, from Woodbury (District 41) to Cottage Grove (District 31), and even Basswood Grove (District 35). There was the Valley Creek School (District 39), the Langdon School (District 30), the Point Douglas School (District 34), and Lakeland too (District 21). Later developments would necessitate still more adjustments to changing circumstances, consolidation coming with modernity. The rural schools would lose out in favor of larger and more elaborate structures.

Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s the first stirrings of modern Cottage Grove and Woodbury would begin to arise in the area, taking the form of three neighborhoods: Thompson Grove, Woodbury Heights, and Thompson Estates. The path to incorporation was not a clear one at first, and along the way the farmers across the highway would become alarmed at their pending loss of power, seeking to break away and form their own municipal division/township, but ultimately prove unsuccessful in their aims. As developments and settlement grew around it Newport stayed the course, positioned on the ever changing riverside. With growth in the area would come change as four new elementary schools (Pullman, Pine Hill, and Woodbury among these) and a $4,000,000 building campaign would emerge, being translated to some $38, 851,891 and 39 cents in today’s currency, inflation over the years totaling 871.3 percent when taken cumulatively.

Newport’s vote in that election from nearly 63 years ago was “almost anti-climatical,” the Reporter reported from October 9, 1959, with 547 ‘yes’ votes and 199 ‘no’ votes for the referendum. The total percentage across the area was 83.2 percent in favor, with 2,483 ‘yes’ votes to just 498 ‘no’ votes. The area having grown considerably in the meantime, Newport now holds a small part of the weight it once did, at least in numerical terms. Having given birth to the area in its infancy, then nurtured it when the interior was small, Newport has seen many seasons, while it could yet see another as its children are bused form the area to other locations out of town.

The verdict on that implied question still awaits April 21 school board and a fall referendum.