Huge Arrow On Cottage Grove, Minnesota Farm Was Modern Technology For Mail

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According to a story by Seth Hardmeyer, Cottage Grove, Minnesota is home to proof there was a time before pilots could use GPS, radio, and even radar. So how did they know where they were going, and how did they stay on course?

These Arrows In Cottage Grove Are Part of the Anwer

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Pilots long ago didn't have someone at the top of a mast, in a crow's nest, to spot the land(marks). So what did they do? They did something very clever.

They Used Giant Arrows

In a story Hardmeyer wrote here, he said,

"Scattered all across the US, a series of giant, yellow, concrete arrows were put in place in the ground in the 1920s, visible from high in the sky, primarily to guide airmail pilots from city to city."

A pretty basic but good idea, right? Until it gets dark, foggy, snowy, etc, and they can't see the arrows. But they found a solution to that, too. They added beacon towers. The arrow in CottageGrove had one, likely in the square part in the middle of the arrow.

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Seth Hardmeyer
Navigation Arrow in Cottage Grove, MN (Credit: Seth Hardmeyer)
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Seth Hardmeyer
Navigation Arrow in Cottage Grove, MN (Seth Hardmeyer)
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Seth Hardmeyer
Navigation Arrow in Cottage Grove, MN (Seth Hardmeyer)
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Since it was mostly for the USPS, they added beacon towers.

"The government built a path of 70-foot-long concrete arrows every few miles from coast to coast, each painted yellow and topped with a 51-foot steel tower that had a rotating beacon. Using the path, an airmail pilot needed only half the time to deliver a letter from New York to San Francisco." (Smithsonian Magazine)

In about ten years, technology came into play, so the USPS didn't need the arrows and beacons, but local navigators still used them. Hardmeyer says many were taken down because they needed the steel for WWII...though Montana still used three beacons.

Weren't the Beacons Annoying to Nearby Farms?

Most of the beacons and arrows were not near homes, but in the Cottage Grove case, it was near a family home. They got paid $10 for their land use, and according to TwinCities.com,

The beacon — about 2 to 3 feet in diameter — rotated every 7 seconds, but because the tower was so high, the light shone above the house. “It didn’t bother us at night, but it bothered some of our neighbors a mile or two away because it would shine in their windows,” (the homeowner said). “My uncle used to call this place the Beacon Light Farm.”

That's right, the property is still in the hands of the family that was farming when the arrow and the beacon went in!

Are There Any Beacon Towers Left in Minnesota?

Seth Hardmeyer
Seth Hardmeyer
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Yep! Again from Hardmeyer, "There is one of the remaining beacons found at the Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul as well. The concrete arrow is long gone, but the beacon, dating back to 1929, has been restored and repainted."

At Arrows Across America, the info says there used to be two sites within an hour of Rochester, Minnesota. One in Winona, and one in Wabasha. They're both long gone now. As they are around the country...except out west. Look at 'em all!

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As always, if you have a comment, complaint, or concern about something I wrote here, please let me know: james.rabe@townsquaremedia.com

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