Cottage Grove Airmail Arrow May Get Landmark Status

August 14, 2017 06:29 PM

A last piece of history remains in the ground on a Cottage Grove farm.

It's a concrete arrow, once part of a network of arrows, metal towers and beacons that were built across the country to help airmail pilots navigate transcontinental flights in the era before radar.


Most were torn down or abandoned. The concrete arrow on Jim Jansen's farm is the only one left in Minnesota.

"Now that everybody thinks it's a piece of history, I think they should keep it there even if this farm develops," Jansen said. "I think it should be roped off for a historic site." 

Airmail in America

According to the website of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, the U.S. officially established airmail service between New York and Washington D.C. on May 15, 1918. Service from New York to Chicago was established that September.

And the first cross-country mail flight between New York and San Francisco followed in September of 1920.

The U.S. Post Office Department ran airmail service between 1918 and 1926.

But the task was not an easy one for the pilots, who were part of what many referred to as a 'suicide squad.' Thirty-five pilots hired between 1918-26 were killed and there were 6,500 forced landings as pilots battled conditions like fog, wind and torrential rain.

An illumination system along routes eventually allowed for flying at night.

In 1926, service was turned over to private contractors. Among the pilots in that period was a young Minnesotan known as Charles Lindbergh, who twice has to parachute to safety while delivering the mail.

A scandal arose in the early 1930s when smaller companies complained their bids for service contracts were unfairly being denied. That led to the army taking over service for a time before it was returned to the private sector in 1934.

Which is why the Cottage Grove Historic Preservation Commission is considering giving the arrow landmark status.

"I was very surprised that arrow was there," said Herb Reckinger of the preservation commission. "There (are) other ones in the country, but this is (the) last one in Minnesota."

The landmark request for the arrow will be made at the next commission meeting. 


Joe Mazan

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