Cottage Grove: Similarities abound from Oregon to Wisconsin

Visitors to Cottage Grove, Wis., are greeted by a floral display and signs.

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on “other” Cottage Groves across the country. 

The name of our town has taken a meandering path before being cemented to this locality. It started out in Creswell when Greenbery C. Pearce was awarded the title of Postmaster for the area south of Eugene in 1855. In those days the Postmaster operated out of his or her house. Pearce’s house was a cottage located in an oak grove east of Creswell. The name, Cottage Grove, was affixed to the post office, which was little more than a set of cubby-hole boxes.

Somehow the name stuck to this wooden mail distribution system as it was passed on to successive postmasters. The Cottage Grove mobile Post Office was in at least six different locations, ranging from south of Creswell, Walker, and other locales, until it finally landed in what was then known as Slabtown. That was in 1867 when the pigeon-holed mail box was under the care of Nathaniel Martin, postmaster. It is known that this humble mail distribution device played a part of the Slabtown/Lemati feud, but it is sufficient for now to note that it was this early post office that led to giving us the name, Cottage Grove, that our town currently bears.

If you have ever done a simple google search for “Cottage Grove,” chances are you will end up learning about a city with the same name in Minnesota. A neighbor of mine actually entered into negotiations for refuse service with this entity before they mutually discovered that they were thousands of miles apart on the locations of said services.

Doing an Internet search for “U.S. cities named Cottage Grove” will return nine possibilities – 10 if you count the commonly used shortened moniker for the “East 63rd-Cottage Grove” terminus station of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line (est. 1893). 

The remaining results fall into the following categories: three are unincorporated communities, two are cities, two are townships, one is a village, and one is a neighborhood in Houston, Texas.

In examining “the other” Cottage Groves, I will start with those without much legal standing, the unincorporated versions of Cottage Grove.

To the best of my knowledge the smallest Cottage Grove is located in Henry County in northwest Tennessee. According to the Census of 2000 this Cottage Grove had 97 people, 41 households, and 30 families hunkered down. The last census data I could find for the Tennessee version showed a decline of population, down to 88 in 2010.

The Cottage Grove in Indiana seems to be a cluster of houses located on US 27 between Lotus and College Corner in eastern Indiana. There was a post office in that name from 1848 until it was discontinued in 1951. This Cottage Grove doesn’t seem to be a growing community either, but it does have a Facebook page, but the last entry was in 2012.

The last unincorporated Cottage Grove is in Illinois. This is a crossroads and all that I could learn about it is that it is located in Cottage Township, Saline County in southeast Illinois. The Cottage Grove Cemetery sits across from the old Cottage Grove School indicating it may have had more prosperity in the past.


Moving on to the Townships named Cottage Grove … Townships are subdivided land areas in a county that fall into sort of a grey area between the county and municipalities. They perform civil government for rural areas with low populations, though sometimes cities or towns are located in a township.

One township bearing the name of Cottage Grove is located in southeast Kansas, in Allen County. It contains 37.3 square miles, two cemeteries, 246 people (2010 census), and no incorporated settlements.

The other Cottage Grove township is in Wisconsin. It is very near the metropolis of Madison, Wis., and is very literally a township.  

Known as the Town of Cottage Grove, Wis., it is 36 square miles and is a Public Lands Survey System unit laid out in 1834 being described as 7 North 11 East. It completely contains the village of Cottage Grove, which is its own entity and will be covered later in this story.

The township of Cottage Grove is governed by four at-large council members and a chair. They have a town hall with a clerk, deputy clerk, and treasurer, an assessor, municipal court, highway department/public works, and share services of a volunteer fire department, and EMS district with the village of Cottage Grove and other small towns. 

The township is primarily composed of farmlands, rural subdivisions, wetlands, scattered residences, commercial properties, and rural family businesses. As land is annexed into the surrounding villages, the township will become smaller and may eventually disappear. But for now the town maintains its roads and provides services to its rural residences.

Completely surrounded by the township is the village of Cottage Grove, this is the one that most nearly mirrors our own dear Grove. It has a small population, estimated around 7,200, a number of parks that still touch agricultural land, and is located near a major transportation corridor.

Pretty close to Madison and not that far from Milwaukee and Chicago, this version of Cottage Grove is definitely in a more developed area than ours. Its Chamber of Commerce calls it “A city on the move” due to its proximity to large job markets, but still having the benefits of a small town. Kind of like our relationship to Eugene/Springfield.  

The Wisconsin Grove started as a settlement that grew up around the Beecher stagecoach tavern located at the intersection of two major roads. Settled mainly by Irish immigrants, this Cottage Grove Grange became an early leader in the Grange movement. It officially became a town in 1881 when the railroad arrived.  

Nowadays the remaining farms are small and the railroad tracks that once hauled farm produce east have been turned into a bike trail. 

The Glacial Drumlin State Trail is 52 miles of former railroad track starting at Cottage Grove and running to Waukesha. Sound familiar? There are nine city parks that focus on sports facilities and one nature area in this Grove. Sports tourism is big with three golf courses and one particular focus, rugby.

NEXT WEEK: A deeper dive into the “Wisconsin Grove” and its booming rugby community, and Cottage Grove, Minn. 

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