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Dave Cosgrove: The Historian

Dave Cosgrove

Dave Cosgrove Colin Michael Simmons

City Pages' People Issue celebrates people making Minnesota a better place.

As the developmental churn of new cookie-cutter architecture hums along, Twin Cities history buffs are understandably experiencing pangs of nostalgia. Ditto for those lassoed by the endless digital scroll, hoping for a reminder of times when eyeballs weren’t beholden to glowing screens.

Saint Paul Revisited offers solace for both.

Launched in 2013 by Dave Cosgrove, the Facebook group is devoted to sharing images and stories of St. Paul’s pre-1990 history. It’s the sister page to Old Minneapolis, whose admins encouraged Cosgrove to mimic their social media celebration of civic history.

“I wrote to ’em one day and said, ‘Would you be offended if I started a St. Paul version of what you’re doing?’” Cosgrove says. “They said, ‘No that’s awesome!’ Three days later I had like 5,000 people following it.”

St. Paul Revisited currently sits at just under 14,000 followers, well behind Old Minneapolis’ 95,000, but its fans are no less passionate. Cosgrove sources his material via deep dives into the archives of the Minnesota and Ramsey County Historical Societies, adding as much context and trivia as he can.

“Hopefully it’s something nobody’s seen before,” says the computer parts worker who devotes five to 10 hours per week to his FB page. “I see the usual people, usually history buffs; there are tons of requests.”

Cosgrove, a third-generation St. Paul native, began highlighting local history 10 years ago through Land of Sky Beer Waters, his local beer blog that specializes in old signage and advertisements.

His mission statement for Saint Paul Revisited was concise: “Just to showcase everything that used to be.”

That’s exactly what the page provides. One recent post reminds followers of the time when Bandana Square, now an office complex in Energy Park, was a pioneering shopping mall. Another shows a classic Hamm’s billboard from 1965. A photo of Rodney Niebuh circa 1956, downing 45 cups of milk at the Minnesota State Fair, racked up the “likes.”

The most popular posts, Cosgrove reports, feature humans, not buildings. One follower even spotted their grandmother in a vintage snapshot. Preservationist messaging is an undercurrent for Cosgrove, who values the inherent integrity of the old-construction properties that still dominate St. Paul.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” he says. “There’s a lot more to dig up.”

Will it be within the pre-’90 framework of the current page? Maybe, though Cosgrove says he’s open expanding his historical range. It just might not be what his audience demands.

“People like to see horses and carriages more than Nike high-tops,” he laughs. 

Click here to read other profiles from this year's City Pages People Issue.