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The History of Rochester Minnesota

Aug 7, 2008
Like with many other towns in the area, frontier life and westward expansion of the country brought settlers to Rochester 154 years ago. Among those settlers was a man named George Head; a baker from Waukesha, Wisconsin. Head is typically considered the founder of Rochester since he built the first permanent home in the area, but others were here first. The land that Head wanted was previously claimed by Edward S. Smith. As Head tried to take over, Smith confronted him with a gun, but a deal was made as Head offered a large sum of money instead.

Head and his family arrived in the area in the late summer of 1854 and built a home on the Zumbro River. Some rapids on the river reminded him of falls on a river from his childhood in Rochester, New York, so he named the new settlement Rochester. Also in 1854, the first street, which is now Broadway, was opened. A log was dragged through the underbrush by a team of oxen to create a path, followed by Henrietta Head on a horse to make it official.

George Head built another log cabin along the Zumbro that would evolve into Rochester's first first hotel over the next few years. It became a popular housing spot for settlers passing through. Many settlers came to stay, as the city was located along the Dubuque Trail, a 272-mile stagecoach route from St. Paul to Dubuque, Iowa. When the railroad arrived in 1864, the town grew even more. Farmers could now transport crops of corn, potatoes, and wheat to other parts of the country much easier. With the increase in population, other business started opening as well. Wool mills, broom factories, cheese factories, bakeries, and buggy wagon repair shops were some of the businesses that could be found.

As Rochester was growing into a substantial city, elsewhere in the country the American Civil War was raging on. Nothing unique to Rochester occurred as a result of the war, except that the city received Dr. William Worrall Mayo as a medical examiner of Civil War recruits. He had arrived in 1863, and built up a practice throughout the entire southern portion of the state of Minnesota during and after the war. He had two sons, William and Charlie, who would accompany him on medical calls when they were old enough. They eventually became doctors as well, and used their skills to the fullest.

On August 21st, 1883, a tornado swept through the north side of town, killing and injuring many people. Dr. William Worrall Mayo was a key player in rebuilding Rochester, knowing that people would leave if they were not well-cared for. Dr. Mayo and his sons, along with the help of Mother Alfred Moes and this Sisters of St. Francis, set up a system to care for those injured during the crisis.

As the town was beginning to recover, Mother Alfred Moes proposed building a hospital to the Mayos. Although not enthusiastic at first, the hospital was eventually started. The first seeds of the Mayo Clinic were planted as St. Mary's Hospital was created. In 1901, Dr. Henry Plummer joined the practice at St. Mary's, bringing many advancements in technology and patient care. This team soon formed the organization known as the Mayo Clinic. Parts of this history still remain in Rochester today. Dr. Charlie Mayo's home, Mayowood, and Dr. Plummers' home, the Plummer House, are available for special events and tours. Dr. Will Mayo's mansion is home to the Mayo Foundation.

As the quality of care at the Mayo Clinic spread throughout the region, more people came to Rochester and the town continued to grow. An airport was opened in 1928, offering its services mostly to patients and visiting doctors. In 1956, IBM chose Rochester as its building site, creating a huge housing boom, drawing in many more people.

In 1978, another natural disaster struck when a downpour caused massive flooding in the city, killing five people and requiring the evacuation of 5,000. Since then, flood control has always been an important factor in any land developments. No serious flooding has occurred since the flood control projects were started. The 1980s brought the Centerplace Galleria to downtown Rochester, along with a number of other renovations.

There is no doubt that Rochester will continue to grow and thrive in the future. If there is one thing that Rochester's history can teach, it is that devastation is not the end. The tornado of 1883 was one of the most destructive events in Rochester's past, but it lead to the formation of an institution that saves thousands of lives every year.
About the Author
Rochester411 provides information about the city of Rochester Minnesota, including hotels and motels in Rochester MN , restaurants and fine dining guides, movie theaters and live theatre, real estate agents, lawyers and attorneys, and a complete business directory.
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