Steel on Wheels Tour Date #4: Rochester - January 26, 2011
Historical Summary of Rochester, Minnesota
The area was home to nomadic Sioux, Ojibwa, and Winnebago tribes of Native Americans. In 1851, the Sioux ceded the land to Minnesota Territory in the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota, which opened the land for settlement.
Rochester itself was founded by George Head in 1854; his land claim is now part of the city's business district. Originally from Rochester, New York, Head had settled in Waukesha, Wisconsin before moving west to Minnesota. He named the village on the South Fork of the Zumbro River after his New York hometown, and built a log cabin his family operated as Head's Tavern.
By 1856, the population had grown to 50; by 1858, it was 1,500. The territorial legislature created Olmsted County on February 20, 1855, with Rochester named county seat in 1857. Rochester developed as a stagecoachSaint Paul, Minnesota, and Dubuque, Iowa.
When the railroad arrived in the 1860s, it brought new residents and business opportunities. In 1863, Dr. William W. Mayo arrived as the examining surgeon for draftees in the Civil War. On August 21, 1883, the Great Tornado demolished much of Rochester, leaving 37 dead and about 200 injured. There was no medical facility at the time, so Mayo and his two sons worked together to care for the wounded.
Donations of $60,000 were collected and the Sisters of St. Francis, assisted by Mayo, opened a new facility named St. Marys Hospital in 1889. The Mayo practice grew and is today among the largest and most well-respected medical facilities in the world.
Many famous people from around the world, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, and King Hussein of Jordan, have visited Rochester as patients of the Mayo Clinic.
A number of Rochester buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the former Chateau Theatre, which now houses a Barnes & Noble bookstore, and Avalon Music, formerly a hotel important in the local civil rights movement.