Rochester, Minnesota, Hometown of the Mayo Clinic

Thursday, September 27, 2018

We are spending some time in Rochester, Minnesota, so decided to learn a bit more about our temporary home away from home. Like many much larger cities we’ve visited, Rochester has a Hop On Hop Off Bus (or Trolley in this case.) We were able to pick the trolley up near our apartment, and take a 90 minute ride around town, learning more about the Mayo family as well as some of the local attractions.

Founded in 1854 by George Head, who named it for his hometown in New York, the City of Rochester is the third largest city in Minnesota, with a population of about 115,000 people. When you add in the adjacent communities, the number is over 250,000. Rochester is located in Southeastern Minnesota, in the Driftless Area, a region of the Midwest that was never glaciated. Also, Rochester is in Olmsted County, one of only four counties in Minnesota that does not have a natural lake!

Rochester was developed as a stagecoach stop between St. Paul, Minnesota and Dubuque, Iowa, part of the Dubuque Stagecoach Trail. The Minnesota State DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has developed a master plan for a Stagecoach State Trail, that will run from Rochester to Owatonna. It hadn’t been determined yet in 2012 where the trail would be aligned in Rochester. Stay tuned!

The Mayo Civic Center is located just a few blocks from our apartment. Besides conferences and trade show, the Civic Center hosts plays and concerts, even a recent show by Art Garfunkel. It is home to several works of art, including a sculpture of the Mayo Brothers, a stained glass 9/11 Memorial, and an interactive tapered stainless steel sculpture. Type a message into a keyboard, and it will be converted to sound and light on the sculpture.

One day as we were looking out our apartment window, we noticed a large building on top of a hill to the north of us. Our minds are always inquiring, so we looked it up on a map, and discovered that it is Assisi Heights, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Francis, the nuns who founded St. Mary’s Hospital in 1899. Our trolley took us by, although we were not able to disembark here. The facility is not open to the public, except for Sunday Masses held in the chapel.

We next drove by the George Stoppel farmstead, an 1861 limestone house, barn, and two-story smokehouse. When Stoppel first settled here, he built the barn first. For their first winter, his family, including ten children, lived in a cave alongside the barn. A small red door on the left side of the barn marks the entrance to the cave.

Rochester’s most famous resident, William Worrall Mayo, arrived here in 1863 as an examining surgeon for the Minnesota draft board headquartered in Rochester during the Civil War. His family soon followed, and he set up practice that same year. More Mayo history will follow.

Among the many stops today was the Mayowood Mansion, built by William’s son, Charles Horace Mayo.

Charles and his brother, William J, along with their father and six other physicians founded the Mayo Clinic. They practiced as a for-profit clinic, doing very well. Charles used some of his fortune to purchase 3,000 acres, where he and his wife, Edith Graham Mayo built their eleven bedroom, eleven bathroom home in 1911. In addition to their home, Mayo created a lake, had several greenhouses and farms, plus a horse racing track. There was a stone barn that was used for his horses. He also adopted a feature from Ireland called a Dragon’s Tooth fence, supposedly used to discourage sheep from jumping over the fence.

Charles and his wife lived here until 1939, when their son Charles W and his wife, Alice, moved in. Grandson Charles H II and wife, Carolyn, also lived here while he was in residency at Mayo.

The family donated the mansion to the Olmsted County History Center in 1965, along with 10 acres surrounding the home. The Mayo Clinic purchased the property in 2011, and formed a partnership with the History Center, which conducts tours. Mayo has invested several millions of dollars into restoration, returning the home to original splendor. Much of the home was open to us during the tour, but several rooms have been closed to the public, as they are used by the clinic for meetings and private events. We could not take photos indoors, which was disappointing.

Charles H. Mayo designed the home. He did not stint on building and furnishing his home, including the most modern features available, including an elevator. He and his wife furnished it with items from around the world, many of which are still in the home. The grounds are beautiful, with pagodas, a sceened gazebo, and ponds.

Mayowood was home to many famous guests over the years, including Helen Keller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the King of Nepal. It was not uncommon for world renowned patients to stay with their doctor when coming to Mayo for treatment. Mayowood was also known for its Annual Chrysanthemum Show during the 1920’s and 30’s when as many as 60,000 mums would be on display.

We also drove by Soldiers Field Veterans Memorial, dedicated in June, 2000. The Wall of Remembrance was created to honor veterans from Southeast Minnesota. The names of over 2,500 service men and women who died in service to our country are listed on the wall.


Rochester is home to the first Dairy Queen opened in Minnesota. This particular Dairy Queen opened in 1947, only seven years after the very first Dairy Queen opened in Joliet, Illinois. Mark and I are traditionalists, so we paid this site a visit a few days ago. It was a warm, windy day, and we ordered Blizzards. The staff was generous, so our cups overfloweth, and between the heat and the wind, it was all we could do to stay ahead of the melt. A fair amount ended up on my shirt and jeans. Then, the yellow jackets decided to join us, so we quickly retreated to our car. Nonetheless, it was well worth the hardships we bore!


By the way, Rochester is the second windiest city in the United States, according to the Weather Channel‘s Top Ten List of Windiest Cities in America, second only to Amarillo, Texas. I checked the list, and was surprised that Grand Forks, North Dakota, wasn’t among the top ten. I lived there for a while, and lost a garbage can to the wind while I lived there! I never did find it – probably ended up in the river. So, I am a bit skeptical of this claim.

Rochester has a corny claim to fame: It’s home to possibly the only Corn Cob Water Tower in the country. It’s part of a former Libby Foods cannery, now owned by Seneca Foods. Who knows how many cans of corn were processed here? Unfortunately, Seneca announced that seasonal canning will be discontinued here later in 2018.



About kcbernick

I love to travel.
This entry was posted in Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, Rochester, Minnesota, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Rochester, Minnesota, Hometown of the Mayo Clinic

  1. Lila Bernick says:

    Interesting and informative as are all your travelouges.


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