The City of Rochester has experienced a meteoric rise over the last 156 years, recently joining the ranks of Minnesota cities with a population exceeding 100,000—a far cry from its early days as a small stagecoach stop.
Current-day Rochester was originally occupied by the Sioux, Ojibwa and Winnebago Native American tribes, until the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota in 1851 opened the land for settlement. Rochester became a reality with the arrival of George Head, a baker from Waukesha, WI, and his family in the summer of 1854. Head built his family home along the Zumbro River, a waterway that reminded him of his childhood in Rochester, NY. This impression quickly led to the new settlement’s name of Rochester.
A second log cabin was constructed along the river, eventually becoming the community’s first hotel. With its location along the Dubuque Trail—a 272-mile stagecoach route between St. Paul and Dubuque, IA—Rochester saw scores of passersby, many of which became permanent settlers. Rochester was incorporated as a city in 1858, and with the coming of the railroad in 1864, the town experienced steady growth. As a result of the increased population, new businesses began opening in the area.
It was during this time that one of Rochester’s most prominent figures arrived. Dr. William Worrall Mayo was a medical examiner of Civil War recruits, and he established a practice throughout southern Minnesota during and after the war. After a fatal tornado swept through the Rochester area in August 1883, Dr. Mayo worked diligently to rebuild the community and set up a system of care for those who sustained injuries from the natural disaster.
As the town began to recover from the crisis, Mother Alfred Moes and the Sisters of St. Francis proposed construction of a hospital to the Mayo family. The establishment of St. Mary’s Hospital in 1889 marked the beginning of what we know today as the Mayo Clinic, a high-quality medical resource that served as a boon to Rochester’s ensuing growth.
Around 14,000 people made up the population of Rochester in 1920—a statistic that continued to rise with the addition of the airport in 1928 and the IBM complex in 1956.
Rochester has certainly evolved from its earliest days, as it is now the third-largest city in Minnesota, with more than 104,000 residents. In fact, the city’s population has increased by more than 21 percent over the last decade and is growing at a rate faster than any other major city in the state. Home to the state’s largest employer, Mayo Clinic, Rochester’s strong local economy, along with vibrant cultural and recreational avenues, first-class education and unrivaled retail and dining options, has unquestionably placed itself amongst the finest cities in which to live, work and play.
Learn more about the Rochester community by perusing the following pages, or by visiting the following websites: the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce at www.rochestermnchamber.com and the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.visitrochestermn.com.