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Bringing the Past to Life

The History Center of Olmsted County and Mayowood Mansion  

It all started with an F5 tornado that ripped through Rochester in 1883. While much of the city was destroyed by the tornado, Mayo Clinic was born out of the devastation. The creation of Mayo Clinic, as well as the rest of Olmsted County's rich history, is showcased at the History Center of Olmsted County and at Mayowood Mansion.


Will and Charlie Mayo narrowly escaped the massive tornado--they took cover in a blacksmith's shop and survived. Others did not. Thirty-seven people were killed and another 200 injured. A stroll through the History Center of Olmsted County brings the story of terror and triumph to life. Get swept up in the story of how a dance hall was transformed into a temporary emergency room and how Dr. William Worall Mayo, his two sons, "Dr. Will" and "Dr. Charlie," and the Sisters of St. Francis recognized the need for a hospital in Rochester. Learn how they banded together to form Saint Marys Hospital, which ultimately catalyzed the building of Mayo Clinic.


Take a tour of the 38-room Mayowood Mansion and ornamental gardens, beloved country home to three generations of the Mayo family. There you can learn about what they ate, how they played, their world travels and about their guests. Peek at the Mayo family guestbook to see the many dignitaries and famous people they warmly welcomed, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Lou Gehrig and the King and Queen of Nepal. You'll hear fun stories about the brothers, like how they were so fond of each other that they wanted to build a library room that would connect their homes. When their wives vetoed the idea, the brothers settled for a talking tube that ran between their homes.


Kids visiting the hands-on cabin at the History Center will quickly notice the absence of televisions, computers and video games in the exhibits that recreate the home life of early frontier families in the 1860s. Kids can touch and see items that pioneer children of their same ages would have used and experienced more than 150 years ago.


Watch the Rochester Roosters and Hens play base ball (two words), as it was called in 1860, in period uniforms, using replica bats and balls. You might be able to see a "huler" (pitcher) throw a no-hitter. There's no bunting, no sliding, no leading off, no stealing, no betting and no swearing. You can catch a game on summer nights at their home field, Schmitt Field, on the History Center grounds.


The Days of Yesteryear wil transport you back to a time when a big farm was only a couple of acres. History Center volunteers or Mechanical History Roundtable volunteers farm a few acres the old way. They also operate a sawmill and blacksmith shop and maintain a collection of various mechanical devices and farm equipment.

The History Center is more than a haven for history buffs. By offering a kaleidoscope of events and activities to engage and educate the community, the History Center is truly the storyteller of Olmsted County.

The History Center of Olmsted County museum and library is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday and is closed all major holidays. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $2 for children and free for members. For information or reservations for the the History Center or to learn about Mayowood Mansion tours, call 507-282-9447 or visit olmstedhistory.com.