An Urban Biography

Virginia Wright-Peterson


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Rochester, Minnesota’s third-largest city, has always been a crossroads. For untold centuries, Dakota and Ho-Chunk people lived in this beautiful area around the Zumbro River. The town itself began in 1854 as a stagecoach stop for people traveling between St. Paul and Dubuque, Iowa.

In this brief and entertaining city history, Virginia Wright-Peterson explores fascinating stories of the community: the karst geology and cave systems in and around town; the importance of the region’s agriculture; the regular, troublesome flooding of the Zumbro River; hidden histories held in the unmarked graves of Potter's Field; the Cyclone of 1883 and the world-famous Mayo Clinic it spawned; the roles that the city's women have played in business, government, and community organizations; the growth and contraction of IBM-Rochester, a major computer design, development, and manufacturing center; and Destination Medical Center, a twenty-year plan to develop the area as a global destination for health care and the largest public-private economic initiative in Minnesota’s history.

Cities, like people, are always changing, and the history of that change is the city’'s biography. This book illuminates the unique character of Rochester, weaving in the hidden stories of place, politics, and identity that continue to shape its residents’ lives.


Virginia Wright-Peterson:
Virginia M. Wright-Peterson has taught writing for more than fifteen years and is on the administrative team at the University of Minnesota Rochester. She is the author of Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation and A Woman's War Too.