Olmsted County History Center
The county historical museum (1195 W. Circle Dr. SW, 507/282-9447, www.olmstedhistory.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $5 adults) has a classic soda fountain, an early IBM display, and, of course, quite a bit on the Mayo Clinic. Kids can get up close and personal with the hands-on log cabin, tepee, and rag-rug loom. The most fascinating display is the chunk of wood impaled by blades of grass during the 1883 tornado. The furnished 1862 log cabin and 1885 one-room schoolhouse in back are open during the summer only.
Mayowood (3720 Mayowood Rd. SW, 507/282-9447, 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. Tues. and Sat. May–Oct., plus Wed.–Thurs. summer, $12), the country estate of clinic cofounder Dr. Charles Mayo, once covered 3,000 acres and included eight farms, a man-made lake with landscaped islands, a greenhouse made of old X-ray plates, and extensive Japanese, English, and Italian gardens.
The elegant 38-room mansion at the center of it all was built as a summer home in 1911, and sometime in the 1920s he added a hydroelectric dam and moved out here permanently. Another two generations of Mayos resided here until 1965, when the family left the “Big House,” as Dr. Charlie called it, and most of its furnishings to the Olmsted County Historical Society. Special Christmas tours are held in November, and the grounds are one stop on a citywide gardens tour held each June.
Plummer House of the Arts
Henry Plummer, another doctor made obscenely wealthy during his time at the Mayo Clinic, built this 49-room English Tudor mansion (1091 Plummer Ln. SW, 507/328-2525, noon–6 p.m. Wed. June–Aug., $3 adults) in 1917. Plummer (designer of the clinic’s Plummer Building) was also a noted engineer, and he worked such innovative features as a central vacuum system, power garage-door opener, intercom, and gas furnace into his Quarry Hill home. All of the furniture was left behind with the house, though it still feels somewhat empty.
Despite the name, there are no art displays. The arts label stems from his wife Daisy, a tireless cultural promoter. Today the home is used primarily for weddings and other special events, though you can take a look around it, and the 11-acre grounds with forested trails and a small floral garden are free and open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset. Private tours for groups of ten or more can be arranged.
The Rochester Carillon
Inside the pinnacle atop the Mayo Clinic’s grand Plummer Building is one of the most complete carillons in North America. The 56 bronze bells cover four-and-a-half octaves; the largest stands six feet tall and weighs in at four tons, while the smallest is just 19 pounds. Live concerts (7 p.m. Mon., noon Wed. and Fri., plus various holidays) encompass everything from show tunes to hymns. The best place to hear them is about 500 feet downwind, but since that is unpredictable it is probably best to take a seat around the Boy With a Dolphin statue in front of the Mayo Building. Call 507/284-8294 to arrange a tour.
For a look at a more modest, though still upper-class, home, visit Heritage House (225 1st Ave. NW, 507/282-2682, 1–3:30 p.m. Tues., Thurs., and Sun. summer, $4). When the wrecking ball threatened it in 1972, citizens raised some money, moved it to Central Park (the city’s original town square), and restored it. The 1875 home was one of the few downtown buildings to survive the 1883 tornado, and many of the original features and furnishings remain. The guides know the story behind just about every chair, lamp, and doorknob and will tell you as little or as much as you want to know about family life in the late 19th century.
Rochester Art Center
The riverside Rochester Art Center (40 Civic Center Dr. SE, 507/282-8629, www.rochesterartcenter.org, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Wed. and Fri.–Sat., 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs., noon–5 p.m. Sun., $5 adults, free on Thurs.) hosts a variety of exhibitions and events featuring Midwest artists.
Silver Lake Park
If you’ve been wondering why the goose theme is so prevalent in Rochester, visit this large park just north of downtown, where upward of 35,000 Canadian honkers congregate over the winter, a result of the local power plant keeping the lake ice-free. They are here the rest of the year too, though in much smaller numbers.
If you don’t have your own bread you can buy goose food at the parking lot north of 7th Street on the west side of the lake. Paddleboats and canoes are available for rent.
© Tim Bewer from Moon Minnesota, 3rd Edition