Wabasha is Minnesota ’s most timeless river town; replace the cars on Main Street with horses and buggies, and you’d have a scene almost straight out of the last act of the 19th century. Only about 15 buildings in the seven-block historic district were erected after 1900, and the Wabasha Bridge hanging behind it adds a scenic flourish.
In 1826 fur trader Augustine Rocque, whose father was French and mother Dakota, built a trading post here, and since the site has been continuously occupied since that day, Wabasha claims to be Minnesota’s oldest city.
It acquired the name Cratte’s Landing in 1838 after Oliver Cratte built a home and blacksmith shop here, but five years later the growing settlement was renamed in honor of the respected Dakota chief Wa-pa-shaw, who held sway over the area at that time.
The town thrived as a lumbering, milling, and boatbuilding center between 1850 and 1880 and at that time was one of the largest wheat markets along the river. As the railroads usurped its importance as a shipping center the town stagnated, and for most of the 20th century the beautiful downtown was pretty much left alone.
The town’s current claim to fame comes as the home of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the Grumpy Old Men movies, though they were filmed almost entirely elsewhere in the state: Faribault  for the downtown and St. Paul  for the neighborhood. The only Wabasha location is the St. Felix Church shown for a few seconds during the opening credits in the original.
Screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson grew up nearby in Hastings , and his grandfather—Old Man Gilbert—lived in Wabasha. Though the movies are fictional, many of the characters and incidents are based on real people and events.
Wabasha’s biggest bash is the Riverboat Days Festival held the last weekend in July. Highlights include a classic car show, dog Frisbee, and a craft and antiques fair. Come February it’s time for the Grumpy Old Men Festival, with motorcycle racing on ice, softball in the snow, and a look-alike contest. Friday-night Meet Me Under the Bridge Concerts take place all summer long.
Go Carefree Shuttle (608/781-5181, www.allwayscharter.com , $39 one-way, reservations required) vans go to the Twin Cities  from the AmericInn (150 Commerce Dr.) daily. If you are arriving via the Mississippi, there is a courtesy dock right behind downtown, while the full-service Wabasha Marina Boatyard (1009 Main St. E., 651/565-4747, www.wabashamarinamn.com ) and Parkside Marina (829 3rd St. W., 651/565-3809, www.parksidemarina.com ) can take care of any other boating needs.