Fall foliage with path leading to red barn
History does indeed live here. The History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minnesota features several historical buildings and a farmstead from the 1800s.

History Center of Olmsted County’s historical buildings and farmstead

If you want to step back in time to the pioneer days, visit the History Center of Olmsted County in southeast Minnesota. Touring the historical George Stoppel farmstead from the 1800s is one of my favorite things to do in Rochester, Minn. Here you’ll find an intact and original stone house, barn and silo from the 1860s.

Updated 10.12.21; originally published 10.28.19

And that’s not all you’ll find on this 54-acre historical campus walking tour.

  • An 1860s log cabin – one of Rochester, Minnesota’s first dwelling
  • One-room schoolhouse from the 1890s
  • Vintage baseball field where players play in 1860 uniforms and by 1860 baseball rules.

Inside the History Center of Olmsted County

You can tour several Minnesota historical exhibits (permanent and traveling) at the History Center of Olmsted County. This building also houses the Willson Library and the Otis N. Wicklund Archives, which preserves thousands of historical documents and artifacts.

Until you have the opportunity to visit and add the History Center of Olmsted County to your top things to do in Rochester, Minn., I invite you to take a virtual tour with me.

How to support my blog

While my visit to the History Center of Olmsted County was hosted, all opinions are my own.


This post contains links to products and services. While you will not accrue any additional costs to support my blog, I may – as a marketing affiliate – receive compensation. That means if you link to or purchase products and services from places such as Amazon, Bluehost, Constant Contact, It’s a Lovely Life, HotelsCombined, etc., I may receive compensation at no additional cost to you. All images taken by kmf and available for digital download. Special thanks to the History Center of Olmsted County for sponsoring our visit in exchange for an honest review of our experience.


George Stoppel farmstead in Rochester, Minnesota listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Collage of historical buildings on a 1800s farmstead including a stone house, red barn, silo
The George Stoppel historical farmstead from the 1800s is one of the top things to see at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minn.

Touring the George Stoppel farmstead is one of the top things to do in Rochester, Minn.

When the two Stoppel brothers (George and Joseph) arrived in Rochester, MN, they each bought 160 acres of land for about $200. At the time, the land comprised of six-foot prairie grass. Eventually the land became farms for livestock, corn and soybeans.

George was a cooper (barrel maker) and Joseph was a stonemason. Both trades came in handy during those early years. That included the construction of the George Stoppel house made from limestone. George built a number of buildings. Three remain: the stone house built in 1861, a barn, a shed and a silo.

Stoppel family spends winter in a Minnesota cave

However, before those buildings were constructed, the two Stoppel brothers’ families spent their first winter of 1860 in a cave. This cave also included their kitchen and sleeping quarters (these two large families all slept on the floor of this cave).

Here’s a video clip to give you an idea how these pioneers lived during their first year in Rochester, MN.

Inside look of the historic cave dwelling where the George and Joseph Stoppel families lived during their first winter in Rochester, Minnesota – 1860.

Why that’s a big deal

I’ve experienced 27 Minnesota winters so far. It gets kinda cold here in MinneSNOWta. And when I say kinda, I mean windchills dipped down to -55*F a couple of winters ago. That’s below zero. So am completely in awe of the two Stoppel brothers who built a cave for their large families to live in. And not only that, Joseph’s wife gave birth that winter in the cave.

Cave where pioneers lived during a winter in the 1800s
Pioneering life was not glamorous. In fact, two pioneer families from the 1800s spent their first winter in this Rochester, MN cave. This is the view from the back of the cave looking out.
Small red door that leads to a cave
Door leads to a small cave built by the Stoppel brothers. This is where the two families lived during their first winter in Minnesota.

George Stoppel farmstead home built of limestone

Brothers George and Franz Joseph Stoppel constructed the original two and one-half story coursed ashlar structure in 1860-62. It still stands on the grounds of the History Center of Olmsted County. Built of native limestone, the design of the house was a saltbox construction. The home included four rooms downstairs, two rooms upstairs, central stairway and chimneys located at both gable ends of the roof. Sometime before 1873, a single story kitchen and porch were added with a 60-foot well located under the floor.

Interpretative sign outside the George Stopple farmstead limestone house at History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN.


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Another historical Stoppel farmstead in Rochester, MN

Franz Joseph Stoppel lived on the other side of the hill and his farmstead suffered severe damage from a F5 tornado that hit Rochester in 1883. This tornado caused 37 deaths and more than 200 injuries. From this tragedy, the community started down the path to create the Mayo Clinic. Joseph’s farmstead is now known as the Ralph Stoppel Farmstead – and remained in the family for 100 years.


Stone house, gravel road and red barn
George Stoppel farmstead in Rochester, MN is one of the best historical places to visit in Minnesota.

Peek inside Stoppel historical buildings at Olmsted History Center

All of the remaining George Stoppel buildings in Rochester, Minn. are intact. While these historical buildings are not safe to access at this time, you can take a peek from outside.

Hung-dug cave, root celler
Hand-dug cave serving as root cellar/cold storage; silo in background

The two Stoppel brothers also hand-dug caves that served as root cellars and cold storage. It’s also believed they brewed beer and made wine here.


Gravel driveway leading to a red barn and stone house and fall trees
Path leading to the George Stoppel stone house and barn


Top things to do in Rochester, MN: Visit the William Dee Cabin


Log cabin built in 1862 by William and Bridget Dee was one of the first dwellings in Rochester, Minn.

I love visiting historical homes on vacation. The William Dee log cabin reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie books I read and the TV show I watched as a child. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Walnut Grove home and museum are only three hours away from the History Center of Olmsted County,


Old spinning wheel, stove and furniture inside log cabin
Top historical things to do in Rochester, MN: Visit the log cabin at the History Center of Olmsted County.


Virtual tour inside Dee Log Cabin in Rochester, MN

Built by William and Bridget Dee in 1862, this log cabin was built in just one day with the help of 25 other men. This early settler’s home was first located in the city of Rochester, MN. It then moved six times before making it to the History Center of Olmsted County. They, along with the Daughters of the American Revolution, are credited with preserving this historical log cabin.


An inside look at the historic Dee log cabin at the History Center of Olmsted, County in Rochester, Minn.

Thousands of school children and visitors have explored the Dee log cabin in Rochester, MN to learn about early settlements before electricity and cars. The History Center of Olmsted County encourages and offers hands-on activities for children. This makes it a perfect place to visit when traveling with children.


The History Center of Olmsted County encourages interactive activities to help learn more about Minnesota history.

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Historic one-room schoolhouse in Rochester, Minnesota taught students for 72 years


White one-room schoolhouse
Hadley Valley one-room schoolhouse built in 1885

If you love learning about historical buildings, add this one-room schoolhouse in Rochester, Minn. to your itinerary. Built in 1885 for $800, the Hadley Valley Schoolhouse taught children for 72 years until 1957. This too reminded me of the Little House on the Prairie with its original furnishings, desks, blackboards and even the kerosene lamp. Electricity and restrooms were added in the 1930s. It’s a great place to visit in Minnesota especially when traveling with children.


Interior shot from the back of the classroom of a one-room classroom with desks
Interior look at the Hadley Valley one-room schoolhouse at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN

Interior of historical one-room schoolhouse with teacher's desk, student desks, American flag and chalkboard
Teacher’s desk from the 1800s at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN

World globe hanging from ceiling with portrait of George Washington hanging on the wall
Didn’t all elementary schools have this same iconic George Washington portrait?

Historic water dipper from the 1800s and a chalkboard – History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN

Vintage base ball (not a typo) field at History Center of Olmsted County



Are you a baseball fan? Then you’ll want add this baseball field in Rochester, Minn. to your travel bucket list. The History Center of Olmsted County’s Schmitt Field is home to the Roosters and Hens base ball teams.

I’m a big fan of etymology (word origins) so was cool to learn that back in the day base ball was actually two words.

The teams play by 1860 rules and in 1860 uniforms with replica bats and balls. Roosters is the men’s team and the Hens is the women’s and children’s division of the program.

Interested in playing for the Roosters or watching them in action? Check out the History Center of Olmsted County website for more information.


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Inside the History Center of Olmsted County

History Center of Olmsted County’s lobby features a gift shop.

You’ll find a number of interesting historical exhibits and memorabilia inside the History Center of Olmsted County. When you first enter, you’ll see a gift shop with some really cool souvenirs. At the end of one of the hallways, you’ll find the Wilson-Wicklund Research Center and Archive. And then you can take a self-guided and self-paced tour through all the History Center of Olmsted County’s exhibits – traveling, rotating and permanent.

The following traveling and/or rotating exhibits were on display when we visited in 2019. Check the History Center of Olmsted County’s website for the latest historical exhibits.

Traveling exhibit – Coming of age: The 1968 generation


History Center of Olmsted County features traveling exhibits such as this one from 2019: Coming of Age – The 1968 generation.

This former traveling exhibit from the Minnesota Historical Society featured what life was like in 1968 as Minnesota teens came of age. The history exhibit showcased civil rights, the rise of feminism, popular television shows and music, fashion, the Vietnam war, politics and more.


One of the former traveling exhibits at History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN.

Traveling While Black – former exhibit

The History Center of Olmsted County’s main exhibit when we visited was called Traveling While Black. It showcased the challenges travelers of color faced in the 1950s due to discrimination. The history exhibit featured the Green Book (which the Oscar-winning best pic movie of the same name was based on). This book listed safe places where African Americans could eat, stay and purchase gasoline. It’s a glimpse into Minnesota history during the time leading up to the civil rights era.


A bed with old suitcase
Rochester’s Avalon Hotel, a safe place to stay for African Americans, was first listed in the Green Book in 1948 where it remained throughout the era. Here’s what a typical guest room looked like. The Avalon Hotel building still stands at 301 North Broadway in Rochester, Minn.

Framed document hanging on a wall
Traveling while Black exhibit: IBM Rochester’s equal opportunity employee policy from 1953

Newspaper headlines from the 1950s
Unfortunate headlines during the 1950s: Traveling while Black exhibit


Old-fashion gas pump and Coke machine
Gas station during the 1950s

Rochester Symphony celebrated 100 years

Music also has its place in Minnesota history. I was surprised to learn the city of Rochester, Minn. has had a symphony for more than 100 years. Another surprising fun fact to learn about the connection with the Mayo brothers (Drs. Will and Charlie, two of the founders of the Mayo Clinic).

The Mayo brothers invested their own money to attract professional musicians and conductors as they realized cultural arts would also help lure quality doctors to rural Minnesota.


Vrbo

Mayo brothers exhibit at History Center of Olmsted County

Mayo brothers exhibit at History Center of Olmsted County
The Mayo brothers exhibit at History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN.

Rochester, Minn. is best-known for the world-renowned and number one hospital, The Mayo Clinic. The Mayo brothers were sons of a rural physician and became well-known around the world as Dr. Charlie and Dr. Will. Dedicated to research and education and giving back, they and their wives donated all the assets of the famed Mayo Clinic to create a non-profit organization.

The History Center of Olmsted County includes an exhibit about the Mayo brothers. Here you’ll find recorded news clips where you can sit, watch and learn more about the history of the Mayo Clinic and the Mayo family.

You can learn more in this ongoing exhibit at the History Center of Olmsted County as well as via our tour experience at the Mayowood Mansion.


Olmsted County rich in archeological finds

Archeological artifact in glass case
The History Center of Olmsted County preserves and maintains thousands of artifacts.

If you like to incorporate a little archaeology and paleontology into your history tours, you’ll find some cool bones and fossils in a special exhibit at the History Center of Olmsted County. The Rochester, Minnesota area was home to megafauna (i.e., big animals like mammoths, mastodens). The first evidence of humans in the county dates back 13,000 years ago.



Back in the dayIBM Rochester

Antique personal computers
Rochester, MN was home to IBM and you’ll find several related exhibits at the History Center of Olmsted County.

For a little more recent history, you can follow a computer timeline. The hallway leading from the lobby to the History Center of Olmsted County’s research center and library drew our attention as it features early IBM computers and related technology. Rochester became home to one of IBM’s major manufacturing facilities in 1956 (eventually growing to 8,000 employees).

My husband’s first job out of college was as a field service engineer in Fishkill, New York, where his main client was IBM. So this hallway was a walk down memory lane.


Old computer technology
Technology exhibit at History Center of Olmsted County

Hiking and snowshoe trails at the History Center of Olmsted County

Easy walking and cross-country skiing trails at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN.

You can find a couple of trails at the History Center of Olmsted County where you can check out the historical grounds as you hike or snowshoe around the grounds. No admission required and you can find a trail map online. The loops are fairly short on easy terrain so they are perfect walking tours for families with young children or seniors.

  • George Stoppel Trail: Only a half-mile loop, this trail is perfect for families or beginners – taking you past the farmstead, the Hadley Valley Schoolhouse and through the woods.

  • Scenic trail: A little over a mile, this trail will take you around both the George Stoppel and Ralph Stoppel Farmsteads, the William Dee log cabin, the Rooster base ball field and more.  



History Center of Olmsted County hours, admission, location

History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN

Check the History Center of Olmsted County website for hours, admission prices and directions. Currently, the museum, gift shop and research center are open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The History Center of Olmsted County is located at 1195 West Circle Drive SW, in Rochester, MN; and is also a stop on the Rochester Trolley & Tour Company’s hop-on, hop-off service.  


Mayowood Mansion – home of the Mayos

Stairs leading up to a mansion
Top things to do in Rochester, Minnesota: Mayowood Mansion

The History Center of Olmsted County also oversees the historic Mayowood Mansion. Built in 1911, I highly recommend touring the beautiful home of Charles H. and Edith Mayo (of Mayo Clinic fame). Located about a mile and a half away from the History Center of Olmsted County, it features 38 rooms, antique furnishings and beautiful gardens and grounds. Admission is separate from the History Center of Olmsted County. Please see their website for details.

Best places for fall colors in Minnesota: Mayowood Mansion in Rochester

My husband and I love historical homes, and the Mayowood Mansion tour is one of our favorites ever – one of the best things to do in Rochester, Minn. Until you get the opportunity to visit, please enjoy a few of these fall photos we took of this historical home’s gardens and grounds during our hosted visit.


Planter of fall flowers on a balcony overlooking fall trees
View from the balcony of Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, MN – one of the best places to visit in Minnesota.

Purple mums in planter, gate and other fall colors
Fall flowers and trees in autumn at Mayood Mansion in Rochester, Minn.

Path leading through leaves on the ground and trees in autumn
Beautiful grounds of Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, Minn.

Stunning fall colors at Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, Minn.

stone house
Original stone house at History Center of Olmsted County, Rochester, MN

A special thank you to the History Center of Olmsted County and Mayowood Mansion for their hospitality as they hosted my husband and me and arranged all our tours while exploring the top things to do in Rochester, Minn.


Best place to stay in Rochester, MN: Hilton Mayo Rochester Area

Looking up at a hotel with lots of windows
Where to stay in Rochester, Minn. – Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area

Amother special thank you goes to the Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area for hosting my husband and me while visiting Rochester, MN. You can read about my experience at the Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area on That Traveling Chick’s website. My travel blogger friend, Sheila, was unable to attend so invited me to attend on her behalf. In exchange for our hosted stay, I covered Hilton’s 100th anniversary red-carpet event. All opinions are my own and I highly recommend the Hilton Rochester Mayo Clinic Area hotel as the best place to stay in Rochester, Minn.



If you enjoyed this post about some of the best things to do in Rochester, Minn., please share on your own social media platforms and pin for later.


Pin it for later – top things to do in Rochester, Minn.


Log cabin with fall colors and trees
Top things to do in Rochester, Minnesota – History Center of Olmsted County

Collage of historical buildings, a red barn, a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse
Take a history tour: The pioneer life in Rochester, Minnesota – History Center of Olmsted County

collage of historical buildings, a red barn, stone house and silo
Best history tour in Rochester, Minnesota – History Center of Olmsted County














Author

Twin Cities-based blogger sharing memorable emptynester, solo, family and girlfriend-getaway adventures, as well as my day hiking adventures (including all 66 Minnesota state parks), latest book reviews, and updates on my quest for the best adult mac and cheese. Also two WIPs: historical fiction and psychological thriller

53 comments

  1. I love that one-room schoolhouse. The ironwork on the desk and chairs is beautiful. However, I’m still so surprised by those houses. Caves in the ground? Somehow I don’t see how the frozen ground is warmer.

    1. I agree…that one-room schoolhouse is beautiful. Not sure about the rationale of living in a cave, but must have been out of necessity until they built their real homes.

  2. I have never visited Minnesota, but your post makes me want to take a trip. I’m from Georgia, so I will not be visiting in that -55 degree wind chill! Also, I love old log cabins. Just like you said, it reminds me of Little House on the Prairie.

  3. I would be creeped out living in a cave, but rather interesting part of history. The mansion is more my style, lol! Great pics of the scenery and good to know what to see in Rochester.

      1. The Dee Cabin, the School House, and the Stoppel Farm cave and barn were used to great effect in the past with living history portrayal of the great struggles during the American Civil War including the Vicksburg cave dwellers in 1863, and medical developments from that era seen as advances today at Mayo. Fascinating living history programs in the past at the History Center.

        1. I agree! We loved touring the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, Minn. So much great historical stories and things to do and see.

  4. I think just one Minnesota winter would do me in, and I live in a time with heated homes! The two trails look fun to hike, but not in the winter. And the Mayowood Mansion looks interesting!

  5. This is a great list of historical things to do in Rochester. We do plan to visit, but not in the winter haha I think the cave is very interesting and I love the mansion and school house. Great sites to visit.

  6. I’ve never been to Minnesota, and one of my goals is to visit all 50 states, so I’ll definitely need to add some of these to my list when I do visit! That one-room schoolhouse looks really neat. I’m always fascinated by places like that and learning the history (and many of the other spots you listed here). Thanks for sharing! Xx Sara

    1. Thank you and my pleasure! What an ambitious goal to visit all 50 states. I’m all about history and Olmsted County and Rochester, Minnesota have a lot to offer when you visit.

  7. I’ve never thought about visiting Rochester MN, but your post has me wanting to go see all of these fascinating historic spots! I’d especially love to visit the schoolhouse. I live in an 1859 former schoolhouse in NH, and I love touring schoolhouse museums to see what my home must have looked like before it was converted.

    1. The History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN is a perfect destination for families with children. The one-room schoolhouse and the log cabin are especially popular.

  8. Looks like with all that history… I NEED to visit Rochester, Minnesota! I can’t believe how well preserved all those old buildings are throughout Olmsted County. This area is for sure going on my list!

    1. Awesome! So happy to hear that you enjoyed my guide to the historic places in Rochester, MN and Olmsted County. Love that they preserve these old historic buildings.

    1. That’s so awesome! I love all things history and the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN is one of my favorite things to do in Minnesota.

  9. Wow, what a fascinating place to visit with so much history! I was fascinated to learn about the family who built and lived in a cave. As an Arizonian, the thought of living in a cave in Minnesota sounds frightening, haha. I’m impressed they made it work!

    1. I’m so impressed that these two families spent a Minnesota winter in a cave. So much fascinating history in Olmsted County.

    1. Minnesota gets soooooo cold. And then gets soooooo hot. We go to extremes for sure. Lots of great history in Olmsted County.

  10. I love visiting historical sites. The Olmsted county in Rochester MN looks like a fun place to explore!

  11. Fantastic post! I love to visit places full of history and interesting anecdotes! I would love to walk in the park at the Mayowood Mansion, absolutely fascinating! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you! Rochester, Minnesota and Olmsted County offer so much fascinating history. Especially loved the Mayowood Mansion.

    1. You’re welcome and my pleasure. The History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN features some really cool buildings and stories from the 1800s.

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