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 This building also houses the Willson Library and the Otis N. Wicklund Archives, which preserves thousands of historical documents and artifacts.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top things to do in Rochester, MN: Visit the William Dee Cabin
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,
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.
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.
Historic one-room schoolhouse in Rochester, Minnesota taught students for 72 years
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.
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.
Inside the History Center of Olmsted County
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
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.
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.
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.
Mayo brothers exhibit at History Center of Olmsted County
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
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 day – IBM Rochester
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.
Hiking and snowshoe trails at the History Center of Olmsted County
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
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
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.
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
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.
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