Most everyone has heard of the Mayo Clinic. Perennially ranked as the top hospital in the U.S., the Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization based in Rochester, Minn. that cares for more than one million patients annually. It’s also home to the beautiful Mayowood Mansion – built in 1911 by Dr. Charlie and Edith Mayo.
Why is Mayo Clinic located in Rochester, Minnesota?
Have you ever wondered how or why a world-renowned health care facility is located in a rural part of Minnesota? Granted, Rochester, is no longer a rural community (the third largest city in Minnesota), but the metropolitan city still has its country roots vibe.
It never really crossed my mind how or why Mayo Clinic was located in Rochester, Minnesota – just 90 minutes from where I live in the southern metro of the Twin Cities. In fact, I didn’t know anything about its origins. At least not until the fall of 2019 when my husband and I took some historical tours as guests of the History Center of Olmsted County and the Mayowood Mansion.
History of the Mayo family and the Mayowood Mansion
I’m all about history and historical homes and am now completely fascinated by the Mayo family – progressive and innovative humanitarians, they disrupted health care in a good way.
“Perhaps somebody may run across these lines in fifty or hundred years and comment with tolerant pity: ‘Well, he had a glimmering of vision, anyways!’”- Dr. Charlie Mayo
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Please also note that my husband and I were guests of the History Center of Olmsted County and the Mayowood Mansion. However, all opinions are my own.
Mayo Brothers exhibit at the History Center of Olmsted County
Charles H. Mayo, M.D., aka Dr. Charlie, on the left, (1865-1939) was a head and neck surgeon. He served as president of the American Medical Association 1917-1918.
Dr. William J. Mayo, aka Dr. Will, on the right, (1861-1939) specialized as a stomach surgeon, and served as president of the American Medical Association 1906-1907.
Extremely close, the Mayo brothers built city houses side-by-side in Rochester (heard there was talk that they even wanted to build a connecting library, but the wives said no). They also died within months of each other.
You can read about our visit to the History Center of Olmsted County, which features an exhibit about the Mayo brothers who founded the Mayo Clinic alongside their father, Dr. William Worrall Mayo.
Who were the founders of the Mayo Clinic?
On a related note, several practice physician partners were also instrumental in the foundation of the Mayo Clinic (Dr. Will favored listing all the partners, but a shorter name was more convenient). Those practice physician partners (along with Dr. Will Mayo and Dr. Charlie Mayo) were Augustus Stinchfield, Henry Stanley Plummer, Christopher Graham, E. Starr Judd, Melvin Millet and Donald Balfour. It moved from a private practice to what is now known as the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic.
Other historical exhibits and buildings at the History Center of Olmsted County in Rochester, MN
In addition to the Mayo Brothers exhibit, the History Center of Olmsted County’s 54-acre campus also features some other really cool historical exhibits and buildings from the 1800s. The history center also includes an original farmstead, one-room schoolhouse, log cabin and a cave where two families lived their first winter. Talk about embracing winter in Minnesota! (And here I can’t even go outside without my North Face gloves and Under Armour turtleneck and Under Armour leggings.) Learn more in my post: Historical things to do in Rochester, Minnesota.
Edith Mayo – the other Mayo
I’m also especially intrigued by Edith Mayo, wife of Charles H. Mayo (aka Dr. Charlie). She was the first trained nurse in Minnesota and worked for the Mayo brothers’ father before falling in love and marrying his son.
My husband purchased a book about Edith Mayo in the Mayowood Mansion gift shop, Mrs. Charlie – The Other Mayo, by Judith Hartzell (as well as some notecards). Her contributions to the healthcare industry and society are inspiring – among them: training the Sisters of St. Francis, who opened Saint Mary’s Hospital in 1889, and being named American Mother of the Year in 1940).
Mayo Clinic timeline at a glance
Dr. W.W. Mayo (the father of Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie) was a country physician who first moved to Rochester, MN in 1863 as an examining surgeon for the Union Army recruiting board during the Civil War. Two years later, Dr. W.W. Mayo started his private practice.
Fast forward a couple of decades and his sons, Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie, joined him – with their path eventually leading them (and the other partner physicians mentioned previously) to create the not-for-profit Mayo Clinic.
The sons of Charles H. (Charles W. aka Dr. Chuck and Joseph G.) followed in their father’s footsteps and in the 1920s helped evolve Mayo Clinic into today’s world-renowned medical facility. Still making history today, you can find a timeline of the Mayo Clinic online.
Naturally curious and always seeking better ways, the Mayo brothers were visionary and philanthropic pioneers in the medical field. Examples include the creation of a multi-specialty group practice, salaried physicians and donating their estates, which eventually became the not-for-profit Mayo Foundation.
There’s so much more fascinating history about the Mayo Clinic and the family. I highly encourage you to visit the History Center of Olmsted County and tour the Mayowood Mansion to learn more.
Take a virtual tour of Mayowood Mansion
I invite you to take a virtual tour of our visit of one of the best and most beautiful historic homes in Minnesota.
Until you get an opportunity to visit the Mayowood Mansion yourself, I’ll share some highlights from our tour of the beautiful 38-room home built by Dr. Charlie and Edith Mayo in 1911.
My husband and I have toured many historical homes over the years and my husband claims Mayowood Mansion is his favorite ever. What I loved about this historical home especially is that even though it’s a sprawling mansion (or what they called The Big House), it feels like a warm and inviting home where families live – not a museum or a showpiece. Definitely has some good energy.
Mayowood Mansion tours
The Mayowood Mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is typically open for public tours late March to late October (Tuesdays through Saturdays) and special Christmas tours early November to mid-December. You can purchase tickets and check the historic Mayowood Mansion tour hours on the History Center of Olmsted County website. Also check the website for any social-distancing guidelines or reduced hours/capacity at Mayowood Mansion due to the pandemic.
While the Mayo Clinic owns the Mayowood Mansion and its remaining 10 acres it sits on, the history center manages the tours.
Travel tip: The Mayowood Mansion is one of the stops (and best places to visit) on the Rochester City and Mayo Historical Trolley Tours on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Public tours are seasonal.
Christmas at Mayowood Mansion
They really know how to deck the halls and staircase for Christmas at the Mayowood Mansion.
Cute story behind this piano. Since the Mayos entertained guests at Mayowood Mansion so much, Edith Mayo thought they should purchase a baby grand piano. But her husband said it was too expensive and too big. One day Dr. Charlie shared the great news that he had bought a new boat for the family to travel on the Mississippi River. He asked Edith what they should name it.
“Baby Grand,” was her response.
That did become the name of the boat and a baby grand piano was delivered to the Mayowood Mansion the next day.
The Mayos believed art and music were essential to the healing process – and the Mayo Clinic still believes that today (a piano sits in the clinic’s lobby, which patients and visitors play).
Speaking of Christmas: Looking for a unique and practical gift ideas or experiences the traveler or bookworm on your list will love? Then check out my favorite things: a gift guide for wanderlusts, day hikers and bookworms.
Mayowood Mansion back in the day: a historical timeline
All historical photos and interior shots shared in this blog post are courtesy of the History Center of Olmsted County and the Mayowood Mansion. Exterior shots of this historic home were taken by my husband, Steve, and me.
The library is my favorite room that we saw on the Mayowood Mansion tour. We learned that Dr. Charlie was all about upcycling – finding creative ways to reuse products. For example, he paneled this library from lumber salvaged from a schoolhouse that had been damaged in a fire.
I also learned from the “Mrs. Charlie – The Other Mayo” book that Dr. Charlie had the contractors reinforce the concrete wall at Mayowood Mansion with old farm equipment found in a junkyard.
The beautiful living room at the Mayowood Mansion is the largest of the 38 rooms in the home.
The Mayos entertained frequently at their country home, Mayowood Mansion – from doctors to neighbors to royalty to athletes to actors and other celebrities. Dr. Charlie would sit at the middle of the table so that he could see everyone in the concave mirror that’s hung above the fireplace.
Mayowood Mansion photo gallery
While you are not allowed to take photos inside the Mayowood Mansion, you are free to take photos on the vast terrace and of the beautiful gardens. Even though it was overcast and sprinkling during our visit, the weather did not dampen the beauty during our Mayowood Mansion tour on a fall day.
Enjoy this virtual tour of one of the best historical homes in Minnesota: The Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, MN.
The Mayo family visited their country property, mainly for picnics, for years before the Mayowood Mansion was built. It was during one of these picnics when Dr. Charlie described the type of home he wanted to build. To help his family visualize their future home (Mayowood Mansion), he used twigs and twine to mark up individual rooms.
Edith Mayo used this dinner bell to summon her family for mealtimes at Mayowood Mansion.
The Mayowood Mansion eventually grew to 3,000 acres; however, eventually the family had to sell off acreages. The property is now at 10 acres.
This statue named Winter overlooks the gravesites of Dr. Chuck and Alice Mayo, the son and daughter-in-law of Dr. Charlie and Edith Mayo, who also lived in the home in later years.
The epitaph reads:
Grieved not I or she
The cause is just
And surely in reunion is reprieve
Plan your visit to one of the best places to visit in Minnesota: The historical Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, MN
These images of the Mayowood Mansion and garden are just a glimpse of what you can expect to appreciate when you are looking for things to do in Rochester, Minn.
A special thank you to the History Center of Olmsted County and the Mayowood Mansion for hosting us on our tours and providing interior images for this post.