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An Urban Biography

Virginia Wright-Peterson

Minnesota Historical Society Press (August 16, 2022)

A concise history of Rochester, featuring stories that are familiar, surprising, and sure to change the way you see the city.

Rochester, Minnesota’s third-largest city, is best known for its world-renowned medical facility, the Mayo Medical Center—yet its history and contemporary life are filled with countless other stories, people, and pivotal moments. Rochester has always been a crossroads. For centuries, Dakota and Ho-Chunk people have lived in this beautiful area around the Zumbro River. The town itself began in 1854 as a stagecoach stop for people traveling between St. Paul, Minnesota, and Dubuque, Iowa.

In this brief and engaging history, Virginia M. Wright-Peterson explores fascinating stories of the community: the area’s indigenous people; the importance of the region’s agriculture on the karst, driftless, prairie landscape; the persistent flooding of the Zumbro River; the hidden histories held in the unmarked graves of Potter’s Field; the cyclone of 1883 and the famous medical center it spawned; the emergence of an increasingly diverse community; and Destination Medical Center, a twenty-year plan to develop the area as a global destination for health care—and the largest public-private economic initiative in Minnesota’s history.

Cities, like people, are always changing, and the history of that change is the city’s biography. This book illuminates the unique character of Rochester, weaving in the stories of place, politics, and identity that continue to shape its residents’ lives.

Advance Praise

“In Rochester: An Urban Biography, Virginia Wright-Peterson not only captures the
intricacies that make our city one of a kind but also places a much-deserved emphasis on Rochester’s Dakota and Ho-Chunk roots. This book offers a renewed and timely look at the diverse events that have cultivated our city of compassion and innovation by not only exploring our history but also envisioning the milestones yet to come.”
Kim Norton, mayor of Rochester

“This engaging narrative will surprise anyone who only knows of Rochester, Minnesota, as the home of Mayo Clinic. Virginia Wright-Peterson mixes stories of people, places, and events as she sketches a portrait of a city with a distinctive, and sometimes troubling, past, present, and future.”
Thomas F. Weber, Rochester journalist and historian

“A city’s big story is the one it tells about itself, a story that celebrates successes and
helps it grow. But it’s the other stories, the hidden histories, that can reveal what sits
beneath our unresolved problems. Virginia Wright-Peterson demonstrates why these
richly illuminating narratives should come from multiple perspectives. And knowing
about this complicated history can help our city live up to the legacy we claim.”
Mia Erickson, board president, Diversity Council, Rochester

Author Information

Virginia M. Wright-Peterson has taught writing for more than fifteen years and is on the administrative team at the University of Minnesota Rochester. She is the author of Women of Mayo Clinic: The Founding Generation and A Woman's War Too.

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