A Patchwork of History

Experience the historic backdrop of Southern Minnesota

Amish Buggy, Preston, Minnesota.
Amish Buggy, Preston

photo by explore minnesota

The four regions of southern Minnesota are home to historic sites and attractions that preserve many bygone eras. Legacies of the past continue to leave their mark on the area, where Native Americans once used the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers as hunting grounds, explorers recorded the lay of the land, and industries blossomed in milling, trading and logging. Witness these and many other stories from the past at museums, monuments, historic markers and more throughout southern Minnesota.

Catch a glimpse into the lives of some of the area’s earliest inhabitants at Jeffers Petroglyphs in the Prairie Land town of Comfrey. This natural attraction preserves ancient carvings made by Native Americans more than 7,000 years ago in the midst of prairie grasses. The petroglyphs depict humans, deer, buffalo, arrows and more. The site is also a living sacred site where members of various Native Americans go to pray.

Another Prairie Land site to discover Native American history is Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, located near the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. For many generations, Native Americans have used the red pipestone found here to make sacred pipes used for prayer and other ceremonies.

Throughout the region’s exploration and settlement of the area, relations between Native Americans and Europeans were complicated and often full of tension. The height of that unrest is characterized by the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. The conflict erupted when the U.S. government failed to pay what they had agreed upon in order to purchase parts of modern day Minnesota. See the Minnesota River Valley site where the treaty was made near modern day St. Peter at Traverse des Sioux, which had long been a primary crossing of the Minnesota River and meeting place for fur traders.

When settlers arrived to the area, they brought their own traditions and heritage with them. German culture is alive and well in New Ulm, also located in the Minnesota River Valley. The idyllic town is inundated with historic attractions including the Hermann Monument, a 100-foot copper statue that celebrates the community’s German roots, and many other stories of the past.

See authentic, fully functional World War II aircrafts and vehicles at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum in Granite Falls. The Minnesota River Valley attraction commemorates the men and women who served during the war, and educates visitors about this time in history with interactive exhibits, an extensive library and works of art.

For a medical history lesson, visit Mayowood Mansion in Rochester, a bustling city in the Mississippi River Valley & Historic Bluff Country. The estate was the family home of three generations of the Mayo family, the folks we have to thank for the groundbreaking Mayo Clinic. Built in 1911 by Dr. Charles H. Mayo, the mansion features antique French, English, Spanish and German furnishings, Mayo’s personal arts collection, serene gardens and, most importantly, interpretations of the historic family.

Nearby Austin—part of the Southern Lakes region—is home to the world-famous Spam Museum. The unique product took the world by storm, winning over people from all different walks of life: World War II soldiers, busy moms and dads, chefs and more. Today there are 15 different varieties of Spam, all based on the original six-ingredient concoction. Learn about the iconic product from “Spambassadors” (museum guides) and sample some for yourself.

Ancient Native American cultural sites, historic homes, museums and military memorials, and preserved Amish culture that gives a nod to yesteryear. The historic backdrop in Southern Minnesota runs the gamut of hundreds of years, creating a patchwork quilt of stories from the past.