The first pioneers pole-boated up the Root River to the junction of Rush Creek, peered through 10-foot tall grasses, and learned what Indians already knew – this was astonishing beauty. The area that is now Rushford was once referred to as “Trail City” because seven Indian trails met there. On Christmas 1854, the first four pioneer families gathered and named the town Rushford.
Today, visitors and residents of Rushford still find themselves surrounded by the beauty of limestone bluffs, rivers, streams, and hardwood forest. Agriculture, business and industry drive the town that has also attracted commuters because of its proximity to Rochester, Winona and La Crosse.
Rushford has plenty of lodging, restaurants, and recreation, including the Rushford Aquatic Center, and Ferndale Country Club, one of the finest nine-hole golf courses in the area. Historical sites are many, with the 1867 Rushford Depot Museum, 1890 restored one-room school, the 1919 jail house, and plenty of preserved or restored buildings made of local limestone.
For a spectacular view of the city and valley below, travel up to Magelssen Bluff Park. Creekside Park provides plenty of picnic shelter space, creative children’s playground, tennis courts, ball fields and walking paths. Equestrians can ride the Root River Horse trail through Rushford’s scenic river valley on the way to the State Forestry Horse Trail System.
Rushford Days, the local summer festival, takes place the third week in July. Beginning with the queen coronation on Monday evening, the celebration continues through the week with dances, a tractor pull, and children’s activities. The Grand Parade will take place on Saturday evening; festivities conclude on Sunday.
History is alive in Rushford!
By Kirsten Zoellner
While the term history can often be saddled with thoughts of dusty memorabilia, the Rushford Area Historical Society has shed itself of that image through countless efforts to bring history to life. Founded in 1985, the society is keenly aware of the need to preserve the past for future generations through the diligent maintenance of literally thousands of vintage pieces, photos, documents, architectural structures, and contraptions of bygone eras.
The jewel of the society, the Rushford Depot, sits prominently along the Root River State Trail in Rushford. The large, two-story museum features items from the early to mid-1800s through the present, accurately capturing the history of the area and the people who settled there.
Coming into the depot, one will be greeted by helpful, knowledgeable staff eager to educate and capture the imagination of visitors of all ages. The waiting room showcases a current display of vintage boy scout memorabilia as well as offering countless personal notes from the last 10 to 100 years. A thorough history of Rushford’s architecture, including the newly renovated Tews Mill is also highlighted.
For those who are drawn by the allure of the railroad industry, the Railroad Room displays numerous artifacts from the time when Rushford was a busy railroad shipping, river travel and cultural center. Originally built by the Southern Minnesota Rushford! Railway in 1867, the depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.
Moving upstairs, visitors will find many themed rooms and displays. Historically important to the agriculture of the area, equipment used on the farmstead, including small machinery, wood rakes and forks, sickles, and a hay cutter, show visitors not only the strong will of settlers, but the lengths to which they went to call this area home. Visitors will also discover the nearby military room with its carefully preserved uniforms, photos, and treasures.
Daily life in bygone times is thoroughly explored at the depot. The barber shop features once-common artifacts, furniture, and an antique permanent machine while the doctor’s office includes antique tools of the trade. Children of all ages will enjoy a stop at the depot’s ice cream parlor, easily imagining themselves sitting at the round table and chairs, enjoying a cool, creamy delight from out of a wooden ice cream holder. This area also showcases vintage items from Rushford’s once popular, but now gone Niggle’s Cafe.
Accurate arrangements of a 19th century home take visitors back to early frontier living. Furniture, a sewing machine, clothes, personal items, and more give a clear vision of early settlers’ homesteads. The kitchen was a focal point of the early home and it remains so at the depot. The charming display features a modernly uncommon wood cook stove and ice box, as well as a beautiful Hoosier hutch. Numerous hand utensils, a coffee grinder, and tea kettle are also on exhibit.
Perhaps the pride of the depot, items of Norwegian heritage find themselves lining the shelves of a corner cupboard telling of the distinct people who owned them. Still awaiting repair, yet lovely and quite rare, an eight-stringed hardingfele, or hardanger fiddle, reminds visitors of the spirit of those who settled here.
Depot-keeper Ruby Highum enthuses, “We need to keep our depot going for all who have worked to keep the history. There’s so much to reminiscence! Were so proud of it and to have it back to where we were prior to the flood [of 2007]. We invite you to stop in and take your time and look.”
The history of the area doesn’t end inside the depot, but rather begin. Just steps outside, along the trail, sits the Grinde School House. Built in 1890, it accurately shows visitors a time when grades were taught in one class and likely in just one room. Donated by the local school district, several period items such as authentic pupil and teacher’s desks, an expansive blackboard, potbellied stove, books, maps, and more beckon visitor’s to sit and learn.
For those looking for a moment’s rest, the small chapel next door offers just the thing. Built in 1867 as the entry to a now gone Episcopal Church, the charming chapel features a bench, kneeling rail, alter, and well-documented history decorating the walls. This quaint setting has even played host to a modern-day wedding.
There are several additions to the premises for 2010. Built in 1913, the limestone city jail was painstakingly disassembled, labeled, and moved in late last year. Truly one-of-a kind, it is eagerly awaiting visitors to take a peek inside, should they dare.
Coming in mid to late 2010, a picturesque cabin has been donated to the society. Courtesy of the Cyrus and Marion Hanson family, the cabin is intended to be situated behind the jail. While a grant from the Arden Falk Foundation has been secured to move the cabin, funds are still needed to complete the transition. According to past society president, Margaret Boehmke, the organization hopes to have fund raisers to further developments at the site.
Forget what you think you know of history and come and be a part of it!
For those wishing to assist the organization monetarily, donations can be sent to Rushford Area Historical Society, Box 98, Rushford, MN 55971. Please specify if there is a particular designation for the funds.