Friday, November 5, 2010

W.W. Mayo House--Friday History Field Trip #8

Today's field trip almost wasn't.

I made plans to go to the W.W. Mayo House in Le Sueur, checked the website, made sure they were open, and we went! When we arrived, however, they weren't open. Curious, since the website actually says through November, and it is the first week of November. The kind woman who was in the entrance building (working at the florist that shares the space), allowed us to wait for the museum person. She arrived, and apologized, and explained. The W.W. Mayo house is a cooperative site, meaning the Minnesota Historical Society works with the Mayo House Interpretive Society(MHIS). Truthfully, the site is managed by the MHIS. The information on the Minnesota Historical Society website is not entirely accurate, and MHIS has no control over what goes there. Communication seems to be an issue. OK, but I had driven an hour with my kids to go to the W.W. Mayo house. This is where I renewed my faith in people. She gave us the tour anyway! She opened the house just for us. Thank you, Becky!


W.W. Mayo house was built in 1859 by Dr. W.W. Mayo (of Mayo Clinic fame). This is where he had his first medical practice, and where his first son was born. The house itself is small. Very small. Apparently Mayo was known as "The Little Doctor." He was short. He was my height, and I am not tall! The house shows this. A trip upstairs is tricky for me; the kids were fine, I had to duck. The ceilings are also slanted at the doorways, making it even more complicated. The doors on the main floor have been heightened, the family that lived in the house after the Mayo's left for Rochester were taller. They also added on many rooms, rooms which have since been removed to allow the house to depict the time of the Mayos.

W.W. Mayo came to Minnesota from Indiana in search of relief from malaria. Given our climate, malaria was not as prevalent here as it was in some southern states. he first settled in St. Paul, but didn't open a medical practice there, finding that there were already too many doctors in the small city. Instead, his wife opened a milliners shop, as she had in Indiana. It is likely this shop was the main source of income for the family at the time. Eventually they moved to Le Sueur. They only lived here until 1863, when they moved to Rochester where in 1889 W.W. Mayo was asked to be the medical director of St. Mary's Hospital which would become the center of the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic--the first private medical clinic in the United States--was opened in 1903. More about that history can be found here.

My favorite tidbit of information from the tour was that the medical course Dr. Mayo took was--get this--16 WEEKS long. It took longer to become a baker! Mayo did, however, have 2 medical degrees, and had studied science prior to medical school. He also worked as a tailor, a census taker, and newspaper publisher, just to name a few! I think the world is glad he finally settled into medicine, I know we here in Minnesota are.


Outside the house there is a small park with a statue entitled "The Mothers," honoring the two Louises (Mayo and Cosgrove) of the W.W. Mayo house. The statue begs for children to run around it, and so mine did!


When the Mayo's left, the house was occupied by the Cosgrove family for 3 generations. The Cosgrove family started Green Giant, a canned vegetable company currently owned by General Mills. Even though there is no Green Giant presence in Le Sueur any more, the historical connection is still celebrated and a large green giant sign is visible from the road. The house was added onto for the three generations of Cosgroves who loved there. It has been returned to the way it was when the Mayo's lived there, but the interpretive building has information on the Cosgroves as well.

Due to the tour guide needing to get to a meeting, we agreed to watch the introductory video after our tour rather than before. I was grateful for her accommodation. As we left, I grabbed a brochure on Ottawa Township. Never heard of it. The Florist assured me it was just a few miles down the road, and though nothing would be open, it was still interesting to drive through. She also mentioned that she had been homeschooled a few years herself, love it when people feel compelled to mention that! It makes what we do feel less out of the ordinary.


The town was plotted and never really became much. It does, however, have MANY old buildings. We love old buildings. The brochure I picked up had a few sentences about the buildings that we read as we stopped in front of the buildings. My favorite was the school house from 1915.


I love buildings like this. I wish there was an infinite amount money for their preservation. It would be fun to have historic programming in this building, instead of seeing it fenced in and boarded up. Maybe someday.

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