Ear-of-corn tower deemed historic Rochester landmark – Post Bulletin

ROCHESTER — The iconic ear-of-corn water tower that has been part of Rochester’s skyline for more than nine decades was designated as an official historic landmark Monday.

“Based on the findings of historic significance and integrity details, I think is pretty straight forward,” council member Patrick Keane said.

The Rochester City Council voted unanimously to make the water tower the city’s 15th designated landmark, a status that extends potential review authority when external changes are made to the exterior of a building or structure.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t make changes,” Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said.

She said any review would be based on whether a proposed change affects the historic nature of the structure.

The water tower was built in 1931, two years after Reid-Murdoch and Co. launched canning operations at 1217 Third Ave. SE. It later marked Libby and Seneca canning operations, following sales of the facility.

In 2019, Seneca shut down operations, and Olmsted County purchased the former canning facility for $5.6 million.

Following the purchase, the county spent approximately $1.1 million to demolish the former canning factory and restore the water tower.

Patterson-Lungren said the water tower was placed on the city’s list of potential landmarks in 2019, and

the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted unanimously in November to recommend the structure be designated as a landmark.

The surrounding property is not included in the designation.

The recommendation for landmark status was based on the tower’s novelty architecture used to communicate its original purpose and its location and scale as part of the city.

Patterson-Lungren said the tower became an element of community focus after it was announced the canning facility was closed. At that point, she said the tower became the subject of news reports, social media commentary and a variety of artwork in the community.

“It has become even more prevalent as part of our city,” she said

Loring Stead, the only person to speak during Monday’s public hearing, echoed the importance of the tower as part of the city. He said he frequently provides tours of the city, and the tower is a key part of those tours.

He said it shows the structure’s history and existence is important.

“I think we all get that,” he said.

Council members agreed.

Council member Molly Dennis said the whimsical nature of the tower helps lighten the mood for people who are visiting Rochester for medical care, and council member Norman Wahl said a recent tour with state lawmakers revealed an importance beyond the city or county.

“It’s important all across the state,” he said, recalling the lawmakers’ eagerness to see the tower.

Historic Rochester landmarks

The designation of the ear-of-corn water tower as an official Rochester historic landmarks adds it to a list of 14 previously identified landmarks.

The existing landmarks are:

• Avalon Hotel, 301 N. Broadway Ave.
• Dr. Donald C. Balfour House, 427 Sixth Ave. SW.
• Chateau Dodge Theatre, 15 First St. NW.
• Conley Camera Factory, 14 Fourth St. SW.
• Plummer Building, 110-15 Second Ave. SW.
• Plummer Caretaker’s Cottage, 933 11th St. SW.
• Plummer House & Gardens / Quarry Gardens, 1091 Plummer Lane.
• Rochester Armory, 121 N. Broadway Ave.
• Rochester Public Library, 226 Second St. SW.
• Stoppel Farmstead / Dodge Farm, 1195 West Circle Drive SW.
• Timothy A. Whiting House, 225 First Ave. NW.
• Toogood Barns, 615 16th St. SW.
• William J. Mayo House, 701 Fourth St. SW.
• Silver Lake Power Generating Plant, 425 Second Ave. NE.

What happened: The Rochester City Council voted unanimously to designate the ear-of-corn water tower as a historic landmark.

Why does this matter: The designation requires an added level of review for any significant exterior changes to the structure.

What’s next: The council will be asked to approve a formal ordinance placing the tower on the city’s list of historical landmarks during a future meeting.

Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he’s worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or

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