Rochester trolleys tour the historic homes of Mayo Clinic - CBS Minnesota

2022-12-08 12:07:50 By : Ms. Ivy Zhuang

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- There aren't many places in our state where you can hop on a "trolley" and see the sites. But in Rochester, you can do exactly that, at the Rochester Trolley and Tour Company.

At Peace Plaza in Rochester, a fine mist makes its way across the mall. It does this several times a day -- for a reason.

"Any time an individual passes away or is born at Mayo Clinic, the mist exhausts into the atmosphere," said Laura Elwood.

It's one of many unique things to observe in the city. Site-seeing here can be done by bike, bus, car, and even trolley. Like a little San Francisco, the Rochester Trolley and Tour Company is giving visitors a chance to look at things from a different perspective.

"We have a lot of international guests that come. And stay for a long period of time too," said Elwood.

Since many of them come for the world-famous clinic, Elwood and her staff have created a tour centered on Mayo's history in Southeastern Minnesota.

Each of their five trolleys is named after a member of the Mayo family, or someone who helped the clinic get its start. Every tour has a driver and a guide, like Tom Brown. The Boston native said he enjoys meeting people and loves to talk.

Brown raised his family in Minnesota and became a guide in retirement, where he's learned more than he ever thought he would, including the fact that the Mayo Clinic exists because of a tornado.

"It was devastating and claimed the lives of 37 people. More than 200 people were injured. And there was no hospital here at the time," said Brown.

That happened in 1883, and it prompted Mother Mary Alfred Moes and the Sisters of St. Francis to push for a permanent hospital in Rochester. W.W. Mayo and his sons were doctors and they were skeptical a hospital would work in the city, but they eventually agreed. Today, 60,000 employees work for Mayo.

Architecture is celebrated on this tour, especially houses doctors once lived in. That includes the Foundation House, which was once the home of Dr. William James Mayo. He had a five-story tower built just for his telescope.

"The rest of the house he let his wife decide what should be done, but that was his one specification," said Brown.

The 98-year-old Plummer House was the home of Dr. Henry Plummer and his wife Daisy. The house has 49 rooms and it's as long as football field.

"All the furniture inside is the original furniture," said Brown.

From famous homes to famous people -- one of the houses on the tour Lou Gehrig would stay in while he was being treated for ALS. Gehrig stayed with his doctor in Rochester, which was common practice at the time. Ernest Hemingway did the same thing.

His doctor liked him so much he gave him a key to the house. And when his family would come home from vacation, they'd often find Hemingway reading a book ... one of his own.

There's history like that at every turn. The idea is to keep the trolleys rolling down memory lane.

"There is so much to see here and dig in. We are a hidden gem," said Elwood.

Rochester trolleys also do fall color and haunted tours in the fall, and Christmas light tours in the winter.

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First published on July 13, 2022 / 10:58 PM

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©2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.