Wabasha, Minnesota

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Wabasha, Minnesota
A View of Main Street
State Minnesota
Wabasha County County, Minnesota
Year founded 1830's
Year Incorporated 1858
Country: United States
Population 2,691
Official web site: http://wabasha.govoffice.com/

As one of Minnesota’s oldest river towns, Wabasha has played a major role in the vibrant history of Southern Minnesota and the state as a whole. In this report, the significance and value of Wabasha as both a Historic Landscape and as a site of Industrial Heritage will be examined through the lens of UNESCO World Heritage Criteria.


Wabasha is located in Southern Minnesota on the Mississippi river. It is considered to be both a part of the Mississippi River Valley, and Mississippi River Bluffs. It is just on the other side of the river from Wisconsin.

Historic Landscape As mentioned briefly, Wabasha is unique in that it is a part of the Mississippi River Valley (Upper Mississippi Valley), and the Mississippi River Bluffs regions of Minnesota (MVP Mississippi Valley http://www.mississippi-river.org/, Wabasha Chamber of Commerce http://www.wabashamn.org/about_the_chamber/history.php). It is part of the 100 mile scenic route known as the Great River Road, which begins in Hastings, and ends in Le Crescent, Minnesota. Wabasha is at the center of this stretch of scenic river views. This unique location allows for unparalleled scenic vistas, as well as a diverse and rich wildlife population. Wabasha is home to a large population of American Bald Eagle, and in March, Wabasha is in the center of what is known as The Flyway which is a path traveled by Bald Eagles and other migratory birds during the winter months. The construction in 2008 of the National Eagle Center allows visitors to observe both the bird migration and the scenic vistas offered by the bluffs and the valley from an easily accessible spot off of the main street.

Industrial Heritage Wabasha’s location directly off of the Mississippi River, is what allowed for it to develop into a vibrant river town, sustained by a multitude of industries all related to the Mississippi. Wabasha is Minnesota’s first and longest continuously inhabited River towns. Wabasha was first settled in 1826, becoming an officially recognized city in 1830 with the Prairie du Chien treaty. This makes Wabasha the oldest city in Minnesota (Wabasha’s History Official document by the City of Wabasha. City of Wabasha. http://wabasha.govoffice.com/). Prior to 1826, the area of Wabasha was inhabited by the Sioux, led by chief Wa-pa-shaw, who would later give the city its name. Chief Wa-pa-shaw’s nephew Augustin Rocque, set up a trading post in the Wabasha territory. Being strategically located off the Mississippi, the trading post was quite successful, and led to the development of the town of Wabasha.

Wabasha became a bustling town, with major industries such as trading, clamming, button factories, logging, and shipping, and flour milling. Wabasha saw a boom in industry, as well as tourism, with passenger paddle boats stopping in the town as they traveled the Mississippi. In order to meet tourist demands, the Anderson House Hotel was opened in 1856, Minnesota’s oldest hotel. Besides tourists and industries utilizing the river, Wabasha became a transportation hub in 1857, with the development of the first state road going through the city, as well as an extensive rail system.

The initial main street of Wabasha, is in the same place as the main street of today. The original main street however, was comprised of multi-story wood buildings, none of which survive today, but are documented in photographic evidence. From the 1860s through today, the majority of the buildings were brick buildings, done in a vernacular Romanesque style (figure nineteen and twenty). Much of the buildings look nearly identical to one another, being that many of them were constructed at the same time—which is evidenced by the construction date at the top of the buildings. The buildings do however, maintain small details such as painted rosettes, stained and leaded glass, or other small architectural decorative touches, making each building unique.

Wabasha saw decline with the opening of larger button factories made from cheaper material, as well as a decline in logging. The Mississippi began to be used less frequently as a modes of transportation. As the urban landscape of the United States changed, Wabasha went from a town supported by both industry and tourists, to relying almost solely on tourism. Today, Wabasha has 10 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, and one District (the downtown district). It continues to be a haven for those interested in the architectural history of Minnesota, besides birdwatchers, and travelers in the fall driving down the Great River Road to see the leaves change. The Anderson House Hotel continues to be a main tourist attraction, offering home cooked meals, and an authentic 19th century atmosphere. It still operates as a hotel and is one of Minnesota’s most popular bed and breakfasts. The National Eagle Center also draws a large amount of tourists, as it provides education opportunities, chances to see eagles up close, and a beautiful and comfortable deck for birdwatchers. Though Wabasha is not as famous perhaps as its sister city of Red Wing, and may not be as much of a summer tourist destination as Lake Pepin, Wabasha continues to flourish year round.

For the time being, the citizens of Wabasha, and those who feel an attachment to the city, will have to be content with preserving the city and landscape themselves. With the help of citizens, Wabasha was able to watch its eagle population go from two, to over 200. Wabasha is representative of one of those rare places in the world, whose citizens are very aware of the what their city represents. The people of Wabasha are proud of their place in history, and work hard to not only preserve the river landscape, but the city as well. Wabasha is unlikely to feel the threat of urban sprawl or large scale developers anytime soon, because of how interested and active its citizens are. Though the city itself may be of minimal historic value to the nation, Wabasha can teach all American citizens to be proud of their cities heritage, setting, architecture, and history; and work hard to preserve all of those things.


  • City of Wabasha. http://wabasha.govoffice.com/
  • Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn. History of Wabsha County, Minnesota. Wabasha: H.C Cooper and Co, 1920. Republished by: Higginson Books.

Great River Road of Minnesota. http://www.mnmississippiriver.com/index.cfm?noflash=1 Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/ Elrasheedy, Ameera. Photographs. Historic Anderson House http://www.historicandersonhouse.com/ Minnesota Historical Society Visual Resource Database http://collections.mnhs.org/visualresources/ Mississippi River Parkway Comission. http://www.mnmississippiriver.com/mrpc.cfm Mississippi Valley. http://www.mississippi-river.org/ National Eagle Center. http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/nr/publications/bulletins/nrb18/nrb18_5.htm#significance National Register of Historic Places. http://www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/MN/Wabasha/state.html UNESCO World Heritage. Authenticity and Integrity. http://whc.unesco.org/en/events/450/ UNESCO World Heritage Criteria. http://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/ Wabasha Chamber of Commerce http://www.wabashamn.org/about_the_chamber/history.php Wabasha County Historical Society Online http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mnwabbio/3ch23.htm



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Wabasha Development Timeline: 1689 - May 8, at Fort St. Antoine, near the foot of Lake Pepin, Nicholas Perrot, who reached the upper Mississippi several years before, lays formal claim to all the upper river for France.(source: Minnesota: A Guide to the State, Federal Writers' Project, Minnesota, November, 1938) 1766 - Jonathan Carver explores the upper Mississippi and reports on finding “fortifications” in the vicinity of the Wabasha area. Later explores believe that they were mounds or natural features.(source: "The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike...", 1895, Coues, Elliott Ed.) 1805 - Pike travels through the area and stops at the Grand Encampment. (source: "The Expeditions of Zebulon Montgomery Pike...", 1895, Coues, Elliott Ed.) 1826 - Wabasha, the county seat of Wabasha County, is one of the oldest towns on the Mississippi, having been occupied continuously since 1826. (source: "HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY, MINNESOTA"Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, 1920) 1830 - Prairie Du Chein treaty establishes “half breed” land holdings of the Wabasha area. This tract is described in the treaty from Red Wing "and running back fifteen miles; thence in a parallel line with Lake Pepin and the Mississippi, about thirty-two miles...thence fifteen miles to the Grand Encampment" (source: “Treaty with the Sauk and Foxes, Etc., 1830”, July 15, 1830. | 7 Stat., 328. | Proclamation, Feb. 24, 1831.) 1830's - Augustin Rocque, in about 1830, moved back to Wabasha from Prairie Du Chein to the "half-breed" land and erected a dwelling and trading-post on the site of old Fort Perrot.” “At the time of his return to this point, the present site of Wabashaw was covered with underbrush and trees. His place, when steamboats ran, was called Rocque's Landing.” (source: "HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY" Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell, Published Chicago by H. H. Hill, Publishers, 1884) 1838 - Oliver Cratte was sent to Wabasha as a government blacksmith providing service to area native people and "he built the first house on the present site of the city.” (source: "HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY" Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell,1884) 1843 - The city was named Wabashaw, after the old chief. “At the time... Wabasha was nothing more than a trading-post and stopping-place for traders and voyageurs.” (source: "HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY" Compiled by Dr. L. H. Bunnell,1884) 1856 - Initial platting of Wabasha (source: City of Wabasha plat files) 1858 - Wabasha is incorporated as a City (source: "HISTORY OF WABASHA COUNTY, MINNESOTA" Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, 1920)

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