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Plan for lights sends lovers looking for new spot for romance

The city council added lights atop College Hill, illuminating the former lovers lookout.

college hill.jpg
This stairway climbed up College Hill from Zumbro Street (now Second Street Southwest) just east of Saint Marys Hospital.
Contributed / History Center of Olmsted County
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In 1914, the City Council put a real crimp in the rituals of Rochester’s courting couples.

In May of that year, the Council voted to install lights at what was known as Observation Park on top of College Hill.

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“No longer will the man a-courting seek the shadows of this elevated park to pop the question that means so much,” the Rochester Daily Bulletin said. “The romantic shadows which are so dear to the congenial ones will exist no longer at Observation Park.”

Instead of secluded pathways and shaded park benches in the evening, couples would now have to navigate “a powerful electric arc which will cast its rays to every darkened nook,” of the park.

The hilltop land comprising Observation Park had been given to the city in 1906 by Drs. Charlie and Will Mayo. The Mayos had purchased the land from four owners, including the Rochester Water Co., which retained the right to maintain a water tower in the park. The Mayos then turned around and donated the tract of land to the city for use as a park.

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“The crest of the hill gives the best outlook upon the city of Rochester and the beautiful farm homes outlying, that is to be found within the corporate limits, and the acquisition of it as an observatory ground for the public is a consummation most pleasing to contemplate,” the Rochester Daily Bulletin declared when the gift from the Mayos was announced.

Immediate plans included construction of a driveway through the park, “thus giving opportunity for all our people to drive there to gaze upon the magnificent panorama,” the Daily Bulletin reported. In addition, a stairway climbing the steep north side of the hill from Zumbro Street (now Second Street Southwest) was to be built.

The site soon became known as Observation Park, or as College Hill Park, after the hill on which it was located. College Hill, of course, had been named in anticipation of a college that never arrived.

In 1856, the Minnesota Territorial Legislature had incorporated a college in Rochester to be known as the Huidekoper Institute. Prominent among the trustees of the proposed school was Frederick Huidekoper, a Unitarian minister who was a professor at Meadville Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. The seminary had been founded by Frederick’s father, Harm Jan Huidekoper, vice president of the American Unitarian Association.

Newly named College Street (today’s Fourth Street), was supposed to lead up the hill to the proposed college campus. But after Huidekoper backed out of the plan, the other trustees dropped the idea and the college was never built. Instead, College Street took travelers up the hill to the sweeping views and shaded nooks of the park.

“Although never given an official name, (the park) has been frequently alluded to as College Hill Park or Observation Park,” the Daily Bulletin said in 1919. But in January of that year, the city officially named the park St. Mary’s Park, in honor of the adjacent hospital.

Ten years later, the water tower in the park was illuminated with flood lights, and it could supposedly be seen from 15 miles away.

By that time, the glaring lights in the hilltop park had likely caused the courting couples of Rochester to find a new location for a romantic rendezvous.

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Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.

Then and Now - Thomas Tom Weber col sig

Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.
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