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Who designed Mayowood? The good doctor, of course


The most famous home in Rochester was designed not by some highly trained architect, but by the owner himself.

Of course, the owner was Dr. Charlie Mayo, and the home was Mayowood , the estate Dr. Charlie built starting in 1910 southwest of Rochester.

"It's often been asked, 'Did this house have an architect?'" said Ken Allsen, a Rochester architecture historian. "No, it had Dr. Charlie. This was all Dr. Charlie's design."

Allsen, who had a hand in the recent $3-million-plus renovation of Mayowood by the Mayo Foundation, shared the history of the mansion Sunday during a talk for the Alan Calavano History Lecture series at the Rochester Public Library . During the renovation, Allsen served on a joint Mayo- History Center of Olmsted County committee to address issues regarding historic preservation at the site.

Despite the lack of formal architectural training on the part of Dr. Charlie, Mayowood makes sense, Allen said.


"It's a great design, very eclectic," he said. "The rooms on the main floor flow into each other."

That's the interior of the 39-room, five-level home. As for the exterior, Allsen said, it "sometimes defies description." After studying and writing about Mayowood for years, Allsen said he describes the exterior design as "Italian villa."

"But I maintain the interior is English country home," he said.

Mayowood stayed in the ownership of the Mayo family until 1966 when it was gifted to what was then the Olmsted County Historical Society. The historical society struggled to maintain the site and structure until reaching an agreement with the Mayo Foundation to transfer ownership to Mayo in 2014. Mayo owns the building and grounds, but the History Center of Olmsted County retains ownership of all items in the home. "It's a win-win situation," Allsen, a longtime history center volunteer, said.

Since the signing of that agreement, which obligated Mayo to spend at least $3 million in restoration, major work has included everything from widening and repaving the approach driveway to the replacement of every window and door.

The first priority, Allsen said, was to stabilize the northwest corner of the home, which was sinking and sliding. With that work completed, attention was turned to, among other projects, construction of an addition on the north side of the mansion to meet handicap accessibility requirements.

"They did a very good job from a preservation standpoint," Allsen said of the addition. "It looks like it's been there since Day 1."

The terrace at the front of the house was completely rebuilt, and the walkway to the 1920 tea house was replaced.


Allsen, who has written several books on Rochester architecture and local architect Harold Crawford, said he's pleased with the results of the work at Mayowood.

"They did an incredible restoration job," he said. "It's ready for another 100 years, hopefully."

The lecture series, presented by the library and the history center, honors community volunteer Alan Calavano, who died a year ago in March. Next up is "The First Women of Mayo Clinic," by Virgina Wright-Peterson, at 2 p.m. March 19 at the library. Admission is free.

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