Historic Southwest Rochester

Origins of the Neighborhood
By Alli Vaith

As you stroll down 4th Street SW, you are taken back in time to where the growth of this community began. Originally built for staff of St. Marys Hospital and Mayo Clinic, the Historic Southwest neighborhood homes were built as early as 1863, with the majority of homes built between 1900 and 1920 as the population of Rochester exploded from under 7,000 to close to 14,000. Between 1912 and 1914, as the construction of Mayo Clinic was under way, many homes were built within a 1-mile radius to accommodate all of the new community residents in the city.

Many different designs can be found in this area. The American colonial is a two-story home with a staircase in the center. English Tudor homes feature steeply pitched gable roofs and decorative half-timbering. The Greek Revival style has a medium pitch, side-gable roof with narrow eaves and classical columns, and Federal Style homes are simple squares two stories high and two rooms deep. A variety of designs distinguish houses. From stucco and shaker siding to brick exteriors, wavy roofs, column-supported overhangs, large front porches, small yards and tuck-under garages, homes in this neighborhood—ranging from 1,300 to 8,000 square feet—are truly unique.

In the early 1900s, a modest home in Rochester cost around $4,000 to construct, while the mansions on Pill Hill could cost anywhere from $8,500 to $21,000. In 2020, these same properties range from $300,000 up to $1.6 million. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic Southwest Neighborhood Association added 15 brown “Historic SW” street signs in the fall of 2017 to distinguish the neighborhood. 

One common feature stands out in this historic neighborhood: Each home has its own story. The following are the home stories from three homeowners.

628 4th Street SW
Owner Jill Radman says, “I love the character of the home, with the French doors, hardwood floors and quality woodwork throughout the home. It’s also great knowing it’s a historic home. Prior to owning it, I used to walk past the house when I walked to work and realized I couldn’t beat the location.” Jill appreciates the character of older homes stating, “The craftsmanship is different in the older homes, as much of it, if not all of the homes, were built by hand. Newer homes do not seem to have the same quality.”

Her advice for remodeling an older home? “It’s always a good idea to consult an expert before starting a major project such as taking out walls, adding central air conditioning or adding on rooms. No one wants any negative surprises.” 

As she undergoes construction on a new home out of town she says, “I’ve learned that to build a new home with the same level of quality craftsmanship costs significantly more than buying one and making it your own. In the new home I will forgo some of the features I love in older homes due to cost.”

Radman adds, “I was contacted by a prior owner and her granddaughter, who was writing a piece on the house. I was able to give the granddaughter the opportunity to stay in the home and browse through the written purchase history of the house since it has continued to be handed down from owner to owner.” She appreciates the history of her home.

417 9th Avenue SW – Listed For Sale
As Lauren transitioned to Rochester several years back, her mother helped her envision a modern design while letting the rich history shine on her Pill Hill home. Lauren says, “I enjoy the original woodwork, tall ceilings, homey feeling and the location of this home.” Her advice to anyone remodeling an older home is to “be flexible and have patience.” She ran into some obstacles as she restored the energy of her two-story craftsman style home. Since many older homes lack lighting, Lauren added modern new light fixtures to every room. She hand-selected the dining room chandelier from New Mexico, which replicates the charm of the spacious room. Light, bright curtains replaced the heavy drapery to accentuate the original woodwork and large Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired windows.

Lauren says, “Refinishing the original wood floors took some time; we ended up peeling back five different layers of flooring.” She wanted to keep the original design of the upstairs bathroom consistent, so the new tiles in the bathtub match the tile that already existed. Rooms were repainted with neutral colors to brighten the spaces and accentuate original wood flooring and trim. 

The home is listed on the historic registry with the following verbiage: “Dr. Frederick Le Roy Smith House; ca. 1930. Two-story brick-and-stucco Prairie School residence with broad-eaved hipped roof; first story sheathed in brick veneer, second in stucco with decorative wood banding; windows arranged in groups; multi-paned upper sash, single-paned lower; arched canopy over entry. Detached, one-story wood frame garage with stucco and brick walls and pyramidal hipped roof. In 1917, Smith became an associate in the Section of Postoperative Treatment at the Mayo Clinic.”

912 8th Street SW – Listed for Sale
One of the original Pill Hill mansions beams with charm and grace in every room. A natural wood entryway welcomes as it opens to the center of this celebrated home. A sprawling 6,700-square-foot home on a double lot has hosted family gatherings and friends visiting Mayo Clinic for the past 100 years. 

Lou Ohly shares the stories of past families that have owned this home. “Harry and Margaret Harwick’s family owned the home for many years. Harry was the administrator for the Mayo Clinic for 44 years. The Harwicks gifted the home to the Mayo Foundation and Rochester Foundation in 1974. The home was then sold to Louis and Beverly Ohly in 1977. The Ohlys had 14 children and 33 grandchildren. The home served as a venue to celebrate three Ohly weddings, as well as large family holiday celebrations for decades. I remember large family kickball games played in the large side yard, Christmas present opening celebrations that would last hours and hours, introducing your spouses and children to that experience and following that up with great meals.” 

Rich history continues to shine a century after these homes were built. As Mayo Clinic and St. Marys Hospital continue to maintain their origins while evolving with new technologies, these homeowners continue to appreciate how and where this neighborhood began.