Olmsted County’s master plan for Graham Park is centered on features to revitalize the gathering space and transform it into more of a regional destination. New and improved facilities, such as a multi-purpose expo center for which the county is seeking state funding to help build, will increase the park’s flexibility to accommodate a wide range of events and gatherings.
To move forward with plans for redevelopment, the former Seneca Foods canning factory adjacent to Graham Park (1217 3rd Avenue Southeast in Rochester, Minnesota) will need to be demolished. Because the building was constructed in 1925, Olmsted County felt it was important to complete a historical analysis to guide decisions related to demolition. Olmsted County contracted with New History, a company that specializes in historic preservation and historical architecture, to evaluate the historical resources at both the Seneca property and at Graham Park.
“After evaluation, New History determined the Seneca Foods factory building is not eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places,” noted Olmsted County Director of Facilities and Building Operations Mathew Miller.
To that end, the focus for the remainder of the year will be on the clean-up and demolition of the Seneca facility. Once the building is demolished, the land will be restored to greenspace until a development opportunity is solidified.
Because the Seneca canning factory had such a longstanding history in Rochester, certain items were collected from the facility and donated to the History Center of Olmsted County to be used for interpretive programs and exhibits, research, publications, and events, such as:
- Red Libby’s sign
- Black Seneca sign
- Seneca “Our Mission” sign
- “Thank you, employees” banner
- Seneca plant flow diagram
- Plant site plan
Ear of Corn Water Tower
A landmark tied to the Seneca property that is much beloved by many in Olmsted County and the region is the Ear of Corn Water Tower. It was constructed in 1931 as a nod to one of the two main vegetables processed at the Rochester cannery and is featured in many books on roadside attractions in the United States. New History’s findings show that the Ear of Corn Water Tower is likely eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places for social history and as a representation of the work of Rudolph Betcher, the commercial artist who painted the tower.
“Because the Ear of Corn Water Tower is historically significant and because it is near and dear to the hearts of many in this community, we will continue to preserve and maintain it,” said Miller. “There is a restoration process that will be put out to bid soon that will include the corn tower and options for repainting it. Future development options will also include consideration for continued preservation of the water tower.”
Ongoing historical preservation of Graham Park facilities
Olmsted County is demonstrating the importance of historic preservation with many of the buildings at Graham Park (Olmsted County Fairgrounds). While New History did not determine that Graham Park was eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, individual buildings or features at Graham Park created by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression are eligible for historic association with the WPA.
“With all the Graham Park preservation work, the goal is to keep as much of the original building structures as we can. Any items that cannot be restored will be replaced with materials with a specific time period appearance,” continued Miller.
Over the last several years, Olmsted County has worked diligently to preserve many Graham Park buildings, such as:
- Blacksmith shop: In 2014, this building was restored to a functioning state. This shop is used during the Olmsted County fair for demonstrations.
- Industrial Building (Building 35): In 2017, new LED lights, second level windows, and exit doors were installed. Additionally, a full restroom remodel was completed.
- Floral Hall (Building 31): In 2018, renovations included the addition of restrooms, a sprinkler system, and lighting. Improvements were also made to ensure the building is accessible in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In 2020, preservation work at Graham Park included repairing mortar and replacing broken block faces at Floral Hall, the Fair Board (WPA) Office, and the Industrial Building. A new roof was added to the Industrial Building and the Fair Board Office was restored so that it can be used year-round; currently, it is only used from June through August for the Olmsted County Free Fair.