“Early this morning, work began decorating the business houses, and by 10 a.m. Broadway and other city thoroughfares were in cheerful, holiday attire,” the Olmsted County Democratic Newspaper reported. October 6, 1892. .
Banners hung from windows and eaves, patriotic slogans were proudly painted on signs, and alongside the stars and stripes, flags of a slightly different color combination hung.
“Germany’s national colors, red, white and black, are displayed in the wind from windows and other places along the street,” the newspaper reported.
It was a day to celebrate German culture and heritage, the 250th anniversary of the first permanent settlement of German immigrants in America. The Germans in Rochester and Olmsted County were ready to throw a party.
The 1900 census, taken eight years after the Great Festival, found 1,691 foreign-born Germans living in Olmsted County. The population of the county as a whole was around 20,000 during this decade. But the Germans were by far the largest non-Yankee ethnic group in the county. In comparison, until a 1905 survey, there were still only 75 inhabitants of the county born in Sweden and 553 born in Norway.
In some sections of the county, foreign-born Germans and their American-born descendants comprised more than 50% of the local population. The hamlet of Potsdam, for example, was founded in 1860 by Germans and remained a rural center of German life for several decades.
In addition, several of Rochester’s leading citizens were born in German lands. Among them were Frederick Rommel, who had built Rommel’s Block, and Henry Schuster, whose brewery was one of the most popular and profitable businesses in town.
On the day of the celebration, the city orchestra serenaded the delegations of Germans arriving from surrounding towns at the station. From Saint-Charles came 12 veterans of the American and German armies, accompanied by the Saint-Charles brass band. Other groups arrived from Owatonna and Winona.
The large parade that afternoon formed on Dubuque Street, near the fairgrounds, and headed down Broadway. There were several floats, including one combining the national symbols Germania and Columbia, as well as the gymnastics society Rochester Turners marching in rhythm, all led by Richard V. Russell, a non-German whose white mustaches were said to give him a striking resemblance. to Uncle Sam.
The parade was followed by lunch in the library hall, and in the evening everyone, Germans and Yankees alike, gathered at the Opera House, where, according to the newspaper, additional chairs had to be brought to cope with the overflowing crowd. The Turners presented an exhibit and a German choir performed “Watch on the Rhine”.
Then, Herr F. Van den Berg, editor of the German-language newspaper Rochester Herold, rose to deliver the keynote address, the words of which have been lost over the ages for lack of a bilingual representative of the local press.
It was “an enthusiastic ovation in the German language, of which, we are obliged to say, our journalist is unable to give the summary”, declared the newspaper.
Once the formalities were completed, the celebrants adjourned and rushed to the library lobby for a grand ball that would end the daylong celebration of all things German in Rochester.
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.