45 Mayors. 160 Years.
In 1858—ten years before he’d be stricken with (and die from) smallpox—30-year-old New York native Moses Fay was elected Rochester’s first mayor.
One hundred fifty years and 44 mayors—including one Mayo, one McQuillan and two Olds—later, Kim Norton takes the city’s ceremonial top spot.
Note: Mayoral terms were one year from 1856 to 1903, two years until 1996, and four years since. Chuck Canfield’s second term was three years to put Rochester on the statewide election cycle.
1858-59: Moses W. Fay
A native of New York, Fay was one of Rochester’s first settlers and opened a law office in 1856. He died of smallpox in 1867 at the age of 40.
1859-60: Frederick A. Olds
Olds married twice and had five children with his first wife and ten with his second. He served two terms in the Illinois Legislature during the same time that Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas were in the Senate. He built Olds Mill in Rochester.
1860-61: William D. Hurlbut
Hurlbut operated a mill in Ohio before moving to Rochester in 1858. Geology was his hobby. Hurlbut lived at 527 W. College St., now Fourth St. SW and once the home of 1950 Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Philip Hench.
1861-62: John Clark
City council meetings during Clark’s mayoral term were informal assemblages held in his drug store. A cannon Clark ordered during his administration was used for firing salutes on public occasions and came to be known as Clark’s Battery.
1862-64: L.B. Bliss
Bliss served ten years as Olmsted County’s register of deeds. He moved to Chatfield after his retirement and ran a real estate business.
1864-65: Abram Ozmun
Ozmun was an early member of the Masonic Lodge and served on a committee to formulate its bylaws.
1865-66: J.V. Daniels
Daniels was a businessman who ran a brokerage and real estate office by the name of J.V. Daniels & Co. before opening Union Savings Bank.
1866-68: Ozora Pierson Stearns
Stearns was one of 101 recruits from Olmsted County who were mustered at Fort Snelling in 1862 against the Sioux Indians. He became a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. He served as U.S. Senator in 1864 and Olmsted County attorney in 1865. Stearns died in California in 1896 and was buried in Duluth.
1868-69: L.B. Bliss
1869-70: Daniel Heaney
Heaney was a horseman and introduced Kentucky stock to Olmsted County. He built Heaney’s Block, the largest store building in Rochester, and was instrumental in establishing the county fairgrounds and race track.
1870-71: Frederick T. Olds
Olds was the son of Rochester’s second mayor, Frederick A. Olds. He was part of one of Rochester’s first fire companies, the Independent Hose Company, which was charged with taking care of a hose carriage for the city’s fire engine (known as Little Giant).
1871-72: O.P. Whitcomb
The cyclone that struck Rochester in August 1883 destroyed Whitcomb’s barn and blew off the kitchen at his home east of town. Whitcomb was an original contributor to the Rochester Library Association, organized in 1865.
1872-73: George W. Van Dusen
A local businessman, Van Dusen anted up $2,000 in 1883 to secure a fair in Rochester. He was a station agent for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Co. and later formed a grain-buying business.
1873-75: Dennis H. Williams
Before moving to Rochester, Williams served a year in the U.S. Army at the close of the Civil War. He moved to Rochester in 1868 and partnered in an agricultural machinery business.
1875-78: D.A. Morrison
A militia company was established in Rochester in 1871 with Morrison as first lieutenant. The company dissolved. Morrison went on to serve in the state Legislature as a Republican representative in 1887.
1878-79: D. Williams
1879-80: Lyman E. Cowdery
A native of New York, Cowdery was a lumber dealer and grain buyer after moving to Rochester. He owned a grain elevator in Kasson, where he lived after his term as Rochester’s mayor. His uncle, Oliver Cowdery, was a founder of the Mormon Church.
1880-82: Samuel Whitten
Whitten was a native of Ireland and described himself as Irish, Republican, and Methodist. “The queerest combination I ever heard of,” one of his friends said of him.
1882-83: William W. Mayo
The father of Mayo Clinic founders Drs. Charles and William Mayo, Dr. William W. Mayo held a variety of jobs, including doctor, farmer, and steamboat captain. He was a zealous advocate of a plan to dam Bear Creek in Rochester to create an artificial lake and nearby park. The plan failed, but later Mayo Park was created in his name.
1883-85: S. Whitten
1886-87: Orson Porter
Porter was a sailor in his early years and later became an attorney in New York. He came to Rochester in 1863 and bought a school building, which he converted into a hotel called the Porter House.
1887-89: Andrew Nelson
Nelson was considered a progressive in his time. He opened one of the city’s first department stores, known as the Palace Block, selling general merchandise. Later he concentrated on carpet sales. He died in his store during the summer of 1901.
1889-1890: O. Porter
1890-92: Delbert Darling
Darling helped start Darling’s Business College and Photographic Institute. The school was the first in the city to teach the use of the typewriter. In 1879, he took out a newspaper ad for his college and referred to Rochester as the “Queen City of Minnesota,” a nickname that still sticks around today.
1892-95: Horace H. Witherstine
Witherstine was considered one of the best-known men in Olmsted County, for his prominence in both politics and medicine. He was a teacher before becoming a doctor and served as a state senator in 1902.
1895-96: Wilson A. Allen
Allen studied at a seminary in Indiana, became a mathematics teacher there, and was later a druggist before studying medicine. He invented the “invalid elevator,” a device used in raising and lowering the infirm.
1896-97: H. Witherstine
1897-98: Joseph H. Wagoner
Wagoner was a teenager when the Civil War broke out. He joined the Union Army, fighting with the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry before being honorably discharged after suffering from sunstroke.
1898-99: Burt W. Eaton
An attorney, Eaton represented notorious safe breaker Thomas O’Neil, who was nicknamed the “Omaha Kid.” O’Neil was part of a gang that broke into the Dover Bank, getting away with $4,500.
1899-1900: James A. Melone
Melone’s early career was in telegraphy and he worked for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co. in Ohio. Upon moving to Rochester he went into the insurance business with cousin and fellow mayor Archibald Stevenson.
1900-02: E.L. Sinclair
Sinclair was a Rochester dentist and moved to Minneapolis in 1925 to open a business there. He died in Minneapolis in 1946 at age 78.
1902-03: H. Witherstine
1903-05: Archibald C. Stevenson
The cousin of another Rochester mayor, James A. Melone, Stevenson was in the insurance business. He retired in 1929 and moved to Minneapolis.
1905-07: Martin Heffron
Heffron became a builder and contractor in Rochester, and built some of the city’s most prominent structures, among them an addition to the Academy of Lourdes.
1907-09: Julius J. Reiter
Reiter got his start working for a grocery store in Plainview before opening his own grocery in Rochester. He served four terms as mayor. He ran for vice president of the United States on the Farmer-Labor ticket in 1932. He’s the only Rochester citizen ever to run for the White House. Reiter and the Farmer-Labor presidential candidate, Jacob Coxey, received 7,431 votes. FDR won with 39.7 million votes.
1909-11: James C. Thompson
At the age of 22, Thompson moved from New York to Rochester, rented a vacant building on Broadway, and started running a hide and fur business the same day. Thompson played tenor trombone in the Rochester Cornet; the band once welcomed Dr. William J. Mayo home from college by playing on a march from the train depot to Mayo’s home in northeast Rochester.
1911-17: William B. Richardson
Born in Rochester, Richardson was a grocer before becoming an attorney. He served as a city judge from 1902 to 1904 and was a member of the Automobile Club. Richardson was Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor in 1936 (he was actually president pro tem of the Minnesota Senate, and became acting lieutenant governor when lieutenant governor Hjalmar Petersen became governor after the death of Floyd B. Olson).
1917-19: J. Reiter
1919-23: Charles D. Brown
Brown was Rochester’s first mayor to die while holding office. He died in 1927, during his second mayoral term. His occupations included owning livery, garage, and hotel businesses. Brown also owned a string of racehorses, including one named Tootsietoise.
1923-25: J. Reiter
1925-27: John T. Lemmon
Lemmon served 30 years in public office, with the city council refusing to accept two letters of resignation he proffered due to failing health. By trade he was a carpenter and cabinet-maker.
1927: Charles D. Brown
1928-29: Frederick W. Haase
A native of Germany, Haase moved to the United States when he was 14. He owned a men’s clothing store and died of cancer in 1949.
1929-31: J. Lemmon
1931-35: J. Reiter
1935-39: W.A. Moore
Moore grew up a farmboy in Chatfield, riding his bike or a horse to a country school. After high school, he went to forestry school but gave it up after becoming ill with mastoiditis (a bacterial infection in the area behind the ear). Moore later went to dentistry school at the University of Minnesota and set up a practice in Rochester.
1939-47: Paul A. Grassle Sr.
Grassle was known for his 54-year career at Rochester’s Carlton Hotel, which had been built by his father. He was an advocate of combining city and county government, and was a charter member of Rochester Golf & Country Club.
1947-51: Claude H. McQuillan
Known for his athletic prowess, McQuillan played a variety of sports. Nicknamed “Boney” during his football years, he played for the Green Bay Packers and gave up a stint as a light heavyweight boxer after breaking his leg. As mayor, McQuillan earned $1,000 annually and was immensely popular, never losing in seven bids for city office.
1951-53: Glenn O. Amundsen
Amundsen made news by nudging Rochester out of the “horse and buggy ages,” striving to improve the city’s fire and police departments, and calling the city’s parking problem “vicious,” adding, “You can’t find a place to park for love or money.”
1953-57: C. McQuillan
1957-58: Adolph M. Bach
Bach was a descendant of composer Johann Sebastian Bach and founded Bach Music Co. in Rochester. The business was later sold to Schmitt Music Co. Bach lived to age 97.
1958-69: Alex P. Smekta
Natives of Poland, Smekta’s family settled in Floodwood, Minn. After finishing eighth grade, he helped build the town’s high school—where he went on to graduate at age 21. He gave up a promising career with an oil company to move to Rochester, and became one of the city’s most popular and longest-serving mayors.
1969-73: D. Dewey Day
Entering office during a city council shake-up, Day was elected at the age of 36 to become one of Rochester’s youngest mayors. Day was the son-in-law of another Rochester mayor, Claude H. McQuillan, and brother to Dick Day, Minnesota Senate Minority Leader.
1973-79: A. Smekta (see 1958)
1979-96: Chuck Hazama
Born and raised in Maui, Hazama attended Grinnell College in Iowa. After college, he served two years in the U.S. Army, attended graduate school in guidance counseling, worked as a YMCA coach, and enjoyed a stretch of fame as a TV exercise instructor —they called him the “Jack LaLanne of Iowa.”
1996-2003: Chuck Canfield
While he was mayor when the new City Hall opened in 1996, Canfield was not the first occupant of the office—he let former Mayor Chuck Hazama ceremonially occupy the office the first day it opened, Feb. 19, 1996. Elected to the city council in 1986, Canfield was re-elected four times between 1988 and 1994. He also owned the local Shakey’s Pizza, now closed. He died in 2017.
2003-19: Ardell Brede
The long-time Mayo administrator—Brede started at Mayo as a 19-year-old desk clerk—had never so much as run for elective office until his mayoral bid. Brede—and you can count them up on the city calendar—attended an average of 1,300 events and appearances (meetings, ribbon cuttings, speeches) every year. That’s roughly 22,000 events during his tenure, which saw the city’s population grow from just over 90,000 people to roughly 114,000.
2019-present: Kim Norton
The former DFL state rep lost her first Minnesota House campaign by 311 votes in 2004, then went on to win her next four elections. She also served eight years on the school board. She won nearly 68 percent of the votes in her first mayoral race to be elected the first female mayor in Rochester’s history.