By Bruce Claflin,
A Swan’s Feather Dyed Red
Welcome to Red Wing, a city whose history is as interesting as the town itself. It is said that the first white visitor here was Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. That’s the same Father Hennepin who was among the first visitors to nearly every single town along the Rivers that border our State on the East. The folks at the City offices in Red Wing tell me that a U.S. Army Major is responsible for suggesting the name ‘Red Wing’ in the earliest founding of a community here. It was one Major Long who was paying respect to an early Native Chief here by the name of Hupahuduta (which means Wing of a Wild Swan Dyed Red) when he suggested the unusual name. The Chief carried such a feather as a sign of his authority. In fact, the name Red Wing was carried by a succession of Mdewakanton Sioux Chiefs who carried a similar sign of rank. This Chief however was known as a friend of the U.S., and a peacekeeper.
The Treaty of Mendota and Settlement
As is the case with many of the settlements in our State’s early history, it is the Treaty of Mendota in 1851 that opens the territory for permanent white settlement. Much like Hastings, the settlers come for the rich agricultural opportunity here as well as for the abundance of natural beauty. Like many of our other River towns many of those who settle here arrive by riverboat. Some cleared land and planted wheat. So much wheat that at one point Goodhue County was the leading producer of wheat in the nation. By 1873 the port at Red Wing can store and export over a million bushels. They were German, Irish, Norwegian, and Swedish. Many were skilled craftsman who established a broad base of businesses here. Among the industries here are tanning, shoe-making, and manufacturing of items from bricks, barrels, and boats to pottery, buttons, and farm equipment. Enterprising businessmen in the City’s early days have paved the way to the City’s future. Many of these industries are still prevalent here today. I think everyone knows of Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery. Today you can still walk through the doors of the St. James Hotel, a testament to the history of fine hospitality that exists in Red Wing.
The River Community
Those who have visited Red Wing by water know that the scenic beauty of this place is as good as it gets. Long known as a gathering place for eagles, if you love watching these majestic birds soar in search of thermals, or pluck a fish from the river’s surface then you will never want to leave. From Barn Bluff south you will see some of the most beautiful bluffs along the river system. The City operates Ole Miss Marina, which is one of the finest on the river and boasts 2 locations. One location is at Baypoint (Mile 791.5) and one at Covill Park (Mile788.5). Bill’s Bay Marina is an excellent option with gas docks that is close to shopping and dining options, as is Red Wing Marina. All have transient slips. For a great weekend of fun check out River City Days from August 4th-6th.
When you go you’ll find an amazing city that has worked very hard to honor the successes of its past yet keeps moving confidently towards the future.
I’ve always thought of Red Wing as a romantic place. I’ve always loved the look of the area near the river and the feel of the Pottery Place Mall. Much has been done to give those areas a nostalgic feel, but the City has a few more tricks up their sleeve. Many are working hard to bring more development and more opportunity to the riverfront here. For the last several years they have been working on their ‘River Town Renaissance Project’. Make no mistake, Red Wing wants to become the number one historic river town destination in the State. Through a number of funding measures, they are doing everything from revitalizing their riverfront to putting a freshening touch on the country’s oldest municipally owned theater, the Sheldon Theater of Performing Arts. Included in their plans to spur tourism and economic development along the river, the City is planning new docks large enough to accommodate riverboats. Riverboats brought growth and new energy to Red Wing nearly 170 years ago, maybe we’ll see it happen again a few years from now. Way to go Red Wing, keep thinking forward.