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According to Rushford’s history, the first white land claimant, E.K. Dyer, came up the river from LaCrosse in 1852. when he reached the place that is now Rushford, he decided to settle because "he had never seen so beautiful a place."
Today, a hundred and fifty years later, it is still rare to hear someone talk about Rushford without mentioning the natural beauty of the area.
Like other areas in Fillmore County, Rushford lies in the midst of the Driftless Area, a small corner of Minnesota that escaped the path of the most recent glacier two million years ago. The driftless area is characterized by well-developed rivers and streams, ancient species of animals and plants, and by exposed bedrock—the beautiful limestone bluffs surrounding Rushford.
Before it was incorporated, Rushford was known as "Trail City" because seven Indian trails converged there. Today, downtown Rushford remains "one of the busiest small towns I can think of," says Rodney Darr of Darr Auction and Realty, who travels in his work as a realtor and as a musician with the popular band Troubleshooter.
Al Morken, mayor of Rushford, refers to today’s equivalent of Trail City as "definitely a full-service town."
Morken’s point is proven with a glance around Rushford’s downtown with its banks, clinics, bakery, newspaper, funeral home, pharmacy, hardware store, numerous restaurants, grocery store, and much more to equal about a hundred businesses in this town of 1,583. Five churches and a school district also serve the area.
Morken has also served as president of the Rushford Area Historical Society since its beginning in 1985. The society’s pet project at the trail center on the Root River Bike Trail has been the restoration of three 1800’s buildings: a depot, schoolhouse, and church.
As a lifelong resident of Rushford, what is Morken most proud of? "The people," he says. "They’re good, hard-working people."
But not so hardworking that they don’t know how to have fun. Morken himself has been known to join the card players at McGeorge’s Restaurant for the regular noon card game, where, if you’re not one of the first seven or eight guys there, you don’t get to play.
For the non-card players, there are other forms of recreation. From Creekside Park with its impressive, volunteer-built, wooden playground, to the community swimming pool and Ferndale golf course, there’s plenty to do. The area is well-known for its trout fishing, hunting, hiking, biking, skiing, and snowmobiling.
While the last decades of the 20th century saw most small towns struggling, a few becoming "boom towns", it would be most accurate to say Rushford’s growth has been consistent, with a mini "boom" in the past couple of years.
When the 2000 Census Data becomes available, Morken estimates the population will have grown to "about 1,740, I’m hoping," an increase of about ten percent.
Population growth requires more available housing. In his five years as a realtor, Rod Darr has seen "significant growth" in housing prices and new homes being built in Rushford. Last year in Rushford, building permits were issued for 14 new homes, one duplex, three 4-plexes, and three commercial buildings.
Darr says that there are a lot of reasons people move to Rushford. Some buyers are motivated by the fact that in Rushford, they can "get more house for the money." Many recent homebuyers have also told Darr they "wanted their kids to go to a smaller school district."
While the number of commuters driving to La Crosse, Winona and Rochester is growing, local industry also contributes to Rushford’s employment. The largest employers include TRW, manufacturing electrical switches for automobiles, Good Shepherd Lutheran Services, Riverside Electronics, Tri-County Electrical Cooperative, and the main offices of SEMCAC.
Another sign of growth is the city’s recent decision to seek state aid in repairing and updating the local airport where a new business, Rushford Aviation, will operate.
Even public library use is booming in Rushford. According to Susan Hart, librarian and school board member, library use has increased 40% in the past five years. Hart estimates that about a third of library use can be attributed to commuters borrowing books on tape. The rest is just local people "who really love books."
Twenty years in Rushford have not dulled Hart’s senses for the beauty of the area.
"I never get tired of the view of the bluff out the library window," she says. "It’s always changing."
• The Rushford Society for the Arts just produced its fourth annual dinner theater this past weekend, "Too Many Doctors," to sold-out, appreciative audiences?
• Fillmore County—the little county with just one stoplight—has more libraries than any other county in southeastern Minnesota, even those nearby counties with big cities and lots of stoplights? (source: Sue at Rushford library)
• There is a home in Rushford that played a part in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves reach freedom in the 19th century?
• In 1938 Rushford made the nationally syndicated "Ripley’s Believe It or Not" column for having been the smallest incorporated "city" back in 1868, which was, incidently, the same year Rushford had 18 saloons?
• Rushford, on the Root River, was a stop for Mississippi steamboats before the Civil War?
By Bonnie Prinsen