Landmarks often are like comfort food. They make people feel like they’re home.
And in Rochester, a giant corn cob that stands 151 feet in the air has become a hometown sweet spot.
The 88-year-old water tank shaped like a husked ear of corn has long been part of a canning operation near the Olmsted County Fairgrounds. Now some folks in Rochester want the giant corn cob officially designated as a landmark in hopes of keeping it standing in its spot.
“If a vote was taken by the people who have grown up and been around here — not the recent transplants — the community would say it was a landmark … their beacon,” said John Kruesel, a local historian of sorts. “It’s their comfort to come and see again and again, probably more so than any other landmark in the city.”
The city Heritage Preservation Commission unanimously agreed late last year to put the tower on its long list of potential landmarks, saying it was an essential part of the town’s history. Some consider it art, others say it’s a “powerful symbol” for the area’s agriculture community. It’s appeared on T-shirts, postcards and posters and even has its own Facebook page.
The tower, with its 60-foot ear of corn tank that can hold 50,000 gallons of water, was built in 1931, a few years after Reid, Murdoch & Co. built a canning factory at Third Avenue and 12th Stree SE., Kruesel said.
Late last week, Olmsted County became the water tank’s owner after closing on the purchase of the nearly 11-acre parcel from Seneca Foods, which shuttered its vegetable canning operation there.
County officials are considering redeveloping the site as a transit hub that could include affordable housing and retail, said Pete Giesen, the county’s deputy administrator. County officials haven’t decided what will become of the corn cob tank, but there are no plans to demolish it, he said.
Kruesel and others, however, are worried that the county might move it.
“You don’t move a landmark,” he said. “What do you call a landmark if you move it? Historians would say ‘destroyed.’ The community already has seen enough landmarks destroyed.”
The giant cob is part of the city’s history.
It was designed and fabricated by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., which was known worldwide for its elevated water storage tanks, Kruesel said. About 15 of those tanks are on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.
It also speaks to what first put Rochester on the map. Rochester was the largest milling community in Minnesota during the last half of the 19th century, Kruesel said.
Years later, the corn cob with its 10 spotlights aimed up at its bright yellow side and a beacon on its top helped guide pilots to the nearby Lobb Field. Mayo built the airfield in 1928 to serve many of its patients.
By 1939, the Army Air Corps and the Air Force used it for training.
“You knew when you saw the corn cob that the airport was about 1 mile south, southeast of the water tower,” Kruesel said. “It was an easy landmark … until the airport shut down in the early ‘60s.”
Heritage Preservation Commission member Gail Eadie said her group may hold a public hearing and vote as early as this summer on whether to make the corn cob tank an official landmark.
Olmsted District Court Judge Kevin Lund is among those who want to see the tank — the world’s largest and maybe only corn cob tank — make that list.
“There’s something real about it,” he said. When he gazes up at the distinctive marker, “I get the sense I’m home.”