Legislators Tour Wasioja Historic Sites
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Picture: Framed by the walls of the Wasioja Seminary, members of the Minnesota State Finance Committee discussed the bonding request for money to stabilize the walls of the historic structure during a tour Nov. 18. 

On Nov 18, members of the Minnesota State Finance Committee toured the ruins of the Wasioja Seminary as part of their research into funding a bonding request for money to stabilize the walls of the historic structure.

The keynote speaker at the event, author and local historian Michael Eckers, explained that this is the only building still standing of Minnesota’s first three institutions of higher education. Original buildings housing students at Hamline University, founded in 1854, and the University of Minnesota, founded in 1851, are gone. The Wasioja Seminary was dedicated in 1858 and had more than 300 students enrolled prior to the beginning of the Civil War. Patriotic speeches and calls to recruitment prompted most of the students to volunteer to fight for the Union. They formed Company C of the Second Minnesota. Almost none of the ‘Boys of Wasioja’ returned to the small town and the seminary never returned to its glory days.

In 1905, the building was gutted by fire.

The local limestone that was used to build the structure has proven to be extremely durable and the stately ruins still remain. Through more than 160 of Minnesota’s frigid winters, sweltering summers, and rainy springs, the walls still stand, testimony to the incredible building skills of the contractors of the mid-19th Century.

The Dodge County Historical Society and Dodge County – which owns the ruins – have requested money from an upcoming bonding bill to stabilize the structure.

This is the fourth week of tours for the Finance Committee. Does the request have a chance to receive the money?

One legislator said, “It’s one thing to hear requests about funds to repair ruins but to actually see them and see the local support; that’s impressive.”

Many local residents turned out in 1850’s costumes and Civil War uniforms to authenticate the event. Dodge County has a very active Historical Society and nearby Mantorville is known for its historic structures and activities highlighting local history.

Another legislator referred to the reenactments of Civil War battles held in nearby fields in 2013. Civil War-era encampments were set up, and portions of the battles of Mill Springs, Antietam and Gettysburg were reenacted. Those battles were chosen because Minnesota soldiers fought and many died in those engagements, including some of the Wasioja seminary students.

The legislators first met at the old schoolhouse in Wasioja, built in 1858, for refreshments and the keynote address, then rode their tour bus to the seminary site, and then stopped by the Civil War recruiting station which is the only one left standing in the state.