History of Le Sueur

Picture1.jpgThe Le Sueur community is rich in history and tradition but has maintained a progressive outlook toward change and has been successful in its attempts to provide a high quality of life for all its citizens.

In the fall of 1700, thirty-two years before George Washington was born, Pierre-Charles Le Sueur was exploring southwestern Minnesota. This French-born Canadian travelled by boat from New Orleans to the present site of St. Paul and then led his expedition up the Minnesota River.

Le Sueur named in honor Pierre-Charles Le Sueur started out as three small settlements named Le Sueur, Middle Le Sueur and Le Sueur City, which were united in 1867 by the Minnesota Legislature. Le Sueur was designated as the county seat of Le Sueur County, a spot it held until 1875.

For the first few years after the Indian uprising of 1862, southwestern Minnesota was practically deserted except for the soldiers who patrolled to protect the settlers. The intense fear of all Indians delayed the settlement of the area considerably.

Indians, prairie fires, violent snowstorms and grasshopper invasions created many hardships for the early settlers, but the rich farming area began to flourish again in 1870 and the people felt encouraged. 

An early resident was Dr. W.W. Mayo who later, with his sons, founded the world-famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The Minnesota Valley Canning Company was born here in 1903. In 1950 its name was changed to Green Giant Company. The original plant and warehouse were in operation from 1903 until February 1995. The main headquarters of the company were located in Le Sueur until 1979 when Green Giant was purchased by the Pillsbury Company.

The Mayo Clinic and the Green Giant Company have something in common. Their stories emerge from the same small home located on the Main Street of Le Sueur, Minnesota.

Dr. William Picture2.jpgW. Mayo hand-built this Gothic-style home in 1859. Here the "little doctor" set up his first medical practice in Minnesota in a 9' x 10' upstairs room. In June 1861, son William James was born in the home. When the U.S. Dakota Conflict broke out on the Minnesota frontier in 1862, Dr. Mayo volunteered to go to the relief of besieged New Ulm where he helped care for the wounded. His wife, Louise, remained in Le Sueur and opened her small home and barn to 11 refugee families.

Early in 1863, Dr. Mayo was appointed examining surgeon for the southern Minnesota Civil War draft board headquartered in Rochester.

The family moved to Rochester in 1864 and the following year another son, Charles Horace, was born. Later Dr. Mayo and his two sons, Will and Charlie, founded the world-renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

Between 1874 and 1920, the historic home was owned and lived in by three generations of the Carson Nesbit Cosgrove family. In 1903, C.N. (the "little giant") conducted the organizational meeting and later served as president of the Minnesota Valley Canning Company which, in 1950, became the Green Giant Company. His son, Edward, and grandson, Robert, each born in the home, served impressively at the helm for many years of this well-known international vegetable processing cannery. During tours, visitors learn about the time period and experiences of the Mayo family on the Minnesota frontier, and about the Cosgrove family and the home's significant Green Giant connection.

The Mayo House is restored and warmly furnished to the 1860 period. Adjacent to the home, in Louise Park, stands the bronze sculpture called "The Mothers" created in 1978 by Dr. Paul Granlund. It features historic figures from the Mayo and Cosgrove families. The W.W. Mayo House is a state historic site owned by the Minnesota Historical Society and operated by the Mayo House Interpretive Society.

"What this town needs is a Corn Cannery. Sweet corn will prove a valuable crop for the farmers. The cannery will furnish much employment, and the investors will profit." The sales pitch of John Silver Hughes worked. Hughes, a descendant of the family who started the canning in Maryland, came to Le Sueur in the winter of 1902 to sell the town on the idea of a cannery. With enough interest generated, a group of businessmen met in the back room of the James Cosgrove Harness Shop one night in March 1903 and made plans for the new corn cannery.

Sixty-seven shares of common stock were sold for $100 a share. An abandoned hotel was purchased as the factory site. Mr. Hughes found used canning equipment in Wichita, Kansas. With the purchase of 96 bushels of sweet corn seed and 300,000 cans, the Minnesota Valley Canning Company was born.

About 200 acrPicture3.jpges of seed were planted. The first year's efforts were considered a success. Under the labels of Artesian and Minnesota Valley, 11,750 cases of Evergreen white cream style corn were packed, shipped to Duluth and St. Paul, and sold. The Board, being satisfied that their infant was hearty, declared a ten percent dividend, paid the president and secretary $200 each for the year, and voted to double the capacity of the plant.

The Giant first appeared in 1928. This trademark and Le Sueur peas became so well known that in 1950, the company's name was changed to Green Giant Company. Production grew from 11,750 cases to 2,250,000 cases in its 75th year, 1977. Beginning in 1925 and over the next 25 years, 25 additional canneries were built or acquired and sales increased to $75 million.