Austin is a city in Mower County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 24,718 at the 2010 census.[5] It is the county seat of Mower County.[6] The town was originally settled along the Cedar River and it has two man-made lakes called East Side Lake and Mill Pond. The town was named for Austin R. Nichols, the first settler in the area.[7]

Hormel Foods Corporation is the largest employer in Austin, and the town is sometimes called "SPAM Town USA". Austin is home to Hormel's corporate headquarters, a factory that makes most of North America's SPAM tinned meat, and the Spam Museum. Austin is also home to the Hormel Institute, a leading cancer research institution operated by the University of Minnesota with significant support from the Mayo Clinic.

Austin has been named one of the "Top 10 Affordable Small Towns Where You'd Actually Want to Live,"[8] as well as one of the "Best Small Cities in America" for 2015.[9]

History

Fertile land, trapping, and ease of access brought first trappers and then the early pioneers to this region. The rich gameland attracted a trapper named Austin Nichols, who built the first log cabin in 1853.[10] At that time there were "about twenty families in the area."[7] More settlers began to arrive by wagon train in 1855, and by 1856, enough people were present to organize a county. Mower County.[7] It was in 1856 that the settlement adopted the name Austin, in honor of its first settler. That year the first hotel opened to travelers and the first physician moved to town, Dr. Ormanzo Allen. The first newspaper, the Mower County Mirror, was started in 1858.[7]

Mills, powered by the Cedar River, were the first industries in Austin. They provided much-needed flour and lumber for the growing village. Growth was slow during the first two decades, but the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railroad arrived in the late 1860s, hastening economic development.[7] The town's first schoolhouse was constructed in 1865 and the first bank opened its doors the following year.

In 1891, George A. Hormel opened a small family-owned butcher shop in Austin,[11] which eventually grew into today's Fortune 500 company, Hormel Foods. By 1896, area doctors - with the help of local Lutheran congregations - formed the Austin Hospital Association, later becoming St. Olaf Hospital, and (since 1995) part of Mayo Clinic Health System.[7][12]

Austin received its first college in 1897 when the Southern Minnesota Normal College and Austin School of Commerce were opened by Charles Boostrom. The college closed in 1925 and the city was without an institution of higher education until Austin Junior College opened in 1940 (In 1964 it became part of the State College and University System and is now Riverland Community College).

A 50-acre parcel of land was made into Horace Austin State Park by the Minnesota Legislature in 1913. At the time, the land was "one of the beauty spots of Southern Minnesota, but of late years has not been cared for and in places the banks have been disfigured by dumping along the shore of the stream," according to the bill's author, Senator Charles F. Cook.[13] The park was converted to a state "scenic wayside" in 1937, then transferred to city ownership in 1949.

In the 1930s, Austin Acres was built with funding from the Subsistence Homesteads Division of the Department of the Interior,[14] and the Austin Parks Board was formed in the 1940s to oversee the growing number of green spaces within the city.

The Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, established in 1971, a 500-acre nature preserve also including the 60 acre Hormel Arboretum, purchased from Geordie Hormel with a state grant. In 1973, the city opened Riverside Arena, the city's first indoor ice arena, now home to a variety of ice activities including the Austin Bruins junior ice hockey team.

In August 1985, 1,500 Hormel meatpackers went on strike at the Austin plant after management demanded a 23% cut in wages. A protracted battle between union employees and Hormel continued until June 1986, one of the longest labor struggles of the 1980s. In January 1986, some workers crossed the picket lines, leading to riots; the conflict escalated to such a point that the National Guard was called in by governor Rudy Perpich to keep the peace.[15] The strike received media attention on a national level and a documentary film, American Dream, was made during the ten-month long conflict. The movie was released in 1990 and went on to win the Best Documentary Feature at the 63rd Annual Academy Awards.[16] A song about the strike, entitled "P-9", was written by Dave Pirner of the Minneapolis band Soul Asylum. The song can be found on their 1989 album, Clam Dip & Other Delights. Hormel never gave in to the workers' demands, and when the strike ended in June 1986, 700 employees were left without work.

Present day

Austin has recently undergone several notable developments: a new $28 million courthouse and jail were completed in 2010, a new intermediate school opened in 2013, and a major redevelopment project is taking place at the site of the former Oak Park Mall.[17][18]

The city is currently embarking on a community development project called Vision 2020. This grassroots movement was chartered in 2011 to implement ten major new community initiatives that could be completed by the year 2020. The projects involve a variety of projects related to economic development, heath and wellness, education, and tourism. A community recreation center is in progress as well as a tourism and visitor center. One of the stated goals including making the downtown business district more of a destination, aided in part by the relocation of the Spam Museum to Main Street in 2016.[18]

In 2015, the National Association of Realtors named Austin one of the "Top 10 Affordable Small Towns Where You'd Actually Want to Live."[8]

Major floods

Austin has a long history of flooding. The Cedar River, along with Dobbins Creek and Turtle Creek, flow through the community, and many homes and businesses were constructed in flood plains. A series of floods between 1978 and 2010 resulted in a major flood mitigation program. This program involved the purchase and demolition of buildings within the flood plain, converting low-lying areas of town to parks, and the installation of a flood wall to protect downtown.[19]

After two major floods occurred in July 1978, city officials and local residents decided to take action. Locals organized the Floodway Action Citizens Task Source (FACTS), who met with local and state leaders, as well as members of the Army Corps of Engineers, but it was decided that major flood prevention measures would not be cost-effective. However, a Community Development Block Grant was won from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, allowing for the buyout of homes lying in the flood plain. City planners also vowed to no longer build new structures in the existing flood plains. In 1983 and 1993, major floods again brought damage to many homes and businesses in Austin. Over 400 homes were affected and a new round of buyouts took place through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

The worst flooding on record came several years later when the Cedar River crested at 23.4 feet in the spring of 2000. Many of the worst-hit parts of town were now void of homes and businesses but there was still damage and extensive clean-up required. Flooding came again in September 2004, resulting in two fatalities. Additional protection (dikes) were added along the Cedar River as a result.

The most recent round of serious flooding came in 2010, after which a plan was developed for a permanent flood wall to protect downtown from the floodwaters of the Cedar River and Mill Pond. The wall was completed in 2014.[19][20][21]

Major tornadoes

On 20 August 1928, an F-2 sized tornado touched down on Winona Street (1st Ave). The damage ran from the southern edge of Austin High School to the Milwaukee Road railyards on the city's east side. Buildings ruined or damaged included St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Carnegie Library, Main Street, the spire on Austin's former courthouse, Grand Theatre (replaced in 1929 with what is now the Paramount Theatre), Austin Utilities, Lincoln School, and several boxcars at the Milwaukee railyards before it dissipated. Austin residents noticed debris raining out of the sky, such as straw and laundry.

Another F-2 touched down in August 1961, at 808 18th St. S.W. It quickly gained strength once on the ground, become an F-3 at 17th St. S.W., where it destroyed a garage. The twister lifted briefly, touching down in the city fairgrounds and hitting the grandstand roof, tearing off parts and damaging beams.

In the summer of 1984, a tornado destroyed Echo Lanes Bowling Alley as it swept through the S.E. part of Austin. Neighboring Bo-Dee Campers had suffered considerable damage as well. The tornado also destroyed Schmidt TV.

A disputed tornado or straight line winds took down massive amounts of branches and trees on 27 June 1998, uprooting smaller trees and knocking large branches across streets. Several side streets in the northwest quarter of the city became impassable, as well as 8th Ave northwest (near Sumner Elementary School), and 14th St. Northwest (between I-90 and 8th Ave). The event caused disruption in Sunday church services the next morning, and many congregations organized clean up activities instead of regularly scheduled events.

A tornado touched down in Glenville on 1 May 2001, gaining strength before it turned into a F-3 headed for Austin. While the twister dissipated shortly after hitting town, notable damage occurred in both cities.

On 17 June 2009, an EF2 tornado touched down outside of Austin and moved across the northwest and northern parts of the city, gradually weakening as it moved east. The worst damage in Austin was about three miles north of downtown. The Visitors Center at the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center sustained damage, with the nature preserve losing some 300 trees. There were a few minor injuries.[22][23]

Geography

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.90 square miles (30.82 km2), of which 11.79 square miles (30.54 km2) is land and 0.11 square miles (0.28 km2) is water.[2] Its elevation is approximately 1,200 ft (370 m).

Climate

Austin has a humid continental climate typical of the Upper Midwest. Winters are cold and snowy, while summers are warm with moderate to high humidity. On the Köppen climate classification, Austin falls in the humid continental climate zone (Dfa) and is situated in USDA plant hardiness zone 4b.[24][25] Below is a table of average high and low temperatures throughout the year in Austin.

Climate data for Austin, Minnesota (55912)
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Average high °F22273956687881787158412653.8
Average low °F492235475761584937241034.4
Average precipitation inches0.910.831.893.544.334.884.764.413.462.361.931.2234.52
Average high °C−6−34132026272622145−312.1
Average low °C−16−13−62814161493−4−121.3
Average precipitation mm23.121.14889.9110124120.911287.959.94931876.8
Source: U.S. Climate Data[26]

Demographics

Historical population
CensusPop.
1860200
18702,039919.5%
18802,30513.0%
18903,90169.2%
19005,47440.3%
19106,96027.1%
192010,11845.4%
193012,27621.3%
194018,30749.1%
195023,10026.2%
196027,90820.8%
197025,074−10.2%
198023,020−8.2%
199021,907−4.8%
200023,3146.4%
201024,7186.0%
Est. 201524,563−0.6%
U.S. Decennial Census[27]
2015 Estimate[4]

In 2000, there were 23,314 people, 9,897 households, and 6,076 families residing in the city and 10,261 housing units. The racial makeup of the city was 92.6% White, 0.81% African American, 0.18% Native American, 2.22% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 3.09% from other races, and 1.09% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race was 6.12% of the population. There were 9,897 households, out of which 27.2% had children under the age of 18. The average household size was 2.29; the average family size was 2.90. The median income for a household in the city was $33,750, and the median income for a family was $42,691. Males had a median income of $31,787 versus $23,158 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,651. About 7.5% of families and 10.9% of the population were below the poverty line.

2010 census

As of the census[3] of 2010, there were 24,718 people, 10,131 households, and 6,114 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,096.5 inhabitants per square mile (809.5/km2). There were 10,870 housing units at an average density of 922.0 per square mile (356.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 86.8% White, 3.0% African American, 0.3% Native American, 2.4% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 4.8% from other races, and 2.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 15.4% of the population.

There were 10,131 households of which 30.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.9% were married couples living together, 11.1% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 39.7% were non-families. 33.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 3.05.

The median age in the city was 37 years. 25.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 8.8% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 24.3% were from 25 to 44; 23.5% were from 45 to 64; and 17.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.2% male and 50.8% female.

Economy

With Hormel's corporate headquarters and main production facility located in Austin, food processing plays a dominant role in the city's economy. Hormel and Quality Pork Processors, a contract food processing firm serving Hormel, are by far the largest private employers in Austin.[28] Though most famous for SPAM, Hormel also produces many other popular brands, such as Jennie-O turkey, Muscle Milk, Skippy peanut butter, and Dinty Moore beef stew.

The government, education, hospitality, and retail sectors comprise much of the remainder of Austin's employment base.

Hormel's consistent and steady growth have resulted in below average unemployment rates for Austin and Mower County in recent years. As of February 2016, the unemployment rate was at 3.7 percent in Austin and Mower County. This is below both the state and national average.[29][30]

Austin area businesses and community actively supported an application to participate as a test community in the Google Fiber project, started in 2010.[31] Though unsuccessful in their bid, the adoption of high-speed fiber optic and wireless internet throughout the community is a stated goal of the Vision 2020 committee and their initiative, GigAustin.[32]

Retail business in Austin struggled during the Great Recession, including the demise of the Oak Park Mall. As of 2016, the business climate has improved, including a major redevelopment of the former mall site. Downtown remains vibrant, as well, with an occupancy rate over 90%.

Top employers

According to Austin's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (2014),[33] the top employers in the city are:

#Employer# of Employees
1Hormel Foods2,700
2Quality Pork Processors1,500
3Mayo Clinic Health System900
4Austin Public Schools777
5Hy-Vee350
6Cedar Valley Services300
7Bellisio Foods296
8Mower County285
9Riverland Community College280
10St. Mark's Lutheran Home230

Arts and culture

Music

Austin is home to several long-standing performing arts organizations, including the Austin Symphony Orchestra, which was established in 1957.[34] The Austin Artist Series, one of the Midwest's largest and longest-running concert and performance series, was established in 1945.[35] The Historic Paramount Theatre hosts a variety of local and regional performances throughout the year,[36] and the music programs at Austin High School have been recognized for decades among the best in the state. Austin is also home to a community choir (Northwestern Singers[37]) and several community bands (Austin Community Band, Austin Community Jazz Band,[38] and the Austin Big Band[39]). Austin has also produced many professional musicians of regional and national acclaim, including Sena Ehrhardt, Robert Burkhart, John Maus, Trace Bundy, Charlie Parr, Martin Zellar, and Molly Kate Kestner.

In 2015, the MacPhail Center for Music, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, opened their first outstate location in Austin. Currently located at Riverland Community College, MacPhail's Austin campus provides individual instruction on nearly a dozen musical instruments for adults and children, as well as large ensembles and early childhood music instruction.[40]

Theater

The Frank W. Bridges Theatre is home to an active theatre program at Riverland Community College, while Matchbox Children's Theatre, established in 1975, provides shows year-round for both adults and children.[41] Summerset Theatre, a community theater organization first organized in 1968, also presents several shows per year.[42]

ArtWorks Center

The Austin ArtWorks Center, established in 2014, hosts gallery exhibits, educational classes, performance space, and a retail gallery. The Center is operated by the Austin Area Commission for the Arts, which also sponsors the Austin ArtWorks Festival, an annual celebration of visual, performing, and literary arts.

Architecture

There are several historically and architecturally significant buildings in Austin, including Austin High School, St. Augustine's Church, Roosevelt Bridge, the Historic Paramount Theatre, the Hormel Historic Home, the Arthur W. Wright House, and several blocks of historic downtown buildings on Main Street. Austin is also home to a Frank Lloyd Wright home, the Elam Residence.[43]

Places of interest

  • Mower County Fairgrounds and Mower County Fair
  • Buffy the Cow
  • SPAM Museum
  • Jay C. Hormel Nature Center
  • Hormel Historic Home
  • St. Augustine's Church
  • Austin ArtWorks Center
  • Austin High School and Knowlton Auditorium
  • Mower County Historical Society
  • Historic Paramount Theatre
  • Sola Fide Observatory
  • East Side Lake
  • Bandshell Community Park
  • Todd Park
  • Austin Country Club (private)
  • Meadow Greens Golf Course (public)
  • The Elam House (Frank Lloyd Wright home)
  • Christ Episcopal Church
  • Packer Dome (seasonal)
  • Vintage Bicycle Collection at Rydjor Bike Shop
  • Hormel Institute
  • Roosevelt Bridge

Sports

The Austin Bruins are a North American Hockey League team that began play during the 2010-11 season. The team finished 1st in the Central Division in the 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015 seasons, and advanced to the Robertson Cup Finals in 2014 and 2015, though ultimately losing the championship both times. The Bruins play their home games at Riverside Arena. Austin previously was represented in Junior hockey by the Austin Mavericks, a team that first participated in the Midwest Junior Hockey League from 1974–1977 and following a league merger competed in the United States Hockey League from 1977-1985.

Austin is home to two amateur baseball clubs, the Austin Blue Sox and Austin Greyhounds. The Riverland Community College Blue Devils field six intercollegiate athletic teams.[44]

Several other teams, clubs, and activities are prominent in Austin, including the Southern Minnesota Bicycling Club,[45] the Austin Curling Club,[46] the Minnesota Southbound Rollers (female roller derby),[47] and the Southeast Minnesota Warhawks of the Southern Plains Football League.[48]

The addition of Packer Dome, a seasonal athletic facility built in 2015, has already enhanced sport and recreation options in Austin. Packer Dome is operated by Austin Public Schools and was funded in large part by the Hormel Foundation as part of the Vision 2020 community development project.[49][50]

Parks and recreation

Austin has an extensive network of 28 parks and green spaces, which the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Forestry oversees. These range from small, passive spaces like Sterling Park (manicured but lacking recreational equipment) to the 507-acre Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Established in 1971, the Hormel Nature Center is located in Western Mower County within the city limits of Austin. The Nature Center features restored and remnant prairie, hardwood forest, wetlands and meandering streams. There are more than ten miles of trail, giving visitors the opportunity to see deer, mink, raccoons, salamanders, many different birds and other native wildlife. It features an Interpretive Center, open daily, where visitors can learn about the history and biology of the area through hands-on exhibits, interactive displays and live educational animals. The Nature Center offers equipment rental throughout most of the year: canoes and kayaks in the summer months and cross country skis and snowshoes while snow conditions are good.[51]

Other parks

Horace Austin Park, in downtown, is the most centrally located and boasts a blend of modern amenities, including playground equipment and the municipal pool as well as trails and green spaces surrounding Mill Pond.[52] Austin's parks are located throughout all four quadrants of the city and many are connected by a trail system, including three of the largest parks in Austin: Bandshell Community Park, Driesner Park, and Todd Park. Todd Park is a popular summer recreation space, with several sand volleyball courts and 11 softball and baseball diamonds.[53]

Bandshell Community Park is the site of Austin's annual Independence Day celebration, which draws thousands of residents for two days of music, carnival games, and evening fireworks.[53][54][55]

Government

Located in western Mower County, the southern part of the City is in Austin Township while the northern part is in Lansing Township; the city is politically independent of both.

Austin Mayor and City Council
MayorTom Stiehmterm ends in 2016
Council: At-largeJanet Andersonterm ends in 2016
Council: 1st WardMichael Jordalterm ends in 2018
Council: 1st WardJeff Austinterm ends in 2016
Council: 2nd WardDavid Hagenterm ends in 2018
Council: 2nd WardSteve Kingterm ends in 2016
Council: 3rd WardJeremy Carolanterm ends in 2016
Council: 3rd WardJudy Enrightterm ends in 2018

Austin is located in Minnesota's 1st congressional district, represented by Mankato educator Tim Walz, a Democrat. Austin is located in Minnesota Senate District 27, represented by Dan Sparks, and House District 27B, represented by Jeanne Poppe. Both Sparks and Poppe are Austin residents.

Austin is the seat of Mower County, and home to the Mower County Justice Center (courthouse) and Jail. Two new buildings were completed in 2010, a $28 million campus located in downtown Austin.[56]

The City of Austin is led by a Mayor-council form of government. All terms are four years in length.[57]

Education

Schools and colleges

Austin Public Schools (Independent School District 492) serves more than 4,700 students in the Austin area. Pacelli Catholic Schools also provides a PreK-12 private education option. Austin High School, a large portion of which was constructed in 1919, is well known for its distinctive architecture. A 1939 addition to the school includes Knowlton Auditorium, one of the largest high school auditoriums in the state of Minnesota, seating 1,850. Post-secondary education is available through Riverland Community College, first established as Austin Junior College in 1940.

  • Colleges
  • High Schools
  • Middle Schools (Junior High)
    • Ellis Middle School [Grades 7-8]
    • I.J Holton Intermediate School [Grades 5-6]
    • Pacelli Middle School (Grades 6-8)
  • Elementary Schools
    • Pacelli Elementary School (Grades PreK-5)
    • Banfield Elementary School (Grades 1-4)
    • Neveln Elementary School (Grades 1-4)
    • Southgate Elementary School (Grades 1-4)
    • Sumner Elementary School (Grades 1-4)
    • Woodson School (Kindergarten only)
  • Other schools
    • Gerard Academy (ages 6–19)
    • Oakland Baptist School
  • Former school buildings
    • Franklin School (original built in 1869, burned in 1890; new Franklin High School opened in 1891)
    • Shaw Elementary School (opened, 1916; last year of operation, 1992; demolished, 1993)
    • Webster School (Built in 1891, functions today as apartment homes)
    • Lincoln Elementary School (Built in 1887; last year of operation, 1977); functions today as apartment homes)
    • Queen of Angels School (now home to Community Learning Center and Early Childhood Family Education Center)
    • St. Edward's School (currently unoccupied)

Public library

The opened in 1884, housed in the basement of the Mower County Courthouse. In 1904, the city opened a newly constructed Carnegie Library. The Carnegie Library was demolished in 1996 when the currently facility was opened at 323 4th Ave. NE. The library currently holds over 80,000 volumes.[58]

Media

Austin is part of Nielsen's Rochester-Mason City-Austin designated market area.[59] Austin has two television studios, KAAL channel 6 (ABC), and KSMQ-TV channel 15 (PBS). Other stations in the area include Rochester stations KTTC channel 10 (NBC) and KXLT-TV channel 47, plus KIMT Channel 3 (CBS) from Mason City, Iowa.

Radio stations in Austin include KAUS (AM) (1480 AM, local news/talk), KAUS-FM (99.9 FM, country), KNSE (90.1 FM, public talk radio), KLSE (FM) (103.3 FM, public classical radio), KNSE (103.9 FM, public AAA), KQAQ (970 AM, classic country).

A daily newspaper, the Austin Daily Herald, serves the community and has a circulation of approximately 7,000. is an award-winning bi-monthly publication featuring culture and lifestyle stories about the Austin community.[60] The Post-Bulletin, a daily newspaper from Rochester, is also widely read and distributed in Austin.

The documentary film American Dream, was filmed in Austin during the 1985-1986 Hormel strike. The movie was released in 1990 and went on to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 63rd Annual Academy Awards.[16]

Infrastructure

Transportation

Airports

Austin is served by the Austin Municipal Airport, a public-owned, public-use airport located on the east edge of the city.[61] The nearest commercial international airports are located in Rochester (RST) and the Twin Cities (MSP).

Bus and mass transit

Southern Minnesota Area Rural Transit provides bus transit within Austin and Mower County; daily routes, as well as on-demand pick-up and drop-off service is available.[62] Rochester City Lines provides daily bus transportation between Austin and Rochester. For travel within the city, there is also local taxi service available.

Major highways

Austin is located at the intersection of Interstate 90 and U.S. Route 218. Minnesota State Highway 105 runs from Austin south to Iowa.

Rail

Austin is located on freight rail lines owned by Canadian Pacific Railway. The Milwaukee Road Depot - on Austin's East Side - was once a busy station ferrying travelers to and from Austin. Passenger rail service ended in Austin in about 1957.

Trails

The City of Austin has an extensive network of paved recreational trails for biking and hiking. Several miles of bike paths are located within the city, extending north to Todd Park and the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Austin also has a mountain biking trail, completed in 2015, that played host to a Minnesota High School Cycling League competition in its inaugural year.

Extensions to these existing non-motorized trails will connect Austin to the Blazing Star Trail (west toward Albert Lea and Myre-Big Island State Park) and the Shooting Star State Trail (east toward Rose Creek, Adams, and Leroy). The resulting trail system would be one of southern Minnesota's largest, and is scheduled to be completed by 2016 or 2017.

Health care

The Mayo Clinic Health system operates a full-service hospital and clinic in Austin, the Austin Medical Center. Both primary care and specialty care services are available locally. The campus also provides emergency and urgent care services, a complete pharmacy, and a recently expanded pediatrics department. Before joining the Mayo system, Austin Medical Center was St. Olaf Hospital.

The is a medical research branch of the University of Minnesota. Established in 1942, the institute has become one of the world's leading cancer research facilities. The institute is currently undergoing a significant expansion that will result in a facility twice the size of the original campus. The expansion will be completed in Spring 2016.[63] Tours of the Institute are available, but must be pre-arranged through the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Notable people