Wabasha County is located in Southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River. It is considered to be both a part of the Mississippi River Valley, and Mississippi River Bluffs Area. The rich history of this area is evident throughout the county. Prior to 1826, the area of Wabasha was inhabited by the Sioux, led by chief Wa-pa-shaw, who would later give the county and city their names.
The city of Wabasha is the county seat and also Minnesota's first and longest continuously inhabited River town. Wabasha was first settled in 1826, becoming an officially recognized city in 1830 with the Prairie du Chien Treaty. This makes Wabasha the oldest city in Minnesota.
Chief Wah-pa-sha II
On March 3, 1849, during his last hours in office, President James Polk signed a bill adding a new name to the American political landscape, Minnesota Territory. A vast land, it stretched from the St. Croix River and Lake Superior on the east to the Missouri River on the west and north to the Canadian border. Totaling more than 166,000 square miles, Minnesota Territory was divided into nine counties. Wabasha was one of these first counties.
In those feverish years of American expansion, pressure built to organize the lands along the upper Mississippi River. Iowa and Wisconsin had already entered the Union and were rapidly filling with settlers. The story of frontier settlement was soon to be repeated in Minnesota, as a thin stream of farmers, lumbermen, and land speculators turned into a tidal wave.
Farms and towns spread across the prairies. The booming populations, which had grown from less than 5,000 settlers in 1849 to more than 100,000, clamored for statehood. It was granted in 1858, just nine short years after the creation of the territory.
Founded by Charles R. Read in a location just below where the Chippewa River enters the mighty Mississippi, Reads Landing was the ideal landing spot for trading and riverboat traffic.
In 1856, the village of Reads Landing was platted as Pepin, however the name was never used. It was incorporated March 5,1868 and during the following years flourished with commerce and transportation businesses. Once one of the largest Minnesota communities on the Mississippi River, Reads Landing was home to 27 hotels, 21 saloons, 15 mercantile stores, multiple warehouses; yet only a single church. It was in fact one potential site for the capitol of Minnesota.
Water Street in Reads Landing, c. 1870's
1920's-1930's one-room school exhibit
Reads Landing School
Erected in 1870, of red pressed brick, limestone lug sills, and rusticated coursed stone foundation, at a cost of $8,200.00, no expense was spared in the Italianate details and the three-layer brick walls of the fifty by fifty foot two-story structure.
Once inside this stout, stately structure, you will be able to experience the ambiance of the learning environment of a 1920’s-30‘s one-room school, examine the initials carved in the hallways by the children who attended the school, step on the well-worn treads once climbed by hundreds of students as they rushed to their classes.
During its most populated time, most classes were around 25 students, however, in the Winter, when the farm children could go to school, the numbers swelled substantially.
Charles R. Read
Charles R. Read was born in the parish of Garnsborough, Somersetshire, England, March 20, 1821. Orphaned, he immigrated to Canada with his brother's family in 1832. At age 16 he came to this country and the following year joined the American invasion during the Canadian rebellion of 1837-38. Taken prisoner, he narrowly escaped hanging and subsequently, due to his young age, had his sentence commuted by Queen Victoria I.
First settling at Nelson's Landing, just opposite the village named in his honor, he came to Reads Landing in 1847. After that time his history is closely entwined with that of the area. He was county commissioner when the Wabasha County was organized in 1853, became the first chairman of the board of supervisors for Pepin Township, appointed the first Postmaster of Reeds [sic], served as major of the 6th Infantry Regiment from 1861 until 1863, and elected colonel of the 7th regiment, state militia, May 3 1863.
He was married June 7, 1849, at Reads Landing, to Sarah Williamson with whom he had twelve children. Sarah Read died January 2, 1879 and Charles Read died in 1900. Both are buried just south of Reads Landing in Riverview Cemetery.
Charles R. Read