Have you ever wondered what people think about Red Wing as they pass through or arrive for a planned (or unplanned) visit?
If you’ve lived here for a while, I bet you don’t have to wonder. You’ve heard first-hand the good and the bad. Government and business entities study this in detail. And you can read comments about Red Wing on the internet. But residents know pretty well what non-residents say and do when here, and that they bring money.
Maybe it’s your Aunt Pearl and Uncle Wally from Fridley who retired recently and “are making the rounds” now that they’re untethered. Or maybe it’s someone you saw driving the wrong way on the one-way sections of East or West Avenues in Red Wing’s central corridor.
My experience with out-of-towners started as a kid growing up in my East End universe. The street in front of our house was also U.S. Highway 61 so we saw, heard and breathed the fumes of the traffic going through. We knew the 18-wheelers were all business as they raced past.
They weren’t stopping in town to shop.
We used to try to read the license plates on cars as they drove past to see what state they were from. Back then you could even tell which cars were from another area of Minnesota because our local district plate numbers started with 1G. We knew Red Wing’s many parks, especially Colvill and Memorial parks on my end of town, were popular with visitors just by looking at the plates.
There were and still are many draws to Red Wing. You often hear the phrase “Pretty Red Wing” if you’re a local. Its origin is from a line in the ever-popular 1907 tune “Red Wing.” But “pretty” still applies to the city, especially its setting at the base of bluffs and along a famous border river.
And that’s what lots of visitors come to see. This includes the many historic homes and downtown buildings, the sharpest turn on the Mississippi River, and the two main bluffs, He Mni Can-Barn Bluff and Sorin’s Bluff, which offer spectacular views. And what would Red Wing be without the boat harbor and all the art influence?
Over my lifetime we’ve had the draw of the St. James Hotel and Red Wing Shoes, its local store now displaying the world’s largest boot.
Red Wing Pottery was a big draw in my younger years when relatives visited just to buy dinnerware. The Red Wing Pottery Museum provides a thorough look-back.
The Sheldon Theatre was a movie house during my youth but is now restored to the popular “theatre of performing arts” it once was.
Fortunately, Red Wing hosts the Goodhue County Historical Society museum to help explain all this.
Visitors come by car, bus, train, boat and even private planes. You can’t consider yourself a local unless you’ve successfully given directions to the Athletic Field or History Center. It’s not easy negotiating Red Wing’s street layout, even with GPS.
But the draws to Red Wing didn’t offer much for the bragging rights of a kid. I used to imagine Red Wing in a population battle with Hastings, a battle lost some time ago.
We also claim to be the birthplace of ski jumping. Puffed wheat and rice (“shot from guns!”) was developed here. But while these were cool facts they weren’t a big deal to kids who didn’t ski and who ate Cheerios.
When we visited other cities in southern Minnesota I couldn’t help but compare them to Red Wing. There was Rochester’s Mayo Clinic and corn cob water tower, the Jolly Green Giant at Blue Earth and the Sugarloaf in Winona.
Every place has its interesting history and landmarks but I was always brought back to the bluffs and river setting of Red Wing. Other river towns compared closely, but they weren’t home.
Red Wing has probably been a tourist town since before it had paved streets and running water. That was mostly lost on me until I commuted to the Twin Cities for work. Co-workers asked about Red Wing so much that I’d keep brochures in my desk to hand out to coworkers who wanted more details than I could describe.
Comments about Red Wing on the internet still place its unique geography almost universally at the top. The expected amenities like shopping and dining also rate well overall. Locals also like the fact that almost everything you need is within a 10-minute drive or even walkable and the Twin Cities are only an hour away.
Of course there are negative comments, mostly dealing with people. Some say it’s not inclusive, has drug problems, crime, racism, and if you weren’t born and raised here you will never be accepted.
I recognize many of these statements because I’ve heard them before. They are usually by those new to town who had different expectations. But some who have lived their entire lives here say these things, most of which can apply to any city. And people write more negative comments than positive ones. You could look it up.
The July 4 holiday is just around the corner and there will be many visitors to town. Many of them are return visitors which should say something about Pretty Red Wing.
And did I mention that they bring money?