Maiden Rock village and bluff get their names from a long-standing legend about a young, Native American girl called Wenonah (first born daughter), who jumped to her death from the bluff rather than agree to an arranged marriage to a man she didn’t love who was from a rival Indian nation…or he could have been a French voyageur, or possibly an English trader. The story has many versions, something noted sarcastically by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi. Whatever the true story, the legend has been around for generations, at least since the 18th century, and it undeniably resonates with our romantic ideals: this story inspired Perry Williams to compose a libretto for an opera and Margaret A. Persons to write an epic poem.
The first folks to settle at the future village site were brothers Amos and Albert Harris and John Trumbell. The village was initially called Harrisburg but after Trumbell bought them out and platted a village in 1857, he changed the name to Maiden Rock. Trumbell was pretty much the go-to guy in early Maiden Rock. He tried to start a number of businesses and was probably the first European to sail on Lake Pepin. Maiden Rock did not have a regular steamboat stop because the main channel was on the Minnesota side; this was a major factor in the town’s slow start. Early businesses included a sawmill, a shingle mill, a grist mill, a lime kiln, and a ship yard that built boats ranged from 16-foot sailboats to steamboats. Trumbell moved to Albany, Oregon in 1899 when the town had about 300 residents.
Maiden Rock lacked road connections to nearby communities for many of its early years, prompting someone to call it “a good place to live but a hard place to get out of.” The village got a boost in 1886 when railroad connections to St. Paul and La Crosse were completed, but repeated fire disasters were not helpful; six fires ravaged the community just between March, 1911 and August, 1912.
This small village knows how to throw a big party, though. The town’s centennial festival drew a large crowd, especially for the 55-unit parade. The centennial celebration included a beard judging contest with categories including best full beard and best trim. The major industry today is the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company, which has an underground mine where they dig out sand for the oil and gas exploration industries.