Plymouth, MN shares more than just a name with Plymouth, MA. Both cities lay claim to a famous Plymouth Rock. Not unlike the Plymouth Rock made famous by the Pilgrims back in 1620, the Minnesota counterpart has its own compelling origin story filled with drama, intrigue, and controversy.
To highlight the connection between Plymouth Rock and Plymouth, MN, the Plymouth Lions Club held a “Plymouth Rock Contest” as part of the City’s 1976 Bicentennial festivities. The Lions wished to provide a monument for the new City Center, then under construction. The Contest drew a great deal of interest. According to Steve Johnson’s July 26, 1976 article “Beauty Contests Get Boulder and Boulder [PDF]” in the Minneapolis Star:
Some persons had scoured the countryside for their perfect rock. Mrs. Joe Raskob found hers in a nearby swamp. It weighed about nine tons, she said, and had to moved with a flatbed truck equipped with a hoist.
‘I like strange things,’ she said, ‘and this is the strangest.’ You have to be strange, she said, ‘to dig in a swamp for 6 1/2 hours for a rock.’
Twelve judges were appointed to determine a winner. The Star article noted the task was “a perplexing, if not awesome, responsibility.” In the end, it was Plymouth resident Vern Peterson’s 300 lb. rock that was declared the winner of the contest. Peterson’s grand prize was an all-expenses-paid weekend for two at the Radisson Inn in Plymouth.
However, the Plymouth Rock remained for several years in Peterson’s backyard, awaiting its move to the City Center.
In 1980, Plymouth Rock made headlines again thanks to the Stadium Boulder. Pulled from the site of what would eventually become the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the 1.8 billion year old, 150-ton boulder was acquired by First Bank Minneapolis (now US Bank). They wanted to relocate it to their new Plymouth branch near Rockford Road and Highway 169.
First Bank had to ask permission from City Council to bring the Stadium Boulder to Plymouth because of its size. According to Ann Andersen’s 1988 newspaper article “Saga of Boulder and Rock [JPG],” the rock was:
eventually declared to be a free-standing sign and was granted variances based on uniqueness and (ahem) hardship.
The Plymouth Lions were also at the Council meeting to make sure no one inadvertently christened the Bank’s Stadium Boulder the new Plymouth Rock. According to the article:
The Lions were prepared to mount a petition drive, use t-shirts, bumper stickers and even picket city hall if their Plymouth Rock was slighted… It all ended happily. The two rocks, nestled securely at different sites, have slipped into total and peaceful obscurity.
Or so it was assumed. After the Council meeting, the Plymouth Rock was stolen from Peterson’s backyard. According to Sue Webber’s July 10, 1980 article “Plymouth Rock Resurfaces, Journeys Safely to City Hall [PDF]” in the New Hope-Plymouth Post:
It reappeared in Easter bunny finery at the Medina Ballroom April 6 but was re-stolen within 30 minutes. Then, on the night of May 5, Peterson and two friends located what they THOUGHT was the rock. The next morning, however, they had to admit that it was a case of mistaken identity, and the search continued until the miraculous discovery at the bottom of the lake last weekend.
In Webber’s earlier Post article, “Rock Rescued After Month-Long Search [PDF],” dated May 8, 1980, it was reported that, after a month-long investigation involving an “extensive evening checks of local pubs and bars, as well as an “interrogation of everything moveable or immoveable,” the Plymouth Rock was found at the bottom of Lake Independence. The rock was hauled out of the lake and placed into Peterson’s truck but, somehow, the rock was discovered back in the lake again 20 minutes later. A guard watched over the rock through the night until a new rescue operation could take place the next day. This time Peterson drove the rock directly to the City Center where he was met by Fred Moore, the Plymouth City Engineer, who issued a official receipt for the rock, which was now locked in the City Center mailroom. Afterwards, the Post reported, Peterson and his lookout team went to Wendy’s for a bowl of chili.
Though the Plymouth Rock’s saga was over, the Stadium Boulder pushed for one last moment of glory. A massive dedication ceremony was held October 14, 1980 for the Boulder. It was attended by over 200 sixth graders from Zachary Lane and Pilgrim Lane Elementary Schools, who each presented their own handpainted replica of the rock.