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Cottonwood County Historical Society
Registration table at Riverfest 1990

Curt Loken (Windom High School class of 1948) visits with volunteers at the Riverfest 1990 registration table.

Riverfest, an annual summer celebration in Windom first held in 1957, has its roots in an earlier celebration known as Flax Day. Under each name, the event has thrived and brought together people in the area for fun and festivities.

After World War II, flax was a major crop in Cottonwood County. Area business leaders thought that the public needed to show support for the processing companies that had moved to Windom for the flax boom. In 1957, after area farmers shifted from growing flax to producing corn and soybeans, the name “Flax Day” was changed to “River Days.” The Des Moines River flowed through Windom and was thought to be a more stable reason for a celebration than a crop.

During the River Days years, activities were held at or on the river and were sponsored by the local Jaycees. Some activities returned year after year and were held during the first weekend in June. Airboat rides, a canoe derby, log rolling exhibitions, water polo, fishing contests, and muddy volleyball were some of the popular attractions.

In 1970, actor William Windom attended River Days and was given a deed to land in his namesake city. His great grandfather William Windom, for whom the city was named, had been a Minnesota politician during the late 1800s.

In 1984, local Jaycees didn’t have enough members to make the celebration a success. In response, they voted to give up control to the Windom Chamber of Commerce, which had more members and a larger workforce to back the celebration. In 1984 the chamber took over the production of River Days and changed the event’s name to Riverfest.

Riverfest 1990 offered a chance for old friends to reminisce when the former students of local schools who had graduated as early as the 1900s took part in an all class-reunion. For several years afterward, all-class reunions held during Riverfest took the place of separate class reunions for specific graduating classes.

In 2001, Riverfest honored Bloomington-based Toro Manufacturing Company for its fiftieth year of business in Windom. Visitors toured the company’s Windom plant and observed how it created its products—devices like snow blowers and lawnmowers. They took pride in realizing that walk-behind Toro products, sold all over the world, were built in Windom.

In 2002, to align with a new thematic focus on twin siblings, Riverfest organizers invited twins to come to Windom from all over. In 2003, the theme “Climb Your Family Tree” recognized multi-generational families.

Riverfest planned new activities every year. Visitors participated in a cribbage tournament, kiddie parades, autocross racing (which involved timed runs by corvettes), a vehicle fair, turtle races, 5-K runs, art shows sponsored by the local Art Club, rodeos, Marilyn Monroe look-alike contests, and more. Common events each year included the crowning of a Riverfest Queen and a parade complete with dignitaries, clowns, marching bands, floats, old cars, and Toro implements. Pancake breakfasts and beef barbeques were popular, as were the raffles and fireworks that closed down the festivities. Music was largely provided by area musicians.

By 2013, the members of the Riverfest organizing committee stated in the local newspaper that due to a decrease in volunteer participation, the annual parade and other traditional events were in jeopardy. The committee voted unanimously to dissolve Riverfest with an intention to transition into a new structure. A new governing body, the Riverfest Committee, formed and decided to continue holding the annual celebration during the second weekend in June. Committee members planned to reimagine the event to honor the Windom community as a whole.

In 2014, the first Riverfest organized by new leadership was held. Since then, Riverfest has continued in Windom with similar results: a celebration that focuses on fun, families, and favorite foods.

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“Art, Log-rolling to Highlight Windom River Days Fete.” Fairmont Sentinel, June 6, 1975.

“Board Formed for City Celebrations.” Cottonwood County Citizen, October 23, 2013.

Buschena, Alyson. “Committee Unanimously Votes to Dissolve Riverfest.” Worthington Daily Globe, September 20, 2013.

“Chamber to Take Over River Days.” Cottonwood County Citizen, November 9, 1983.

McGaughey, Ryan. “Riverfest Celebration Fun for the Whole Family.” Worthington Daily Globe, June 16, 2003.

Montoya, Juan. “Windom Celebrates Annual Riverfest by Honoring Toro.” Worthington Daily Globe, June 11, 2001.

“New Landowner.” Cottonwood County Citizen, June 9, 1970.

Rickers, Beth. “Turtle Races Draw Crowds at Riverfest.” Worthington Daily Globe, June 6, 1996.

Vander Wal, Gretchen. “Windom Celebration Honors Its Beginnings.” Worthington Daily Globe, June 16, 1997.

Related Images

Registration table at Riverfest 1990
Registration table at Riverfest 1990
The Des Moines River at Windom
The Des Moines River at Windom
William Windom
William Windom
Beer-can regatta at Riverfest 1988
Beer-can regatta at Riverfest 1988
Joseph and Ann Burton with a clown at Riverfest 1990
Joseph and Ann Burton with a clown at Riverfest 1990
Lori Cole at Riverfest 2019
Lori Cole at Riverfest 2019

Turning Point

In 1984, the Jaycees-controlled event called River Days becomes the Chamber of Commerce-controlled Riverfest.



After local flax production declines, the Windom community event called Flax Days is renamed River Days in recognition of the Des Moines River, which flows through the town.


River Days is renamed Riverfest.


Riverfest organizers encourage graduates of local schools to hold class reunions during Riverfest.


Riverfest honors Toro Manufacturing Company for fifty years of business in Windom.


Decreased volunteer participation puts Riverfest’s future in jeopardy, and the existing organizing committee agrees to dissolve the event before restoring and reorganizing it.


Riverfest continues under the leadership of a new organizing committee.