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Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)

Harmony Area Historical Society
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Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)

The Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House) in Harmony, Minnesota. Photograph by Wikimedia user Jonathunder, December 7, 2014. CC-BY-SA 3.0.

The Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House), three-and-a-half miles northwest of Harmony, was an overnight stop on the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail, a frontier mail and stagecoach route through Iowa and Minnesota.

The first settler-colonists moved to what would be known as Harmony, in southeast Minnesota Territory, in 1853. A primary concern was establishing regular communication and trade between local residents and other communities.

The answer came a year later when the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail was established and Harmony Township was chosen as a stop along the 272-mile mail and stagecoach route. Recent immigrant Daniel Dayton, seeing a business opportunity in the trail’s arrival, built a single-story log building in the village of Big Spring in 1855. He first provided food and drinks to weary travelers but soon offered overnight accommodations.

In 1857, Dayton built a two-and-a-half-story limestone addition to the structure with walls that were twenty inches thick. Its windows, arranged in a six-over-six pattern, had double-hung sashes, limestone sills, and detailed lintels. Its gabled, pitched roof supported two brick chimneys.

Dayton painted “Ravine House” on a shingle and hung it above the building’s front door to welcome visitors. The first and second floors contained framed beds, slide-out trundles, and floor mattresses for overnight guests; extra sleeping space was available in the small attic. In addition to providing rooms to travelers, Ravine House also functioned as a livery, a store, a post office, and a private farm residence.

Dayton and his sons, Aaron and Zara, operated Ravine House as an overnight stop for stagecoach travelers until 1866, when use of the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail declined due to the arrival of the railroads. Although a railroad line (the Milwaukee Road) wouldn’t arrive in Harmony until 1879, other lines opened across the region in the 1860s and 1870s, drawing away traffic from the once-busy stage route.

While operating Ravine House, Dayton served in the Minnesota Legislature and as Harmony Township’s chairman, clerk, and postmaster. He died in 1895. Ravine House was then used as a private residence for several decades until 1952, when it was abandoned and used as feed and hay storage for livestock.

The building soon fell into disrepair. A passionate group of local preservationists, however, decided to renovate it in the 1970s. Work crews replaced the windows and roof, repaired wood floors, and stabilized the foundation. Every effort was made to return the historic structure to its original condition, and in 1977, Ravine House was added to the National Register.

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Curtiss-Wedge, Franklin. History of Fillmore County. Vols. I & II. Chicago: H. C. Cooper Jr., 1912.

“Daniel D. Dayton.” Lime Springs Sun (Iowa), January 1, 1897.

“Historic Inn Near Harmony Now Abandoned.” Winona Daily News, September 2, 1955.

Johnson, Millicent Yates. Let’s Have Harmony: A Centennial History. Harmony Centennial Committee. Rochester, MN: Davies Printing, 1996.

McFarland, Janice. “Ravine House Renovated: Historian Spends ‘Todays Restoring Yesterdays.’” Rochester Post-Bulletin, September 1, 1976.

Ravine House. National Register of Historic Places nomination file, reference number 77000732.

Related Images

Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)
Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)
Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)
Ravine House (Daniel Dayton House)

Turning Point

In 1855, the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail makes Daniel Dayton’s Ravine House an overnight stop along its 272-mile route through Iowa and Minnesota Territory.



first Norwegian settler-colonists arrive in what would be known as Harmony (Harmony Township), Fillmore County.


The Dubuque–St. Paul Stage Line begins it 272-mile passenger and mail service; the trail routes through Harmony Township on its way to Rochester.


Big Spring, just outside Harmony, is platted. Daniel Dayton builds a combined hotel and tavern along the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail.


Dayton builds a limestone addition to the hotel to accommodate more travelers.


The stagecoach industry declines with the arrival of area railroads.


The Ravine House stops providing overnight accommodation to Dubuque-St. Paul Trail travelers.


The railroad arrives in Harmony and the Dubuque–St. Paul Trail falls out of use.


The Ravine House is vacated after decades of use as a residence.


The Ravine House is used for crop and hay storage.


A nonprofit group organizes to restore and preserve Ravine House.


The Ravine House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.