Red Wing (population 16,116) was incorporated in 1857, only six years after treaties with local Native Americans opened land in Minnesota to white settlement. Originally a missionary outpost, Red Wing quickly evolved into an important Mississippi River trade center.
In the early 20th century, local leaders launched a campaign of civic beautification grounded in the principles of the City Beautiful Movement, and a number of Red Wing's parks and civic buildings were constructed during this era.
Later in the decade, the community's growth languished, but Red Wing annexed new land and initiated revitalization of its downtown in the 1970s. A major catalyst for this downtown renaissance was rehabilitation of the historic St. James Hotel (1874).
In 2004, Red Wing participated in the 150th anniversary of the Grand Excursion, the 1854 steamboat flotilla that carried prominent businessmen and politicians on the upper Mississippi River to celebrate the first railroad connection from the East Coast.
Red Wing renovated Levee Park, which served as the greeting point for the 2004 celebration fleet. The community also hosted numerous heritage related events, exhibits, and tours. Many visitors came to Red Wing during the Grand Excursion celebration, and the community is actively promoting itself as a heritage tourism destination.
The Red Wing Visitors Center and the Visitor and Convention Bureau are housed in the historic Red Wing Depot (1905). Walking tours are available for three historic districts that encompass the commercial downtown, the civic center area, and historic residences.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2005.