When the first hardy pioneers penetrated the wilderness as far as the site of the present village of Pine Island in the early fifties (1850s), they found a beautiful spot called by the Indians “Wa-zu-wee-ta,” which translated into English means “Island of Pines.” The term “Wa-zu-wee-ta” or Island of Pines, referred to a strip of land on the south side of the river reaching from about where Main Street now is (in 1909) well upon Newton’s hill, which was heavily timbered with stately white pines and was completely surrounded by a heavy growth of hardwood timber. This spot was a favorite resort of the Dakotah Indians, and here, in their skin tepees, they used to pass the cold months, sheltered from winter’s storms by the surrounding hills and the heavy timber, through which roamed untold numbers of deer and elk.
The Indian name was so appropriate that it was retained, but “Wa-zu-wee-ta” or Island of Pines, was too large a mouthful for the taciturn (habitually silent or reserved) pioneers and the name speedily became Pine Island.
A pretty story is told of Chief Wacoota, then at the head of the Red Wing band of Dakotah Indians, that when he was asked by the United States commissioners to sign the treaty that would require his people to relinquish their homes on the Mississippi river, replied the he would willingly sign if he could have his future home at Pine Island.
(The following was reprinted from a report written by Sara Mellinger Schouweiler in the History of Goodhue County-1935)
History says that Pine Island derived its name from the Indian word Wa-zee-wee-ta meaning island of pines. By some freak of nature a small forest of pines grew on this narrow strip of land between the two forks of the Zumbro river. Indians viewing this from afar in winter decided this acreage of green in the snow resembled an island of pines. However, old residents say that this island was an artificial one caused by excess from the mill race. Therefore the village could not have received its name thus as it was called Pine Island long before the mill race was built.
Erastus Dennison, John Chance, Moses Jewell and M. Woodley had the town site surveyed into lots. The plat of Pine island Village was recorded in March of 1857.
The business district grew by serving the surrounding agricultural area, starting with small grains and cattle, and shifting to dairy about 1900.
The first railroad, the Chicago Northwestern, was built in 1878 from Rochester to Red Wing. In 1902 the Chicago Great Western built a parallel line from Rochester to Zumbrota that is now the Douglas Trail.
In July of 1911 a group of small dairies cooperated to build a Prize Winning World Record 6,000 lb. Cheese on a railroad flatcar.
By 1920 there were 43 cheese plants in the surrounding area. Half of them combined to form the Minnesota Cheese Producers Association with a large plant in Pine Island. That plant and its adjoining Butter Factory, were located at the far east end of Center Street across from the park. In 1947 an even larger plant was built two blocks to the North.