Winona State students Grayson Hosch, right, and Abby Christenson skate together on Lake Winona in January 2019.
The Lake Lodge Recreation Center in Winona offers the chance for people to see a new side of their community while being outside in the fresh air — or inside with loved ones.
“When you play outside, you get to see our environment, our beautiful community from a new lens,” Patrick Menton, assistant recreation director for the city of Winona, said.
During the winter season, which kicked off Monday for the center, he said “you get to see the fallen leaves and the snow on the ground and experience sliding on the ice.”
Although this year the temperatures are a bit warmer than usual, which limits the ability for individuals and families to participate in the center’s more popular activities, Lake Lodge still offers a multitude of opportunities.
Menton said that the center always has a warm fire going inside, paired with comfy chairs near the fireplace.
He said people will come in to the center after walking around the lake, grab a cup of hot chocolate to enjoy and then warm up near the fire.
But the opportunities don’t simply stop with refreshments and warmth.
Visitors also will have the chance to enjoy activities inside, such as board games, puzzles and table tennis.
Once the temperatures begin to drop and more snow falls, ice skating and snowshoeing is planned.
On the lake, the center’s staff creates three different rinks. The rinks separate different activity options: broomball, pickup hockey and pleasure skating.
Menton shared that employees also have, in the past few years, taken the time to create a path surrounding the rinks that allows people to participate in fitness-focused skating, similar to how people would walk or run on a track.
“So you can kind of let it loose out there and get a workout in while you’re playing outdoors,” Menton said.
Snowshoe rental is included in the daily rate at the center, allowing people to check out a pair and check out the scenery of Winona.
The staff will direct those interested to different spots in the community to go snowshoeing, including different parks and snowshoe trails that offer a variety of challenges.
“At Park and Rec, we value play as extremely important for people, especially during the winter months,” Menton said. “So we encourage everyone to prioritize playing outside all year long, but in particular in the winter, because people tend to get trapped indoors for longer amounts of time.”
He said that when this confinement happens, illnesses such as colds more easily develop because there is a lack of fresh air. Menton said being outside helps people avoid being surrounded in spaces where germs thrive.
LAKE LODGE RECREATION CENTER
WHERE: 113 Lake Park Drive in Winona
HOURS: The center is open from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
SEASON: The winter season concludes Feb. 28. The center will reopen May 1 for spring.
COST: A Lake Lodge annual pass costs $22; a pass day is $11 CONTACT: For more information, visit www.cityofwinona.com/city-services/parks-recreation/recreation-centers/lake-lodge/ or call 507-453-1955
If Winona has an iconic object, it is the odd-shaped lump of limestone rising high above the intersection of Hwy. 14/61 and Hwy. 43 on the east end of town.
Nature didn’t shape the squared off rock, that was the work of the brothers O’Dea – John and Stephan -- quarrymen who whittled away the blufftop for use as building stone in the late 1800s.
The bluff’s original conical shape reminded white settlers of the conical loaves of sugar in common use in the early 19th century – hence the name that supplanted an earlier appellation – Wabasha’s Cap, drawn from the original rock’s semblance to the headgear favored by the Dakota chief whose band laid claim to the prairie below.
The Indian maid with the far-away gaze may be the most traveled sculpture in town.
Cast in bronze by Isabel Moore Kimball, and donated to the city by W.J. Landon in memory of his wife, Ida, Wenonah was installed in Winona’s Central Park in 1902, the centerpiece of a circular fountain, flanked by three bronze pelicans and a trio of bronze turtles.
The fountain was the park’s centerpiece for 60 years, until it was displaced by a new post office building.
Wenonah was moved to the foot of Main Street in Lake Park and her menagerie was resettled behind Watkins Hall on the Winona State Campus.
In 1977 princess, pelicans and turtles were reunited at Levee Plaza – now Third St. – in downtown Winona.
When the plaza was removed, a community-fundraiser moved the tableau to a recreated fountain in Windom Park, at Huff and Broadway.
Bloedow’s Maple Long John
The history behind Winona’s oldest bakery is as rich as one of its frosting-topped sweet rolls.
Bloedow’s was founded in 1924 and competed with six other bakeries in Winona at that time. It has since outlived all the others to become Winona’s oldest and only bakery.
Doughnuts have become the bakery’s biggest seller and the staff churns out about 300 dozen doughnuts a day — even more on Saturday — and that number excludes the bread, sweet rolls and cookies that are also baked daily.
St. Stan’s Tintinnabulum
When the pope comes to call, this is the bell that will announce his arrival.
The tintinnabulum, a small brass bell, was rung Sept. 9, 2012 to signify the elevation of the church popularly known as Winona’s Polish Cathedral to the papal dignity of Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka.
The tintinnabulum will then remain silent until it is rung to herald the arrival of the pope — symbolic of the special relationship between the pope and the basilica church.
The status of basilica is granted to a small number of Catholic churches — 1,610 throughout the world — based on their architectural and historic significance and their importance to their community — spiritually, liturgically and culturally.
St. Stan’s is only the 70th church in the United States to be granted basilica status and is one of just two basilica churches in Minnesota.
Winona is the capital of stained glass?
Well, if you say so.
While Winona’s undoubtedly a colorful city, its oft-cited designation as "Stained Glass Capital of America" may well be simply credited to a travel writer who made a career of chronicling American oddities -- if not a career out of exhaustively verifying her claims.
Still, it’s hard to deny the presence of the industry in Winona, from the large studios to the small and the stained glass present in churches and businesses across the city.
One of Winona’s most prominent stained-glass manufacturers, Willet-Hauser, was purchased earlier this year – but any fears that it might leave town and diminish Winona’s claim to stained-glass fame disappeared quickly, when it turned out that the new owner’s father had once worked for the company for many years.
Bob Welch Aquatic Center
With the river on one side and a lake on the other, why would Winona need an outdoor swimming pool?
So there would be a place to swim in the middle of town, of course.
Opened in 1990, the Bob Welch Aquatic Center -- named in memory of the city's long-time Parks and Recreation director -- became Winona's official civic swimming hole.
It’s a distinction first owned by the Latsch Island beach and bathhouse in 1905, and then Lake Park beach after Latsch beach was officially closed in 1974.
The city’s cement pond – in Beverly Hillbillies parlance – features a zero-depth design, meaning the bottom slopes down from nothing, just like the beaches it replaced; a 208-foot water slide; and a guarantee that no patron will be nuzzled by a wayward carp or nipped by a passing gar – definite hazards when swimming in Winona’s unchlorinated recreational waters.
Great River Shakespeare Festival
To be or not to be.
That wasn’t quite the question more than 15 years ago, when a group of innovative theater professionals were in the process of creating a world-class Shakespeare festival somewhere in Minnesota. The question, really, was where to stage the festival.
Thankfully, there was an equally innovative group of community-minded folks in Winona who saw the huge potential for the festival, and worked tirelessly to bring it here. Some of those same people, working alongside countless others, continue to be responsible for the festival’s success and growing local roots as it wraps up its 11th season this month and is already looking far into the future.
The festival has brought national attention to Winona, though just as importantly it’s become more and more integrated into the community as it matures, by sponsoring events, promoting local and regional art, and presenting Shakespeare to the masses at garden tours, in coffee shops, and at other events. The bard would be pleased.
And as another bonus, Winona has clearly never had as many Shakespeare groupies as it does today – even the once-heralded Winona Shakespeare Club boasted membership of just a dozen men in an 1875 photograph.
Airport Lake Rope Swing
Hidden along Theurer Boulevard near the Winona airport,
is an oasis for the summer adrenaline junky sort.
Wrapped around the branch of a tall thick tree,
dangles a sturdy rope with four knots hanging at the end, you see.
When kids and daring adults are ready for a thrill,
the rope on the edge of the lake hardly stands still.
Visitors climb up to the seven-foot or twelve-foot-high stand
and sometimes say a few final words to their ground-standing fans.
Most scream as they hold on for dear life;
others fly through the air and end with a jackknife.
Either way hardly a person resurfaces without a smile.
Staying cool in the summer heat – at least for awhile.
And what better steps to climb than the rope tree’s smooth twisted roots,
while the next person steps off the stand and out he or she shoots.
A pleasant and cool place to be --
especially to fill that adrenaline need.
Lakeview Drive Inn
Across from East Lake Winona and with a view of Wapasa's Cap, you can find Winona's "working antique," the Lakeview Drive Inn.
Lakeview dates all the way back to 1938, when Emil Berzinski founded Emils Root Beer stand. The operation expanded and changed names and hands over the years until the Glowczewski family purchased it in 1977. But despite the decades and the changes, Lakeview has always stayed true its roots, offering hand-made food items and owner Tim Glowczewski and his brother working hard to maintain and keep the buildings original feel and fixtures.
In an era of iPhones and pizza delivery, Lakeview still offers door-to-door service from its carhops, and classic cars are a mainstay of the business from the memoribilia lining the walls to the weekly cruise nights. More than one high school student has made their spending cash at the drive-in, and the regulars are so loyal the Glowczewski's can set their watches by them.
"I like to say we are a working antique," Tim says about the restaurant. "A lot of things here are not just for decoration."
It was “the beer that makes it fun to be thirsty.”
It was also fun to order…
Walk into a bar with a buddy, look around, and with a strong voice announce to the barmaid: “I’d like a couple of Bub’s…”
Pronounce it properly and by the look on their faces, you’d instantly know who’s from out of town. The locals wouldn’t bat an eye.
In 1869, Bavarian brewmaster Peter Bub married the widow of Winona’s first brewer and gave her and the brewery she’d inherited his name. A year later, after a fire leveled the original brewhouse, he oversaw construction of a solid limestone brewery built in the shadow of Sugar Loaf and burrowed deep into the bluff, hollowing out six caves where Bub’s Beer would be aged at a constant 45 degrees as done by European master brewers for nearly a century … the last barrel rolled out in 1969.
Teddy Roosevelt stopped there. So did Harry Truman.
To give a speech … not to buy a ticket.
The Winona Amtrak station has been welcoming travelers to town since 1888. Built as a passenger station by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, the original design featured separate men’s and women’s waiting rooms, finished with maple floors, Georgia pine woodwork and bronze hardware throughout.
The station was a stop for the Milwaukee Road’s premier passenger trains--the morning and afternoon Hiawatha, which linked Chicago and the Twin Cities until 1971, and the establishment of Amtrak, the nationwide passenger rail service. The eastbound and westbound Empire Builder each make a daily stop at the Winona station.
The station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Alternate Side Parking
Each November, dead leaves swirl down Winona’s quiet streets, homeowners stop mowing and prepare for winter, gardeners harvest the last of their squashes -- and alternate-side parking begins.
Between November 15 and March 15, you’d better have your car on the correct (odd or even, that is) side of the street between 12:01 and 6:30 a.m. If it’s an odd day, park on the odd-addressed side of the street; an even day, park on the even side. Make sense?
The four-month-long ordinance elicits anguished groans whenever it’s mentioned, especially among college students who can be easily convinced of the conspiracy theory that the city’s police department is out to take advantage of them. Admittedly, the $25 tickets do fill out the city’s coffers a bit – it raised about $45,000 last year, assuming every scofflaw or distracted parker paid their ticket. Though to be fair, the city took it upon themselves to shorten Winona’s fifth season by a full month in recent years.
Odd and even sides of a dark street, the confusing hour of midnight to screw it all up, streets that get smaller with each snowfall. It’s a wonder we don’t all switch to sleighs once the snow starts flying. You can park those contraptions in your front yard.
But then there’s the question of where to sequester the horses.
Mississippi River Towboats
Don't call them tugboats.
The ubiquitous movers and shakers on the Mississippi River are called towboats. And just like trains or birds, the boats and the containers they move are such a common sight around Winona that a following has cropped up to track tows from when the ice breaks to the return of winter.
The industry and its sights are so iconic that they inspired local author and city council member Pam Eyden to pen “The Little Tow-Watcher’s Guide,” first released in 1990 and now in its fifth edition.
For those interested in the history of the craft that ply America’s first super highway, the book contains articles and essays on towboats and the river life of their crew. For the watcher, the book offers a comprehensive list of the tows that can be found along the upper Mississippi, from the American Beauty to the Walter E. Blessey.
Because no two towboats are the same, the guide can help watchers identify which craft they are spotting along the river. It would just be embarrassing if someone told their friends they spotted the Joseph Patrick Eckstein, when what they really saw was the Jacob Michael Eckstein, two different boats that frequently visit the Island City.
Winona State University
A community of learners improving our world.
And for many in the Winona State University community, their first task is following the school’s motto by improving Winona.
While the number of alcohol-related incidents may jump at the end of every August, and everyone knows to avoid Huff and Main Street on move-in day, there are just as many and more WSU students and employees volunteering their time at the Winona Area Humane Society or any number of organizations around town, or getting their hands dirty planting and cleaning downtown.
That community spirit goes all the way back to WSU’s founding, when the Minnesota Legislature provided funding for a normal school with the caveat that the school would go to the first city that could raise the initial funds and provide the land. Winona beat out the competition and raised even more than was needed, with city residents pooling $7,000 and a location in the heart of the city.
Today, WSU has national presence, and plans are in the works for a regional Education Village to create a new model for improving teacher training.
Not bad for the first normal school west of the Mississippi.
Nearly 70 flat, odd-shaped sections of rock arranged into two layers of seating are grounded into the earth in the shape of a circle near East Lake Winona. Completing the circle closest to the lake is a stage built of similar rock, framed with plants and flowers. In the middle of the circle, surrounded by grass, is a stone plaque with the an imprint of a multicolored circle, an eagle – its wings outspread – and the words: Winona Dakota Unity Alliance.
The structure and area known as Unity Park is much more than it looks. It’s a symbol of reconciliation between Winona’s settlers and Native Americans.
In an effort to make peace with the Dakota natives who inhabited Winona prior to being forced to leave by military and settlers in 1853, a group of city leaders, church members, and volunteers formed a committee in 2004 that turned into the Winona Dakota Unity Alliance and spawned the first Great Dakota Gathering in the city.
From that event grew the idea of symbolizing the reestablished relationship by creating Unity Park. Every year since the Great Dakota Gathering has brought the two groups together, formed many relationships, and been highly acclaimed by those who attend. From traditional native dancing to gathering around the stone fire pit near at the end of the night, it has gone a long way in bringing reconciliation for a past filled with suffering.
“I trust Goltz” is the ad slogan, repeated on camera for local TV by a clutch of locally well-known spokespeople.
For more than 125 years, the family-owned pharmacy on East Third Street has been working to earn and keep the trust of their customers in Winona and the surrounding area. Dan and Paul Goltz are the fourth generation of the Goltz family to serve the health needs of the Winona community.
In 1887, Max Goltz, son of German immigrant parents, graduated from the University of Illinois college of pharmacy, and after a year working in Chicago, returned to the family’s adopted home in Winona to partner with George Gerlicher in a small drug store at 274 East Third. The business prospered, with Goltz becoming sole proprietor, then bringing sons and grandsons into the enterprise.
Unlike most contemporary drugstores, there’s no dairy case or cans of soup for sale at Goltz; no toys, DVDs or Oreos. The healthcare needs of their customers and the effective use of the medications they are prescribed is Goltz’s only business … and the reason Winona residents “trust Goltz.”
Cotter Marching Band
For years, a sign in front of Cotter High School said it all … “Home of the Band.”
It’s no mean feat to transform walking down the street into an art form, but with countless house of practice, unnumbered early-morning miles spent tramping the back streets of Winona, the Cotter High School Marching Band worked its way to a reputation as one of the outstanding competitive marching units in the Midwest.
Currently under the direction of Rick Peters, the band’s summer marching season begins when the school year ends, with daily practices and weekend performances from the first week of June to the Minnesota State Fair in the waning days of August … followed immediately by the fall field show season.
For 25 years the band was under the direction of Dave Gudmastad, credited with building a program that filled Cotter trophy cases and usually involved more than half of the Cotter student body as instrumentalists, color guard, drum majors, or flag and rifle team members.
Every summer Wednesday near sunset, a symphony of brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments echo in the air on Winona’s East Lake waterfront.
Housed in the 1924 historic bandshell, the Winona Municipal Band – its members dressed in classic attire – put on a free show for anyone who wishes to attend. That’s usually folks populating blankets, fold-up chairs, and the rows of seats in front of the bandshell, couples, families, and those who chose to stop after just passing by.
The band, composed of talented amateurs and semi-professional performers of all ages, delivers a lot more than what anyone pays for, performing a rousing mix of marches, patriotic anthems and songs, Americana-themed concert band repertoire, and more.
In 2015, the band celebrated its 100th anniversary, having performed in its first decade at Levee Park before the bandshell was completed. Despite its rich history, though, the band can’t lay claim to being the first community band in Winona – that honor is bestowed on the Germania Band, which began performing in 1855.
It’s no average graveyard.
Yes, more than 20,000 people have found a final resting place in the grounds of Woodlawn Cemetery, situated at the south end of Huff Street in Winona.
But whether to learn about the characters of Winona’s past at Winona County Historical Society’s annual Cemetery Walk or to visit a relative buried there, to get a morning’s exercise or just enjoy a peaceful walk, plenty of people hail from Winona and beyond to enjoy the property. From above ground.
There’s plenty to enjoy. The grounds are comprised of 220 acres of lush hilly terrain that extends into bluffs, with 50 acres reserved as burial ground.
Early burials in the Winona area occurred at the mouth of Burns valley, just beyond Sugar Loaf. But the area was subject to flooding and wouldn’t do the trick. Central Park was also used as an early burial site, but city leaders soon sought a more permanent place.
Woodlawn was officially founded by E.D. Williams in 1862, just 11 years after the city of Winona itself. Many of Winona’s notable families—such as the Watkins, the Lambertons and the Huffs—are buried there, as well as John Latsch, one of Winona’s greatest benefactors, and Stephen Taylor, the only Revolutionary soldier buried in Minnesota.
Winona Steam Calliope
Any red-blooded Winonan would testify that it’s not a real parade without the Winona Steam Calliope.
The red-and-gold 1920s-era contraption, which has called Winona home since 1958, is a fixture of Winona parades, from WSU Homecoming to Goodview Days—but also makes its rounds to out-of-state celebration—and of course New Orleans for Mardi Gras, a trip players and machine have made more than a dozen times.
The calliope reaches a volume of 108 decibels—equivalent to an arena rock concert—and uses 100 pounds of coal an hour. Performers play traditional favorites modified for the calliope’s 32 keyboard keys, while keeping the fires hot to maintain the required 100 pounds of steam pressure. The six-person Steam Calliope Band plays along—and they all really hope the whole shebang doesn’t explode.
East End Shotgun Houses
For many Polish immigrant families, half a lot was a lot more than they dared hope for in the old country.
City councilman and civic curmudgeon Rodney Pellowski often said that if it was dirty and stunk they put it in the east end—referring to the heavy industry that offered the jobs that drew immigrant families, many of them from the Kashubian region of northwest Poland, to settle in Winona. The workers tended to live where the jobs were and where housing—often downwind from a slaughterhouse, foundry or pickle factory—was cheap.
To make it cheaper still, in the days before stringent zoning ordinances it was common practice in East End neighborhoods and in the Polish enclave that clustered between St. Casimir’s Church and the river on the west side to split a 50-foot building lot down the middle and build two houses for two families for little more than the price of one—close enough together a man could easily stand between the houses with a hand on each.
The houses and families generally started small—and as the family added members, the houses added rooms to accommodate—resulting in some unusual floorplans and rooflines that still exist today.
Minnesota Marine Art Museum
Works by greats such as Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keefe, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cèzanne have all found a public home right here in Winona.
That’s thanks to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.
Founded in 2006, the museum — set on several acres of native prairie garden on the banks of the Mississippi River — grew out of the personal collection of Bob Kierlin and Mary Burrichter.
And it’s just kept growing from there.
In size, with three major expansions, the last in 2014 to house the museum’s rapidly growing and impressive Hudson River School collection.
And in scope. The expansion is the latest example of the museum expanding a vision that began rooted in maritime art and has since grown to explore artists' relationship with water and introduce visitors to world-class artwork created by master painters.
That growth has led Winona’s riverside museum to gain recognition on both a national and international scale.
WNB Financial (formerly Winona National Bank)
From the exterior’s imposing Egyptian revival granite columns—each weighing 37 tons—and Tiffany glass windows, to the interior’s frieze ceilings, green and white Mediterranean marble, and mammoth steel vault with its 22.5-ton door, the WNB Financial building easily meets the criteria for icon status. The 1916 building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Inside, you’ll find examples of Prairie School architecture in everything from the walls to the chairs, with their clean, comfortable lines.
But there’s more to the building than just the architecture. Inside, there’s a bona fide safari museum, featuring stuffed animals shot by the bank owners, Ernest L. King and Grace Watkins King, on their two trips to Africa. Specimens of black rhinoceros, hippopotamus, warthog, African buffalo, cheetah, hyena, African leopard, ostrich, lion, marabou stork, dik-dik, baboon, wildebeest, and a host of gazelle-type creatures with interesting horns keep glassy-eyed watch over the bank’s operations.
There’s also a display case filled with some of the 100-plus guns the Kings maintained in their personal collection. Grace King won the North American Clay Target Championship in 1922 and 1923, but it’s clear she was pretty good at hitting live targets, too.
Watkins Great Hall
Henry VIII would have felt right at home. Paul Watkins wasn’t a king, but he did his best to live like one.
Nephew of J.R. Watkins, founder of the J.R. Watkins Co., manufacturers of spices, liniments, ladies toiletries and livestock feed, Paul Watkins took the helm of the company after his uncle’s death in 1911 and built it into an international direct-marketing powerhouse.
So in 1924, Watkins and his wife, Florence, began construction on a house befitting a truly rich man.
Designed in the style of an English Tudor mansion, the house at 175 E. Wabasha St. was three years in the making and featured treasures and antiquities collected by the Watkins in their annual forays into the exclusive markets of Europe. The home’s most striking feature is the two-story vaulted medieval style banqueting hall, featuring a minstrels gallery and a massive Aeolian pipe organ.
Paul Watkins died in 1931, and Florence lived in the house until her death in 1956. The home was converted to a nursing home and, in 2001, became part of Winona Health.
Winona County Courthouse
It’s dodged the wrecking ball, survived a flood, been remodeled and remodeled again, and more than a century and a quarter after the cornerstone was laid, justice is still dispensed from the bench at the Winona County Courthouse.
Designed by Winona architect C.G. Mayberry and dedicated in 1889, the building rose five floors and 136 feet from the foundation to the pinnacle of the square tower at the southwest corner. The seat of county government boasted a 52-foot by 64-foot courtroom beneath a 28-foot ceiling, and a fireplace in every office to assure “good ventilation as well as adding to the cheer of the rooms.”
By 1952, the building that had been the pride of the county began to be regarded as a bit dowdy as compared to the sleek glass and steel single-story modern architecture favored in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Momentum built to replace the old stone structure, and was only turned back by a popular preservationist movement that resulted in the renovation of the building in 1971, and again after a burst pipe on Labor Day 2000 flooded the interior.
The Anglers of Winona
With lakes, ponds, backwaters, main channels and even the Shives Road ditch, Winona has no shortage of fishing holes—and no shortage of people trying to catch fish.
Ever since someone first decided to put string to pole, it seems someone has been fishing in Winona. During the spring and summer months, you can usually find someone tromping down a sidewalk or riding a bike carrying a fishing pole to one of the many piers on Lake Winona. In the winter, the truly hardy come out, resting their butts on ice-cold five-gallon pails and waiting for elusive panfish to bite.
With boat landings providing access all over the Mississippi River and Lake Winona, there is nowhere fish can hide from someone determined to get them. But it always seems those without a boat are the most inventive in their search for the best fishing spot.
Anglers will crawl over the Prairie Island spillway, drop a line off the levee, even wade into the waters next to barges at the city’s commercial harbor in search of a choice catch. And the weekend fish fries held by neighbors all over Winona are a testament to their dedication.
In Winona, folks are never far from the lake or the river, which means canoes—particularly the locally made Wenonah canoes--are everywhere. In garages, on vehicle racks, and behind sheds, the watercraft wait in patient silence until they are taken to the shore and slipped into the water. At Lake Lodge, the oblong boats rest on racks until an afternoon’s worth of paddlers—some giggling, some meditative, some terrified—take to the lake.
It’s one thing to look at a body of water from the shore. It’s another thing to be on it, surrounded by it, with the warm knowledge that you paddled yourself there, you and your canoe, and you can float so quietly that the turtles remain motionless on logs as you approach.
Whether you opt for the Prairie Island boat launch and explore Blackbird Slough, glide among the lily pads at Verchota Landing, or sneak up on herons on Lake Winona, a canoe is a unique way to experience the beauty of the water surrounding this island city.
Besides squirrels, it’s hard to think of what’s more ubiquitous in Winona than college students—August through May, that is. With backpacks and lanyards, shiny new electronics and longboards, obnoxious drinking habits and a general disregard for local traffic patterns, the annual influx of thousands of students brings plenty of annoyances to Winona each fall. Just ask anyone who tries to maintain a normal sleep schedule or dislikes litter in neighborhoods.
But, of course, those images don’t tell the whole story. Students bolster Winona’s economy with their dorm-room decorating, late-night wing consumption, and early-morning study parties at local coffee shops. Performing arts at the colleges add flavor to the local scene, there’s always a sporting event to watch, and students serve as volunteers and interns at a plethora of community organizations, with many choosing to stay and put down roots after graduation.
The student presence in Winona isn’t exactly a new development, either: WSU was founded in 1858, just seven years after Captain Orrin Smith created the first white settlement in Winona in 1851. SMU followed in 1912, and Southeast Tech in 1949.
Oh, and you might have noticed—as of last week, they’re back.
Downtown Third Street
Say “downtown” when referring to Winona and most folks think Third Street.
Through the years, the fame Second Street claimed in notoriety, Third Street earned as the center of legitimate business for the city and surrounding region.
Anchored by H. Choate and Company’s retail palace at the corner of Third and Center, Third Street established itself as Winona’s Great White Way – the local address for retail giants such as J.C. Penney, W.T. Grant, and F.W. Woolworth.
It wasn’t until the new four-lane highway opened on the south shore of Lake Winona in 1957 and retailers began eyeing the steady stream of traffic now flowing a mile distant from the traditional heart of the city that the dominance of the downtown merchants began to be challenged, with the opening of the Westgate Shopping Center and the Winona Mall in 1966.
In a great experiment in urban redesign, much of downtown was flattened in the early 1970s, and Third Street was closed to vehicular traffic in favor of a pedestrian plaza that attracted more pigeons than people. In 1993, Third Street became a street again.
U.S. Hwy. 61
It’ll take you to St. Louis.
It’ll take you to New Orleans.
It’ll take you to Duluth, and all the way to Canada if you hang in there long enough.
No matter the destination, even just to La Crosse and back, a drive along U.S. Hwy. 61 is a treat all its own.
Stretched across the south side of Winona before swerving to the north, the route serves up some shining examples of Minnesota’s natural charms. On one side bluffs loom overhead, the purples, whites and yellows of the Minnesota wildflowers clustered along the base. On the other, the mighty Mississippi -- Wisconsin’s bluffs hazy and blended together in a dark navy blue along the horizon across the water.
Time it right and catch sailboats gliding along the surface of Lake Pepin, or a sunset, the streaked red-orange hues reflected in the water. In the fall, watch the trees on the bluff change colors, and in winter, go bare.
Be careful to not get too caught up in the scenery, though: No matter the surroundings you’ve still got to keep your eyes –one of them, at least – focused on the road.
Herky the Winhawk
There are about 10,000 species of birds around the world.
That wasn’t enough to choose from for the Winona Area Public Schools, which invented species number 10,001 – the winhawk, defined appropriately as a hawk that wins -- to serve as its mascot, and gave the new bird a name: Herky.
Herky the Winhawk’s origins go back to 1954, when a student designed Winnie, Herky’s predecessor. It was not until years later when Steve Andrus composed a slightly different, more masculine version of Winnie that Herky was born. Ever since, he’s been shaking a tailfeather and bringing cheer to events at WAPS and throughout the community.
Eventually time took its toll on Herky’s complexion, and during the fall of 2001 Nancy Rogers – a former WSHS cheerleader who donned the Herky costume back in 1973 – launched a “Heal Herky” campaign to replace the Herky costume, which had fallen into disrepair.
After three months of fundraising, WinCraft offered up $2,400 for a new Herky costume. The $600 previously donated by students, parents, families, and alumni went toward a proper storage trunk for the costume, as well as cleaning and upkeep.
Winona’s avian cheerleader invention continues to draw wide attention: The mascot was most recently named a regional finalist in a 2013 national competition to determine America’s best high-school mascot.
Winona Public Library
Winona’s library building opened in January 1899 as the Winona Free Public Library, after a $50,000 donation from William H. Laird, and it’s still a book lover’s paradise.
Three floors of copper-plated antique bookshelves, frosted glass floor panels, a stained-glass dome that arches 56 feet above the street, and something a newer building just can’t replicate: the warm smell of more than 100 years of bookery. The narrow stairways in the stacks feel vaguely medieval, and the handrails have been polished to a shine by thousands of hands. The armchairs creak in all the right places. There’s even a few nudes in the mural dedicated to Charlotte Prentiss Hayes.
The Winona Public Library has kept up with the changing ways Winonans get information, too. The library offers a host of 21st-century resources, from DVDs to books that can be checked out electronically and read on mobile devices. Microfilm readers and computers coexist quite peaceably, it seems, with the statue of Hebe, who always appears about ready to pour divine nectar out of a fancy pitcher to continue spreading the eternal youth of knowledge throughout the historic building.
Icons of Winona
It’s town’s biggest ding-a-ling.
Several times a week, the bells ring out over Winona, hymns and not-quite-hymns, played by a carilloneur perched high above the city, hammering the harmonies on the 14 tuned bells hung higher still in the Wesley United Methodist Church tower.
The bell tower was born out of one fire and is the survivor of a second. In 1895, after their church building went up in smoke, the members of Wesley vowed to replace it with a structure that would withstand the fires of hell if need be.
The test came close.
On Jan. 23, 1961, fire was discovered in just an hour before Sunday school. The blaze took hold with a vengeance, destroying the organ and sanctuary, leaving the Guild Hall and bell tower smoke-stained and cased in ice, but still standing. Five days later, carilloneur John Duel climbed the spiral stairs and the bells – freed by an array of heaters from the ice that saved them from the flames – rang out triumphantly over the city.
Believe it or not, some folks haven’t heard of this … or been to one.
These benighted souls might even wrongly imagine a chickenque as a long line of leghorns waiting for tickets to “Madame Batterfry.” It’s not that they’re dumb clucks, only that it’s not everywhere that churches, charities and other organizations out to advance the common good regularly grill a small flock of chickens, plucked and split down the middle over a room-sized bed of glowing Kingsford contained in an impromptu cinderblock and fence-wire grill, as a community fundraiser to build a nest egg.
A lot of organizations have found the results something to crow about. As fundraisers, chickenques pull in more than just chicken feed – and popular as they are, a person can feel a bit hen-pecked by the flock of ticket sellers making you feel like a real turkey for trying to duck out on another donation.
Still, getting folks together to eat and socialize and do good for the community at the same time truly is the breast of both worlds.
It’s an island named after Winona’s favorite benefactor, the man who bought more than 18,000 acres of land just so people could enjoy being outside. Fittingly, it’s spread like an outdoor feast between Winona and Wisconsin’s bluffs, with its wide public beach, its necklace of boathouses, and its old wagon bridge—which leads to the more northerly Aghaming Park, also public land courtesy of Latsch.
Historically, the island was home to the John A. Latsch Public Baths, a mammoth construction complete with waterslides, a wraparound deck, lifeguards to make sure everybody’s fun was safe, and plenty of places to shade-bathe (since sunbathing wasn’t in yet). Today, families can still spread their picnic blankets on the sand, kick off their shoes, and enjoy Latsch’s generosity.
The John A. Latsch Beach Preservation Society recently minted signs to lead road-weary travelers to the beach’s soft Mississippi sands—and are the latest community effort doing their best to make sure Winona’s favorite swimming spot is around for generations.
Garvin Heights Park
At Garvin Heights, visitors receive an awe-inspiring look at the natural diversity and grandeur of the river valley and the sandbar city below, the white steeple of St. Stan’s, the buildings of Watkins, the run of Lake Park, the stretch of downtown, and the neatly arranged rows of houses, surrounded by lakes and cut by Hwy. 61, railroad tracks, and the Mississippi River. The view stretches for miles, west toward Goodview and the airport and east past the factories and into the trees.
Garvin Heights is a perfect place to watch a sunset or sunrise, bring a picnic, or spend an afternoon hiking or biking the trails that weave through the bluffs below. It’s a place to sit for a moment and reconnect, and a regular must-see for residents and tourists alike.
Steamboat Days Parade
It’s the parade that keeps going.
That’s because there’s a lot to see at the Steamboat Days Grande Parade, the highlight of a week’s worth of summer fun in Winona.
People from throughout the area flock to crowd the curbs of Broadway and brave the heat (or occasional thunderstorm) to catch a glimpse of firefighters, police, men in hats driving little cars, girls in gowns practicing princess waves, marching bands sounding out the latest tunes. Area businesses, nonprofits, schools, and sports teams also join in on the fun.
The kids – okay, maybe not just the kids—are on the lookout for the bits of candy thrown here and there, Smarties, Laffy Taffy and Tootsie Rolls, thrown in fistfuls from floats and hurriedly nabbed and secured in plastic sacks.
A Winona tradition for nearly seven decades, the Steamboat Days festival includes other features such as a fireworks show, boat races, carnival, beverage garden, concerts, and kids’ activities, among other things. It’s all put together each year by the Winona Steamboat Days Festival Association.
They’re not houseboats.
They’re in various colors and various states of repair. Most don’t have electricity or running water—except the water that runs beneath them. They afford their dwellers a constant communion with the Mississippi River, rising on the spring flood waters and becoming locked in ice during the winter. They’re connected to shore by mooring ropes and poles and usually have a narrow wooden gangplank leading to the shore, but in flood season they’re only accessible by boat. Waterfowl and turtles swim between them, and each fall tundra swans and geese migrate through the sky above them.
Winona’s often-photographed and chronicled boathouses, strung around the north side of Latsch Island and Wolf Spider Island—not to mention the ones at the Minnesota City Boat Club, off Riverview Drive, or behind Aghaming Park—have long been associated with the river life for both rats and summer weekenders. For years, distrust ruled among boathouse dwellers, the DNR, and the city of Winona, until a 1998 agreement allowed the Winona Boathouse Association to manage 101 mooring sites at Latsch for an annual fee split among the association’s members.
Still, regulations don’t allow the construction of boathouses, except to repair or replace existing ones—so if you have one, hang onto it.
Winona County History Center
There’s plenty of history in the Winona County History Center … the building, that is.
That the 1915 Armory Building that has long housed the Winona County Historical Society’s archives and collection is itself of historic significance is no surprise to anyone. But the copper and glass addition completed in 2010 is literally built around a collection of artifacts of Winona past.
The entryway is floored with Winona travertine quarried before 1920 and salvaged from the old Owl Motor Company. Stone arches from the defunct car dealership frame the new building’s elevators.
Old-growth pine lumber sawn from timbers harvested in the 1880s and salvaged from what was originally a livery stable, and most recently housed Charter Communications at the corner of Fourth and Johnsons streets, was used in the stairs, stage and first-floor flooring.
Even the drinking fountain near the executive director’s office is historic, first used in the original 1915 armory building.
In 2011, the $4.5 million addition was recognized by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota with an award for an addition or expansion of a historic structure.
Gentle grassy slopes lead up to round park benches, areas of flowers and bushes, and the cement protective structure of the Levee Park wall. On the other side of the wall are a network of stairs and levels leading down to the Mississippi River’s edge. Front and center at the Main Street entrance stands the round wide platform that used to house the steamboat replica Julius C. Wilkie.
The park isn’t what it used to be, with sprawling grassy green spaces leading to the water’s edge – though then again, it’s a lot more functional these days at keeping the rising river at bay than it was prior to the 1960s. Lately it’s been the center of attention and revitalization efforts for more than a year, starting in early 2013 when Winona Mayor Mark Peterson created a committee in charge of coming up with ways to revitalize it. Meanwhile, a separate group formed the popular Live at the Levee music series, where bands, food, and activities are offered through the day for free.
The park, it seems, is coming alive again.
UPDATE: The park, indeed, has come alive again. Here is the proof.
There are two types of bars in Winona: Downtown bars and neighborhood bars.
Winona residents wise to the ways of the city avoid the hustle and bustle of college students and those ready to whoop it up downtown, opting instead for a quiet drink in a neighborhood bar, a chill place to meet others looking to unwind.
Every corner bar – and there are bars on lots of corners in Winona – has its own character, created by everything from the location and décor to the clientele. Walk into any neighborhood bar—the East Side Bar, Rosie’s, Schniepp’s, the Handy Corner, or any other—and everyone turns to look, wondering if they know you. If they don’t, they’ll go back to their conversations. But if they do, you’ll be met by a round of greetings.
For many regulars, the bars become their own communities. People watch out for each other, trust each other, join in potlucks, become friends and sometimes more. Many have said they found their family – at the neighborhood bar.
Winona Athletic Club
A lot of athletic clubs feature juice bars.
The Winona Athletic Club features Polish beer at its bar.
Some athletic clubs feature health food shops that serve broccoli.
The Winona Athletic Club is home to Rocco’s Pizza.
A lot of athletic clubs sponsor yoga classes and have lots of exercise machines for their members.
The Winona Athletic club sponsors an annual family picnic, has a bowling alley in the basement and has a membership with more “skis” than the Winter Olympics.
It’s a different kind of athletic club – a place where you’re more likely to spot folks in work clothes than workout clothes.
It’s also the only club in town that claims a vice-president of the United States as a member – Hubert Humphrey was an athletic club member.
Started by eight young men on Winona’s east end well over a century ago, Winona’s “Polish Embassy” has been a landmark on Mankato Avenue since 1931, when the club raised 75,000 Depression-era dollars from its predominantly Polish membership to build a three-story brick bar, bowling alley, and ballroom that continues to serve the membership and neighborhood today.
The Windom Park Mansions
When Winona boasted more millionaires per capita than any other American city, this was where the millionaires lived.
At the dawn of the 20th century, sawmills howled and towering piles of fresh sawn lumber lined the Winona levee—and rich profits lined the pockets of Winona businessmen. It was the Gilded Age, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” was the rule, and the homes they built did proclaim, “Here lives a wealthy man!”
Like birds of a feather, the lumber barons and merchant magnates flocked around the First Ward Park at the northeast corner of Huff and Broadway. The neighborhood had been the most prestigious in the city since Henry Huff built his multi-story mansion just north of the park fronting a street he named for himself, with the streets directly to the east – Harriet and Wilson – named for his wife and son.
The owners of the homes in the neighborhood is an architectural who’s who of 19th century Winona – Hodgins, Tearse, Youmans, Windom … The neighborhood has since been designated the Windom Park Historic District, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Festivals, festivals, festivals
Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons. The Rent cast measured their lives in love.
In Winona, one could do worse than to measure the passage of time by the city’s festivals.
Conveniently spread throughout the calendar year and with a little something for everyone, those festivals are how we sell our town to out-of-towners. How we identify ourselves as an arts destination. And how we manage to always, always have something to look forward to.
Kick off summer with the classical tunes of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival and brush up on tales of the Bard with the Great River Shakespeare Festival. Then spend one crisp fall weekend camping on Prairie Island for Boats and Bluegrass, listening to music – not just bluegrass – and paddling on the river.
In the height of the bitter Minnesota winter, catch some documentaries with the Frozen River Film Festival crew. And when winter begins to break, hop around downtown for live, local music from Mid West Music Fest.
If you happen to miss one, don’t worry too much. As the festivals become more established, many are plotting ways to become more of a year-round presence, with more events scheduled during the rest of the year.
Plus, there will always be another in just a few short months.
For walkers, rollerbladers, runners, and bikers alike, the 5.3-mile Lake Park bike path offers a four-season view of Lake Winona, Sugar loaf, and the bluffs. The flat, fast loop around the lake is a favorite course for 5k races all summer. Waterfowl enjoy the path as much as people do, so much that they congregate and excrete in predictable places along the lake’s northern shore. Watch your step there.
Much of the path offers a constant view of the lakeshore, and along the south side you can spot herons and turtles and even deer in the shallows. Sunrises and sunsets ember over the lake year-round, and the path is carefully plowed and cleared during the winter, in case you’re brave enough to bundle up and get out there.
A resurfacing project completed in 2013 in large part thanks to community donations and matching grants smoothed the entire path for feet and tires (bike and stroller) alike, and ensures the path will continue providing scenic strolls and sprints for years to come.
For more than 70 years, Winona’s interstate bridge has been a cornerstone of the city’s visual identity. It’s been the centerpiece of countless photos taken during all seasons, at all times of day and night, from every possible angle.
The steel cantilever bridge was completed and dedicated in November 1942, three years after surveying and site preparation began. It was built in response to fears that the city’s existing High Wagon Bridge would suffer the same fate as a similar bridge in La Crosse that collapsed — and nearly killed a Winona resident.
Over the years the bridge has shown its age, making its image more historic but its strength more a thing of the past. The bridge, which carries 11,000 to 12,000 vehicles daily, was closed for an agonizing 11 days in June 2008, sparking a number of conversations from Winona to Washington D.C. about its future.
Today, the image of the singular interstate bridge in the river is a thing of the past. Construction finished on the new bridge in late summer of 2016, with rehabilitation of the old bridge set to finish next year.
Goodbye, Winona interstate bridge. Hello, Winona interstate bridges.
OK, O’Hare it ain’t … But it’s been around just about as long, and if you’re up in the air in a single-engine Cessna, it’s probably a lot easier to get in and out of.
Located on the far west end of the city, hard by the river and close to the west-end industries that ferry on private jets the VIPs whose time is money, the Winona municipal airport serves the needs of private and corporate aviation with fuel, ground services and—most critically—a flat place to land and take off again.
Ever since rickety bi-planes barnstormed in and out on grass landing strips, aircraft have been touching down and taking off from Winona’s west end. In the 1920s and ‘30s, pioneer aviator Max Conrad—Winona’s Flying Grandfather, born in 1903—launched commercial air service to Rochester, the Twin Cities and from thence to the world beyond, taught hundreds to fly, and went on to set nine world records for light plane flight. The municipal airport is known as Max Conrad Field in his memory.
It’s Winona’s meal.
Or so it is derided by those who complain with bitter persistence of a lack of lunch counters to their liking—Michelin-starred establishments featuring Irish linen, escargot and bottles of wine going for a price that could keep an entire fraternity in beer well past mid-terms rather than reubens, patty melts and the occasional PB&J on Wonder.
But while folks of rarified taste and income bemoan the lack of truffles and triple-digit dinner tabs, most folks delightedly pull up a stool, a chair or slide into a vinyl upholstered booth eager to tuck into a sandwich and big pile o’ fries. The mainstay of the menu in most Winona places from the east end to the west, rivaled only by the multitudinous permutations on a theme of broiled ground beef on a bun, are the sandwiches we delight in having served up on Kaiser rolls, hoagie rolls, focaccia, baguettes, rye, snowflake buns, and thick-sliced bread, stuffed with all manner of beast flesh, fish and fowl roasted, fried, simmered and slow-cooked, dressed up with pickles, greens, tomato, onion, kraut and whatever cheese Wisconsin cares to ship across the river.
It’s Winona’s meal. And we like it.
What do you do with your leftovers?
If you are the Miller brothers from Winona, you take your leftover textile scraps, blend them with plastic resins, and help create the local composites industry.
Today, PlastiComp, RTP and CPI Binani, among others, sell their composites technologies and products all over the globe. Everything from the front bumper for an SUV to high-quality products for the space program are made by composites companies in Winona, and Winona State University hosts a cutting-edge composite materials engineering department on campus.
It all started with textile waste. In 1947, Ben and Rudy Miller founded Fiberite, mixing high-quality cotton fibers with plastics to create a new material that was light, strong and durable. In the early days that composite material was turned into electrical connectors, gun stocks, military field telephone housings and other products. Three times a day, millions of American servicemen and women around the world sat down to khaki-colored mess hall trays molded from composite manufactured in Winona.
Over the years, the composites technologies have become more advanced. Instead of basic dinnerware, the descendents of Fiberite made a name for themselves creating products for use on the Apollo missions, world-class violin bows and even NASA’s former space shuttle program. Others like RTP, PlastiComp and Celanese have made international names for themselves selling the composite manufacturing technology.
It all started with leftovers—and a good idea.
In 1857 Winona was a struggling village of mud streets and rough-sawn lumber on a treeless prairie with a three-story brick-and-stone mansion taking shape on a high spot on the west side.
To the pioneer settlers and the Dakota camped nearby, Henry Huff’s elaborate homestead had to look as out of place as a steamboat climbing the bluffs. Lacking even a street to give it an address – though Huff would remedy that small omission by platting the new-born city, naming the street running past his front porch for himself and the streets immediately to the west for his wife, Harriet, and son, Wilson, his Italianate mansion was an instant and lasting landmark.
But the Huffs weren’t to be long for the city. With his money made, Henry and family packed up for brighter lights and bigger things in Chicago, selling the house on Huff Street to Henry Lamberton, whose family would call it home until 1956, when the last of the Lambertons died and the many-roomed house, outbuildings and grounds was converted to an orphanage.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic places in 1976 and in 1982 Sauer Memorial Home purchased the property for use as an assisted-living facility. The Huff-Lamberton House went back on the market in 2006 and sold in 2011 for $600,000, somewhat more than half of its 2006 assessed value of $1.1 million.
As the ground begins to thaw and the icy-cold winds of winter begin to ever so slightly give way to spring, get ready for a penguin to arrive in town.
The Penguin Zesto, that is.
Since 1949, Penguin Zesto has been serving up burgers, fries and ice cream concoctions to satisfy the cravings of loyal customers from its original kitchen on the corner of Third and Carimona streets.
There’s no inside seating, so on a nice summer day as you drive by you’ll see families, students and even their four-legged companions together crowding the benches around the barn-shaped structure, trying not to drip chocolate drops on their shorts.
These days, Zesto is no longer just a Winona icon – current owner Richard Drazkowski expanded the business into Goodview with a second shop on West Sixth Street in the early 2000s. It opens earlier in the year and services workers from near the industrial park and other businesses in the area.
The primary location first opened as a drive-up restaurant under a different name. For a while, it was known as Zesto, but then an owner who fancied penguins added the animal to the name in 1986.
They say “you can’t fight city hall,” but that’s never stopped anyone from grumbling about potholes.
The PWA Moderne building at the corner of Lafayette and Fourth streets is where Winona folks have come to grumble about water bills, city tax assessments, dog license fees, the height of a neighbor’s fence and any of the other ills, real or imagined, that a resident may have a notion that the city government ought resolve – preferably in his or her favor.
The three-floor, brick-and-Winona-stone structure was built as a Depression-era Works Progress Administration project in 1939, and replaced the old city building dating from the mid-1800s, located directly across Fourth Street. That building still stands and is home to Beno’s Deli, another Winona icon.
From the beginning, City Hall was been home to the city council chambers and all primary municipal departments. The police department, originally housed on the south end of the building, moved to the newly-constructed Law Enforcement Center in 1976, leaving the old holding cells behind to give a unique touch to city conference rooms and an unusual tool for the chair to keep order.
The building was renovated and expanded in 2004. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.
The howling saws of Winona’s lumber mills drew droves of Polish immigrant families to Winona during the later years of the 19th century, so it is entirely appropriate that the former headquarters of the Laird-Norton Lumber Company should preserve the history of the men and women who contributed much to the culture and prosperity of their adopted home.
From the 1870s onward, families originating in the Kashubian region of northwest Poland came to dominate life on Winona’s east end. Coming in large part from the area around the regional center of Bytów, the immigrants brought their foods, traditions and, above all, religion with them to the new world and establishing Winona as the Kashubian capital of America.
Time and relentless Americanization threatened the memory of those traditions, when, in 1977, Fr. Paul Breza, on a banknote and a prayer, acquired the building at Liberty and East Second Street to house a museum and archive dedicated to the preservation of Kashubian Polish life and culture. The museum opened two years later, and is open year-round.
It’s not that they’re up so high, it’s that we’re down so low. The rugged bluffs that cradle the city of Winona and mark the valley of much of the Upper Mississippi River only appear to tower above the town nestled at their base.
Seventy-five thousand years ago there was no concern for global warming. Snows that fell in autumn persisted through ever cooler summers, forming great sheets of ice that over the centuries that crept relentlessly southward, swathing much of the continent in mile-thick ice until, about 12,000 years ago, the global thermostat was reset.
As the continent slowly warmed, melting ice pooled in the center of the continent, creating an immense inland sea covering much of what is now Manitoba down into Minnesota’s Red River Valley. When the ice dam at the southern extreme weakened and broke, unimaginable torrents flowed south carving the deep, broad valley of the Minnesota River, turning south where it was joined by the Mississippi River. The torrent followed the channel already carved through the sandstone and dolomite bedrock by the primordial Mississippi, broadening and deepening it until the river now flows nearly 500 feet below the blufftops.
He was probably the greatest athlete ever to come out of Winona.
Twice Big Ten Most Valuable Player, twice named All-American, runner-up for the 1953 Heisman Trophy, the single wing tailback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers laid down career totals of 2,188 yards rushing and 1,922 yards passing earning him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.
After four years at the university, he graduated to the major leagues and a career pitching for the New York and San Francisco Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City A’s.
He retired from baseball in 1962 to become a broadcast commentator for the Minnesota Vikings and in 1971 returned to the University of Minnesota as athletic director, a post he held until his retirement in 1989.
Since he was a graduate of Winona Senior High, the school’s football stadium on West Fifth Street was named in his honor and now preserves his memory.
Paul Robert Giel died in 2002 at age 70.
Old Wagon Bridge
It’s a bridge that carries less traffic than memories.
For nearly a century the old concrete arch has spanned the north channel of the Mississippi from Latsch Island to Aghaming Park and Wisconsin beyond with steadfast grace, surviving storms, high water and benign neglect.
Built in 1917 to replace the deteriorated wooden approach to the steel high wagon bridge that rose above the river’s main channel, at a height to give clearance to the tall-stacked steamboats that plied the Mississippi at its opening in 1892, the reinforced concrete bridge stretches 1,229 feet shore-to-shore. Its deck stands 32 feet above the water, the foot-thick concrete railing another four feet above that – high enough to challenge and thrill generations of young Winonans for whom a plunge off the Old Wagon Bridge is a well-remembered, and oft repeated, rite of passage.
Handed over to the city of Winona in 1942 when the new interstate bridge was opened and the old High Wagon Bridge torn down for war scrap, tearing down the old concrete span was judged more trouble and expense than it was worth. Fifty years later it had deteriorated to the point where it had to be closed, but tearing it down was too expensive and the memories it carried too precious to allow demolition. A citizen-led effort resulted in its refurbishing and reopening in 2004.
For 125 years, when an apple a day didn’t do the trick, sick and injured people in this area have turned to Winona Health and the organizations and institutions that it is founded upon for care.
In 1894, Winona citizens and physicians pooled their resources, raised $4,500, and remodeled and equipped the Langley home, 261 W. Sanborn St., as an 18-bed hospital. Demand for hospital care soon proved the improvised facility inadequate, and in 1898 the cornerstone was laid for a new hospital building on West Wabasha Street at the site of the present Heritage Apartments.
That building, constructed with $35,000 in community donations, would be at the heart of health care in Winona until Community Memorial Hospital was opened near the east shore of Lake Winona on Mankato Avenue in 1962. Further expansion and merger with the Winona Clinic in 2006 lead to the formation of an umbrella health care organization offering comprehensive, state-of-the-art, womb-to-tomb care.
It didn’t look like anything anybody had thought of eating before.
In a part of the country rife with Norwegians but not enough Italians to put on a three-float parade with a one-man-band, it looked like somebody smeared ketchup on lefse and covered it with stringy cheese as a dare, a joke or a bachelor supper gone very, very wrong.
But that was more than 50 years ago, when Tom Barth and wife Betty dared Winona to sample the first Rocco’s Pizza. Winonans took them up on it and have been indulging ever since.
It wasn’t long after Tom sliced his first pepperoni that there was a new oven in town. Along with the Greyhound Bus and Rudy Perpich, the town of Hibbing has given Minnesota Sammy’s Pizza. In 1954, Sam Perrella opened a pizzeria to feed the Finns up on the Iron Range. A few years later, another Perrella, Nick, decided what was good for the Finns up north, ought be a hit with the Poles down south—and Sammy’s of Winona was set up on Main Street.
And so, the pie was out of the oven—Shakeys, Brothers, Happy Joes, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Green Mill, Dominos, Little Ceasars, Toppers, and on and on, come and go. It all goes to show: folks in Winona really love cheese.
Westfield Golf Club
John Latsch gave Winonans a place to putter around.
Westfield Golf Course is a public golf course built on land donated by Winona grocer, philanthropist and all-around good guy John Latsch, Jr., nearly a century ago.
The nine-hole course lies on land that was at the very edge of town when it opened in 1923. The land already had a nearly 70-year history of public use before the first tee time. In 1858 it was site of the first Winona County Fair, and the annual county agricultural exhibition was held on the site until 1910 when, in the midst of squabbles, rivalries and in-fighting, the fair board loaded the exhibit buildings on a westbound Winona and St. Peter freight and moved lock, stock and merry-go-round to Fred Small’s farm, west of St. Charles, two leaps and a bound from the Olmsted County line.
With the fair gone and Latsch in possession of the property, it was dedicated to the public use in perpetuity. Now a rolling swath of green surrounded by residential and commercial neighborhoods, Westfield offers local duffers a 9-hole, par 36 course, with club house, pro shop and practice facilities. The club house features a fully staffed and licensed 19th hole and is a favorite venue for wedding receptions and other social occasions.
It’s where Winona plays baseball. Real baseball. Serious baseball, played by men and watched by fans who take the game seriously and have no end of fun doing it.
A century ago it was the East End Park, home field of the Polish National Alliance – a hard-hitting “ski” team if there ever was one. Over the years the club laid down a formidable record and forged a reputation to match, with scouts in the stands eyeing the roster for pro and semi-pro talent, eager to snatch the next Julie Wera – a Winona boy who took batting practice with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth as part of the World Champion 1927 New York Yankees.
By 1941, the PNA’s star second baseman, Gene Gabrych, was showing that kind of promise when he was drafted – not by the Yanks, but by Uncle Sam. He went ashore at Normandy on D-Day +1, faced heavy fighting until, on July 5, was killed in action at Foret de Mont Castre, near St. Jores, France. On May 5, 1945, with victory in Europe still three days away, the East End Field was rededicated Gabrych Park at the PNA’s opening game against Rochester.
In this town, we make stuff.
From the beginning, we’ve made stuff.
It started out small, like the town. A man comes ashore, sees a guy eating a sandwich, and gets the idea his fortune might not lie in growing wheat, but grinding flour. The fellow next to him looks around at the treeless sandbar and remembers the tractless pine forests just across the river to the north and gets to thinking about sawing wood…
A century and a half later, Bay State is still milling wheat just east of the old levee. Go west a few blocks and barley is made into malt on its way to becoming beer … just across Third Street where Winona folks made parts for rocketships and turned out materials like no man had ever made before.
Over the years, we’ve just about made it all—wagons and buckboards at the wagon works, some of the first farm tractors to lumber over the prairies, our mills turned out shingles, sweaters, tire chains and gloves. We’ve made pickles, smoked hams, ground carloads of pepper and sweetened the air with the scent of vanilla and cloves.
In this town, we make stuff. And we do it well.
Merchants National Bank
Time was when a bank’s building was expected to be as impressive as its balance sheet.
Merchants Bank had been taking care of depositors’ money in downtown Winona for 37 years when it opened its new bank building at the corner of Third and Center streets.
In 1974 the building was named to the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the anchor structures for Winona’s Downtown Historic District.
Designed by William Gray Purcell, George Feick, Jr., and George Grant Elmslie, the bank building is an outstanding example of the Prairie School of American architecture, its low lines and buff-colored brick facing reflecting the dominant landscape of the American heartland.
The design is deceptively simple, a lingering glance discovering the terra cotta eagle guarding the main entrance, and stepping inside revealing the terra cotta sheaves of grain accenting painted scenes of farm life, lit with the warm multi-hued sunlight filtering through stained glass windows and overhead skylights.
Merchants’ business proved successful as its building, and it is now a significant financial presence in the region, with branches in communities across the region.
Fastenal, the company that made peddling nuts and bolts a billion-dollar business, is pretty much the stuff of local legend.
Folks love to tell how the blue-and-white logo spread from a little shop on Lafayette Street to Rome, Shanghai, and more than 2,700 places in between, headed up by a local boy who, even when he’d made more money than most folks could spend, wore second-hand suits and flew coach—the back of the plane doesn’t get there much ahead of the front, so why pay more?
Started by Bob Kierlin and a circle of high school friends in 1967, the big idea behind what would become a big company was a simple one—be the place than someone could get any size, shape, grade or length of any kind of nut, bolt, screw, washer, toggle, or what-have-you—get any kind of fastener with one stop, in one order, in one place. A store where you could fasten-all things … and a name that’s probably more catchy than Bob’s Bolts.
It's one big river out there.
It fits the country. A nation that boasts the Grand Canyon, the Sears Tower and Dolly Parton needs a big river, and when it comes to rivers, the Mississippi is definitely in the big leagues. Oh, it's not quite as long as the Nile, and the Amazon dumps more water into the sea, but if the Richard J. Dorer Hardwood Forest isn't as exotic as Amazonia, we don't have to deal with spiders the size of dessert plates, either.
The Mississippi is our river, and we like it.
How big is it?
The Mighty Miss might not be the biggest in the world, but it's no meandering trout stream, either. The official government measure is 2,301 miles long from the first trickle to the Gulf. It used to be 200 miles longer, but Uncle Sam shortened it up to help get the corn and beans to market just that much quicker.
To keep a river going that far takes a lot of water. The Mississippi soaks up the output of every rain cloud, garden hose, hillside spring, trout stream, storm sewer and manure lagoon from the Rockies to the Appalachians, all the way from Canada to the far side of New Orleans. Stand on the Minnesota shore just before that shore becomes Iowa, and you're looking at 375,000 gallons of water passing with every heartbeat.
It’s a big river, all right.