Winona loves its history…

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring out there, and you know what that means…

You’re right. I’m totally lying. It doesn’t look like spring at all, in fact it still looks a lot like December, which means we are wringing our hands with anticipation at the thaw we all know is just around the corner and looking for ways to while away the last few weeks of winter.

The remnants of snow are getting a little slushy for winter sports, and the ice is about to get a little too thin for traipsing across to fish or ice skate, it’s a little early for barge or bird watching… but we are active creatures down in these parts and we need something to do.

Thankfully, we’ve got some awfully good stuff indoors here, stuff that will give your brain some exercise on those slushy pre-spring weekends, places so good you’ll want to come back when the weather’s nice too.

My newest favorite place is the beautiful Winona History Center, a brilliant merging of old and new into a showpiece that not only tells Winona’s story, but IS Winona’s story.

For years the Winona County Historical Society was bursting at the seams in the old National Guard Building on Johnson Street. With stained glass, lovely architectural accouterments and ever-changing historical exhibits it was a fun place to visit, but they definitely needed more space.

The Laird Norton Company gave the society hope with the promise of a building grant for an addition if the Historical Society could raise $1.5 million with a challenge grant. Winona, it turns out, loves its history, and more than 1,000 individuals and businesses answered the call for help.

The result is a 12,000 square foot addition to the Johnson Street facility that adds new display areas, meeting space, a sunny balcony and a fancy new gift shop area to the building. But wait, there’s more… this isn’t just more space, this is *gorgeous* space that actually called on one of Winona’s historic old buildings to help it come to life.

You see, a few blocks away there was an old car dealership being torn down to make way for some parking. But hidden in the frame of that building was the timber of an old livery from Winona’s horse days, and hidden inside those old timbers was stunning old growth Minnesota lumber that had lots of life still in it.

The wood was lovingly salvaged and planed to make richly colored flooring for the new History Center. Architects brilliantly wove the beautiful old wood into the airy, elegant new space, and the result is jaw-droppingly lovely. It’s the kind of room you wouldn’t mind just standing in for a while, soaking it all in, even if the room was empty.

Oh, but it’s not. Folks at the History Center rotate in all kinds of new displays that you aren’t going to see anywhere else in Winona. Right now there is an art show up of work from high school students, and some interesting textile displays available to ponder. I hear a steamboat display is in the works, and who knows what else. With all that space, the sky is the limit for what we’re going to get to see now.

In the original museum room there’s still plenty to see too. When I was in there last week a collection of old carriages caught my eye… that must have been a cold ride 100 years ago. We are certainly spoiled today by comparison… I get mad if my seat warmer doesn’t get hot fast enough, when 100 years ago I’d have been freezing to death wrapped in blankets on my way to the store and liked it.

The archives in the basement is one of my favorite places and that’s getting a face lift right now too with all new shelving on big fancy sliders where everything that ever happened in Winona is preserved. Seriously. There has not been one thing that those archive magicians have not been able to pull out for me, and for curious minds it’s the kind of place you could spend all day.

We are really so blessed to have a resource like the History Center in our community, not just for residents but for people who wander into town and want to get the low down on what this town is about. If your timing is good you could hit any of a number of presentations they have too on everything from birds to embroidery. That means you could leave this town more relaxed AND smarter, and who can complain about a vacation like that?

But really, you have to see this place to appreciate how wonderful it is. You can start here: www.winonahistory.org, but don’t stop until you’re standing in that beautiful addition for yourself.

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