The Winona County Historical Societyis a 501(c)3 non-profit educational institution, and our mission is to be dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and interpretation of materials that document the human history of Winona County. The Society currently has over 1400 members and 60 active business supporters. The Society operates three museums. The Winona County History Center in downtown Winona houses the main museum facility, Laird Lucas Library and Archives, Society offices, Museum Shop and program and event spaces. The Bunnell House is located in Homer and the Rural Heritage Museum is on the Winona County Fairgrounds in St. Charles.
The Winona County Historical Society was founded in June 1935 in the Winona County Courthouse. The first president was William Codman, a local attorney and amateur historian. The first secretary was Mildred Sebo, a local 4-H leader in the county. Mildred helped organize several Winona County historical pageants in Whitewater State Park that were very successful, and it was from these events the idea of starting the Society emerged.
The Society had its first headquarters in the courthouse and later acquired space in the Arlington Club and then at Phelps Hall at Winona State University. During and after WWII the Society was relatively inactive. In 1954, a group of Winona citizens sought to revitalize the Society and approached Dr. Lewis I. Younger, a local physician and well known collector. Dr. Younger eagerly took on the responsibility, and the Society grew under his leadership over the next 21 years. During his tenure the Society’s offices and collection were moved into the second floor of the Lumberman’s building across from the Winona Public Library. Mark Peterson became director in 1983. Growth continued and over the following decades the Society became one of the most active and well-respected county organizations in the state.
The Society’s current home in the former Winona National Guard building (1915) was purchased and given to the Society by the Laird-Norton Co. in 1971 and dedicated in 1973. In 2009 construction started on the 12,000 sq. ft. modern Laird Norton Addition, designed by award winning architect Joan Soranno of the firm Hammel, Green and Abrahamson. With a historic $1.5 million challenge grant from the Laird Norton Company and donations from over 1000 individuals, businesses, local governments and foundations the $4.5 million project was a great success and was dedicated July 18, 2010 to celebrate the Society’s 75th anniversary.
WCHS has been awarded over $500,000 in Minnesota Legacy Grant funds for numerous projects that include the restoration of the 1915 Armory battlements, collection inventories, artifact restorations, exhibitions, community engagement, and partnership projects. Other recent projects have received funding through local foundations, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among others.