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Historic, inside and out

WINONA — Even the wood and rocks are historic in the new addition to the Winona County Historical Society's History Center, which is celebrating its grand opening from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Here are some key facts:

• Its three levels cover 12,000 square feet and connect to the former armory that became the center about 40 years ago. It cost $4.5 million, making it perhaps the biggest addition to a county history center in the state, said Mark Peterson, society executive director. Of that, $1.5 million came from a challenge grant from the Laird Norton Co., which has its roots in Winona. The society received about 1,000 donations and made the matching amount with 10 days to spare, he said.

• The wood in the main floor, ceiling, a deck and steps came from giant white pines cut in the 1800s in Wisconsin, milled in Winona and were part of an old livery stable that was torn down recently. Two door frames are heavy carved stone from an old Winona car dealership.

• The addition gives the society more room to show off its large collection, said Jennifer Weaver, assistant director who was busy cleaning exhibit cases Thursday. Those cases, incidentally, are recycled from a local bank, she said. "This is the fun part," because she finally gets to have more space for the big collection. Three townships will be featured every three months in the exhibit cases, she said.


Even with much more space, however, the collection of the 75-year-old society would need "probably half of Winona" to properly display, she said. "This is a big and beautiful building but we could fill it up fast."

• Items that quickly catch the eye are a yellow canoe suspended from the ceiling and wooden forms on a wall. The canoe is Wenonah No. 1, the first canoe made by Mike Cichanowski, founder of Wenonah Canoes, the prominent Winona-based maker of high-end canoes and kayaks. The forms were used to make metal parts for locks and dams when they were built across the Mississippi River 75 years ago.

• The addition offers more public space, Peterson said. An auditorium can hold up to 125 people, he said. It also has a larger gift shop, leaving more room in the old building.

• In the older section is a yellow 1931 Ford Roadster, owned by the Flatliners Speed Society of Winona, that once held seven world speed records set at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The old section also had its old ceiling removed, letting the original trusses be seen again for the first time in 40 years.

• Outside the building is an old streetlight, one of the first electric lights in Winona. There's also a patio where people can sit and see the historic Winona County Courthouse about a block away.

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