by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Individuals, families and friends can journey throughout Winona County and learn about its history — from tales of a store that is over 160 years old to stories from a business that was established 100 years ago — in an upcoming Winona County Historical Society fundraiser that also provides participants an opportunity to win $500.
Participants will complete maps as they visit 15 sites, including an apple orchard, a mill, a cemetery, a park, a business and churches. The funds raised from participants buying maps will support the Historical Society, which was not able to do its usual summer fundraising amid the pandemic and lost a typical revenue source while its museum was closed from late March to late June.
One of the sites is the Fremont Store. The store is more than 160 years old, and it is still functioning as a general store. The store was reportedly named after John Fremont, a presidential candidate, explorer and surveyor who stayed overnight at the hotel that was associated with the store in 1856 while campaigning.
Another site is Lewiston Auto, the event’s sponsor, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. A tornado tore the roof off the dealership’s garage a year after it opened. It began as a Ford dealership, and has also been a John Deere dealership. Today, it is a Chevrolet and Buick dealership.
Museum Educator Jennifer Weaver said Winona County features historical businesses, such as the J.R. Watkins Company; historical architecture that showcases the different building techniques of people who immigrated to the area; and historical figures, including Carl Fischer, who was a world leader in developing hybrids of the gladiolus, a perennial flower. Fischer is recognized by St. Charles with an annual gladiolus festival.
The sites were chosen based on their historical significance to Winona County, Weaver explained. They also were chosen to provide people of all interests with an enjoyable experience, she added.
“So, they each have kind of something interesting that people might not have known about before that they’ll find out while they’re on the tour and collecting all their history facts,” Weaver said. “So, it’s kind of a fun closer look at places people might drive by every day or don’t even know exist.”
Historical facts will be put up at each site, and participants will use that information to fill in the pieces of their maps that are missing.
“To keep it safe, all the answers they need to collect or the facts they need to collect to fill in the blanks are posted outside, if a place isn’t open or the public doesn’t feel comfortable being inside,” Weaver shared.
The idea for the event came in part from museum staff members having luck in the past with holding scavenger hunts among the museum’s exhibits, Weaver noted. With many organizations doing virtual programming at the moment, staff members also wanted to find a way for people to learn about Winona County while out and about, she shared.
“It’s a fun way to highlight more of the county and get people exploring areas they might not have any other reason to go explore that have some interesting histories and stories,” Weaver said. “It’s kind of learning that history is everywhere. It’s not always in a museum or at a program or on a computer. It’s right there — up the block or down the road, so to speak.”
Weaver stated that she hopes participants gain a broader understanding of the history of Winona County. “Sometimes we know about local history — like if we live in St. Charles or Winona, we might know about the town or city’s history more — but this will get people out into rural areas,” Weaver explained.
The Great Winona County History Hunt will take place from August 10-24. Maps, which cost $10 each, may be purchased at the Winona County History Center from 10 a.m. on August 10 through August 24, though maps must be submitted at the history center by 4 p.m. on August 24 to be entered in a drawing for $500.
A free history center family membership will go to the people or teams who finish and submit the first 10 maps, and a copy of “City Mouse, County Mouse,” a book about the county’s history, will go to the people or teams who finish and submit the first 20 maps. One award will be allowed per map entered.
While the event takes place, on August 22 from noon to 6 p.m., Lewiston Auto will hold a 100th anniversary car show highlighting Chevrolets from 1920 to 2020.
More information about the Great Winona County History Hunt may be found at http://www.winonahistory.org/.