The Winona County Historical Society is a private non-profit educational institution, and our mission is to be dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and interpretation of materials that document the history of Winona County, Minnesota. 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 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 at a meeting of interested citizens 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. The year before, Mildred organized a Winona County historical pageant in Whitewater State Park that was very successful, and it was from that event 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 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 under his leadership over the next 21 years, he helped make the Society one of the most active and well-respected county organizations in the state. 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. The Society’s current home in the former National Guard Armory 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.
The Armory part of the Winona County History Center was restored the summer of 2012. Thanks to a Minnesota Cultural Heritage Grant from Minnesota’s Legacy Funds and the Elizabeth Callendar King foundation the 1915 Armory was reenforced, tuck-pointed, and its battlements and turrets are back! In 2017 WCHS opened the Rural Heritage Museum on the County Fairgrounds that includes a museum building, historic schoolhouse, log house and log barn. The Bunnell House has had various restoration projects since the Society acquired it in 1954. It stands the test of time and is a continued testament to the first Euro-American settlers that stayed in what would become Winona County.