Winona is a city in and the county seat of Winona County, in the U.S. State of Minnesota. Located in picturesque bluff country on the Mississippi River, its most noticeable physical landmark is Sugar Loaf.
The original plat of the City is located on a sand bar of the Mississippi River, and surrounded by river bottoms and wooded blufflands. Evidence gathered by archaeologists indicates that people lived in the valley as early as 9500 B.C. The earliest evidence of human habitation in Winona County is based on the discovery of a Woodland period site (circa 800 B.C.-900 A.D.). The present-day city of Winona was founded on the village of Keoxa. As the seat of the Wapasha dynasty, it was home to a Mdewakanton band of the eastern Sioux. The summer homes of the Keoxa natives were made of bark supported by a framework and poles. Their winter residence was a teepee made of about 8 buffalo hides sewn together with deer sinew, typically about 12 feet (4 m) high and 10 to 12 feet (3 to 4 m) in diameter, with a fire in the middle to keep the temperature inside the dwelling tolerable even in the coldest weather.
Lieutenant Zebulon Pike left Fort Bellefontaine on August 9, 1805 with orders to find the source of the Mississippi. On September 14, 1805, he reached the Mississippi Valley near island number 72 (on his map), which would one day be Winona, Minnesota, and recorded his impressions in his log.
Less than fifty years later, Pike's island 72 was selected by Captain Orrin Smith as a townsite on the west bank of the Mississippi River. For over twenty-five years, Smith had sailed the river between Galena, Illinois and Fort Snelling, Minnesota as owner and pilot of the river packet Nominee. In 1851 Smith learned that the treaties of Traverse des Sioux and Mendota would establish a reservation in the interior of the state, and realized that there would be a rush to develop townsites on the Minnesota side of the river. On October 15, 1851 Orrin Smith became the founder of Winona, by landing his ship's carpenter, Mr. Erwin Johnson, and two other men (Smith and Stevens) with the purpose of claiming title to the riverfront and surrounding prairie land. When the town site was surveyed and plotted by John Ball, United States deputy surveyor, it was given the name of "Montezuma", as requested by Johnson and Smith. Henry D. Huff bought an interest in the town site in 1853. With the consent of Capt. Smith, Huff erased the name of Montezuma and inserted the name of Winona on the plot, a name derived from the Dakota Indian word "We-no-nah", which translates to "first-born daughter".
Winona was settled by non-Native Americans in 1851, and the town was laid out into lots in 1852-3 with growth expanding rapidly over the years. The population increased from 815 in December, 1855, to 3,000 in December, 1856. In 1860 Winona had a population of 2,456, and was third largest city in Minnesota until the late 1880s. Part of the surge in population in 1856 was the fact that land claims became legal in 1855 with the completion of land surveys and the opening of a local federal land office. It was incorporated as a city in 1857.
1855 marked the arrival of Winona's first Kashubian Polish family, the Bronks. So many more Kashubians followed them that Winona became the largest American center of the Kashubian diaspora. At the turn of the 19th century, by estimate of the Kashubian poet Hieronim Derdowski, who settled in Winona and edited the newspaper Wiarus, 4,000 of Winona's 5,000 Poles (out of its total population of nearly 20,000) were Kashubians. As Winona's Kashubians became more acclimated to American society, they came to identify with the far more numerous Polish Americans. Only recently, due to the efforts of the Polish Cultural Institute and Museum, has Winona's Kashubian culture begun to be reclaimed.
Growth in Winona was built on a railway and steamboat transportation system, wheat milling, and lumber. In 1856 over 1,300 steamboats stopped at Winona. The railway system grew and the Winona Railway Bridge, built of steel and iron with a steam-powered swingspan over the river, was the second railway bridge to span the Mississippi. The first train crossed on July 4, 1891 and the bridge served the Green Bay & Western (GBW) and Burlington Route for the next 94 years until it was closed in 1985 and dismantled in the fall of 1990. In 1892, a wagon toll-bridge over the Mississippi, a steel high-bridge, was completed and remained in service until 1942.
During the 1860s southern Minnesota was the greatest wheat producing region in the country and Winona was the main port for shipping Minnesota wheat. By 1870, Winona was the fourth largest wheat shipping port in the United States. In 1899, Bay State Milling was founded, and is still in operation today. John Laird started the first lumber mill in 1855; he later was joined by his cousins James and Matthew Norton in founding the Laird-Norton Co. The Winona sawmills reached their peak production in 1892 when they produced over 160 million board feet (380,000 m³) annually and ranked eighth in production of lumber in the upper Midwest.
A famous resident of Winona was J. R. Watkins, the man who invented the "money back guarantee" in 1868 when he started Watkins Incorporated. In the early 1900s he renamed the company the J. R. Watkins Medical Company. He died before the completion of the company's current factory and offices in 1911. Now called J. R. Watkins Incorporated, it is one of the oldest companies in the nation. The company also trades in Canada, China and as of May 2009 in the United Kingdom as Watkins UK. The company museum and factory are open for visitation and touring 6 days a week.
For a decade (1907–1917) Winona was home to pioneer American composer Carl Ruggles. Carl (Charles Sprague) Ruggles was born in East Marion, Massachusetts, on March 11, 1876. Trained as a violinist, he also studied theory and composition in Boston with Josef Claus and John Knowles Paine. (Plans to study composition with Dvorak in Prague were put off when a financial sponsor died). In 1907, he moved to Winona, where he founded, and for a decade conducted, the Winona Symphony. He also gave lessons, composed, and began painting during this time. Ruggles is often referred to together with composer Charles Ives.
In 1947 the Edstrom brothers (Harold and Everett), along with fellow musician Roger Busdicker, founded the Hal Leonard Corporation, currently the largest publisher of sheet music in the world.
Winona's population reached 19,714 in 1900, but thereafter declined for some years after the collapse of the lumber industry.
Winona's history is celebrated with two historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places (they are combined into a single local historic district administered by the city's Heritage Preservation Commission). Downtown Winona hosts the largest collection of Victorian commercial architecture in Minnesota outside Saint Paul. Outstanding examples of Richardsonian Romanesque, Prairie School and Egyptian Revival architecture can also be found in downtown Winona.