Minneiska has been called “The town that refused to die” because it has survived several major fires (the latest in 1947), a tornado, and highway construction.
Michael Agnes arrived in 1851 from St. Louis; he and two other early settlers tried to make a living by selling cordwood to steamboats but had a tough go of it. Their community was initially known as Whitewater but was given the name Minneiska when the village was platted in 1854. Minneiska is the Dakota name for the nearby Whitewater River.
In 1884 (and still today), the town stretched for a mile along the Mississippi but had only one street. A major fire devastated the town in January 6, 1884; firefighting efforts were hampered by temperatures of -30° F. Another fire in 1900 destroyed half the town, but the 400 residents dutifully rebuilt again. Minneiska was never a boom town, but had a small, stable population, at least until 23 homes and eight businesses, most of them in the oldest section of town, were sacrificed for the widening of Highway 61 in 1959.
Most of the village today runs along a side road that is elevated a few feet above the highway, with the remaining older buildings in Wabasha County and many of the newly rebuilt businesses in Winona County.
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Culture & Arts
Minneiska might not have a lot going on, but somehow it became home for two exceptional woodcarvers, who also happen to have their studios right next to each other: Carven Critters (207 Riverview Dr.; 507.689.2070) is the studio for Todd Pasche, who specializes in carousel characters (like the ones at LARK Toys), and Langseth Norsk Woodcarving (514 Bennett Ave.; 507.689.4208) where Harvey Langseth makes many traditional Norwegian designs; if they’re there, they’re open. Harvey, by the way, is a descendent of Hans Langseth who holds the record for the longest beard on record; ask him about it.
Sports and Recreation
The primary activity at John Latsch State Park (US Highway 61; 507.932.3007) is a hike to the top of the bluff—450 feet above the parking lot—up a long series of wooden steps; at the top, you are rewarded with magnificent views of the valley. This is not an easy hike because of the incline, but the steps make it more tolerable.
Hey, what’s that? If you look up in the hills above town, you may find Minneiska’s famous fish. (Trees make it hard to find in summer.) Putnam Gray erected the first fish above town—a 16-foot wooden weathervane on a 20-foot pole that grew into a local landmark; it was replaced with a tin version in 1901 and has been repaired many times because some folks can’t resist shooting it.
Eating and Drinking
The Eagle View Bar and Grill (208 Bennett; 507.689.4578) is a casual small town eatery with very good, affordable food, including dozens of varieties of sandwiches and burgers; folks love the fries but get a half-order unless you brought a small army to share them with. Check out the weekend specials like the Saturday prime rib, which, if you miss it on Saturday, you can enjoy on Sunday as a delicious sandwich. If you are in the mood for a drink after eating, walk next door to Buck’s Bar (206 Bennett Ave.; 507.689.4183) and enjoy a view with your preferred beverage.
Heading upriver? Check out Weaver.
Heading downriver? Check out Minnesota City.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011