Back when fur trading was still a big deal, like from the 17th century to early in the 19th century, trappers, traders, Native Americans, and soldiers gathered once or twice a year to swap goods and stories. While the reasons for those annual meetings are long gone, the ritual is being kept alive by a group of hardy re-enactors who criss-cross the country in modern vehicles to spend their weekends camping and running around in deerskin clothing. They are a lot of fun to visit,and you can buy some impressive hand-made goods. You might even learn a few things about the era, too. This photo gallery has pictures from the Prairie Island Rendezvous in Winona, Minnesota and the Fort du Chartres Rendezvous near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. To find a rendezvous near you, check here and select a region under the Events section.
For the past several years, Dakota of Minnesota have gathered for a weekend of education, reconciliation, and dancing in Winona. This year’s Great Dakota Gathering takes on extra significance as 2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the Dakota conflict, a tragic series of events that left several hundred settlers dead, 38 Dakota hanged, and most Dakota (and Ho Chunk) banished from Minnesota to desolate reservations further west. The weekend offers an opportunity to learn about Dakota culture and about a conflict that had wide-ranging repercussions on US history.
Read about more destinations here.
Summer is almost here (here in St. Louis it feels like it has already arrived), so it’s no wonder I’ve been thinking about burgers and car hops. If you are near Winona, you can do more than think about it. The Lakeview Drive Inn has been keeping Winona residents sated on fresh grilled burgers and homemade root beer for over 70 years. You can wander inside and order, but why not just park and let the car hops bring the food to you?
Browse through other Destinations here.
A couple of weeks ago I praised the cities along the Upper Mississippi River with the the best riverfronts. Now it’s time to prod the cities that could do a lot better. I resisted calling these the “Five Worst” because I think any place that provides a decent view of the Mississippi River shouldn’t be stuck with the adjective “worst.” But, the sad truth is that my list of least favorite riverfronts was longer and harder to narrow down than my favorites. Many cities along the Upper Mississippi provide a ho-hum riverfront experience.
Two problems are especially common. The river is not easy to get to and, if you do manage to get close, the city is cut off from the river by a giant flood wall, levee, or highway. These flood barriers, especially the walls, create a feeling of being isolated from the rest of the city, which probably scares the dickens out of some people, so few people linger around the river. I don’t mean to downplay the damage that floods can do, but let’s face it, the river is in flood stage a small fraction of the time, yet we create structures to protect against the worst-case scenario with giant concrete walls and tall earthen levees. We treat the river like a crazy uncle at a family reunion, so embarrassed by his presence that we lock him in the basement permanently. We have a lot of creative people in this country. Surely we can come up with better solutions.
The city of Davenport, Iowa, for example, has taken some flak for refusing to build a permanent flood barrier, but I think their solution has worked pretty well. Most of the riverfront is green space that is allowed to go under during periods of high water; temporary flood walls of sandbags are built when the water gets high enough to threaten buildings. From all I’ve read, this has been a cheaper solution than building and maintaining a permanent flood wall or levee, even with moderate flooding becoming more and more of a regular event.
The cities along the Mississippi River exist because of the river and need to embrace it. After a century of turning their backs on the river, it’s time our river towns pivot again and embrace the river, while making a serious effort to find new solutions to flood mitigation that don’t segregate the river from the rest of the city.
So here’s the list of places that could do a lot better. Visit them anyway but don’t be shy about expressing your wish that these riverfronts could be a lot better.
5. Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin)
I agonized over this choice. I like Prairie du Chien; really. I also understand that the city is in a tough spot. The historic center of the city is St. Feriole Island, where European settlement began in the 1700s and where Native Americans met and lived long before that. The island flooded some 40 times since 1785, but, for two centuries, folks just coped with it. In the late 1970s, however, after another big flood, the federal government began a new program to buy property in flood-prone areas and move people out. While this worked to mitigate property damage from flooding, it left behind a mostly barren landscape that surrounds Villa Louis, a gem of a 19th century home that was left intact. A few things have been added to the island over time like a (growing) sculpture park and ball fields, but most of it feels empty and forbidding. Honestly, though, if Prairie du Chien had trails or public places near the river and backwaters away from St. Feriole Island, they wouldn’t be on this list. But they don’t.
4. Louisiana (Missouri)
If you like blacktop and tin sheds, you’ll love this riverfront. What a shame, too. Louisiana is an old river town with beautiful 19th century brick and stone buildings set among rolling hills next to the river. The former front door to the city, the riverfront, is clearly an afterthought to town leaders. In contrast to the Iowa communities of Bellevue and Guttenberg that I highlighted among the best riverfronts, Louisiana does almost everything wrong. Much of the riverfront through town is not accessible. The small riverfront park near downtown is little more than a parking lot. When you get there, the only thing to do is park your car and stare at the river. There are no trails (legal ones, anyway), no green space to soften the transition from river to city. A gazebo and picnic tables are set atop rocks. It is possible to walk from downtown to the river, but I didn’t see anyone doing so. Why would you? To sit at a small picnic table and run your feet across the gravel? While the lack of a flood wall or levee is a good thing, the scenery just behind the parking lot is not inspiring or inspired, just a few cheap tin sheds. Louisiana does not put its best face toward the river.
3. Winona (Minnesota)
Winona’s earliest European settlers were steamboat captains, and the city was an important river port for decades. You wouldn’t know that today. The downtown riverfront is the red-headed stepchild of Winona. If you get past the levee and flood wall that cut off the river from downtown, you are greeted by crumbling gray concrete and emptiness. The riverfront is rundown and uninviting. In fairness, there are other places in Winona with park-like settings along the river (Prairie Island, Latsch Island), but the downtown riverfront is so disappointing for a city with a rich river history, they make the list for that reason alone.
2. Brainerd (Minnesota)
Brainerd, like most Mississippi River communities, began because of the river. In Brainerd’s case, the city sprung to life when the Northern Pacific Railroad built a railroad bridge at this site in 1871. Brainerd quickly developed a dependence on the railroad (even in the 1920s, 90% of the jobs in town were tied to the railroad), which may be part of the reason it’s so hard to find the Mississippi River, even though it cuts a winding path through the heart of the city. And that’s why it comes in at number two: Brainerd has virtually no riverfront, at least not one open to the public. The only reliable places to see the river are the bridges that span it and one small park—Kiwanis Park. There is a glimmer of hope. A former industrial site along the river will probably become a new 2000-acre park on the northeast part of town—the Mississippi River Northwoods Habitat Complex. That’s a good start, but it’s mostly on the outskirts of town. To get off the list, Brainerd needs more riverfront access in the heart of the city.
1. St. Louis (Missouri)
I love my hometown. It has a big history with attractive historic neighborhoods, a rich music scene, and an affordable cost of living. We also have a riverfront that is a terrible mess. The city began turning its back on the river in the late 19th century, not long after the graceful Eads Bridge opened and helped the railroads drive the last nail in the coffin of the steamboat trade. We’ve disrespected our riverfront (and river history) ever since.
The biggest insult was the 1930s-era decision to level 40 blocks of riverfront buildings, many built before the Civil War, in the hopes that a park would be built. Yes, that effort eventually resulted in the Arch, a monument that I love but one that came at too high a price. The construction of the Arch obliterated the heart of the original city, including the spot where Pierre Laclede laid out the infant city in 1764. We tore down our tangible history to build a monument to it.
The Arch grounds also created a barrier to the river. Sure, there are places to look down on the river from the Arch grounds, but few people take the grand staircase down to the levee, and why would they? Once you’re there, there’s not much to do or see and the structures that do exist are, for the most part, Third World. You can take a helicopter ride from a dingy barge with a single-wide for an office or wander to the food booth for authentic St. Louis fare like cheeseburgers and hot dogs. It’s not a total loss, though. You can walk on the cobblestones of the original 1840s levee and catch a riverboat cruise, but those kinds of experiences are the exception.
I suppose I should feel optimistic about the future of the St. Louis riverfront, now that we have a redevelopment plan that includes a lot of pretty pictures of its mostly pedestrian ideas. But I’m not. This is at least the third riverfront redevelopment plan since I moved to St. Louis in 1988, and none has yielded anything tangible.
I understand that there are challenges to riverfront redevelopment, like prioritizing who gets to use the river. Some redevelopment efforts in the past were torpedoed by the US Army Corps of Engineers because of concerns about the impact on navigation. At St. Louis, shipping interests trump all other river stakeholders.
All this is bad enough, but the other major problem in St. Louis is poor access to the river. The riverfront bike trail runs north from downtown to the historic Chain of Rocks Bridge and is a local treasure, but south of downtown, there are very few places to (legally) get near the river.
Sorry, St. Louis. We can do a lot better.
We need better riverfront spaces to connect our present to our past, to remember the reason our cities are where they are, to remind us city folks that there is a natural world away from the mall, and to give our people public spaces to gather and linger, a place to sit and think while watching the world flow by.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011
Outside Slippery's Bar; Wabasha, MN
Bald eagle at the National Eagle Center; Wabasha, MN
Quarry Park; St. Cloud, MN
Downtown St. Cloud, MN
Savanna Portage State Park (MN)
Sandy Lake, MN
Dorer Forest; Reno, MN
Reno Bottoms (MN)
Red Wing Shoe Company (MN)
World's Largest Boot; Red Wing, MN
Red Wing (MN) from Memorial Park
Red Wing (MN) from Barn Bluff
Eisenhower Bridge; Red Wing, MN
Northwest Fur Trade Post; Pine City, MN
Pickwick Mill (MN)
Mississippi River from Alma dike
Mississippi River at Gulvig Landing (MN)
Mississippi River at Lake Bemidji Outlet
Mississippi River near Bemidji, MN
Mississippi River near Cass Lake
Mississippi River near Cass Lake
Mississippi River at Cass Lake
Mississippi River at US Highway 10 bridge
Lake Winnigiboshish at Bena, MN
Mississippi River at Cohasset, MN
Mississippi River at Palisade, MN
Mississippi River at Snuffys Landing
Mississippi River at Babcock Rest Area
Mill Park; Little Falls (MN)
Latsch State Park (MN)
Latsch State Park (MN) overlook
Latsch State Park (MN) overlook
Fort St. Charles; Lake of the Woods, MN
Lake Itasca; Itasca State Park (MN)
near Itasca State Park (MN)
Lake City, MN
Lake City, MN
Lake City, MN
Lake Bemidji State Park (MN)
Lark Toys; Kellogg, MN
Headwaters; Itasca State Park (MN)
Headwaters; Itasca State Park (MN)
near Reno, MN
Bunnell House; Homer, MN
Rail Bridge; Hastings, MN
Great River Bluffs State Park (MN) overlook
Grand Rapids (MN) from Forest History Center fire tower
Tall Timber Days Parade; Grand Rapids, MN
Christ Episcopal Church; Frontenac, MN
Fire tower view at Itasca State Park (MN)
Kelly Farm; Elk River, MN
Ice fishing near Dresbach, MN
Crosby Mine (MN)
Ironman Memorial; Chisholm, MN
Joyce Estate; Chippewa National Forest
Confluence of Chippewa and Mississippi Rivers
Looking toward Wabasha, MN
Church of the Holy Comforter; Brownsville, MN
Brainerd (MN) railroad yard
Bog; near Grand Rapids, MN
Dragon Boat races at Bemidji, MN
Angle Inlet, MN
Snowball Lake; Calumet, MN
Wiebusch Windmills; Zumbro Falls, MN
Wiebusch Windmills; Zumbro Falls, MN
Watkins Manor; Winona, MN
St. Stanislaus Kostka; Winona, MN
Garvin Heights; Winona, MN
Boat houses at Winona, MN
Boat houses at Winona, MN
Arches Museum; Winona, MN
Winona is knee-deep in river history but, sadly, has one of the most neglected riverfronts in the region. On the plus side, this blue-collar town has a surprisingly rich cultural scene.
The Winona Visitors Center is a great place to stock up on brochures and answers (924 Huff St.; 800.657.4972/507.452.2278).
Arriving in Town
The Mississippi River runs nearly west-to-east at Winona, so if you’re heading toward the river from Winona, you are going north (or northeast). US Highway 61 skirts the edge of town and is home to the soul-killing chain stores. To get into town, go north on Mankato Street or Huff Street; the business district is mostly from 4th Street north to the riverfront. You can park for free on the downtown streets for up to two hours; if you think you’re going to be around for a while, try to find a spot at the lot between 1st and 2nd Streets at Lafayette Street.
Winona’s street planners have gone out of their way to confuse visitors. Some numbered streets also have names, so 8th Street is also Sanborn, 6th Street is also Broadway, etc. If that doesn’t confuse you, then the way buildings are numbered just might. Rather than increasing by 100 for each block (so the buildings between 7th and 8th Street would all be numbered in the 700s, for example), building numbers only advance by half that for each block, so the buildings between 7th and 8th Streets are actually numbered 350-399. This numbering system applies to all streets, so if you are looking for an address in the 400-449 range and you see an address for 220, you have four blocks to go, not two. That’s probably way more than you need to know, but, hey, that’s why I’m here.
Around 1800, a band of Mdewakanton Dakota built a summer village they called Keoxah. They were led by a series of chiefs named Wapasha, so the prairie became known as Wapasha’s Prairie. The village spread out over a large area, with four long houses located next to the river elevated to avoid getting wet during spring floods, a dozen round huts known as wigwams, and a small patch of cultivated land for growing maize.
Europeans knew at least three Chief Wapashas. The first moved his group to a location along the Upper Iowa River around 1780. His son (who lost an eye as a child during a game of la crosse and styled his hair to resemble an eye patch) moved the group to this prairie around 1807. Wapasha III took over in 1837 and is the one who signed the Treaty of Mendota. Around this same time, other bands in the same Dakota family branch were led by Red Wing and Little Crow. After signing the treaties of Mendota and Traverse des Sioux, the Dakota moved to reservation land along the Minnesota River.
Steamboat captain Orrin Smith made the first land claims. He arranged transportation for three men to the town site on the steamboat Nominee. Just two years later, the new settlement had grown to 300 residents. By the time Winona incorporated as a city in 1857, it had 3,000 residents and more than 1000 annual steamboat landings. The city is named for Wenonah, who, according to legend, jumped to her death from Maiden Rock bluff because she was not allowed to marry the man she loved.
From 1870 to 1900, Winona prospered because of transportation (steamboats and railroads), lumber (sawmills), and wheat. In 1875, A.G. Mowbray and L.C. Porter opened a large mill at the foot of Franklin Street that later became Bay State Milling; it is still in business. Winona was also a major supply point for settlers continuing west, so it is not surprising that among the city’s first millionaires was a wholesale grocer, John Latsch.
Peak immigration to Winona was from 1860 to 1900. The first wave of settlers was mostly riverboat captains and educated folks from the East. Germans were 29% of the population in 1880; they formed self-sustaining neighborhoods where they spoke German, printed German-language newspapers, and generally kept to themselves. The first Poles arrived in 1855 and were 11% of the population by 1880. Most of the Poles came from Kashubia (a small region near Gdansk and Bytow), speaking a language that may be older than standard Polish but that has essentially disappeared from Poland today. A handful of Winona residents still speak it. In 1880, the Irish were 9% of the population, Norwegians 4%, and Bohemians 4%.
Winona went into a recession after the northern forests were depleted and the lumber mills closed. (The last mill closed in 1909.) One of the new businesses that thrived was the Watkins Medical Company. J.R. Watkins founded the company in nearby Plainview but demand for his new product, Dr. Wards Liniment, outstripped his ability to produce it in his kitchen, so he moved his operation to Winona in 1885. The Watkins Company grew into one of the nation’s largest suppliers of health products, supplements, and flavor additives; you may have used their vanilla. Education has also provided a stable base for the region’s economy. The State Normal School (now Winona State University) began in 1858. The College of St. Teresa was founded in 1907 and began admitting men in 1912.
Like folks in many river towns, Winonans had a live-and-let-live attitude about certain behaviors. The city had an active red light district for generations that was concentrated along 2nd Street between the depot and downtown. It flourished until a raid in December 1942 shut it down, at least for a while; Winona seems to have had active brothels into the 1990s. During Prohibition, local police were not enthusiastic enforcers of the ban on alcohol; the city had at least 200 speakeasies and “blind pigs” (home taverns) and over 500 places to buy liquor. The local liquor trade flourished until federal agents got involved in the late 1920s and began regular raids.
Winona, like many established communities in the US, faced perplexing problems in its older core as new homes and businesses pushed the boundaries further away the center of town. The city fell victim to some of the same misguided urban renewal plans of the early 1970s, razing entire blocks from the historic downtown core. The loss of a chunk of the city’s architectural heritage and the failure of these efforts to deliver the promised growth led to stronger preservation efforts.
Winona today is a regional commercial and cultural hub, surprising for its range and depth and cultural opportunities, as well as for the depressing monotony in the restaurant scene. Perhaps the most recent arrivals, Hmong and Hispanic immigrants who began to move into the area in the 1980s, can help with the latter.
Winona is included in these products:
For a bit of perspective on the city of Winona, head up to Garvin Heights Park (Garvin Heights Road) and take in the panoramic views 530 feet above the city. If you’d like to stretch your legs, you can hike to the top instead of driving.
The Minnesota Marine Art Museum (800 Riverview Dr.; 507.474.6626) is part of the surprisingly rich cultural scene in Winona. The nautically-themed collection of fine art includes a permanent gallery with paintings from the Hudson River School (like Winslow Homer), Impressionists, and the recently acquired The Beach of Scheveningen by Vincent van Gogh. There are also three galleries that host rotating exhibits; I saw an exhibit on fishing lures. The museum also has several remarkable photographs of the Mississippi River Valley by Henry Bosse, a 19th century mapmaker and photographer who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Winona National Bank (204 Main St.; 507.454.4320) is two parts fine architecture and one part silliness. The bank, designed by George Maher and completed in 1916, has an Egyptian Revival exterior but a Prairie School feel inside. The interior has impressive bronze work and an art glass window made by the Tiffany Studio. For the silliness, check out the African Safari Museum on the second floor.
Merchant’s Bank (102 E. 3rd St.; 507.457.1100) was completed in 1912, designed by William Purcell and George Elmslie, former associates of Louis Sullivan. Mostly Prairie School in design, the bank has an outstanding collection of art glass windows. Albert Fleury painted the mural on the north wall; it depicts the valley behind Sugar Loaf Bluff.
The Polish Cultural Institute of Winona (102 Liberty St.; 507.454.3431) is housed in the former headquarters building for the Laird Norton Lumber Company, which employed many Poles. The collection focuses on the daily life of Winona’s Polish community, with displays about work and church. The collection also includes a few Polish costume dolls.
The dome of the Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka (625 E. 4th St.; 507.452.5430) rises stately above the floodplain, visible for miles up and down river. This Baroque/Romanesque gem was completed in 1894. The vast, ornate interior uses a Greek cross design and can seat 1800.
If you want to learn more of the story about the Watkins Corporation, check out the Watkins Heritage Museum (E. 3rd St. between Liberty and Chestnut Sts.; 507.457.6095), which has several detailed displays documenting the corporation’s history, with many fun examples of products the company has made and sold over the years. Don’t miss the Watkins Administrative Building (150 Liberty St.), another local landmark designed by Chicago architect George Maher. Built for a staggering $1.2 million from 1911–1913, the exterior is blue Bedford stone, and the entrance vestibules are covered with Italian marble. The interior makes good use of rich mahogany and mosaics, and has an ornate dome and art glass windows depicting local scenes.
Hey, what’s that? The stub of rock that rises above the south end of town is a landmark known as Sugar Loaf Bluff (the Dakota called it Wapasha’s Cap). Most of the bluff was quarried in the 19th century, leaving just the portion you see today.
The Winona County History Center (160 Johnson St.; 507.454.2723) has a fun and varied collection of items that illuminate Winona’s past: replicas of 19th century storefronts, sleighs, carriages, and big stuff like a 19th century water pumper from the fire department, a sulky reaper with sail, a delivery wagon, and a hearse. One of the highlights is a replica of the La Moille cave art, which was flooded when the lock and dam system was completed. Upstairs, a timeline wraps around the track outlining the area’s history from Native American through the frontier era to the present.
The Arches Museum of Pioneer History (507.454.2723) is a pleasant 15-minute drive from Winona on US 14. The museum offers a peek at pioneer life, with a one-room schoolhouse (with original furnishings) and a furnished log cabin. The museum also emphasizes the ingenuity of the pioneers through its collection of 19th century farm equipment and tools (much of it for planting potatoes) and implements of daily life.
Getting on the River
It’s not the Mississippi, but you can paddle around Lake Park in a canoe or kayak from early June to late August; get them at the Lake Lodge.
The Prairie Island Campground (1120 Prairie Island Rd.; 507.452.4501) rents a 12-foot aluminum fishing boat with oars and trolling motor and canoes.
Culture & Arts
The Krueger Library at Winona State University (175 W. 11th/Mark St., 507.457.5140) has a nice collection of art scattered throughout its three floors, including a display of freshwater pearls harvested from the Mississippi River and Native American pottery from the Southwest.
The Winona Arts Center (228 E. Fifth St.; 507.453.9959) has a small gallery featuring rotating exhibits from local artists and shows independent films on some weekend nights.
The Theatre du Mississippi (Masonic Temple, 255 Main St.; 507.459.9080) is a performing arts center that is active throughout the year.
St. Mary’s University has an active performing arts program presented through the Page Series; the programs include dance, theater, and music and typically runs from October through April. Winona State University also has an active set of cultural programs; check their calendar for events.
The Trester Trolley (507.429.9101) takes passengers on a guided tour around Winona (45 minutes to one hour). You can call to schedule a tour or go with one of the regularly scheduled tours on Saturdays.
Entertainment and Events
Winona hosts a twice-weekly Farmers Market from May to October in the parking lot at Second & Main Streets (W 2p–5p, Sa 7:30a–Noon).
Fringe Friday is an art celebration on the last Friday of the month downtown.
Winona has an abundance of fun festivals throughout the year. Begin with the Frozen River Film Festival (507.459.8090), an event of growing stature that features provocative films from around the world with an emphasis on cultural and environmental themes (late Jan.). In early June, the Great Dakota Gathering and Homecoming (507.452.2278) reunites Dakota from around the region; programming for the public has an educational focus. The learning tent is a unique opportunity to experience Dakota culture. Steamboat Days (800.657.4972) is a celebration of Winona today with a big parade, midway, concerts, and fireworks, but no steamboats and not much about the river; the parade on Sunday draws most of the town (mid-June). The Minnesota Beethoven Festival (507.457.1715) from late June to mid-July is one of the events that makes Winona a special place in the summer. In 2010, the festival included a performance by Yo-Yo Ma; the Minnesota Orchestra performs a free show in Lake Park on one evening. The other major cultural event in the summer is the Great River Shakespeare Festival (507.474.7900). There are several shows each week at the Performing Arts Center on the campus of Winona State University. Concurrent with the Shakespeare Festival, the Theatre du Mississippi performs Drops and Drama, an event that shows off some of the 98 historic drops—vibrant pieces of art painted on cotton muslin and linen—that were originally used by the Masons as part of their secret rituals; the annual show is staged with a theme (Norse mythology when I attended) and selected drops are used to illustrate it.
Ed’s (no name) Bar (252 E. 3rd St.; Tu–Su 4p–1a) is the place for live music, good beer, and friendly folks.
Sports and Recreation
Aghaming Park (Latsch Island) has nearly 2000 acres of floodplain forest; it is a popular place for bird watching. There aren’t a lot of developed trails, so it is a good idea to wear long pants if you hike here.
Prairie Island Park (Prairie Island Rd.) is located near a backwater channel and has some hiking trails.
If you want to rent a bicycle, Adventure Cycle and Ski can take care of your needs (178 Center St.; 507.452.4228.
Eating and Drinking
This being a college town, there are plenty of options for good coffee. I wish the same could be said of the restaurant scene. The Acoustic Café (77 Lafayette St.; 507.453.0394; WiFi) has an eclectic, creative clientel and you can sate your hunger with a pita, sandwich, or a bowl of freshly-made soup. The Blue Heron Coffee House (162 W. 2nd St.; 507.452.7020; WiFi) has a local food/organic food aesthetic of sandwiches, fresh salads, and soups. They also host the occasional theme-night dinner where you can sample world cuisine. Blooming Grounds Coffee House (50 E. 3rd St.; 507.474.6551) makes a very satisfying cup of coffee, which you can sip with a wrap, Panini, or salad.
If you prefer something baked for breakfast (or a snack), head to Bloedow Bakery (451 E. 6th/Broadway; 507.452.3682) where you can get a big cinnamon roll or a handful of donuts.
Poot’s Tavern (579 E. 7th/Wabasha St.; 507.452.9952) is a quintessential neighborhood tavern. Owner Matt Pellowski, who has been running the bar since 1976, puts together a different lunch special each weekday and also makes a popular pizza that is a discounted early in the week; stop in, chat, and learn a few things about the neighborhood.
The Lakeview Drive Inn (610 E. Sarnia; 507.454.3723) is the oldest restaurant in Winona; they have been making Winonians happy since 1938. They have a standard menu of diner foods that are freshly prepared and can be rolled out to your vehicle by a carhop; they also make their own delicious root beer. Wednesday is classic car night (6:30p–9p), so roll up in your ‘57 Chevy.
Housed in an attractive historic building, Bub’s Brewing Company (65 E. 4th St.; 507.457.3121) offers more sandwich options that you can shake a pickle at, mostly varieties of burgers and chicken sandwiches; the Cajun chicken sandwich actually has some kick to it. It is also a friendly place that is a favorite among locals for enjoying an adult beverage.
Betty Jo Byoloski’s (66 Center St.; 507.454.2687) is another local favorite where the atmosphere is more interesting than the food but at least they have a good beer selection. The interior of the former riverfront warehouse is brick-intensive, accented with neon beer signs and large transportation-themed mobiles hanging from the ceiling. Choose from the standard meat and grill-centric entrées like a ribeye or fish and chips ($10–$15), sandwiches and wraps ($7–$8), or pizza. Burgers are two-for-one on Sundays (4p–10p).
Chong’s Noodle House (578 4th St.; 507.961.0203) is a hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurant with a modest menu of Vietnamese/Lao/Hmong items. You could probably make a meal just from the large spring rolls. I am a big fan of the fish salad larb.
Rubio’s (1213 Gilmore Ave.; 507.474.4971) occupies space in the nearly empty Winona Mall, dishing out tasty Mexican cuisine; the lunch buffet is a good deal. If I find out you went to Taco Bell instead of Rubio’s, I’m coming after you.
Signatures Restaurant (22852 County Highway 17; 507.454.3767) is the choice for fine dining. The exterior screams clubhouse chic, but the inside has a modern, miminalist decor accented by signed photos of celebrities. The menu changes with the seasons. The lunch menu has a number of affordable items in the sandwich and salad genre.
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Prairie Island Campground (1120 Prairie Island Rd.; 507.452.4501) has a quiet spot on a backwater channel with large sites, mature trees that provide copious amounts of shade, and a small swimming beach. There are two clusters of sites: one with 111 sites with electricity and a separate area of 90 primitive sites.
The Sugar Loaf Motel (1066 Homer Rd.; 507.452.1491; WiFi) has 20 small-ish rooms that are clean and in good shape with adorable period bathrooms decorated with bright pastel colors.
Bed and Breakfasts
The Carriage House B&B (420 Main St.; 507.452.8256; WiFi) is literally an old carriage house converted to four comfortable guest rooms. Many features of the carriage house were retained, like the original hay door. Rooms are decorated with a nod to period style but are not stuffy or uncomfortable; two rooms have a Jacuzzi tub. If you’re nice, the owners might take you for a ride in their 1929 Ford Model A.
At the Windom Park B &B (369 W. 6th/Broadway St.; 507.457.9515; WiFi), you will feel like you are staying in a home rather than an inn, especially when you are enjoying the shaded front porch. The early 20th century Colonial Revival house is furnished with family heirlooms; each room of the six rooms has a private bath and places to sit and read. The two carriage house rooms have a modern touch.
The Alexander Mansion B&B (274 East 6th/Broadway St.; 507.474.4224; WiFi) is a spectacular example of 19th century Victorian style (and persistence in rehabbing an old house). The house has gorgeous woodwork throughout, plenty of places to sit and relax, and is a short walk from downtown. The four guest rooms have been restored to their 1880s appearance complete with period furniture.
Dory’s Place (990 Gilmore Valley Rd.; 507.454.4020; WiFi) is a bedroom, two-and-a-half bath house, furnished like you would furnish your own home. The whole-house rental can sleep 12 comfortably and is popular with families; it also popular with the crafting crowd, as it has a space separate from the living areas to set up your crafting tables and leave your work out all weekend without being nagged by your family.
Heaven’s Valley Lodge (300 Wildwood Dr.; 507.454.4020) is in a peaceful setting at the end of a gravel road tucked into a coulee. Perfect. The converted barn has two bedrooms, a bathroom down a short flight of stairs, and a few dead animals on the walls to keep you company. Outside, enjoy the bonfire pit and harvest fresh eggs for breakfast from the chicken coop behind the house.
The Village House Inn (72 College Rd.; 888.507.6655/507.454.4322) is an 1870s farmhouse located near St. Mary’s University. It was gutted and rehabbed into a modern guesthouse with a nod to the past. The four rooms are spacious, comfortable, and each has a private bath; the first floor room is wheelchair accessible. Although they rent individual rooms, whole house rentals are increasingly common.
The Nichols Inn & Suites (1025 Sugarloaf Rd.; 507.454.6066; WiFi) has 60 impeccable, moderately large rooms decorated with a modern feel.
The Alverna Center (1175 W. 7th/Wabasha; 507.457.6921; WiFi), a former monastery, has 30 comfortable no-frills rooms with private baths, a double bed, a desk, and a small TV with cable. The building has plenty of room to spread out. While mostly geared toward conferences, individual travelers are welcome to stay but call during the day to make a reservation.
The Plaza Hotel and Suites (1025 US Highway 61 East; 507.453.0303; WiFi) has 135 large rooms equipped with microwave, fridge, coffee pots, and TVs in the bathrooms; some rooms are accessible for folks with a hearing impairment or in a wheelchair. The first floor rooms have direct access from the parking lot via patio doors. You can upgrade to a family suite for just $10 more and get an extra sitting area and real dishes to eat from.
The Express Suites Riverport Inn (900 Bruski Dr.; 800.595.0606/507.452.0606; WiFi) has 106 generously-sized rooms in great shape; they also have four fantasy suites that include two rooms with a bed in an old Chevy (the bed is small and probably better for kids than adults), a bridal suite, and a room with a Roman bath theme.
Post Office: 67 W. 5th St.; 507.454.5268.
The Winona Public Library (151 W. 5th St.; 507.452.4582; WiFi) is a Beaux Arts building that opened in 1897, designed by Warren Powers Laird. The exterior is built of Bedford stone and accented with columns of Georgia marble, with steps of Winona limestone; inside there is a marble replica of Canova’s Hebe and murals by Kenyon Cox.
Getting To and Out of Dodge
Winona is one of the stops along Amtrak’s Empire Builder route. The train station is near the Winona State University Campus (65 E. 11th/Mark St.; 800.872.7245/507.452.8612); westbound trains depart Winona at 7:50p for destinations along the Mississippi River that include Red Wing (1 hour), St. Paul/Minneapolis (2 hours 40 minutes), and St. Cloud (4 hours, 50 minutes) before continuing through the western United States to Seattle. Eastbound trains depart Winona at 10:11a and pass through La Crosse (36 minutes) before terminating at Chicago (5 hours, 40 minutes). I’d like to quote some fares for you, but Amtrak bases ticket prices on the number of seats available, so prices can vary quite a bit. In general, you should expect to pay less the further in advance you book, but, if there is only one seat left, you will pay a premium for it, even if it is a month in advance.
Jefferson Lines (800.451.5333) operates regional bus service with once daily eastbound connections to La Crosse, Madison, and Milwaukee (M–Th, Sa 11:05a, F,Su 4:20p; 5 hours to Milwaukee) and once daily westbound connections to Rochester and Minneapolis (M–Th, Sa 3:55p, F,Su 5:55p; 2 hrs 40 min to Minneapolis). Schedules and fares are so damn confusing and change so often, you are better off just calling them directly for the most current info. What I can tell you is that the cheapest rates are for a 21-day advance purchase, especially for travel Sunday through Thursday. The bus stop is at the Quality Inn at the intersection of US Highway 14/61 and State Highway 43 (956 Mankato Ave.; 507.452.3718); buy your bus tickets at the front desk.
TIP: If you are buying tickets at the last minute, check fares for Amtrak, too. You might get a better deal.
The Winona Transit Service (260 W. 3rd St.; 507.454.6666) operates the local bus system (M–F 6a–6p). They also operate a free late-night service on weekends when the universities are in session called Safe Route, so you don’t have to drive after a night out at the bars (F,Sa 7p–1:55a).
Heading upriver? Check out Goodview.
Heading downriver? Check out Homer.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011