La Crosse Local

E.193: Carrie Johnson | Winona County Historical Society

Listen to “E.193: Carrie Johnson | Winona County Historical Society” on Spreaker.

Collecting, preserving, and sharing Winona County’s history, it came about in the 1930’s…in an interest in preserving our local history…(on Society formation).

We sat down with Carrie Johnson Executive Director of the Winona County Historical Society, we talked about the organization’s purpose, how people can participate, upcoming events, and what’s next for this Winona Area organization.

This podcast is sponsored by Balancing Act.  Carrie Johnson 00:47
My name is Carrie Johnson. I was born in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. I grew up in Sauk Center, Minnesota. And I came to the Winona Historical Society, Winona County Historical Society, last November and had recently I had moved from Grand Marais. I worked for the Cook County Historical Society for the last 12, 13 years and got interested in museum work actually as a child going to museums. And then after finding out that Electrical Engineering wasn’t my thing in college, I moved on to Anthropology and specialized in school in Museum Studies. So that’s kind of how the roundabout way I got to Winona County Historical Society. I just love museums and museum work generally.

Brent Hanifl 01:44
So how did the Winona County Historical Society come about? And kind of like what’s its purpose?

Carrie Johnson 01:49
So the general mission is collecting, preserving and sharing Winona County’s history. It came about in the 1930s. Like a lot of the local county historical societies, it grew out of that interest in making sure that we’re preserving our local history. This organization acquired the armory, eventually, as its main headquarters. And so that’s where we are still today in the Winona Armory, which was built in around 1914. And then an addition was added on to the armory, about 11 years ago. Beautiful, modern addition onto this historic structure. So, it’s a really neat facility, and this is where we house all of the artifacts and all of our archival research materials in our library.

Brent Hanifl 02:40
So you just mentioned the armory, how can people participate? Do they just stop down and check it out? I know I’ve been there. Beautiful facility, it seems like you can even rent it out and things like that and multiple different events. But it’s a great spot. So how can people participate? Can they stop in?

Carrie Johnson 02:55
Yeah absolutely. We’re open seven days a week and so you can stop in and enjoy the exhibits. That’s kind of one of our main programs is our permanent exhibitions. Our galleries are located in the Armory’s what was formerly sort of the gymnasium, it looks like a gymnasium for there and the track which ran around the mezzanine on the second level. So yeah, just coming in and and visiting the exhibits is one way to participate. Right now we are also having a series of art exhibitions for the next two, three years for sure, we’re going to be featuring local art in the new addition. So in the lobby of our new addition’s nice, big open space, so people can come by and see those local artists, support them, purchase some artworks. That’s kind of a new thing that we’re working on, featuring and partnering with River Arts Alliance. But the other motivation for doing that is we are going to be doing, redoing our permanent exhibits. And that’s going to be a lengthy project. And so we wanted to have some art exhibits have something new and fresh all the time while we’re busy working on redoing those permanent exhibits. But I mean, there’s lots of other ways to get involved. We have lots of programs and events. We are inviting the river cruise ships that are coming through we’re inviting them into Winona to share our history with them. So we’re offering tours to those visitors. We’re also offering tours to anybody so we have walking tours that people can sign up for and learn downtown Winona history.

Brent Hanifl 04:41
Looking at during the summer, I’m sure you have these kind of different satellite sites as well. But you know, everything from the Rural Heritage Museum to the Historic Bunnell House. I’m sorry if I pronounced that wrong. How did those fit into the entity?

Carrie Johnson 04:57
Those are a couple of our sites within the county. The Bunnell House is in Homer, which is just to the, uh oh my geography, south and east of here of Winona. The Bunnell House is closed for the next year, there’s actually construction on the old Homer road. So it’s closed currently, we are scheming better ways to utilize the Bunnell House. It’s one of those things that not a lot of visitors are stopping by. So we want to think of new and better ways to use it. It just so happens this year that we’re keeping it closed. But it’s one of those responsibilities that we have the historic structure. The Rural Heritage Museum is a collection of historic buildings and then we’ve got a new museum on site. And that’s in St. Charles. Kind of our big, big event is the weekend of the county fair. But there’s also Gladiola Days that St. Charles has, and we opened the Rural Heritage Museum at that time as well.

Brent Hanifl 06:00
So how did COVID affect the Historical Society? I know it affected everyone, you know, pretty much in the world. How did you guys adjust with it?

Carrie Johnson 06:07
it certainly affected us early on, having to be closed entirely. But we were able to open back up at a limited capacity last summer. But then of course it had to shut down again over the winter. Really, the ultimate effect was just a lot fewer visitors, a lot fewer sales in our gift shop, that kind of thing. And then we’ve really had to rethink our programming, sort of the in person events, and receptions and things like that, which is something we had to cut back on. But like I said, we are kind of bringing those things back. But we’re being more purposeful, as we think about it, you know, what is, what’s important to have live? What can we do online? What other ways can we engage? You know, and of course, as a museum, we have all these behind the scenes responsibilities that go on, no matter what you have to take care of the artifacts. You know, we’re in the middle of a huge photo digitization project. So, even when there aren’t visitors here, we have plenty of work to do. And we had the great advantage of having, sometimes it’s a disadvantage, but in this case it was an advantage having a small staff, so that we all have our own spaces. So you know, you think of places in the Twin Cities where people are still not back to work, we kind of have the opposite problem. Even though we have a small staff, it has allowed us to kind of keep our offices open and be available to the public and researchers and things like that. So in some ways, the show sort of just went on, but in a more limited capacity, as far as working with the public

Brent Hanifl 07:48
Well just seeing your announcements, it seems like for the rest of 2021 and into 2022 you have a lot going on. What’s next? What are you excited for for this next year, of two?

Carrie Johnson 07:58
I’m really excited to watch these art shows unfold. I think it’d be really fun to engage with local artists and bring in new audiences into the Historical Society. I’m also really interested in exhibit work myself. So I’m excited to kind of kick off the planning for redoing our exhibits, I think it’ll be, it’s long overdue. The exhibits here have some of them have been on display for a very long time. So it’s kind of time to change the voice and how we share Winona County’s history. And the Cemetery Walk is an annual event that we have in October, and I have I showed up in November last year. So I just missed last year’s Cemetery Walk, which we did even through COVID. It’s an outdoor event in the cemetery, so we were able to do that and learn some lessons about how people like to engage with our actors and so forth. Anyway, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that event go off this year.

Brent Hanifl 08:59
So for people that want to learn more, or check out more about the organization, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

Carrie Johnson 09:06
They can check on our website. It’s full of our calendar of events. But like you said, the Facebook page is a really great site to just check out old pictures of Winona. we have a lot of engagement that way, people are interested in sort of that nostalgic stuff you can find on Facebook. But it’s also a great place for you to find out more information about what we’re up to, different ways of joining. Of course we’re always encouraging people to become members, donate, that kind of thing as well.

Amy Gabay 09:39
La Crosse Local Podcast is a production of River Travel Media. Do you have an interview idea you’d like to share with us? Message us on Facebook at La Crosse Local. Find out more about us at And you can subscribe to the La Crosse Local Podcast on your favorite podcast app. If you like us, rate us five stars. We appreciate it.

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