Photo courtesy of HGA, Inc.
Pictured above is a model of the inside of the new Winona County Historical Society expansion at the Johnson Street Armory Building, designed by award-winning Joan Soranno of HGA, Inc.

WCHS expansion going strong


by Sarah Squires

At a time when many local projects are on hold, waiting for some positive economic news, one multimillion dollar project in downtown Winona is well on its way.

The Winona County Historical Society has raised about 80 percent of its $4.5 million campaign for its museum expansion, on target to call for bids in the spring with a completion date in summer 2010, just in time for the society’s 75th anniversary.

Society Executive Director Mark Peterson said that support for the project has come from near and far, and will keep the project on track. The Winona County Historical Society not only has the biggest membership of any county society in the state, but the project is also the largest fundraising effort undertaken by a historical society in Minnesota history.

“We’ve had gifts from all over the place,” said Peterson. “I’m very pleased with the kind of response we’ve had.”

The historical society addition will add 12,000 square feet of space to the existing Armory building on Johnson Street. It will provide space for programming, collection storage, the museum’s store, archival expansion and exhibits. Multi-purpose programming space will be about three times the space the society currently has for events, meaning it can welcome more people and events.

The society landed award-winning architect Joan Soranno of Hammel, Green & Abrahamson (HGA) of Minneapolis for the project. And Peterson said that the designs are amazing, spurring interest and support from over 1,000 individuals thus far. “It’s going to be absolutely beautiful,” he said. “It’s really going to be a signature in downtown Winona. In my opinion, it’ll be the best building built in downtown Winona in seven decades. There won’t be anything else like it.”

The society was presented with a $3 million challenge grant from the Laird Norton Company, which started its sawmill operation in Winona and is now headquartered in Seattle, Wash. The society was able raise half -- $1.5 million -- to receive the $1.5 million challenge grant in just 10 months and is currently working on its second challenge donation from Steve and Barb Slaggie. The family challenged the society to raise another $1 million and will donate an additional $250,000 once the challenge is met.

Along with the added space, Peterson said that the new addition will bring some visibility and a more welcoming feel than the current Armory Building. “This will accomplish [adding a more inviting feel],” said Peterson of the new space. “It will stand out, it will be visible. People can see lights and activities going on. It’ll be a fun, beautiful space.”

As for the last 20 percent needed for the project, Peterson said he believes it’s on track. “That last 20 percent is doable, but it’s going to be challenging in this economy. People are being more selective with what they’re supporting,” he said, adding that the project has fared well because it’s one people know will be a success. “It’s just going to make it that much sweeter when we do cut that ribbon,” said Peterson.

The project is currently wrapping up the “design development phase,” and will move into the construction drawings soon. Soranno has prepared models and drawings of the building addition and is fine-tuning those before the next phase begins.

Soranno and HGA have also just won the prestigious American Architecture Award for the Museum of the North Addition at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Soranno was executive architect for the project, up against national and international architectural firms which designed and built structures in the U.S. in 2008.

To find out more about how to donate or support the Winona County Historical Society and its building project, call 454-27-23 or visit


Search Archives

Our online forms will help you through the process. Just fill in the fields with your information.

Any troubles, give us a call.