When it’s gone, it’s gone


From: Merle Hanson

When they are gone, they are gone. When the bricks get taken down or the skies of Winona get lit up a part of us dies. The old brick building down by the tracks and levee is one of those buildings. A great family once operated their business in the back part of the building, grew into it and out of its functional usage. They, like so many, became global and their plant is now a low-slung plant down there in the far East End.

But when that building gets taken down one of the visual reminders of a great company will be no more. We won’t see that reminder, that name, downtown. Just a name on a building can trigger a kid’s thinking, his interests. Family drives don’t happen like they used to and getting a kid to wonder about a company by the name of Peerless Chain and the four brothers who started it isn’t a bad thing.

Those old brick buildings were part of our growing up. We didn’t know nothing, thought we knew it all, and even today I can’t shake Winona out of me. It sticks with me like glue so when Cheryl and I go visit a town or get away for a weekend we stay downtown, we eat downtown, we buy downtown, we enjoy downtown and we drive through places where old buildings stand. I can’t feel the dead in the suburbs.

Something about that river has made for some mighty prosperous folks. John Latsch used to tie his canoe somewhere down there. Joseph Bambenek and his brothers stared out at that river figuring out how to expand their market most efficiently. There’s probably not a living person amongst us who ever tasted the brew that was made there and was shut down by prohibition. The recipe was probably lost, tossed, thrown away and burned. Time has a way of stopping along the river.

That river has a way of talking, lighting up a person’s thinking. Bernie Rothwell bought a burnt-out mill down by the river, gutted by fire and the 1893 financial panic, out from a bankruptcy of Mr. Porter, an early Winona businessman. Mr. Rothwell and his family have taken that stake and turned it into a multi-plant business operation and the Porter Mill became Bay State Milling with their huge silos down by the river.

Now that brick building isn’t the prettiest, but if you take a good long look the girl looks haunted, wanting to talk. I mean just looking at the old girl tells you she had heart. She kind of stares at you and you wonder what she is all about. She ain’t get no fancy pedigree, but that girl could work and hard work has long defined this town. We all don’t look at buildings the same.


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