by MARK PETERSON
Winona County Historical Society
Most Winonans didn't know Charlie Nelson but everyone in Winona and throughout the state benefited because of him. Charlie was the State Historical Architect for the Minnesota Historical Society for over thirty years. He was also my friend. Charlie lost his battle with cancer last week and was laid to rest in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis last Wednesday. His funeral drew a huge number of people whose lives he had touched.
I first met Charlie right after I came to Winona 24 years ago. There had been a recent fire at the old Bub's Brewery, a National Register building. Charlie was called because the owner wanted some advice about restoring the building. Charlie was already very familiar with Winona because he cut his first preservation teeth in the early 1970s helping to save the Winona County Courthouse. It was Charlie who advised the Society on many projects related to restoring the Bunnell House, and the Armory Museum. He also worked to help save the Winona Opera House, and led a log cabin restoration workshop at the Arches Museum. It was also Charlie I called first five years ago when the courthouse flooded and a couple of county employees and commissioners talked about abandoning the building. Charlie assembled a reuse team that came to Winona and proposed reusing the building for just the courts, which is what ultimately happened. Charlie actually wrote the National Register nominations for the Winona County Courthouse and the Huff-Lamberton house back in the 1970s. Charlie was the advisor for the restoration of the Choate Building and every other building in Winona County that was listed on the National Register. One of his very last projects that he advised on, before retiring two years ago because of his health, was the addition to the Winona City Hall. Just last fall Charlie participated in a National Endowment for the Humanities project on Winona architecture for the Winona County Historical Society.
That is just some of the work he did in Winona County during his career. If you multiply that by the 87 counties, you have an impressive body of work. During his time with the Minnesota Historical Society, Charlie traveled over one million miles of highways and back roads in the state. I think it is safe to say that no one knew more about Minnesota architecture than Charlie.
Thank you, Charlie, for making Minnesota a better place to live and for including me as one of your many friends. You will be missed.