Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Winona, Part VI: Hotel humor January 14, 2016

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Sign in Winona hotel, 392

 

IS THIS WARNING COMMON in hotels? Because I don’t stay in hotels all that often—maybe once a year—I’m uncertain.

Apparently theft is a problem at this particular Winona hotel, although I cannot imagine why anyone would steal any of the items on the list.

There’s a Target right next door with comparable or lower prices.

© Copyright 2016 Minnesota Prairie Roots

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In Winona, Part V: Along the Mississippi January 12, 2016

A barge floats near the Mississippi River bridge that connects Minnesota and Wisconsin in Winona.

A barge floats near the Mississippi River bridge that connects Minnesota and Wisconsin in Winona. A new bridge is under construction next to the old one shown here and is expected to be completed this year. The old bridge will then undergo renovation. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

IN MINNESOTA’S SOUTHEASTERN most tip, the Mississippi River flows alongside bluffs, edging small towns and cities. Like Winona. The Mighty Mississippi shaped this island sandbar, today a destination for those who appreciate history, art, architecture, stained glass and more. Sometimes folks come just for the river.

Someone chalked the Levee Park sign much to my delight.

Someone chalked the Levee Park sign much to my delight. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

On a brief visit to Winona in September, my husband and I watched river traffic from Winona’s downtown Levee Park as twilight tinged the sky pink.

The Winona Tour Boat offers river cruises. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2015.

The Winona Tour Boat offers river cruises. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

There’s something incredibly soothing about water. Mesmerizing really. Like a lullaby or poetry or the refrain of a favorite song.

The White Angel tugs a barge.

The White Angel tugs a barge. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Water transports thoughts to a quiet place.

Winona State University's Cal Fremling boat also offers river cruises with a focus on education. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2015.

Winona State University’s Cal Fremling boat also offers river cruises with a focus on education. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Or a place of adventure, sans Huckleberry Finn. Who hasn’t dreamed of clamoring aboard a raft and leaving everything behind?

As the sun sets, Winona State University's Cal Fremling boat passes under the Mississippi Rover bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

As the sun sets, Winona State University’s Cal Fremling boat passes under the Mississippi Rover bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Days flow like a river, sometimes straight and true, other times twisting and turning through a torrent of troubles.

Boathouses as photographed from Levee Park in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Boathouses as photographed from Levee Park in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

On this September evening, peace ran like a river past Winona, through my soul…

The old Mississippi River bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2015.

The old Mississippi River bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2015.

diminishing all thoughts of a bridge over troubled waters.

FYI: Tomorrow I conclude my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part IV: Uniquely Winonan January 11, 2016

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Pulling a barge down the Mississippi River in Winona in September 2015.

Pulling a barge down the Mississippi River in Winona in September 2015.

WINONA IS A RIVER TOWN. A college town. A place of history, historic buildings, memorable businesses. And more, much more.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

My award-winning photo taken at the Lakeview Drive Inn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

I’ve savored homemade root beer at the iconic Lakeview Drive Inn in Winona.

Bloedow's Bakery is located at 451 E. Broadway St. in Winona.

Bloedow’s Bakery is located at 451 E. Broadway St. in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2014.

I’ve tasted a bacon-topped, maple-iced long john from Bloedow’s Bakery.

Worn, vintage business signage always catches my eye.

Worn, vintage business signage always catches my eye.

And I wish I’d had time to duck into Sloppy Joe’s Liquor to grab a beer and maybe a sloppy joe, if the sandwich is served there, and to hear the story behind the bar’s name.

I shot this scene of The Penguin Zesto in September 2015.

I shot this scene of The Penguin Zesto in September 2015.

The same goes for The Penguin Zesto. What’s with that name? The drive-in was closed when I visited Winona. No ice cream for me on that September day. Only questions. I always have questions.

Winona has some lovely old homes, this one photographed in September 2015.

Winona has some lovely old homes, this one photographed in September 2015.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for another post in my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part III: A bank that impresses January 8, 2016

The exterior front of the Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

The exterior front of Winona National Bank, originally Winona Savings Bank, presents a visual of strength and stability in design and materials.

EVERYTHING ABOUT THE CONSTRUCTION of Winona National Bank invokes trust, strength and power.

Each granite column soars 37 feet, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Each column measures 37 feet high, weighs 32 tons and is constructed from a single piece of North Carolina granite.

Granite entry columns.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy.

Green marble from Greece and white marble from Italy are featured inside the bank, here in the lobby and teller area.

Marble everywhere.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

The mammoth steel vault door gives an impression of safety and security. It was built by Diebold Safe and Lock Company of Canton, Ohio.

A 22 ½ ton vault door 22 inches thick.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates.

Architect George Maher designed the metal work like these iron window gates which give a visual impression of security.

Iron window gates.

The lion,

The lion, another symbol of strength and power.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

Lion heads are also carved in stone.

To the right in this display of taxidermied animals is a lion.

The taxidermy display includes a lion, center.

And then, the king of the jungle—the lion—standing atop signage, sculpted and encased in glass. A symbol of strength for a bank that stands as a powerful visual presence in the heart of this Mississippi River town.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited.

The bank was quiet on the morning I visited. Beautiful marble. Note the word “TRUST” on the wall to the left.

On the Friday in September when I toured this 1916 Egyptian Revival style building with Prairie School influences, the bank seemed more museum than business. The atmosphere was quiet, almost shrine-like with few customers. (The bank also has two branch offices.) I felt a sense of reverent awe in the midst of such opulence, such an overwhelming display of wealth.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher's Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

The largest of the Tiffany stained glass windows in the bank looms above the entry. Architect George Maher’s Prairie School influences are seen in a design that includes a lotus pattern.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength.

Looking up toward the second floor and the area open to the lower level, the white marble from Italy conveys strength. Note the art deco style lights.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

Mahogany railings wrap the white marble staircase.

It is difficult for me to comprehend anyone having this much money—to erect this massive building with Tiffany stained glass windows, white marble imported from Italy and mahogany railings. Chicago architect George Maher, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the building.

Plans for the tile are on display.

Plans for the tile are on display.

The bank formed in 1874 as Winona Savings Bank, later merging with Winona National Bank. J.R. Watkins, founder of The J.R. Watkins Medical Company, still a stalwart business today simply known as J.R. Watkins, is also linked to the bank. In the early 1900s, J.R. acquired Winona Savings Bank as a banking concern connected to Watkins products.

The impressive boardroom.

The impressive boardroom.

When J.R. died in 1911, his son-in-law, Ernest L. King, Sr., then the vice president of Watkins, assumed the bank presidency. Eventually his son, Ernest L. King, Jr., would serve on the board of directors.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

A Prairie School inspired chair in the boardroom, next to the gun collection.

So there’s a lot of local business history in this formidable bank building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Watkins connection is highlighted in upper level displays. Inside the boardroom, designed in Prairie School style, sleek chairs pull up to hefty, gleaming tables next to a gun collection. Just down the hallway, trophy animals shot by Grace Watkins King (J.R.’s only child) and her husband, Ernest L. King, Sr., are showcased.

A trophy from Africa.

A lion trophy from Africa.

I couldn’t help but think of Cecil the lion (killed in Zimbabwe) as I photographed the lion mount inside the bank. I understand, though, that it was a different mindset when this lion and other wildlife were shot in Africa. Yet, in a building of such grand splendor, this taxidermy collection left me feeling uncomfortable and sad.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

From an upper floor looking down to the lobby.

That aside, I delighted in the opportunity to tour this remarkable Minnesota treasure.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Even underfoot impresses.

Even underfoot impresses.

Likewise above...Tiffany stained glass.

Likewise above…definitely Prairie School influence.

Another view of the lobby from above.

Another view of the lobby from above.

FYI: Free self-guided tours of the bank are available during regular business hours from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The bank is located at 204 Main Street in downtown Winona. Check back next week as I continue with my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part II: A Prairie School Style office building at J.R. Watkins Co. January 7, 2016

The JR Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

The J.R. Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

AH, TO WORK in such a splendid place of marble and gold and Tiffany stained glass windows.

Greenery outside the Watkins' office building.

Greenery outside the Watkins’ office building.

That’s the setting for employees at J.R. Watkins, a Winona company that sells health remedies, baking products and much more; it’s especially known for its vanilla. Office workers labor inside a monumental building designed by noted Prairie School style architect George W. Maher of Chicago.

Chiseled above the main entry into the administrative building.

Chiseled above an entry into the administrative building.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

On a September visit to this Mississippi River community, I toured the 1912 office building which anchors a corner on the edge of downtown. It’s an unexpected gem, this stone structure that resembles a government building or art museum rather than the headquarters of a business.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

My husband and I couldn’t just walk inside. Rather, we phoned for access and then signed in.

Inside, looking toward the front doors.

Inside, looking toward the front doors and the Tiffany stained glass window featuring a rendition of Sugar Loaf.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including the Watkins wagon.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including a Watkins wagon.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

Skylights up close.

Skylights up close.

And, as you would expect, the space we were allowed to explore was limited to the main lobby area. Still, this was enough to impress as I gazed upon marble walls, the stained glass skylights (of which there are 224) and the custom-made Tiffany stained glass window (there are three) featuring Winona’s noted bluff landmark, Sugar Loaf. Because the windows are covered on the exterior to protect them, they are not quite as impressive as they could be. Still, you can’t leave this building without thinking, wow.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a post on the Winona National Bank building.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part I: Watkins, beyond vanilla January 6, 2016

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Vanilla has long been a staple bestseller at Watkins.

Vanilla has long been a staple bestseller at Watkins.

MY MEMORIES OF THE WATKINS MAN are peripheral. A man at the door of our farmhouse peddling vanilla and spices to my farm wife mother.

Spices have always been a popular product with Watkins customers. These vintage spice containers are showcased in the museum.

Spices have always been a popular product with Watkins customers. These vintage spice containers are showcased in the museum.

It was an era when rural women mostly stayed home to raise their families, when families owned only one car, when the distance from farm to town was traversed but once a month.

The realy

Early on in the 1900s, the Watkins man delivered products via a horse-pulled wagon.

Salesmen, like the Watkins man, the Fuller Brush Man and the Schwans man brought goods and/or food to doorsteps. Personal service. Meeting a need.

 

Watkins, 451 exterior sign

 

In September, my husband and I stayed overnight in Winona, a southeastern Minnesota community we’ve visited often given our eldest daughter attended college there. Never, though, had we taken the time to explore the J.R. Watkins Museum & Store and the adjacent impressive administrative headquarters. This trip we did.

This portrait of founder J.R. Watkins hangs in the museum.

This portrait of founder J.R. Watkins hangs in the museum.

The business started in 1868, not in Winona, but in neighboring Plainview where Joseph Ray Watkins made and sold Dr. Ward’s Vegetable Anodyne Liniment. He’d secured the recipe from a Cincinnati physician. Today the company still sells a 96.5 percent natural pain-relieving liniment. (Click here to read a synopsis of Watkins’ history.)

The historic Watkins complex (museum on left, administrative building on right) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The historic Watkins complex (museum, first floor on left, administrative building on right) is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1885, J.R. moved his business to the growing Mississippi River community of Winona. Through the years, the company flourished, and then floundered as times changed and the door-to-door sales strategy became less effective with more women working outside the home. Consumers’ tastes were also changing. Eventually, the company filed bankruptcy and was purchased in 1978 by businessman Irwin Jacobs. Now his son, Mark, heads Watkins, a thriving business that currently offers 350 products.

Watkins still sells beauty/healthcare items. These samples are in the store.

Watkins still sells beauty/healthcare items. These samples are in the store.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Watkins recently partnered with Kemps.

Watkins recently partnered with Kemps.

Today Watkins remains an important part of Winona, not only as a business that markets gourmet, bath and body, health, and home care products, but as an integral part of local family histories. You may not learn this touring the museum or reading the company’s history online. But talk to a museum staffer and you will hear about hometown loyalty.

Various sizes of Watkins vanillas are sold in the museum store. A recipe for Vanilla Coffee Creamer is printed on the package holding the vanilla I purchased.

Various sizes of Watkins vanillas are sold in the museum store. A recipe for Vanilla Coffee Creamer is printed on the package holding the vanilla I purchased.

I learned, for example, that the vanilla in most Winona kitchens is Watkins’ vanilla. It has always been a company top seller. The staffer did not offer proof of this claim. But I don’t doubt her assessment. I purchased a two-ounce bottle of Watkins “naturally and artificially flavored double strength vanilla” labeled as “superior quality since 1868” and “awarded Gold Medal for highest quality.”

There's a model of Winona, including the Watkins complex, in the museum.

There’s a model of Winona, including the Watkins complex, in the museum.

But the most interesting local tidbit she shared is that of “Winona Coffee,” coffee sweetened with a drop or two of Watkins vanilla added to the grounds. This is apparently how many Winonans prefer their coffee. And that says a lot for a company based in this city for 130 years.

ARE YOU FAMILIAR with the Watkins Company and, if so, do you have a favorite product?

BONUS PHOTOS:

Entering the museum. Yes, it's up several steps and through a side door.

Entering the museum up several steps and through a side door.

Spices have always been an integral part of Watkins.

Watkins spices are well-known and a major part of the company’s business.

Love the art on this vintage can of Watkins baking powder.

Love the art on this vintage can of Watkins baking powder.

more art

The annual Watkins almanac was printed in The Watkins Print Shop, open for 88 years. The shop is now the site of the Watkins museum, where the almanacs are displayed.

This toy truck, displayed in the museum, carries bags of spices.

This toy truck, displayed in the museum, carries bags of spices.

Watkins produced items for troops during WW II to fulfill government contracts.

Watkins produced items for troops during WW II to fulfill government contracts.

An overview of a section of the museum.

An overview of a section of the museum.

Pine cleaner, compared to the smell of the Minnesota northwoods.

Pine cleaner, compared to the smell of the Minnesota northwoods.

Art in a vintage Watkins calendar.

Art in a vintage Watkins calendar.

Watkins even sold mouse killer (aka warfarin) at one time.

Watkins even sold mouse killer (aka warfarin) at one time.

FYI: The Watkins Museum is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Saturdays. It’s located at 150 Liberty Street, near downtown Winona. Admission is free. Also consider touring the administrative headquarters around the corner featuring Tiffany stained glass windows. Check back tomorrow for a post on that building as I continue my series of stories from Winona.

 

Touring Minnesota’s “other” basilica, St. Stan’s in Winona September 24, 2015

The Basilica of Saint

The Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, named after a popular saint from Poland, is so massive I could not get the entire basilica in a photo. It’s located at 625 East Fourth Street in Winona, Minnesota.

UNOFFICIALLY, PARISHIONERS CALL the basilica St. Stan’s. I like that. It seems fitting in an age when the current pope, Pope Francis, has connected in an everyday sort of way with the faithful, Catholic or not.

I am Lutheran. But denominational affiliation matters not when touring a beautiful house of worship. Or appreciating a man who oversees with a blessed sense of ordinariness. Several weeks ago my husband, a Catholic turned Lutheran, and I visited the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka, aka St. Stan’s, in Winona. Touring churches interests us from multiple perspectives.

Students from the basilica's school file in for morning Mass.

Students file in for morning Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

An altar boy prepares for Mass.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

The stained glass windows are incredible in their sacred symbolism and beauty.

We arrived at St. Stan’s shortly before a children’s Mass, leaving us to observe from the balcony the reverent holiness of an altar boy lighting a candle, the filing of elementary students into pews, the light of a sultry summer morning filtering through stained glass windows.

Beautiful morning light filters through stained glass onto the curving balcony railing.

Lovely morning light filters through stained glass onto the curved balcony railing.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

A statue is tucked into a corner below stations of the cross.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detailed beauty.

The paintings inside the dome are exquisite in their detail.

The bread and the wine before it is carried to the front of the sanctuary.

The bread and the wine before they are carried to the front of the sanctuary.

Polish words on a stained glass window translate to

Polish words on a stained glass window translate, according to Google translate, to “”Association of the Children of Mary.”

I stood there in awe, swinging my camera lens toward marble pillars and stained glass, statues and crucifixes, curving wood and paintings, Communion wafers and words in Polish.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

The upper portion of the basilica at its main entry.

This is a church of Polish immigrants. Built in 1894 – 1895 of brick and stone in Romansque style (in the form of a Greek cross) by the Winona architectural firm of Charles G. Maybury & Son, the basilica is on the National Register of Historic Places.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan's also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

With its designation as a basilica, St. Stan’s also received a crest symbolic of important events in its history. Click here to learn about the crest.

Not knowing the difference between a regular Catholic church and a basilica, I learned from online research that a basilica has received special privileges from the pope. St. Stan’s rates as a minor basilica , the 70th in the U.S. and only one of two in Minnesota. (The other is the Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis.) The title ties to the extraordinary architectural quality of the building and to the congregation’s significant Polish heritage, according to a 2011 press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona announcing the designation by the Vatican.

I'm certain the scenes in each stained glass window hold religious significance.

The stained glass windows truly are religious works of art.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

The stairway to the balcony features incredible craftsmanship.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Massive marble pillars impress.

Terminology and privileges aside, this is one impressive house of worship. It’s artful and splendid. Reverent and meaningful. Personal, yet powerful in its sheer size.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

I expect many a worshiper has found comfort in these stained glass windows.

This massive place holds generations of family history. Imagine the sins confessed and forgiven here, the blessings bestowed, the holy water sprinkled, the families who’ve grieved and celebrated within the walls of St. Stan’s.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass.

To witness the next generation in worship on a Friday morning in God’s house reaffirms for me that the faith of our fathers remains strong. Just like this aged basilica in the Mississippi River town of Winona.

BONUS PHOTOS of the exterior:

A back view of St. Stan's.

A back view of St. Stan’s.

Angel art atop a tower.

Angel art atop a tower.

Roof details.

Roof details.

The main entrance.

The main entrance.

And the landmark dome.

And the landmark dome.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling