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City Spotlight

Winona, Minnesota

Population: 27,546

Nickname: The Island City

Winona is known first and foremost for the beautiful views of the Mississippi River and being surrounded by bluffs. Sugar Loaf is the most recognizable landmark as a bluff standing 500 feet over Lake Winona and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Winona is home to a variety of festivals for everything from art and music to cars and culture. Festivals include the Great River Shakespeare Festival, Minnesota Beethoven Festival, Frozen River Film Festival, Mid West Music Fest, Dixieland Jazz Fest, Boats and Bluegrass Festival and the pride of Winona, Steamboat Days.

There are several post-secondary education institutions in Winona and it was named one of the 50 safest college towns by Winona State University was founded in 1858 and is home to almost 8,500 students enrolled in a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota is a private university that also offers a variety of programs to more than 5,000 students. Winona is also home to a campus of Southeast Technical College, which is home to a variety of trade labs, various medical labs and an automotive technology program.

Many businesses and companies from a variety of industries hail from Winona. Major businesses include J.R. Watkins which has been producing naturally made products since 1868 and is now a multi-national company. Hal Leonard Corporation is the world's largest music print publisher that was started by Winona residents Harold and Everett Edstrom in 1947. Many Winona companies are nationally known after starting as small operations. Fastenal, We-No-Nah Canoe, and WinCraft Sports all have headquarters in Winona.

Winona is named after the Dakota Sioux legend who was said to be the daughter of Chief Wabasha or Chief Red Wing and for the Dakota Indian word "We-no-nah" meaning first-born daughter. Archaeologists have said that humans may have lived in the Winona area as early as 9500 B.C. Winona was originally the village of Keoxa and was home to a Mdewakanton band of the eastern Sioux. Captain Orrin Smith founded Winona in 1851 and by 1856 was home to a population of 3,000. It was incorporated as a city in 1856 and attracted a large population of Polish immigrants. Railways and steamboats helped the milling and lumber industry and by 1870, Winona was the fourth largest wheat shipping port in the United States. J.R. Watkins started Watkins incorporated in 1868 and is known as the inventor of the money back guarantee. Winona's population continued to expand with industry and the founding of universities.

Winona is a stop on Amtrak's Empire Builder and its Rail Depot was built in 1888 by the Milwaukee Road Railroad. The depot played host to presidential whistle-stop tours featuring Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman. The Winona station is one of the busiest stations in Minnesota.

There are tons of great activities to do in Winona, with plenty of outdoor activities ranging from trails, lakes, rivers and outdoor concerts. Winona is also home to ten museums and plenty of restaurants, site seeing options, arts and theater, and ways to take in culture, nature and history.


Famous Residents of Winona include:

  • Winona Ryder was born in nearby Olmstead County, but was named after the town.

  • Carol Bartz – Former CEO of Yahoo!

  • Alec Brown – NBA Player

  • Roger Busdicker, Everett Edstrom and Harold Edstrom – co-founders of Hal Leonard Corporation.

  • William D. Mitchell – U.S. Attorney General under presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover

  • Carl Ruggles – Composer

  • J.R. Watkins – founder of Watkins Incorporated and inventor of the “money back guarantee”



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