An outstanding example of Rural Gothic Architecture, the home is built of northern white pine and furnished with items appropriate to the mid-to-late 1800s. Recognized as one of the finest local archives in Minnesota, the Laird Lucas Memorial Library, located in the lower level of the Museum, contains irreplaceable collections of manuscripts, documents and photographs.
Professional historians, students and family researchers find this outstanding facility accessible to fill their needs for research, study and information. If you have ancestors from our area, you may discover your “roots” in this research center. We can provide you with information on how to trace your family tree or assist you with research in most areas of local history.
In addition to regular programs and workshops, the Winona County Historical Society also sponsors the Voices From the Past Cemetery Walk, Christmas House Tour, and Chocolate Shakespeare & Champagne. The Society also offers events and activities for adults and children alike.
Throughout the summer, educational programs are offered by the Society. Children can become involved in activities such as the American Girl Club, while adults can participate in the Book Chats or Food for Thought programs.
Knowledgeable guides walk visitors through three floors of pioneer life, encompassing the historical period during which Native American canoes gave way to steamboats and game-trails became roads and highways for Euro-Americans. For more information, contact the Winona County Historical Society.
Witness to History
The Bunnell House was built in the late 1850’s. It is Gothic Revival in style and is probably based on a design by Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852). Downing, whose designs were very popular in the mid 1800’s, believed that houses should blend with the landscape. The Bunnell House illustrates his description of the Rural Gothic style, whose outlines are highly picturesque and harmonious with nature. Many families occupied this riverside cottage before it was acquired by the Winona County Historical Society in 1954.
Constructed of Northern White Pine that has never been painted, the Bunnell House is built on three levels. The first level is dug into the hillside.The foundation walls are of stone. This natural insulation of the earth makes this part of the house an ideal place for the root cellar, kitchen and pantry.There is also a small alcove off the kitchen which has served many purposes throughout the years. It would have been a particularly good location for a sickroom because of its proximity to the warm and active kitchen. It may also have been the quarters for the hired girl.
The second level, which fronts Matilda Street, contains the parlor, dining room, and a small office.This part of the house was used for entertaining, formal occasions, and business. The parlor could be closed off during the cold winter months or when it was not being used. The porch across the front of the house affords a beautiful view of the Mississippi.
Each of the three small bedrooms on the third level is also graced with a commanding view of either the bluffs or the river. A small space at the top of the stairs can be closed off by a screen to serve as a “travelers” bedroom.
We know very little about the house during the time that it was occupied by the Bunnell’s, and only a few of the items now found in the house are known to have belonged to the family. The furnishings represent a variety of styles that were popular in America during the last half of the 19th century.
Willard Bradley Bunnell, was born in Homer, New York in 1814. He named the town of Homer, Minnesota after his birthplace. Willard met his wife, Matilda Desnoyer, while working as a steamboat captain on the Great Lakes. They were married in 1837 in Detroit, Michigan where Matilda’s father worked as a fur trader.
The couple moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Willard began to practice the fur trade. Following this profession, Willard eventually moved to the Trempealeau, Wisconsin area in 1842. He made the acquaintance of Chief Wapasha, a Dakotah Chief, who maintained a summer camp, Ke-ox-ah, on the present site of Winona.
In 1849 this Chief gave Willard permission to build a log cabin on Indian land on a site approximately 200 feet north of the present Bunnell House. After the present house was built, probably between 1857 and 1861, Willard’s brother, Lafayette, occupied the log cabin until 1901, when it was struck by lightening and burned to the ground. Lafayette is remembered for his book on local history, Winona County and its Environs On The Mississippi. He is also credited with naming Yosemite Valley while serving in California with the Mariposa battalion of the Army during the 1850’s.
Although Willard died of “consumption” in 1861 before the completion of the present home, Matilda occupied the house with her children until her death in 1867. Matilda was “a model representative of a pioneer woman.” She spoke French, English, Chippewa, Winnebago, Dakotah, and had some knowledge of other Indian dialects. She could shoot, paddle a canoe, and was respected by the Indians. Yet she inspired one writer who knew her to describe her as “lady-like and modestly feminine.”
The above material was provided courtesy of the Winona County Historical Society.