Winona’s Own: Something Old Is New Again

It isn’t just about preserving the past; it is making it relevant in today’s world. By finding new use for historic structures, we guarantee their survival.



There’s something new at one of the oldest homes in Winona. An original play, “The Hired Girl Gets Married,” will bring history back to life through collaboration between Winona County Historical Society and Theatre du Mississippi. 

“Some have never been to the Bunnell House, and others have had no reason to return. We are changing that this summer,” says Mark Peterson, director of the Historical Society. 

Jennifer Weaver, assistant director, agrees, “This is a new movement, the realization we must reinterpret history.”

The play, written by Winona resident Lynn Nankivil, focuses on a real event in 1856—the marriage of the Bunnells’ hired girl, Rachel. “I’ve been intrigued by the story of Willard and  Matilda Bunnell and how they came to build the Carpenter Gothic-style house,” explains Nankivil.

Nankivil uses five real-life characters to tell her story. “Although the action of the play revolves around a secret from Willard’s past, I enjoyed recreating Matilda’s character. She was the quintessential pioneer woman,” she says.

Willard and Matilda made their way from Green Bay, Wisconsin to the area in a canoe loaded with 4,000 pounds of fur, trading with the Native Americans as they went. Chief Wapasha, a Dakotah chief, gave Bunnell permission to build on indigenous land.

Around 1850, the three-story home was constructed of Northern White Pine. It has never been painted and remains without significant alterations. The lower level, built into the hill, houses the kitchen and pantry. The second level contains parlor, dining and office. Three small bedrooms are located in the third story.

The play will be performed on Saturdays and Sundays between June 27 and August 4 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are $8 for Winona County Historical Society members and $10 for non-members and are available at Winona County History Center (507-454-2723) or the Bunnell House. The Bunnell house is located along U.S. Highway 61, 3 miles south of Winona in Homer.

This project has been financed in part by the State of Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.


The imposing red-brick building on the corner of Fifth and Main Streets in Winona was built in 1908-1909 in Beaux-Arts tradition of the neoclassical style. The flourishing Masons were highly regarded in Winona and a center for the Scottish Rite Valley, one of the most complex orders of Freemasonry. Their intention was not only to house a number of Masonic organizations but to serve as a social and community center. The large, third-floor ballroom hosted balls, banquets and civic events. In 1978, the city purchased the temple. 

According to Julie Fassbender, recreation program director, many organizations benefit from the building. “This includes the Senior Center, Frozen River Film Festival, Theatre du Mississippi and, of course, the Masons,” she says. “We rent space frequently for weddings and parties.” 

Its most significant feature is a large proscenium-arch, fully functional stage, which houses an outstanding collection of 98 hand-painted scenic drops. The walls are decorated with original stencil designs of Masonic and Egyptian motifs. Recently, it was discovered that the riggings were deteriorating. “They are now stored in a hermetically sealed area. With a structural assessment of the building inside and out, we discovered it needs substantial updating and maintenance,” Fassbender says. “Friends of the Masonic” citizen’s group was formed to preserve and restore the Masonic Theatre building and historic scenery.  “We have work to do, but 

we are looking forward,” Fassbender says, hoping the Masonic Temple will be filled to the brim with activities benefiting Winona citizens for decades to come. For more information go to or call 507-457-8258.

Debi Neville is an admirer of historic buildings and an avid theatre enthusiast.