Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 13, 2000

Reactions on Winsted city hall issue

Winsted's skyline could be changed forever

By Paul J. Weibel

According to what has been told to date, all things being considered regarding new versus old the cost comparison is a dead heat.

But when you add in the grants of $200,000, the demolition cost, cleanup, preparing the site for fill, and the amount of fill that would need to be hauled in and then compacted so you can build a new building on that site, I don't see how the cost can be the same.

Look at the fill that would have to be hauled in. Fill is not free. Getting the groundwork done is not cheap either. The council has stated that they could keep cost down by down-sizing some items. Can't you do that in a renovation?

To help keep cost down, there are people in town who would volunteer their time and talents to see that the building remain. If the historic city hall is demolished, the $200,000 in grant money is gone and Winsted's skyline is changed forever

People in Winsted, we need your help to save historic city hall. Come to council meetings. Call the mayor or council members and tell them you would like to help save the historic city hall.

We need you. Visit our Web site at The Web address is case sensitive, so you will need to capitalize the "w" in Winsted. We need your support.

Please visit our Web site and voice your option on this issue.

Remember our beginnings

By Peggy Lenz
Friends of Historic City Hall

The following is from the reuse study prepared by Thomas R. Zahn and Associates.


The Birth of a Small Town

The village of Winsted got its start on 30 July 1857, when a 38 year-old Connecticut Yankee named Eli Lewis purchased a wooded tract of land located on the edge of a shallow lake in eastern McLeod County.

The property included much of the area that lies within the present-day boundaries of the city. Lewis was a ginseng dealer and land speculator who had already helped to establish small, but successful townsites at St. Anthony (Minneapolis) and Watertown.

He clearly had something similar in mind for his newest piece of real estate. With help from his brother, Isaac, and a few friends and relatives, Lewis began clearing space for a potash and soap factory on the west side of the lake.

When the work was completed the following year, Lewis finally got around to giving the tiny settlement a name, dubbing it "Winsted" after his home town of Winsted, Conn. A few months later, another recent arrival by the name of George Foster, gave the young settlement an official stamp of approval when he established a United States Post Office with a Winsted address.

Though it had great symbolic significance, Foster's action did little to guarantee Winsted's future. The village stagnated for several years after its founding, and by 1861, even the post office had been closed.

With passage of the Homestead Act in 1862, however, hordes of newcomers began to settle in the surrounding countryside, drawn by the promise of free land and a fresh start. As McLeod County's population increased, the Winsted settlement also began to grow.

The pace of progress picked up a bit in 1866, when a Swiss immigrant named Fritz Moy moved to town, converted an abandoned cabin into Winsted's first general store, and erected a steam-powered sawmill on the west end of the lake.

Moy's efforts coincided with a burst of other activity in Winsted. By early January 1867, Eli Lewis had completed a survey of the community and filed a plat at the McLeod County Courthouse. A school district was formed later that month, and a one-room schoolhouse was constructed the same year.

The community continued to prosper over the next 20 years, and by the mid-1880s, its assets included a modest but stable population, a collection of permanent homes, a well-attended public school, several thriving churches, a number of small industries, and a bustling business district that featured a general store, a hardware store, a pharmacy, a hotel, two saloons, a butcher shop, a harness maker's business, a blacksmith's forge, and an array of warehouses.

Then disaster struck. In 1886, the up-and-coming village of Winsted was nearly erased from the map when a fire destroyed a substantial portion of its business district. The fire reduced an entire row of wood-frame buildings on the main commercial block to ashes, generating heat so intense that buildings on the opposite side of the street were also scorched and blackened.

After that event, a number of local residents launched an effort to organize a formal city government that could levy taxes and provide fire protection. When their proposal was put to a vote, the citizens overwhelmingly approved the idea.

On 27 August 1887, Winsted was officially incorporated as a city under the laws of Minnesota.

Isn't that a nice parking lot?

By Angela Lachermeier

I have been reading about the fate of the old city hall building in Winsted for some time now.

I was shocked and saddened by the city council's decision to have it demolished. It is never cheap to fix up an old building that has been neglected for years and years.

Speaking from experience, I can only say that it is sad to see such a significant historic building torn down, only to be replaced with a new tin shed. The architectural character of today's buildings leave a lot to be desired, while history is being tossed aside for the convenience of maintenance free alternatives.

One would never think of not maintaining and weather-proofing their own home. Maintenance is an ongoing part of owning a property, not something that you do every decade or so. Preventive maintenance could have eliminated a lot of the problems that are now faced by the old city hall.

My husband and I have renovated the old Waverly bank, which was built in 1865 and suffered from neglect and vandalism. We are currently renovating the old Johnson garage, built in 1930, which has been boarded up longer than most people can remember.

It takes a lot of determination, vision and hard work to fix these old buildings up, not to mention a fair share of headaches. I am sure that many people thought both of our properties were hopeless. One was doomed to become a parking lot.

How many times do you see a slab of asphalt and say "Oh wow! Is that ever a nice parking lot!"

The reward of all our effort is in the many people that stop by and share their stories about our buildings. We are very proud of our efforts and I maintain an open door policy to the many people that stop by just to see the building.

I am more than happy to share our historic bank and our current project with the people that appreciate the beauty of architectural history. There are plenty of people out there that enjoy seeing these properties renovated and brought back to their original beauty only to become a viable part of the community again.

Winsted is not the only community that is being faced with this problem. Waverly has its share of old buildings that are wasting away from neglect, as are towns all across America. An effort is being made to revitalize and maintain the small town charm of downtown Waverly and I am happy to say that boards are coming off several of the buildings.

I have come to realize that one person can make a difference if they are persistent in their vision while a group of people with a mutual goal should be unstoppable. Good luck in your efforts to save the old city hall.

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