Minnesota History: Building A Legacy

A Reinterpretation of the Historic Willard Bunnell House

  • Project Overview
  • Project Details
Left to right - Andrew J. Hanzelka, Walker Robeson, and Lisa K. Adams.
Andrew plays various roles in Lafayette's life.
Lisa plays various roles in Lafayette's life.

Project Overview

Recipient: Winona County Historical Society

Winona County Historical Society and Theatre du Mississippi partnered to produce a new interpretive program for the Historic William Bunnell House in 2015. They conducted research to produce an hour-long script based on the lives of families who lived in the house and the period they lived there. This new program will create a purpose for a house museum which has been languishing. It will be a new approach to operating a historic house museum that draws on the creative and historical strengths of the partners.
The first property the Winona County Historical Society (WCHS) acquired was the Willard Bunnell house in Homer, MN in 1954. It was the pioneer home of the first permanent white settler in our county. For the next several decades the house was run like most house museums. It was open in the summer and staffed by young tour guides. People would stop and get a 45-minute tour talking about the home, furnishings and the Bunnell family. Once seen it was rarely ever visited again unless a special event was be held on the property. In 2011, the Society teamed up with Wayne Gannaway who at the time was working as a Byways Specialist for the America's Byways Resource Center. Wayne was working on his interpretive planner certificate by the National Association of Interpreters and partly chose this project because he was from Winona and had worked as a summer tour guide at the house. A team composed of historians, museum people, a representative from the Minnesota Historical Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service met. In the end, they concluded that the home might be best suited as a river interpretive center. To do so though would require a significant investment by the Society and present many challenges due to the small rooms and lack of handicap accessibility. The following year the home was not open due to bridge construction next to the home. In 2014, the home was again not open so an inventory could be completed at the site and because the Society has been looking for a way to turn the property around and make it more of an asset instead of a liability.
The Society has partnered for purposes of this grant with a local theater company, Theatre du Mississippi (TdM) to try and bring new life to this property with a series of programs at the house during the 2015 season. TdM was formed in 1997 and has successfully produced numerous plays with local historical themes since their founding (see attached list). On three occasions the Society and TdM partnered on performances during our Victorian Fair and twice as part of our Cemetery Walk. TdM will provide the Project Developer, hire the actors, stage manager, and research and write the scripts in cooperation with WCHS staff. The Society will provide the venue, costuming, print materials, props, photographer/filmmaker, and marketing. Each partner brings its strengths and expertise.
Over the years the Society has invested a lot in the Bunnell House; treated the exterior wood, rewired the home, insulated the walls and attic, repointed the foundation, installed new storm doors and storm windows, put in central heat and air-conditioning, put on a shake roof and rebuilt the chimney. With increased operating expenses and declining attendance, the board is asking the hard questions about sustainability. The partnership presents an opportunity to bring new interest in the house and a way to present local history in a way that is educational and also entertaining. TdM benefits by reaching a larger audience and also a new audience. They will be sharing theater in a new way with non-traditional stage performances, and providing employment.
The goal was to produce and direct a script at the house about an hour in length, based on the Bunnell family and the period in which they lived there (1855-1862). They tell not only the story of this family but what life was like in Winona County. Much of that life was hard but also colorful.
The visitors leave with a deeper appreciation of the history of Winona County and of Minnesota history. WCHS believes this will generate new interest in the house and be a catalyst to find new and creative ways to make this property an asset instead of a liability.

Project Details

Partner Organizations: Winona County Historical Society and Theatre du Mississippiona Winona County...

Fund Availability:

12/01/2014 - 01/01/2016

Legal Citation / Subdivision
Session Law Reference: Laws of Minnesota 2013, Regular Session, chater 137, article 4, section 2, subdivision 5, b. 3. History Partnerships

Appropriation Language
History Partnerships: $2,000,000 the first year and $2,000,000 the second year are for partnerships involving multiple organizations, which may include the Minnesota Historical Society, to preserve and enhance access to Minnesota's history and cultural heritage in all regions of the state.

Funding Amount: $70,100

Amount of Other Funds Leveraged $1,975

Direct Expenses: $72,075

Project Manager

Mark F. Peterson
Winona County Historical Society
160 Johnson Street
, Winona 55987

Members of Recipient's Governing Body: WCHS Board: Michelle Alexander, Tom Bremer, Sandra Burke, Jerome Christenson, Rick Christenson, Bob Fisher, Margaret Shaw Johnson, Mena Kaehler, Patrick Marek, Bruce Montplaisir, Jonelle Moore, Mary Nelson, Mary Polus, Jim Pomeroy, Mike Slaggie, Leroy Telstad, Cindy Timm, Peter Walsh TdM Board: Carew Hallack, Emily Kurash, Robert Thomas, III, Paul Sannerud, Peggy Sannerud, Judy Meyers, Daniel Munson, George Cipov, Lynn Nankivil

Subject: History

Administering Agency

Minnesota Historical Society

Quick Facts

Project Type: External Partnerships

Recipient: Winona County Historical Society

Funding Amount: $70,100

Source: Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund

Status: In Progress

Appropriation Years: 2015

Description of Other Funds Available upon request, grants@mnhs.org

Recipient Type: Non-Profit Business/Entity

Activity Type: Grants/Contracts

Counties Impacted: Winona

This site is updated regularly with descriptions and data related to Legacy projects funded through the Minnesota Historical Society by the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF).
Further information about the use and impact of all Legacy Funds can be found on the Minnesota Legislative Coordinating Commission's Minnesota's Legacy site.