HJ/EDJuly 17, 2006

The history of Winsted’s city hall

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Living in Winsted at a time in history without phone service, electricity, and motor-driven vehicles must have left its citizens feeling very isolated. It just made sense to combine everyone’s efforts in a city government to increase communication and involvement of its citizens.

After a major fire in 1886 that destroyed a large portion of Winsted’s wood-framed business district, fire protection was at the top of the city’s list of priorities.

In an effort to organize a formal city government, a proposal was put to a vote. The citizens overwhelmingly approved the idea. Winsted was officially incorporated as a city Aug. 27, 1887.

After holding its first council meeting Sept. 30, 1887, in the crowded office of attorney Ira Lewis, who was the village recorder, the council found another priority was a place to run city government and keep its records.

One of the council’s first decisions was to pay local casket and cabinet maker, Henry Weinbeck $16 to build a desk and cabinet for storing and filing city paperwork.

The furniture was installed in Lewis’ office for almost 10 years. During this time, municipal elections took place held in the roller mill operated by Mayor Felton Vollmer, which was located where Mill Reserve Park is today.

It took the council another six years to call a special election Jan. 21, 1893, when voters agreed by a margin of 34 to 24 to build a city hall.

A committee was appointed to find a site and develop plans for the new building at a total cost not to exceed $4,000.

The site officially described as “Lot 1 of Block 6 in the original town site of Winsted,” became the site for the first Winsted city hall.

Louis Lockwood of St. Paul was hired as architect Dec. 4, 1894.

Lockwood had served an apprenticeship with an architect in London and then came to the United States in 1889. After working in the Oregon area for several years before moving to St. Paul in 1892, he had acquired a reputation as a superior architect.

St. Paul builder Hugh E. Grant was hired as general contractor, with a bid of $3,650, by late spring of 1895, and by late fall of that year, the construction of the new city hall was almost complete.

A dedication ceremony took place Jan. 1, 1896.

Located in the center of town with a view of Winsted Lake, the new city hall became a community center in the truest sense, for the 297 Winsted residents.

The hall accommodated the following:

• The Winsted fire department was located on the main floor at the north end of the building.

• The facility’s upper floor assembly room was booked solid, hosting a never-ending procession of lectures, dances, banquets, and “entertainments” sponsored by such local groups as the Literary Society and the Twilight Club, even old time medicine man shows.

• A stage was constructed on the upper floor for theatrical productions in 1898.

• The lower level was equipped with prefabricated jail cells in 1905.

• When silent movies came to town, the upper floor assembly room was transformed into Winsted’s first motion picture theater.

• Veterans formed an American Legion Post after World War I, and the city hall began to serve as the Legion Hall for the next 50 years.

• It provided meeting space for scout groups, 4H clubs, and community education classes. At one point, there was a doctor’s office, dentist office, and barber shop located in the hall.

The city hall status as Winsted’s community center began to change as newer buildings were added to the town of Winsted.

The fire department built its own building while expanding its fleet of fire trucks; Holy Trinity High School built a new 500-seat auditorium directly across the street; dances were scheduled at the Blue Note Ballroom; and a movie theatre was built.

Concerned about the prospect of spending tax dollars to restore the under-utilized building, the Winsted city council voted in 1984, to put the building on the market, but no one wanted to buy it.

With the prospect of restoring the hall, bids were received for new windows and a roof replacement, but the city worried about the building’s long-term prospects.

The city hired a consulting firm to assemble cost estimates for restoring the historic city hall, and to prepare preliminary plans for building a new one. Either option would have required $750,000. When the issue was put to a vote in November 1990, both proposals were defeated by a margin of 516-184.

As the debate went on, the city hall began to exhibit obvious signs of neglect.

In the summer of 1997, the council voted to seek temporary quarters for Winsted’s city offices while they decided the fate of the building.

The last official day of business in the original city hall was Nov. 4, 1997. A total of 102 years as Winsted’s city hall.

A committee of citizens was appointed to examine several alternatives for housing city offices, including restoring the historic city hall, acquisition and remodeling of an existing building elsewhere in town, or construction of a new building.

In 2002, the historic city hall was sold to Todd and Kelly Colonna, who have purchased other historic buildings in Minnesota, restoring them. They bought the building for $1.

City rents the Niro Sterner building

The Winsted city hall moved to the Niro Sterner building located by the Winsted water tower Nov. 5, 1997.

After one year of renting, a new location was needed. Renewing the lease was not an option as the building was sold and not available for leasing.

“It was never meant to be a permanent move,” Mayor Don Guggemos said.

The building was less than half the size needed for the city hall, and the bathrooms were not handicap accessible, and would have cost a great deal to upgrade. The location was great next to the fire hall, but many people felt that the city hall should be located in downtown Winsted, Guggemos said.

City rents the Haugdahl building

The city hall’s current location is the Haugdahl building (old theater building), located on Main Avenue in downtown Winsted, which they moved into Nov. 1, 1998.

The building location is great; as it is uptown by a major intersection. It is adequate size for what is needed today, but what about five years from now?, Guggemos said.

The building has a number of issues that need to be worked around every day. The offices are on different levels and, to be handicap accessible, each of the different departments require a separate entrance. Council meetings take place in an area that isn’t perfect, but the council only meets twice a month, said Guggemos.

According to Guggemos, the lease is up next year.

Information for this article was taken from the “Winsted City Hall Reuse Study” prepared by the Minnesota Consultation Team and Thomas R. Zahn & Associates, spring 1999.

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