By Linda Scherer
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Ed Mlynar of Lester Prairie has not forgotten what it was like growing up northwest of Lester Prairie.
Mlynar was in the first grade the spring of 1937, when his family moved to an acre-and-a-half of property located on the northwest corner of Dairy Avenue and State Highway 7.
This particular location encompassed a small town referred to as West Winsted, which was actually located much closer to Lester Prairie than Winsted, and no longer exists.
West Winsted is one of 28 towns considered “the lost towns of McLeod County,” according to the McLeod County Historical Society.
The town consisted of a buttermaker’s house, what was left of a creamery, a saloon, and an ice house.
Like many small towns in the late 1800s, West Winsted began with a small local creamery placed in a strategic location for farmers to haul their milk for profit without having to drive a great distance, according to Mlynar.
Soon after, a tavern or saloon was added so farmers could visit with neighbors to get the current news, and possibly get something to quench their thirst, after emptying their wagons of cans of milk.
The buttermaker’s home was built for Len Hermann in 1927. Hermann was the buttermaker or manager at the time of the West Winsted Co-op Creamery. The house was offered as a benefit, common in those days, to entice him to come out to the middle of nowhere to manage a creamery.
Mlynar’s family, which included his parents, Ed and Maude, and his younger brother, John, lived in the buttermaker’s house. By the time they moved to West Winsted, all that was left of the creamery was a huge holding tank which had been used for creamery waste.
“I don’t know if it (the creamery) burned down or if it was torn down,” Mlynar said.
The tank was 12 feet deep and 8 feet by 30 feet wide, buried in the ground, covered with 3-inch planks, according to Mlynar. The tank had held sediment from waste leaving the creamery, and the drain tile would take the liquid waste straight north, past the school, to Otter Creek.
The main attraction in West Winsted was definitely the tavern.
“I can’t be sure about this, but I think one of the reasons dad bought the property (in West Winsted) was because the saloon was there and it would give him something to do,” Mlynar said. “He was only 50 years old at the time.”
Mlynar’s father ran the tavern which was 24-feet by 30-feet, and there was a lean-to where the original builder Herman Birkholz had lived on the back side of the saloon.
“In about 1930, the gas pumps went in and people would come to get their Copenhagen and cigarettes and a few cans of soup,” Mlynar said.
Two “one-arm-bandit” nickel slot machines, which came with the saloon when it was purchased, were illegal to own and Mlynar recalls the excitement surrounding the machines when his father learned, “the feds were coming.”
“I can remember putting them in a coaster wagon and taking them up to the house,” Mlynar said. “And hiding them in a closet in one of the bedrooms, and covering them with blankets. They were heavy. I think Mom even helped.”
Besides the house and the tavern, the family also owned a 12-foot high, 30-foot by 30-foot ice house.
“The ice house was probably built for the creamery,” Mlynar said.
They would harvest 2-foot thick ice blocks cut from Lake Mary or Lake Ann, and load it on trucks to store in the ice house because the tavern did not have a refrigerator.
“We could store a lot of ice in that house,” Mlynar said. “I remember playing in there and it was cool during the summer. Kenny Bebo, son of Homer Bebo, who lived across the road from us, would play in there with his brother, too.”
Chunks of ice were used at the tavern to keep the 3.2 beer cold.
In about 1938, when State Highway 7 was rebuilt, Mlynar’s father was told the West Winsted tavern was too close to the highway and he would have to move it.
Instead of moving the old tavern, it was torn down and Mlynar’s dad built a new tavern, 24-feet by 32-feet, with a basement.
“Dad ran the new saloon until 1940, when he ran into some medical problems. Then, the saloon was rented out until about 1946, when one of the renters, Chet Ortloff, decided he wanted to buy the saloon,” Mlynar said.
Ortloff, who was from New Germany, decided that he wanted a larger tavern so the tavern built by Mylnar’s father was moved to Lester Prairie.
To replace the tavern, Ortloff bought the home of Reinhold Quast and moved the house to West Winsted in almost the exact location of where the creamery had been years before.
A restaurant was added to the tavern in 1947. Ortloff even had live bears close by to bring in curious customers.
For many years, the West Winsted tavern was a popular place after 1 a.m. when the dance halls would close because Ortloff’s tavern and restaurant remained open until 3 a.m. serving chicken for the hungry dancers.
Ortloff sold the tavern and restaurant in 1960 to Sigwold and Mary Quernemoen, parents of Sue Kegler of Winsted.
The lower level of the building was renovated and it remained a bar and restaurant until 1965 when it closed.
“When they closed the tavern, that was the end of West Winsted. After that it became residential,” Mlynar said.
The buttermaker’s home remained in the Mlynar family until 1967, when it was sold to its current owners, the late Eugene Fiecke and his wife, Leona.
Grain Belt beer sign ends nostalgic journey
The end of the journey through West Winsted history came a few weeks ago when Mlynar was given a tour of Duane and Diane Odenbretts’ home in Lester Prairie. Mynar believes their home was once his father’s tavern moved to Lester Prairie in 1947.
When the Odenbretts received a phone call telling them their home had been a West Winsted Tavern at one time, they were surprised, but open to the idea of Mlynar coming over to get a better look at the inside of their home.
They had completely remodeled the older portion of the house and added a new addition, making it twice the original size.
Mlynar was still positive it had been his father’s tavern. He paced off the length of the house, showed everyone where the bar ran along the middle of the tavern, where the walk-in cooler was in the basement, and the back door where he hauled out the slot machines when the “feds were coming.”
To confirm Mlynar’s suspicions that the house was once a tavern, the Odenbretts showed him a large Grain Belt beer sign they had found in the walls of their home when they remodeled it in 1994.
The sign is a definite antique, as Mlynar estimates it hung in the tavern around 1944.
West Winsted creamery history
According to the Lester Prairie Centennial book, the West Winsted creamery was built in 1895, by Eric Anderson, a young Scandinavian buttermaker who had built a creamery in Lester Prairie in 1892.
As his business grew, he employed additional men to help. Eventually he built a station in Winsted Township, where milk was taken in and hauled to the Lester Prairie creamery.
Later, he purchased the Bergen Township Creamery from the Farmer’s Cooperative Company and the milk from this station was also brought to the Lester Prairie creamery.
In May 1908, Eric Anderson sold the creamery to the Minneapolis Milk Company.
The Minneapolis Milk Company took possession of the Lester Prairie creamery, the Bergen Creamery, and the Winsted Township plant in May of 1908.
Anyone with further information about West Winsted may call Ed Mlynar at (320) 395-2258.