By Ana Alexander
WINSTED, MN Nestled in the middle of a block on Main Avenue in Winsted stands a large white house with green shutters and a flag waving from the lawn the Weinbeck family home, built in 1861.
Throughout its long life, the Weinbeck home has been a place for people to rent rooms, a family home, and even a mortuary. But during those times, it has always been one thing a welcoming place for the community.
While the house has recently been sold, new owners Karissa and Zachary Godel have plans to keep it a center for the Winsted community.
Karissa and her husband came up with the idea of turning the house into a community center before they discovered the history of the house.
“We got to learn some of the history of the place, and that really got us excited, that it’s always been a place for the community that being what we wanted, a place for the community. The house has always been that for over 100 years, so its reputation precedes us,” Karissa said.
The house requires a lot of work before the center can be opened, and the couple expects at least one to two years of renovations.
According to Julie Weinbeck-Baruch, who grew up in the house with her parents, Ben and Irene Weinbeck, selling the family home was difficult, but they are excited to see what the Godels will do with it.
“Karissa and Zachary, who bought it, they just had this instant connection with it, and they weren’t scared of anything,” Weinbeck-Baruch said. “I could tell the minute I met them they were the right people for the house.”
At the time, the Weinbeck family had three different offers on the house, but in the end, they decided to sell it to the Godels.
“They wrote this really nice, really great letter, so we were like, ‘We’re going with them!’ It was so personal and heartfelt, and we knew they were going to keep it somewhat in the Weinbeck spirit. My dad put so much time and energy into that house,” Weinbeck-Baruch said.
The home was built by Weinbeck-Baruch’s great-grandfather, Henry Weinbeck, and his son, Henry Jr., after they moved to Winsted to open their furniture store. The business turned into Weinbeck Furniture and Undertaking, as Henry began making coffins in addition to the other pieces of furniture he built. Portions of the house served as a mortuary until 1953. Ben Weinbeck, a former mayor of Winsted, added on to the home in 1971.
Weinbeck-Baruch recalled memories of living in the home, with its concord grape hedges, large apple trees, giant rhubarb patch and expansive lawn, where community members would gather to watch parades and Millerbernd employees would eat their lunches at noon.
“It’s very small-town Americana, thinking about all of that,” Weinbeck-Baruch said.
Her father, Ben Weinbeck, made sure his house was welcoming a “safe zone,” as Weinbeck-Baruch put it.
“Kids who sometimes got in trouble at their house, and were told they couldn’t stay there that night, would come to our door, [needing a place to stay] and my dad always said yes, always, always,” Weinbeck-Baruch said.
In addition to ensuring the family’s home was a welcoming place, Weinbeck also opened Benny’s Kool-It shop next door, and a movie theatre across the street from the home.
“His idea was more to give people a place to go, something to do,” Weinbeck-Baruch said. “He did it just because that’s what he believed in. He didn’t do it to make a buck, he didn’t do it to get his name in lights, he just did it because that’s what he believed in.”
Generations to come
The Godels would like to instill the same sense of community into the home, and donations for renovations are being sought through a Go Fund Me web page.
“We want the community to feel welcome in this place for generations to come, as so many current Winsted residents have felt for years as they have grown up in this neighborhood,” Godel said. “Most importantly, it is our desire to offer hospitality like Irene Weinbeck did for decades, that is warm, comforting, and encouraging in faith and love for God.”
Weinbeck-Baruch and her family were happy to hear the couple’s plans, and think Ben would have felt the same way.
“He would be so proud,” Weinbeck-Baruch said.