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KARE in the Air: Winona on the Mississippi

Winona sits on the Mississippi River in the heart of bluff country. One, a 575-foot overlook in Garvin Heights Park, provides a view that stretches 20 to 30 miles.

WINONA, Minn. — We continue our tour of Minnesota's river communities with a drone's eye look at Winona. 

Kare in the Air takes us two hours south of the Twin Cities to a historic town nearly surrounded by water.

According to the state tourism wing, Explore Minnesota, because the Mississippi delivered great wealth to the area during the time Winona was settled you'll see some unusually lavish buildings. Among them is the community's elaborate basilica, dedicated on Thanksgiving day, 1895.

Many of those buildings even have stained glass windows made by Tiffany, leading some to dub Winona the 'stained glass capital of the United States.

Winona sits on the Mississippi River in the heart of bluff country, with some overlooks as high as 575 feet above the river. One, the Garvin Heights Overlook, is said to provide a view that stretches 20 to 30 miles up and down the river valley.  

There is also a unique community of boat houses (not houseboats), structures literally built on barrels or pontoons that float up and down with the level of the mighty Mississippi. 

Homegrown author Shawn McGuire (Sticks and Stones, Break My Bones) shares these fun facts about the place she grew up: 

  • Winona was founded in 1851 by a steamboat captain.
  • The city is built on a sand bar of the Mississippi River.
  • The name, Winona, comes from a Dakota word – We-no-nah – meaning “first-born daughter.”
  • Winona was the third largest city in Minnesota until the late 1880s and is currently 34th with a population of approximately 27,500.
  • J.R. Watkins Incorporated – a popular natural apothecary manufacturer of personal care, home care, remedies and gourmet extracts and spices – is based in Winona.
  • The site of the first normal school (a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers) west of the Mississippi in 1858 is now known as Winona State University.
  • Winona is the site of the Great River Shakespeare Festival every June and July.
  • Winona’s iconic Sugar Loaf rock formation was created when the mining of the bluff for limestone ceased in the 1880s.
  • Actress Winona Ryder was born nearby and her parents named her after the town.