Poles in Winona

Polish Homes in Winona

Many Polish immigrants in Winona brought enough money with them so that they were able to purchase a half or whole lot in what is now the Fourth Ward of the city (also known as the “east end”). A smaller number of Poles bought property in the First Ward (also known as the “west end”). Winona’s Polish neighborhoods were noted for their neatness, stability, and efficient use of space.

They and their neighbors or relatives built the dwellings, often using scrap wood from the lumber yards. They usually started in the middle of the lot with a one room building and then in later years they added additional rooms at the front, leaving the largest possible back yard for their gardens and raising chickens and pigs.

The final room, usually built a few years after the original, was the front parlor. It was traditional with these Polish families that they have a good front parlor. The parlor was “off limits” most of the time for their large families. It contained the best furnishings and was used only on Sundays and special occasions. When a member of the family died, funeral arrangements were always made for the body to lie in state in the front parlor.

Typical Polish homes in Winona, built in the late 1800s – how they look today.

Polish Workers in Winona

While many Poles who immigrated to Minnesota dreamed of owning land and working as farmers, they needed the money to accomplish that. While Winona was a rapidly expanding city, Poles did not speak English when they first arrived and had no skills beyond farming. Due to industrial growth, work opportunities surfaced and many of them found manual labor jobs in the city, often within walking distance from home. Some eventually made money to purchase farms, others ended up staying in the city for the rest of their lives. Many women worked in candy and cigar factories, others took in washing to increase family income.

Flour Mills

Flour Mills were plentiful in the mid-to-late 1800s in Winona. At its peak, there were 13 flour mills, due to the high quality wheat grown in the area. Many of the smaller mills could not compete with the larger ones and closed. Bay State Milling Company was the largest that survived.

Lumber Mills

Many of the early Polish immigrants who settled in the city of Winona worked at the lumber mills during the part of each year that the mills were in operation. When the mills were not operating, the people did farm work, construction work or whatever else they could find to earn money. 

The first saw mill in Winona opened at the end of 1855, and two more were in operation by 1857. At the turn of the century, there were five sawmills in Winona: Empire, Laird-Norton, Winona Lumber Company, Youmans, and Schroth and Ahrens. At that time, at least half of the employees in the lumber mills were Polish.


Later on, many of the Polish immigrants were employed by the railroad. Jobs with the railroad began in the 1870’s and became more extensive later when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad established an equipment building and maintenance shop in Winona.

Meat-Packing Plant

On the East End of Winona, Interstate Packing Company was established in the early 1900s and was an employer of Poles. It became Swift Meat-Packing in 1928 until closing in 1965.

Secondary Polish Settlements

A number of Kashubians who originally settled in Winona moved to other locations between the 1870’s and 1916, most often for the opportunity to buy affordable land. Locations included:

  • Greenbush, Perham and Browerville, in Minnesota
  • Minto, Warsaw, Jamestown, Scranton, and Beach, in North Dakota
  • Wibaux, St. Philip, and Hogeland, in Montana
  • Grenville, South Dakota

When the farming hit low time in the 1920’s and 1930’s, there were some re-migrations back to the east to Detroit, Minneapolis, and even back to Winona.