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Photographic Collection


Clarence Dabelstein family (mother Flora, father Clarence, Ruth Dabelstein Christopherson, Clenton, Glenn, and Marie Dabelstein Ziebell) in yard at homesteaded farm in Pleasant Valley
Photograph taken at the Dabelstein family farm in Pleasant Valley

By the spring of 1900, the Association leadership had voted to document the presence, and the achievements, of all Old Settlers. At the suggestion of Harvey S. Terry, a secretary of the first Old Settler’s group, all members were urged to avail themselves of the latest advances in photography and sit for their portraits. Then they were asked to submit to the Association historian copies of these images, along with group pictures, autobiographies as well as unusual family memorabilia.

For the next sixty years, Winona County’s Old Settlers donated tintypes, calling cards and snapshots; they submitted pictures of their farms and houses; office interiors and street scenes. Persons engaged in a variety of professions, living and working in each corner of the county, photographed their lives. Their photographs, and written texts (obituaries, and articles related to Association activities), were organized into scrapbooks, obituary and memorial ledgers, minutes of meetings, and indexed photo albums.

These were proudly placed on display at each annual gathering. Important acquisitions were mentioned in the press coverage of the Association meetings: for example, in 1928, a small number of photographs of Winona’s Company K Civil War heroes, and members of the Turner Hose Company No 1; in 1929, pictures of selected members of the Western Farm and Village Association, and in 1931, additional photos of the area’s earliest school teachers, preachers, firemen and soldiers. By February 22, 1934, the photo collection included 1,003 pictures. Sometime later these were nailed to composite board, which were arranged for viewing at subsequent annual events.

For years, the photos, as well as three-dimensional items gifted to the Old Settlers (including a spinning wheel, grain flails and a Civil War cannon), were stored in seemingly secure places, including the Redman’s Wigwam in downtown Winona. When this building was destroyed by fire in August 1967, boxes of Old Settlers’ materials were consumed in the blaze. Fortunately several scrapbooks and a photo collection survived. The photos are housed today with the archives of the historic Pickwick Mill in Pickwick, Minnesota. Many of the scrapbook materials have been microfilmed and are available in the “Old Settlers’ Scrapbooks” at the Winona County Historical Society, 160 Johnson Street, downtown Winona.

TODAY the Winona County Old Settlers’ Association continues to follow the bylaws established more than a century ago. Membership requirements remain residence in Winona County for 31 years; the annual membership fee is $5.00. The Association continues to hold an annual meeting with featured speakers and entertainment each February. The Association‘s Board is comprised of members from each township of Winona County and the City of Winona. Association officers meet regularly to conduct business throughout the year. The current officers are: Bob Bambenek, president; Lester Unnasch, vice-president; Karen Haedtke, treasurer; Marjorie Vongroven, secretary; and Delores Ziebell, historian.

Over the years, changes in certain Association social customs have occurred; for example, today Association members do not always attend funerals of deceased members in a large body, compose memorials to appear in the local newspapers, and lay a wreath in the form of an “OS” on each Old Settler’s grave. However, the roster of deceased members still is read at annual meetings and a small memorial donation still is made by the Association to the family of the deceased. All members remain bonded through a shared history of at least three decades of life in Winona County, and their yearly gathering is an event attended by no less than 400 persons. The members’ annual meal (now called a dinner and not a “banquet”), with the related entertainment and a business meeting, occurs each year on the Saturday nearest Washington’s Birthday.