As with many of the Midwest cities that sprung up in the late 19th century, Winona saw a massive influx of immigrants, a good deal of them from North Central Poland, the part of Poland where Kashubian Poles live. The entire East end of Winona was populated with Polish families, evidenced to this day by the location of the massive Basilica of St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church.
They worked in the lumber mills to start, but when the bluffs had yielded all the trees that grew there, the mills closed and many Poles moved on to Wisconsin or even further west into the Dakotas and Montana. Still, many stayed and started assimilating into society as construction workers, city employees, fire department, and even shop keepers and teachers. The late 20th century saw Winonans making efforts to preserve the polish influence on the city. It was estimated that by now as many as half of the population had some degree of polish blood running through it. The Polish Cultural Heritage Institute and Museum was started.
Soon came the establishment of a Winona Sister city relationship with Bytów Poland. Bëtowò in Kashubian and Bütow in German is a town of roughly 20,000 inhabitants in the Pomorze province of Poland. The town of Bytów is also the administrative center of Gmina Bytów, a municipal region of roughly 26,000 inhabitants, and of Powiat Bytowski, a county of roughly 76,000 inhabitants.
During the period of Kashubian emigration (1850-1900), many of Winona’s Kashubian Polish immigrants came from Bytów and the villages of what is now the Powiat Bytowski (or Bytów County). To this day, familiar Winona surnames can also be found throughout the Bytów region.
I write all this because this weekend, The Polish Cultural Institute presents a traditional Polish festival diner celebrating the 223nd anniversary of Poland’s Constitution. There will be musical entertainment and a presentation of the Hall of Fame recipient.
Its heritage is just another one of the unique aspects of SE Minnesota that make it such a great place to live and do business.
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