Volunteer group seeks to restore historic hotel in Northwood

Published 7:10 pm Monday, February 26, 2024

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NORTHWOOD — An effort to restore the historic Hotel Winifred in Northwood is ongoing — a project one board member says she thinks is important to help the community continue to be vibrant.

Named after proprietor William. H. Larson’s daughter, Velma Winifred Larson, the Hotel Winifred was opened in April 1913.

Board member Mary Ryerson-Low said when the hotel was first built, all of the downtown businesses put money into it.

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“If you didn’t have a hotel, you weren’t going to keep the travelers,” Ryerson-Low said. “It meant the growth and life of your community, and I believe that’s still true today.”

She said from what she can tell, the hotel, at 98 Eight St. S., is possibly the longest-running hotel in the state. In the beginning it was often used by traveling salesmen. In the 1960s and 1970s, she said it became more of a boarding house where people could rent rooms, but there were also regular customers as well.

In 2015, Arlys Reeder, the owner at that time, was still using the original boiler. When the plumber came in to start it that fall, something broke on the equipment.

Rather than see the building close, Ryerson-Low said there was a group of people at that time who really believed in keeping the hotel for the town. Reeder had been trying to sell the building for a few years prior to that, so Ryerson-Low talked with some friends and others who were interested, and they formed a group called Waking Miss Winifred and made Reeder an offer.

“I just have always liked the building,” Ryerson-Low said of why she wanted to get involved. “I used to live — we could see it from our backyard, and I always thought it was a beautiful building. I love history, and I would love to see it preserved for our community.”

Reeder gave the group four months to raise the $60,000, and after hosting a fundraiser, sending out an alumni mailing and getting a $20,000 loan from the city, they were able to raise all of the money.

“It was amazing in that four months,” Ryerson-Low said. “We started out not having a clue where we were going to come up with it, but we were able to do that.”

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

She said since they bought the building, there have been many roadblocks. At first, they struggled with getting their 501(c)(3) determination because in the end the hotel would be functioning as a for-profit entity when it was completed.

By that time, two years had passed, and they decided to approach the historical society, which embraced the group right away. They have since been able to function as a subsidiary under their nonprofit status. Waking Miss Winifred has its own board of directors.

Since that was established, Ryerson-Low said they have raised probably about $350,000, and work has been completed to seal the exterior of the building.

A new roof has been put on, tuck-pointing is done and new storm windows installed. Interior demolition work has been completed inside, and eventually they plan to do all new plumbing and wiring.

They wouldn’t have been able to achieve all that they have thus far without the contributions of the Worth County Development Authority, she said.

The group is working with architect Bergland & Cram out of Mason City on plans for the building. While originally there were 10 guest rooms each on the second and third floor, once they expand the rooms and add bathrooms for each room, that will probably be closer to eight to 10 rooms overall.

She said the group is hopeful that families coming to town for weddings at The Timbers Event Center or the casino will utilize the space.

“If we can keep those people that are coming here to the Timbers and they stay in Northwood, then we have business for the brewery, we have business for John, we have business for our restaurants in town,” she said. “Getting people to stay in your community supports your community. I want to see this town be successful and continue to have businesses on Main Street, be a viable community and not close down or something.”

She said the next few months are critical with putting all of the plans together and then being able to move forward with construction.

While she hopes the hotel can open in the next three to four years, that will depend on the cost estimates, the plans and where they will get the money for all of the improvements.

She thanked all those who have contributed thus far to the effort and said there will be opportunities for more board members in the future.