Walk Back in Time at the Winchester Store Museum

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A hidden gem awaits guests, showcasing a slice of history that once existed in downtown Spirit Lake. Tucked away amongst the trees, a complete rendition of a 1928 Winchester Store is preserved in David and Jane Kruse’s personal collection and can be viewed via private tour.

David and Jane have spent four decades collecting and recreating the Hill and Sperbeck Winchester Hardware Store, as it once existed in 1928 in Spirit Lake. Winchester Stores were an early attempt at national supply chain retail merchandise sales management in the 1920s and early 1930s, before the Great Depression caused the company to declare bankruptcy.

There were approximately 6,400 Winchester Stores in the supply chain, with one located in Spirit Lake. David discovered another was open in Lake Park, with other locations in Algona and farther south.

“Winchester Stores were a part of such a brief period of history; they were so unique and quite phenomenal for the time frame they existed,” David shared. “Winchester Stores were ahead of their time in retail management organization but were also at the high end of the retail pricing spectrum during a time when consumer disposable income suddenly contracted. This caused them to disappear from the scene.”

He said via old Beacon newspapers, maps and a visit with Mary Kennedy, he discovered Hill and Sperbeck opened the Winchester Hardware Store at 104 South Hill Avenue in 1925. With the help of local muralist Jack Rees, the front of their Winchester Store Museum showcases magnificent artwork depicting a 1928 downtown Spirit Lake scene.

Guests entering the museum walk through the entrance and instantly go back into time. The space has been designed to perfectly match a 1928 Winchester Store, filled with highly collectible Winchester Store items ranging from the traditional guns and ammunition but also merchandise like paint, tools, household items and appliances, sporting goods, fishing and camping gear, flashlights, locks and other stock typically found at a hardware store.

David used a Winchester Methods of Store Arrangement from 1922 to stage the museum. The book provides ideas on how to set up displays and where to place the merchandise. For instance, the gun cabinet was built to match exact specifications, as well as the horseshoe display. Other inspiration from the era is showcased in the 1920 vintage light poles and the wall moldings.

The museum is filled with original items that are considered quite rare and have been verified by members of the Winchester Collector’s Association.

“When the group was here, one of the things they were amazed at was the lightning rod and bulb. They believe it is the only one still in existence,” David said.

He has a sophisticated fishing collection, three different types of bait, and original fly fishing equipment and tackle. The original 1928 Hill and Sperbeck store promotional calendar along with a fish ruler that has the Spirit Lake name on its label are both considered to be some of the few things remaining from the original Spirit Lake Winchester Store.

The bathroom is equipped with Winchester toiletries, including the sign that requests a five-cent charge for usage. They also sold manicure sets for the ladies who could afford them.

Considering Winchester designed and built guns, several gun collections are displayed, including an example of President Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Thunder.” David also showcases the model 1943 Winchester rifle which was sold to the public in four calibers. He was able to purchase a one-of-a-kind 1943 model, made in another caliber and was previously owned by a Winchester family member, at the Rock Island Auction. The rifle completed his 1943 rifle collection and is believed to be the only complete set known in existence.

The icon of David and Jane’s collection is an original canoe that was built in 1922 and is over 100-years-old. A picker in Minnesota knew David’s interest and was in a discussion with a gentleman from Wisconsin and found out he had a Winchester canoe. Initially, the man wasn’t interested in selling but his circumstances changed and liked that the canoe would be going into a museum.

“It was my last missing piece for the museum and is the only one known to exist in the country,” David said. “Definitely one of my favorite items in the museum.”

Winchester made equipment for every sport played at the time, as well as appliances like gas stoves, ice boxes, radios and irons.

Another prized possession of David’s is a signed Babe Ruth baseball that’s displayed in a gold Goodyear Tire presentation box. His grandfather Rene DeMars owned and operated the Standard service station in Royal in 1928. Goodyear Tire Company organized a tire sales contest between Goodyear tire dealers, where his grandfather went onto sell the most tires and win the prized ball.

Throughout the store, Winchester Advertising is displayed and is considered highly collective. Most notable are five original watercolors that were used as the artist proofs for Winchester’s print advertising and discovered at a gallery in California. Another section displays women in advertising, which was extremely rare at that time.

“The Winchester advertising that showcases the women are some of my favorites,” Jane shared.

Another favorite of Jane’s is the 1928 cash register that holds 1928 money, as well as the 1928 periodical rack filled with magazines.

“Everything has a story in the museum,” she added. “David’s occupation in commodities lends to his interest in history. The Winchester Store is a slice of history most people don’t even know about, and David loves to share about it.”

The Kruses have been told this museum is the only one of it’s kind in the United States and enjoy sharing their passion with visitors. Tours are by appointment only and they can be reached by visiting thewinchesterstore.com or emailing jankek@thewinchesterstore.com.

The museum is also a part of the Lakes Area Museum Alliance that is a collaboration of 13 area museums working to increase visibility and attendance at all the Dickinson County Museums. The Alliance’s desire is to ensure the sustainability of historical preservation that enhances Lakes Area tourism.