The name of the county is said to derive from a Dakota legend regarding a woman, referred to as Winona, who was betrothed to marry a warrior whom she did not love. Rather than marry him, she is said to have leapt to her death from a rock now called "Maiden's Rock" on Lake Pepin. This legend is colloquially referred to as the Winona legend.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 642 square miles (1,660 km2), of which 626 square miles (1,620 km2) is land and 15 square miles (39 km2) (2.4%) is water.Airport Lake - Winona
Bartlet Lake - Winona
Bollers Lake - Goodview
Hunters Lake - Winona
Lake Goodview - Goodview
Lake Winona - Winona
Rileys Lake - vast majority in Winona, west edge in Goodview
Mississippi River - forms county's eastern border with Wisconsin
Whitewater River - flows northeast from the western side of the county
U.S. Highway 14
U.S. Highway 61
Minnesota State Highway 43
Minnesota State Highway 74
Minnesota State Highway 76
Minnesota State Highway 248
Winona Municipal Airport - Max Conrad Field
Wabasha County (northwest)
Buffalo County, Wisconsin (north)
Trempealeau County, Wisconsin (northeast)
La Crosse County, Wisconsin (east)
Houston County (south)
Fillmore County (southwest)
Olmsted County (west)
Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge (part)
As of the census of 2000, there were 49,985 people, 18,744 households, and 11,696 families residing in the county. The population density was 80 people per square mile (31/km²). There were 19,551 housing units at an average density of 31 per square mile (12/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 95.80% White, 0.77% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 1.87% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.53% from other races, and 0.81% from two or more races. 1.37% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 41.8% were of German, 13.9% Norwegian, 9.9% Polish and 7.4% Irish ancestry.
There were 18,744 households out of which 30.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.30% were married couples living together, 7.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.60% were non-families. 28.20% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.50% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the county, the population was spread out with 22.80% under the age of 18, 18.60% from 18 to 24, 25.10% from 25 to 44, 20.50% from 45 to 64, and 13.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females there were 95.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.80 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $38,700, and the median income for a family was $49,845. Males had a median income of $31,926 versus $23,406 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,077. About 5.60% of families and 12.00% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.80% of those under age 18 and 9.30% of those age 65 or over.
In 2016, Winona county planning commissioners voted to approve new permits for existing commercial dog breeding operations, also known as "puppy mills", despite overwhelming evidence of animal cruelty and neglect. Due to the high number of kennels in the county, Winona county has earned the dubious title "Puppy Mill Capital of Minnesota".
The United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has designated Winona County as the Winona, MN Micropolitan Statistical Area (µSA). The OMB designated Winona, Minnesota as the principal city of the µSA. The United States Census Bureau ranked the µSA as the 582nd most populous Core Based Statistical Area of the United States as of July 1, 2012.
Winona County is represented in the Minnesota House of Representatives by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R), and Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL). Winona County is represented in the Minnesota Senate by Sen. Matt Schmit (DFL) and Sen. Jeremy Miller (R). Winona County is located in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, represented by Rep. Tim Walz (DFL).Homer