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History of the Vernon County Historical Society


In 1922, permission was granted to three individuals to display historic artifacts in the new Vernon County Normal School. The hope was to eventually have a permanent museum. John J. M. Dawson invited a small group to his insurance office in Viroqua in 1940 to organize what became the Vernon County Historical Society (VCHS). On January 29, 1941 he was elected president. Dawson passed away on February 16, 1942. He bequeathed his stately home and adjoining property to the VCHS which was located where Vernon Memorial Hospital currently sits. Hope Nuzum became instrumental in the development of the society and led the meetings held in the Dawson home. Museum artifacts were moved to the Dawson home.

Community interest did not develop and unfortunately the home was destroyed in the late 1940's to make way for the new hospital. A room in the hospital was designated as a museum however space was soon needed for hospital expansion. Artifacts were stored in various places, including member's homes. (Some were never returned.)

It was clear that a location was needed to display and store VCHS artifacts so in 1955 the County Board approved the use of two rooms in the Vernon County Courthouse for display. Membership dwindled and after 1957, the VCHS ceased to function. It was at this time the County Board appointed an Executive Board to take charge of the Museum. In 1959 the County Board hired Connie Stephen as the Museum's first part-time paid curator.

A new St. Mary's Catholic Church in Viroqua was built and the newly vacated St. Mary's Church at 600 West Broadway was purchased by the County in 1961. It was to be used as the site for the Vernon County Museum. Mrs. Stephen moved from the area and Rhoda White was hired as the next curator.

In 1963, the County moved the Foreaker school from the town of Liberty to a site next to the old St. Mary's church in order to preserve the heritage of the area's historic one-room schools.

By 1964, interest in the Museums increased and the VCHS was reorganized to assist in the operation of the Vernon County Museum. Curator Rhoda White resigned in 1966 and Lydia Hanson was hired. Mrs. Hanson served until 1972 when Mrs. Stephen returned to Viroqua and was rehired. She remained curator until 1987 and Judy Gates was hired as her replacement.
As the amount of artifacts grew, the old St. Mary's Church Museum became over-crowded. In 1982, Regina Lindemann, a former Viroqua resident, bequeathed a large sum of money to the Society which allowed the purchase of the Sherry Butt House in 1988. It was soon realized that the home would not suffice as a Museum but it was eventually restored to reflect the lifestyle of the owners, the Butt and Sherry families and it was opened to the public for tours.

Lindemann's bequest also made it possible for the Society to purchase the Normal school building from Vernon Memorial Hospital in 1989 for $50,000.

VCHS membership and the amount of artifacts grew. The move from the Church Museum to the Normal School building was completed and it opened in 1990. Space was created for genealogy and Vernon County research and for exhibits depicting the heritage of Vernon County and its people.

Due to the dedication of the Executive Board, staff and many valued volunteers, the VCHS won the Reuben Gold Thwaite Award in 1993 as the most outstanding society in the State of Wisconsin.

In 2000, Judy Mathison, formerly assistant curator, became the 5th part-time curator, while Carol Krogan was hired as assistant curator. Mrs. Mathison retired at the end of 2009. Kristen Parrott was chosen to replace her and is the current curator.

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