History of the Vernon County Normal School
The original Vernon County Training School started in 1907, with classes held on the top floor of the Viroqua High School. However, there is evidence that a "Normal Institute" began as early as 1878. The school grew out of a need for better prepared teachers for the rural schools of the county. In 1918-19 a new building was built at 410 S. Center Avenue in Viroqua. The school was designed by architects Parkinson and Dockendorff of La Crosse and cost $65,000.
At the time of construction, the school was considered to be the best-planned and best-built school in the state and was designed to stand the test of time. The foundation's deep and solid with 8-inch-thick walls. Hallway floors and stairs are made of terrazzo with wainscoting made of Tennessee marble. Maple floors are laid upon concrete. Steel supports and girders are coated with plaster of paris. Most of the red clay tile roof is original.
Total graduates over the years numbered nearly 2,000. A one-year program was in effect until 1937 when it was changed to a two-year course. Children in grades one to six attended the Laboratory (Model) school on the second floor where they were taught by teachers in training. (State law changed and this program was discontinued in 1965.) In 1955, the name of the school was changed to the Vernon County Teachers College. In 1972, those wanting a teachers' degree were required to attend school for 4 years. Because the school couldn't accommodate a four-year course, the decision was made to close it. The last class graduated in 1971. No permanent use was made of the building until 1989 when it was purchased by the Vernon County Historical Society to be used as a museum. It was purchased from Vernon Memorial Hospital for $50,000.
In 2004, Phase 1 of a remodeling project to provide handicapped-accessibility to the first floor began, with a new entrance at the back of the building and better parking facilities. A new, larger restroom, a conference room/kitchen, and new heating and air-conditioning were also added. Work began in late 2011 transforming the old boiler room into a new meeting room. This attractive space is now available for meetings and seminars and as an overflow space for researchers. Phase 3 of the remodeling project was to add an elevator for accessibility to our upper floors. This project was completed in October, 2016.
On November 19, 2010, the Vernon County Normal School Museum was placed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places. We are also pleased to have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 26, 2011.