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Weekly Column

Each week a small segment of Vernon County history is published in the county papers.


For the week of 10/18/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

We have country schools on the brain here at the Vernon County Museum, as we continue to compile information about and photos of all the old rural school buildings in the county. So far we have noted about 50 schools that are no longer standing. That means that all the buildings that these school districts occupied over the years are believed to be gone. A school district often began in a log schoolhouse in the mid 19th century, then moved into a new frame building in the late 19th century, and frequently ended in a brick school built in the early 20th century.

About 100 old rural schoolhouses are still in existence in Vernon County, even if they are no longer immediately recognizable as having once been schools. Many schools have been converted into private residences, some have been turned into farm buildings, and others have been repurposed in other ways.

We do have questions about a few more schools. Do you know if any of the following schoolhouses are still standing?:

O’Connell School, Town of Whitestown, which is said to have been used as a school by the Amish community beginning around 1966 – is it still in use today?

The old frame Ole Torger School, Town of Franklin (not the brick schoolhouse, which was torn down). This frame building is said to have been moved to the Solverson/Bekkedal farm about 100 years ago – is it still standing?

The old one-room frame Salem School, Town of Forest, built circa 1878 (not the newer schoolhouse, built around 1925). It was said to have been a granary in 1989 on the Gerald Johnson farm – is it still standing?

The old one-room frame Rockton School, Town of Whitestown, which was built in 1869 and replaced in 1885. This former schoolhouse was moved in 1885 and became the front part of the Marshall family’s house. In 1964, Emma Marshall was living in that same house – is it still standing?

The last brick Enterprise School, Town of Harmony. A brick school was built in 1937, struck by lightning and burnt down in 1946, and re-built in 1947. It was sold after the school closed in 1962 – is it still standing today?

In addition to multiple buildings, some schools also had more than one name, and we have a question about one of these: a 1915 image in our collection is labelled Middle Coon Valley School. Was this an earlier name for Linrud School, which is located just north of Middle Coon Valley Lutheran Church?

If you have answers to any of the above, please contact the museum by phone at 637-7396, or by email at museum@vernoncountyhistory.org.


Enterprise School

The final Enterprise Schoolhouse, built in 1947.


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For the week of 10/11/2020
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

This year we are celebrating the 150th birthday of the historic house at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, now called the “Sherry-Butt House” for the names of the two families that lived there. But the family members weren’t the only people who lived there – hired hands did as well, as census records show us. Last week we looked at two of the servants who lived and worked at the house in the year 1880. Today we’ll look at a farm hand, Proctor, and a maid, Alpharetta, who worked there in the year 1900.

Proctor Harris was born on August 19, 1875 in Viroqua to Benjamin Franklin Harris and Nancy (Palmer) Harris. His mother died in 1876. Proctor is next found on the 1900 census, age 25, as a farm laborer in the home of Cyrus and Margaret Butt. His father was living in Knox County, Nebraska at that time. Proctor soon joined him there and married Ella Mae Wettstadt in Bloomfield, Knox County, Nebraska, on April 28, 1904.

Ella had been born in Plymouth County, IA, and the 1910, 1930 and 1940 censuses show Proctor and Ella living in Plymouth, IA. Proctor was working as a farmer there. He died in Iowa on July 17, 1954, and is buried with his wife in Hillside Cemetery, Merrill, Plymouth County, IA.

Alpharetta R. Jennings was born in 1882 to Isaac N. and Margaret (Wallace) (Moore) Jennings. Isaac, Margaret and their four daughters lived in the town of Liberty. Margaret passed away in 1898 at the age of 38 and is buried in the Manning Cemetery located in the town of Kickapoo.

Alpharetta’s name is on two censuses for 1900. She was counted on the census on June 20, 1900, at age18, living with the Butt family, and she was also counted two days later, on the June 22, 1900 census, living with her father and three sisters in the town of Liberty. Her father’s brother John William and his three children lived near the Butt family in Viroqua in 1900. We can speculate that Alpharetta came to know about a servant position at the Butt home through her uncle.

On November 27, 1900 she married a Canadian, Frank Fitchett, in Vernon County. Frank, who came to the U.S. in 1898, was living as a boarder in the home of John H. Bennett and his wife Olga. John was a district attorney at the time and no doubt had dealings with Cyrus Butt, also an attorney. This is most likely how Frank and Alpharetta met. She must have left the Butt household when she married. The young couple had a daughter, Celia, who was born in Monroe County, WI in 1901.

Alpharetta’s father Isaac Jennings might have come to live with them, and he passed away in Sparta, Monroe County, in 1906. At some point, the Fitchetts moved to Canada. Four more children were born in Canada but sadly two of them passed away as infants. Frank Fitchett died September 17, 1917 in Calgary, Canada at age 47. Alpharetta Jennings Fitchett passed away in Calgary on February 16, 1923 at the age of 41. She is buried in Calgary, Canada along with her children Franklin and Margaret.


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The previous two articles:

October 4, 2020

September 27, 2020