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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 7/25/2021
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The former Hillsboro Condensed Milk Company building (which now houses the Hillsboro Brewing Company) at 206 East Madison St. in Hillsboro has just been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was placed on the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places last winter.

The 28,000-square-foot factory was built in 1914-1915 and produced condensed milk for about 40 years. It then had a number of other uses before being transformed into the current brewery and restaurant. The building’s connection to our state’s dairy industry, and its distinctive industrial architecture, helped it to be chosen for these honors.

The Vernon County Historical Society has a busy schedule for the month of August. We’ll start by holding a cook-out at Nelson’s Agri-Center in Viroqua on Saturday, August 7, from 10AM to 2PM. Come eat lunch for a good cause!

Then we plan to have a booth at Wild West Days in Viroqua on Saturday, August 21, from 9 to 5, and again on Sunday, August 22, from 10 to 4. Wild West Days is celebrating its 25th year.

Our booth will include an exhibit about the Black Hawk War of 1832, which came to its tragic end here in Vernon County. Because of the war, more Native people were pushed off their lands in this region and forced to go west, and more settlers moved in and built the lifestyle now re-created at Wild West Days. You can learn more about Black Hawk from our website.

The annual Pork Chop Dinner returns on Friday, August 27, on the lawn of the historic Sherry-Butt House at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua. The dinner runs from 4 to 7PM or until the food is gone. The menu will be pork chops, baked potatoes, baked beans, cole slaw, applesauce, rolls, and dessert, all for $10 each. Carryouts will be available.

August is the last month of regular Saturday hours at the museum for the year. Throughout August, the museum is open Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM, and Saturday, 10AM to 2PM. Be sure to take advantage of the Saturday hours, because come September they’ll only be available by appointment.


For the week of 7/18/2021
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Some people are really into trains. (Other people, well, really aren’t.) Here at the museum we have a lot of information about Vernon County’s railroads, including photos and maps, because of this great interest in the subject. We also have train-related objects, including a window from the Coon Valley depot of the La Crosse and Southeastern Railway, and a conductor’s hat, pictured here, from the Milwaukee Road line.

“Milwaukee Road” is a nickname for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad. It began as the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway in 1863, and arrived in Vernon County in 1880 via a spur line from Sparta. The spur line ran south through Newry and Westby and ended in Viroqua. Plans were made to extend it twelve miles to West Prairie, but the plans fell through.

Orange and black were the colors of the Milwaukee Road, and the trains and signs and other advertising were in those colors, including the insignia on the trainman’s hat pictured here. This hat was worn by Robert Roth, who was born in La Crosse in 1932. He worked as a brakeman and a conductor for the Milwaukee Road from 1951 to 1952, and again from 1954 to 1956. (He served in the Army from 1952 to 1954.) In 1956, he had a career change, and began working for the state highway patrol, and a few years later moved to Vernon County.

In addition to the Milwaukee Road, other railroads ran through Vernon County, including the Hillsboro and North Eastern, the previously-mentioned La Crosse and Southeastern, the Kickapoo Valley and Northern (a.k.a. the Stump Dodger), and the Burlington. Of these, the Burlington, which runs along the Mississippi River, is the only one still in operation.

The La Crosse and Southeastern ran the Coon Valley Route, which operated from La Crosse through Stoddard, Chaseburg, Coon Valley, and Westby to Viroqua from 1904 to 1933. Then the Milwaukee Road took over the line in 1933, and over the decades gradually shortened the line and removed tracks, until they abandoned the remaining section of the line, Westby to Viroqua, plus the rest of the spur from Sparta, in 1980.

The museum has a small exhibit about trains, and many documents, images, etc., in the archives. This trainman’s hat is actually not in the train exhibit but rather in the hat exhibit on 3rd floor. You are welcome to visit the museum to see all the train stuff during our regular summer hours of Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM, and Saturday, 10AM to 2PM, or by appointment.

Railroad Hat
Conductor’s hat from the Milwaukee Road line.


The previous two articles:

July 11, 2021

July 4, 2021