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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 9/12/2021
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

It was 175 years ago when Moses Decker and two of his sons arrived in what we now call Viroqua. First called Deckerville, then Farwell, it was officially named Viroqua in May, 1854. Among the first families to settle in Viroqua was the Terhune family.

This account of their travels was published in the Viroqua Republican on August 23, 1905. In the summer of 1851, William F. Terhune, age 30 and his wife Margaret, age 31, left their home in New York to make a new home in Fort Snelling, MN. Their boat trip west on the Ohio River culminated in Quincy, IL and it was pure fate that they arrived there alive. A cholera outbreak on the boat took many lives. The next leg of their trip took them up the Mississippi on a different boat which most likely would have taken them all the way to Fort Snelling. However, in August, 1851, the boat made a stop at Stevens Landing (now Victory), Bad Axe county (now Vernon), for the purpose of taking on wood and freight. The passengers were enamored with the beauty of the landscape and left the boat to view the bluffs and enchanting scenery. Ira Stevens, the first white man to settle in Victory in 1849, greeted the travelers. His captivating description of the area persuaded the Terhunes to locate here instead of Minnesota. After staying with Stevens for two days, they traveled by wagon and oxen, escorted by Moses Decker’s son Solomon to their new home. Their final stop was no doubt due to the fact that Ira Stevens was married to the daughter of Moses and Elizabeth Decker, Eliza, in 1848.

On entering their new home they saw a “picturesque woodland, with here and there a natural opening wherein a giant oak reared itself skyward. Hazel brush lined Main street and the roadways leading into town. On the space of ground where now stands Rogers and Williams store (N. Main and W. Decker), stood the first building in the place, around which was a grove of native trees. The home of Orin Wisel, on the corner north, was the next building and two more buildings comprised the principal structures of the village, which were the abodes of Moses Decker and Rufus Dunlap.”

Mrs. Terhune described her first impression of Farwell this way, “On entering the Decker home, I saw an old-fashioned fire place ornamented with the most beautiful wildflowers. A ladder answered for a stairway to the room above. Two beds were in the first room and a dining table and slab benches comprised nearly all of the furniture. The next morning, on going out, the scene was of solitude and a dreary silence seemed to make the surroundings lonesome in the extreme. The same morning Mr. Terhune and I walked out on the prairie north of the place, which looked most beautiful in the sunlight. The wild grass was very high and waved like the waves of a sea whenever there was a breeze. Flowers were scattered everywhere and nature seemed to have long been sleeping in these solitary surroundings.”

William Terhune was an attorney who was instrumental in the organization of the county government and held many county offices – court clerk, district attorney, judge, register of deeds and chairman of the county board. Margaret became the first teacher in Viroqua. At the request of Jeremiah Rusk, it was William who suggested a new, more pleasant name for Bad Axe County. The name Vernon, was chosen in 1862. The Terhunes had nine children, 7 of which grew to adulthood. Unfortunately, there are no descendants of William and Margaret Terhune in Vernon County as they all moved to other states. However, we can be sure that William F. and Margaret Terhune helped to make Vernon County what it is today.

We have rescheduled our annual Pork Chop Dinner for Saturday, September 25 at the Vernon County Museum. It will be held from 4 – 7 or until gone. The cost is $10.00 per person and will be a strictly drive-through event this year. Enter the museum parking lot off E. South Street and we will serve you as you wait in your vehicle. You may then exit through the driveway on the south side of the parking lot. Feel free to park in the space normally reserved for clinic and hospital visitors. The same menu will be featured with Maynard Cox grilling the pork chops. Hope to see you there!


William F. Terhune
William F. Terhune arrived in Viroqua in August, 1851 and was instrumental in forming the county government.


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For the week of 9/5/2021
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

Moses Decker and two of his sons, Solomon and Reasoner, were the first men to settle the village of Deckerville, now known as Viroqua, in 1846. The family of Rufus and Martha (Hillyer) Dunlap were the second to arrive in August, 1849. Along with their personal belongings, they brought along with them a stock of goods to sell. Rufus, Martha and their young family travelled from Ohio to Racine, Wisconsin in 1840. He later maintained property in Oshkosh while living in Waupun where he was a tavern keeper. Before arriving in Viroqua, the family lived in Verona, Dane County for 3 years. Their children which now numbered eight, from age 1 to 16, were the only children in the new settlement of Deckerville except for Reasoner Decker, age 16. The Dunlaps had a total of 11 children, 3 born after their arrival to Viroqua.

In 1850, Dunlap purchased two acres of land, which is now the corner of E. Decker and S. Main. This is the current location of Viroqua City Hall. On this property he erected a log building in which he operated the first hotel and the first store until his death. He kept a stock of dry goods, groceries and household goods. In November, 1851, Dunlap was admitted to the bar but never practiced law. Sadly, Dunlap passed away on April 20, 1855 at the age of 41.

After the hotel was deconstructed for use in the construction of a barn, the Dunlap’s oldest son, Daniel Hillyer “Hillyer” and his mother Martha erected a new building, two stories high, to be used as a hotel. Later Hillyer’s brother Warren owned the hotel and was succeeded by Charles Skippens, who, coincidentally married Martha Dunlap in 1859. There were various owners of the hotel until the hotel was destroyed by fire in 1909.

Of all the Dunlap children, only Warren remained in Viroqua. In addition to being a hotel keeper and merchant, Warren ran a stage line with a herd of 50 horses. He drove a daily stage from Viroqua to Sparta and carried mail from Viroqua and La Crosse as a young man. Warren also served as constable, deputy sheriff and coroner. In 1856, he married Martha Owen, who was born in New York and settled in Viroqua with her parents Milton and Betsy Owen in 1854. The Dunlaps had seven children, Carson, Elmer, Stella, Blanche, Bernice, Bert and Cora. Cora died in 1859 as an infant and is buried in Viroqua’s Pioneer Cemetery. Their remaining children all lived elsewhere and only daughter Blanche, who married Sam Gore was buried locally, in the Viola Cemetery.

After Martha’s death in 1901, Warren married Mrs. Florence Chapman on October 1, 1905. She was the daughter of Andrew and Mary Niles and widow of Richard A. Chapman. Warren passed away in 1916 while Florence passed away in 1961. All are buried in the Viroqua Cemetery. Dunlap Street is the last connection to this pioneer family.

As summer winds down and it is cooler outside, it is a great time to visit the Vernon County Museum to see the exhibits before winter sets in. The temperature on our upper floors is comfortable and there is a lot to see! If you are interested in local history, the museum is the place to be! We are currently open from Monday through Friday from noon – four or by appointment. If you have a group that would like a tour, just let us know. You may contact us by email at museum@vernoncountyhistory.org or by phone at 608-637-7396.


Warren Dunlop

Warren Dunlap came to Viroqua at age 13 with his parents, Rufus and Martha Dunlap.


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The previous two articles:

August 29, 2021

August 22, 2021