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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 2/23/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

How did the Temple Theatre get its name? What is the connection between the Temple Theatre and the Masons? Who are the Masons? What is a Masonic Temple? These are some of the questions that will be answered at our next free public program. The program will be held on Tuesday, March 3, at 7PM, at the Viroqua Masonic Lodge, located above the Temple Theatre on Main Street. Note this change of venue from our usual location at the museum.

Chet Melcher, a Viroqua Mason, will begin the evening by giving a talk on the history of the Masons and the Masonic Lodge in Viroqua. This will be followed by a tour of the Lodge rooms, with their ornately-painted walls and century-old furnishings.

Masons, or “Freemasons”, are a fraternal organization, and local groups are called “lodges”. The Viroqua Masons are named the La Belle Lodge. This Lodge was chartered in 1857, and Wisconsin Governor Jeremiah Rusk (1830-1893) was one of its most famous members.

The Viroqua Masons have met in several downtown locations over the years. Their previous Masonic Temple burned down 100 years ago, in February of 1920. That building had housed several stores, including a hardware store, a shoe store, and a hat store, in addition to the Masonic Lodge rooms. Viroqua’s current Masonic Temple was built in 1921-2 on the same site on Main Street as the previous Temple.

The Order of the Eastern Star (O.E.S.), the women’s branch of the Masons, also meets at the Masonic Temple. Viroqua’s O.E.S. was first organized in 1892.

Masonic lodges were once found around Vernon County. Rockton had a lodge, and so did La Farge. The La Farge Masonic Temple building still stands and is now used as a community center.

Join us on March 3 to learn more about the history of the Viroqua Masons and their landmark building. While the entrance for the Viroqua Masonic Lodge is in plain sight, it is still easy to miss. The door is located on the far left side of the Temple building, between the Tangled Hickory wine bar and the Second Time Around clothing store. The lodge rooms are upstairs; if you have trouble climbing stairs, there is a chair lift that runs along a rail at the side of the stairway.

Everyone is welcome to attend this program. Refreshments will be served afterward.

Masonic Temple
Viroqua’s Masonic Temple building, home of the Temple Theatre, shortly after it was completed in 1922


For the week of 2/16/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

This year, 2020, we will mark the 150th birthday of the Sherry-Butt House, located at 795 North Main Street in Viroqua. The house is owned by the Vernon County Historical Society and operated as a historic house museum. It is named for its two previous owners, the Butt family and the Sherry family, and tours of the house focus on their lives and remaining belongings.

Lawyer and Civil War colonel Cyrus Marion Butt had the house built in 1870 for his growing family. An article in the Vernon County Censor of May 11, 1870, reads, “Col. Butt has begun the erection of his proposed dwelling house. It will be located on the fine building spot just north of the village, on the right hand side of the road.”

And two months later, on July 20, the newspaper remarked that, “Col. Butt’s new residence is progressing. It is situated on the beautiful rising ground just north of the village, and shows off to good advantage. It will be a large, roomy house.” Note that Viroqua was still called a village in 1870; it officially became a city in 1885.

When the house was first built, the Butt family consisted of Cyrus, his wife Margaret, their toddler daughter Esther, and their newborn son William. Three more children were born once the family had moved into the big white house on Main Street: Jane, Cyrus Jr., and Beth. Cyrus and Margaret lived in the house until their deaths, and then daughter Jane inherited it.

Orbec and Hilda Sherry purchased the home in 1947 from Jane Butt. The Sherrys married in 1922, and then lived and farmed south of Viroqua, on Belgium Ridge, where they raised their two children, Mary and Orbec Jr. Two years after Orbec and Hilda moved into town to settle into what was still called “Col. Butt’s residence”, their daughter Mary held her wedding at the house. The Vernon County Historical Society bought the house shortly after Orbec died in 1988.

To help celebrate the house’s 150th, we’d like to tell some of the lesser-known stories about the people who have lived there. We plan to cover all of the Butt family members and all of the Sherry family members, plus the maids and farmhands and maybe even the renters who once lived in the house. Some of the house’s past residents have been thoroughly researched and discussed in recent years, but this is an opportunity to talk about the other residents of the house as well.

Watch this space for further details of how the Sherry-Butt House’s birthday will be celebrated this year!

SB postcard
This postcard of what is today called “the Sherry-Butt House” is dated 1926. The woman standing just behind the fence is probably one of the Butt family’s daughters.


The previous two articles:

February 9, 2020

February 2, 2020