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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 2/25/2024
by Kristen Parrott, curator

In November of 1943, during some of the darkest days of World War II, a young American soldier found himself in serious trouble behind enemy lines. He was in a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber over Bremen, Germany, positioned at a gun in the tail of the aircraft, when the plane came under attack. The young soldier was wounded in the attack, and even worse the tail of the plane he was flying in was severed from the rest of the aircraft. He could not parachute to the ground because his parachute had also been damaged in the attack, so he stayed where he was inside the falling, spinning tail, expecting to die any minute.

But he didn’t die. After falling four miles out of the sky, the tail section landed in a clump of trees, cushioning the blow, and the soldier was ejected out onto the ground, injured but alive. Unfortunately, his troubles were just beginning. He was captured by the Nazis, and spent the rest of the war in Europe as a prisoner, suffering extreme hardship.

But he survived that too, and eventually returned home to – Crawford County. The young soldier was Gene Moran of the Soldiers Grove area, and if you’ve read the book Tailspin, then you know some of the story already. Come learn more on Tuesday, March 5, at 7PM at the Vernon County Museum and History Center, when author John Armbruster talks about his recently-published book Tailspin.

Armbruster is a Viroqua-area author. He earned degrees in journalism and education, and has taught history and government courses to middle and high school students. Tailspin has won several awards, and Armbruster has been a featured speaker around the Midwest since the book was published.

Local people remember Eugene Paul Moran, who worked as a mailman in rural Crawford County for many years. Born in 1924, he grew up on a small dairy farm south of Soldiers Grove. He joined the Army Air Force in 1942, as soon as he was old enough. During the war he earned numerous awards, including two Purple Hearts. After the war he married Peg Finley, and they had nine children. Gene died in 2014.

Join us on March 5 as we hear this incredible tale of loss and recovery. Everyone is welcome to attend the free public program. It will be held in the history center’s handicapped-accessible conference room. A small exhibit of local WWII artifacts will also be on display in the room.



National Guard, 1940

“It was a silent and thoughtful crowd that watched the boys march away... Hearts were...heavy with the dread of impending conflict...” These were the words of the Vernon County Censor on October 23, 1940, as the local National Guard unit left for a year’s training in the south. The U.S. would not enter the war for another 14 months, but the threat of war was on everyone’s minds. In this photo we see the guardsmen marching down Viroqua’s Main Street, led by a “pick-up band” of local musicians.


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For the week of 2/18/2024
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Today we’ll explore the 1878 business directory for the Town of Sterling. The directory is one of many printed around the edges of the 1878 Vernon County plat map, a large wall map that hangs in the hallway at the Vernon County History Center.

This is the last township we’ll look at on the map, because we’ve examined all of the others over the course of the past several months. The Towns of Greenwood, Union, and Wheatland do not have business directories on this map, and we have covered the other seventeen in previous columns.

S. R. Rogers is listed as a lumber dealer in Section 29 of the Town of Sterling, and Dr. David A. Bean as a physician and surgeon in Section 33, near Redmound. Born in Vermont, Dr. Bean arrived in Vernon County in the mid-1850’s, where he worked as both a farmer and a doctor.

Hiram Bellows, a farmer in Section 1, also ran the West Prairie Hotel. His house was located along a main-travelled road, and in 1877 he turned the house into a hotel. In addition to his work on the farm and in the hotel, Bellows ran the West Prairie post office, located inside his hotel, for about 10 years beginning in 1878.

The village of Retreat boasted of a blacksmith, J. M. Hill, and a general store run by J. L. Davis. Jesse Davis began his merchant career in Retreat in 1868. He also ran the Retreat post office, located inside his store, for about 20 years.

Four businesses in the 1878 Town of Sterling directory list Purdy as their post office. George A. Little ran the general store in Purdy, and Joseph Brzazowsky was the blacksmith. Joseph started his blacksmithing shop in 1876.

H.W. McAuley advertised as a surveyor and an attorney, with a mailing address of Purdy. He came to Vernon County in 1852, and originally ran a store in the village of Victory. Like a lot of early pioneers, he pursued many lines of work. In 1854, he built the first saw and grist mill on the South Fork of the Bad Ax River in the Town of Sterling.

His listing in the business directory also describes him as being engaged in milling, but his son H.H. McAuley is in the directory as the actual miller. H.W. sold the mill to his sons in 1871, so they were the millers in 1878, but presumably their father kept his hand in the business. H.H. is also listed as a farmer and a stockraiser, with a mailing address of Purdy.

The 1884 Vernon County history book has quite a lot to say about H.W. McAuley, including this interesting statement: “He is an ardent lover of machinery, and firmly believes that the day is close at hand, when machinery will do all the work and leave the human hand and brain nothing to do but control...” Seems like that day has arrived.

You can learn more about these people and places from the archives at the history center. If you would like to own a book version of the map itself, our recently re-printed Alphabetical Index to the 1878 Vernon County, Wisconsin, Plat Map, sells for $12 at the museum gift shop and at our website bookstore. While the book does not include the business directories, it does contain a map of each township, and then an index of all the names found on the plat maps with location information.


Dr. Bean's

Dr. Bean’s home as pictured on the 1878 Vernon County plat map. The house, long a local landmark, was torn down in 1992.


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The previous two articles:

February 11, 2024

February 4, 2024