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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 8/2/2020
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

In celebration of the 150th birthday of the Sherry-Butt House, we are featuring brief biographies of the people who lived in the home over the years. The House is located at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, and is owned and operated as a museum by the Vernon County Historical Society.

This week we feature the biography of another member of the Butt family, William. William, known as “Tom”, was born the same year that the Butt family home was built, in 1870.

William Edward Butt was born in Viroqua on March 28, 1870 to Cyrus and Margaret (Mc Auley) Butt. After graduating from Viroqua High School in 1888, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, entering into the Agricultural Course. In 1891 he was licensed to teach in Crawford County schools but it is unknown when and if he actually taught. His career goal changed again and in 1895, he graduated from the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College. He practiced in Fox Lake, WI from 1896 to 1898.

In 1898 he returned to Viroqua where he continued to practice medicine. Tom married Nellie Wagner, daughter of Joseph and Theresa (Reine) Wagner, on May 28, 1900. She was born May 25, 1874 in the town of Hillsboro, WI. Nellie and Tom are found on the June 5, 1900 census living in a hotel in La Farge; Tom is listed as a physician.

During the years 1903-1905, he took classes through the Chicago Correspondence School of Law. In 1908, he ran as a Reform candidate for State Assembly but lost to David F. Mains by 2,394 votes.

By 1910, Nellie and Tom were living with his parents and sister Esther along with their son, Cyrus M. Butt III. Cy the third was born October 16, 1909. In 1911, they built a home right nearby, at 725 N. Main Street, Viroqua. Tom continued to work as a physician while Nellie raised their son and became involved in various local organizations and her church. She was a member of the Eastern Star for over 50 years. Nellie did needlework and painted and also enjoyed cooking and gardening.

In April, 1920, Star Theatre manager Ben Brown offered anyone $10.00 to sleep in the cemetery to help promote “The Greatest Question”, a film about spirituality being shown at the theater. Tom decided to take the challenge and made it through the night, later relaying his experience to theater-goers during the showing of the film.

William Edward “Tom” Butt passed away on November 20, 1946. Funeral services were held at the Church of Christ and he was interred in the Viroqua Cemetery in the Butt plot. Nellie Butt died 20 years later at the age of 91 on January 12, 1966. She is buried in Mount Vernon Cemetery in the Wagner family plot.

Learn more about Tom Butt and all the other past residents of this gracious historic home by visiting the site for a tour. The Sherry-Butt House is open to visitors on summer Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 5PM, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Admission is $5, and children under age 9 are free.

Tom Butt and the boys
Tom Butt, in the middle, with friends, circa 1890, posing with what appears to be lamplighting equipment.


For the week of 7/26/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The Vernon County Historical Society is planning a number of small outdoor events for the month of August. To begin with, on Saturday, August 1, and again on Saturday, August 29, we will be grilling burgers and brats between 10AM and 2PM outside Nelson Agri-Center at 217 N. Center in Viroqua.

Food handlers will wear masks and gloves, and order-takers will sit behind a plexiglass screen. Funds raised will help support the historical society, whose mission is to preserve and promote our shared local history.

On Saturday, August 22, the Sherry-Butt House will celebrate its 150th birthday with a birthday party. The House will be open for its regular summer Saturday hours of 1 to 5PM, with light Victorian-era refreshments served on the lawn (or out of the garage, if it’s raining). Seating will be limited and socially-distanced – consider bringing your own lawn chairs or blanket.

Visitors will also be invited to take self-guided tours of the House, which currently features a special exhibit of stories about past residents of the home. Please wear a mask when touring the House during the birthday party.

Then on Wednesday, August 26, the Vernon County Museum will host a Women’s Suffrage Centennial Celebration. On August 26, 1920, the U.S. Secretary of State certified ratification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibited denial of the right to vote on the basis of sex – that is, women won their right to vote.

The celebration will run from 4 to 6PM, outside on the north lawn under the gingko tree. Cupcakes will be served, there will be lots of fun and informational handouts, and a small pop-up exhibit called “Rightfully Hers”, created by the National Archives, will be on display.

At 4:30PM, party-goers will help re-create a suffrage-era protest march on the sidewalks around the museum. You are encouraged to wear period costume and to bring a sign advocating votes for women, but neither are necessary. As always at this time, everyone should wear a mask and maintain a safe distance from others.

Also in August, a local performance of a women’s suffrage play, “Failure is Impossible”, will be made available for viewing from the comfort and safety of your own home. The play was originally commissioned by the National Archives for the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, and was performed for the first time on August 26, 1995.

Local actors are now putting together a new performance, under the direction of Pam Kalinosky, to celebrate the 19th Amendment’s centennial. It’s a “readers’ theatre” type of play, and will be recorded with each actor in a separate place, and then the clips will be put together and historic images will be added to form a complete story. Everyone involved is working hard on acting techniques, costumes, and production value, so it should be great – more details soon!


The previous two articles:

July 19, 2020

July 12, 2020