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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 6/28/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

We are sorry to announce that our annual Strawberry Shortcake Social, usually held at the Sherry-Butt House on July 4, has been cancelled for this year. With epidemic-related restrictions on large gatherings and on food preparation and handling, we won’t be able to pull off our traditional Independence Day party in 2020, but we dearly hope to be able to do so in 2021. However, the historic home, which is located at 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, will still be open for tours that Saturday, July 4, from 1 to 5PM. And we plan for the home to continue to be open for its regular schedule of Saturdays and Sundays, 1 to 5PM, through the end of summer.

Of course Vernon County has suffered through other epidemics and pandemics, including the global influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, which also disrupted life for many. In the 1920 Viroqua High School yearbook, that year’s graduates – the Class of 1920 – reflected on how the influenza had affected them: “In the year of 1918 we came back as Juniors... After the election of officers we were just ready to start right when school was closed on account of the “flu” epidemic. After a time school opened for two weeks and then again the “flu” interfered. This of course necessitated much hard work to make up for lost time and curtailed many of the customary activities of the junior year...”

And our county has suffered from other more local outbreaks of disease. Recently I came across a reference to a 19th-century epidemic of diphtheria in Vernon County. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explain that diphtheria is a respiratory infection caused by bacteria, and is easily spread through coughing.

Today we have a diphtheria vaccine, and rarely need to think about this disease. But in January of 1877, Vernon County suffered from a diphtheria epidemic. This was remembered by local historian Dr. Charles V. Porter in his Vernon County Censor newspaper column “Vernon County of Old” in 1926-7.

He editorialized that, “Were every little grave of children who died of this vile disease marked with a black flag our old grave yards would be blackened by such markers. Up to this date the mass of our people did not regard it as contagious.” That is to say, until 1877, local people didn’t believe that diphtheria could be passed easily from person to person, and so made no efforts to control the spread of it. That sounds familiar to us in our current situation.

Now on to something more cheerful: 2020 marks 100 years since most women in the U.S. won the right to vote, and that centennial will continue in spite of the virus. A small exhibit about Vernon County suffragists is now on display in the museum’s conference room, and we are planning celebrations for later this summer. August 26 is the official anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment – save that date, because we are hoping to have a small outdoor event that day. We will also continue to explore the topic of women’s suffrage here in this column and in other formats that you can access from home.


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For the week of 6/21/2020
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. 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 Margaret (Mc Auley) Butt, wife of Cyrus M. Butt. Colonel and Mrs. Butt built their home in Viroqua in 1870.

Margaret was born in Indiana in 1836, one of 13 children born to William and Jane (Megee) Mc Auley. Their family moved to Grant County, which was then a part of Iowa, and owned 240 acres near Lancaster. In 1854 they moved to the town of Utica, Crawford County, near Mt. Sterling.

In 1864, during the Civil War, Margaret married Cyrus M. Butt of Viroqua, a young attorney and a 1st Lieutenant in Company A of the 25th Wisconsin Volunteers. Margaret gave birth to their first child, Esther, in 1868. Their son William Edward, known as Tom, was born in 1870, before the family moved into their new home.

Margaret raised three more children in this home: Jane, also known as Jennie, born in 1872; Cyrus M. Junior, born in 1874; and Margaret Elizabeth, known as Beth, in 1878.

Mrs. Butt was described in her obituary as “a good wife and mother and a splendid neighbor, ever generous and kind and especially ready to help the unfortunate poor and needy, and her many deeds of kindness will be remembered by many in the community in which she was so long an honored member and ever friend.”

According to her obituary, Mrs. Butt suffered from epilepsy and nervous and mental trouble. She was ill for approximately two weeks before her passing at the age of 78 in 1913. Her funeral was held from the home and she was laid to rest in the Viroqua Cemetery.

Learn more about Margaret 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.


Margaret Butt
Margaret Elizabeth McAuley Butt, 1836-1913


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The previous two articles:

June 14, 2020

June 7, 2020