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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 11/27/2022
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The date is fast approaching for the Vernon County Historical Society’s annual sweepstakes drawing. The drawing will be held on Wednesday, December 21, at 4PM, at the museum. If you haven’t yet purchased your tickets, now is the time. Suggested donation for tickets is $5 each, or 5 for $20. The prizes are all cash prizes, ranging from the 1st prize of $300 to the 5th prize of $50. Tickets can be obtained at the museum during regular winter public hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, noon to 4PM, or by appointment (or chance – staff are often around). This is an important fundraiser for the Historical Society, so get your tickets soon!

The genealogy class is now on winter break; it will start up again in February of 2023. But winter is a great time to work on genealogy, and our archives is full of information for those with Vernon County family. We often direct new researchers to start with the obituaries, most of which are stored in a cabinet in the main research room. Volunteers and staff add local obituaries to the collection every week, both recent and old ones, so it is an ever-expanding resource.

Next to the obituary cabinet is the scrapbook index, an old-fashioned resource that still provides good information. The scrapbooks were compiled by local people many years ago, when clipping newspaper articles and pasting them into books was a favorite pastime. Look up the name of a Vernon County person or place or event in the index, and then staff will pull the indicated scrapbook for you to see the original article. In most cases, each scrapbook was created over the course of one or a few years, so they are also a good resource if you want to know more about a specific era.

Across the room from the obituary cabinet and the scrapbook index are the school files. First there are several shelves devoted to the Vernon County Normal School, also called the Teachers College. Frequently a patron will mention that a relative, maybe a mother or aunt, attended the school many years ago. These files contain lists of students and teachers, photos of classes, information about the building, etc.

Next are several shelves containing folders for all of the country schools in Vernon County. The folders are arranged alphabetically, and there’s one for each rural school. Folders include whatever has been donated or collected for that particular school, such as names of school board officers, photos of students and teachers, and reminiscences. We are continually adding new materials to the folders.

School record books are stored upstairs and can be asked for. City and village school files are also stored in other rooms and again can be asked for. We are in the process of compiling a comprehensive list of Vernon County’s rural schoolteachers, so if you have a teacher’s name but don’t know which school the teacher taught at, we can look it up for you.

Information about all of the county’s country schools has been compiled into one book now for sale in our gift shop or from our website, Country Schoolhouses of Vernon County, Wisconsin, is available for purchase for $25. A copy of the book is also available for use in the research room.

That’s just a quick look at three resources that you can use when doing genealogy work. Stop by the museum this winter to learn more about your Vernon County family history.


For the week of 11/20/2022
by Kristen Parrott, curator

On the second floor of the museum is a miniature diorama depicting 19th-century life in Norway. All the little figures are carved of wood. I’ve often wondered about it, and a little research recently revealed more of its story.

Words on the front of the display indicate that it was carved and painted by Henning Engelsen. Henning Engelsen (1918-2005) was a Norwegian artist and the founder of HENNING, a Norwegian woodcarving company run by the Engelsen family. The HENNING workshop is in Kapp, Østre Toten, a rural area of Norway.

This woodcarving company continues to produce many figurines much like the ones in our display. The display has had several homes in Viroqua, first in Jens Vigdahl’s insurance office, then in Kristin Vigdahl’s gift shop, and finally in Dr. Lars Gulbrandsen’s clinic, before being moved to the museum.

We have paired the diorama with other Norwegian woodcarvings, to help illustrate the continuity of this tradition. Above the diorama is a cupboard, and in it are several figures carved by Roger Hatlem and painted by his wife Miriam. The Hatlems lived in Viroqua and created many painted woodcarvings over the course of about 30 years. The museum is fortunate to now have a large collection of their work.

You are welcome to visit all of the exhibits during our regular winter hours of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon to 4PM, or by appointment. (The museum will be closed on Thanksgiving Day.) Please note that the exhibit halls lack heat, so you will need to dress warmly.

Thanksgiving is upon us, and the Vernon County Historical Society has much to be thankful for. We are thankful for our patrons and members and everyone who supports us and takes an interest in Vernon County history. We are thankful for our volunteers, who help keep everything running so that we can fulfill our mission of preserving and promoting Vernon County history. And we are thankful for our buildings and collections, which allow us to interpret different facets of life here. Happy Thanksgiving!

Engelsen’s woodcarvings

A close-up of Henning Engelsen’s woodcarvings.


The previous two articles:

November 13, 2022

November 6, 2022