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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 4/5/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The April program and the April genealogy class have both been cancelled due to the ongoing threat of epidemic. We hope to bring you these topics at a later date. As of this writing (April 3), the museum and our other historic sites are still temporarily closed. Staff and volunteers continue to keep the Vernon County Historical Society running smoothly as we work on projects and prepare for the future.

One of the projects we are currently working on, and have been working on for some time, is a book about Vernon County’s country schools. Completing the book soon is now one of our top priorities. We are particularly interested in determining which country school buildings are still standing. VCHS volunteer Harry Peterson has taken photos of many of the remaining school buildings in Vernon County, but we need information on a few more.

Several communities and individuals around the county have researched their local country schools, and we have worked to collect that information and add it to our files. But we are wondering if the schools listed below are still standing:

Buckeye School, Town of Webster

Cooley Valley School, Town of Wheatland

Debello School, Town of Greenwood

Dilly School, Town of Forest

Kickapoo Center School, Town of Kickapoo

Often a school district had more than one building over the course of its lifetime, frequently beginning with a log structure, moving on to a wood frame building, and sometimes finishing up in a brick schoolhouse. When the country schools closed, some of the buildings were converted into homes, or workshops, or community centers, and others were abandoned. Of the buildings that were re-used, some remained in their original locations, and others were moved. We are interested in locating any of the remaining buildings for the above-named schools.

If you know the current status of any of the school buildings listed above, please contact the museum. You can call us at 637-7396, or write to us at P.O. Box 444, Viroqua, WI, 54665, or email us at museum@vernoncountyhistory.org. Thank you for your help!


Cooley Valley School
Cooley Valley School, Town of Wheatland, in the early 1900’s


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For the week of 3/29/2020
by Kristen Parrott, curator

We have done this before. Getting through an epidemic is something we have done before here in Vernon County. As we discussed in this column just over a year ago, many places closed down in our area during the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic.

A look at a single record book tells the story. In our school record room is an attendance book from the Ottervale School, located northwest of La Farge in the Town of Webster. In 1918, the teacher was Lydia M. Gees. Students attending the school had family names that included Allen, Campbell, Gudgeon, Husker, Johnson, Parr, Silbaugh, Small, Smith, and Strait.

School began normally enough in September that year, with fairly good attendance for the four weeks of that month. Students continued coming through the first week of October, and then the school was shut down for three weeks: “Vacation caused by Spanish Influenza” notes the record book.

They came back for three weeks in November, and then were off through the end of 1918 and into 1919 – three weeks’ “vacation because of the flu”, two weeks’ vacation for the Christmas holiday, and then another week off for the flu. School began again and ran normally through the rest of January and February, but then in March, “three weeks’ vacation on account of the epidemic” reads the book. Students returned yet again at the end of March and finished out the school year in May.

Was it over? Well, no. The following school year got off to a good start, and with a new teacher, Tillie Gees, no doubt a relation to Lydia. But in January of 1920, a little over 100 years ago, school was again closed for three weeks for another “flu vacation”. The rest of the school year passed without incident.

If the school had initially closed for a longer period of time in the fall of 1918, could it have avoided the later “flu vacations”? Were the students isolated in their homes during these enforced vacations, or were they just not in school? Was the flu repeatedly re-introduced into the community that first winter by visitors, or did it never die down completely?

These are the kinds of questions that record books and old newspaper articles don’t answer. As we live through this current epidemic, think of ways that you can record what you are going through – in writing, artwork, etc. – and when this is all over, send us a physical or digital copy for our “Epidemic 2020” file. Researchers 100 years from now will be grateful.

Having studied some of the death records for local people who died in the 1918-19 epidemic, I know how serious this is. History tells us that we can help our community through this difficult time by limiting the number of people we interact with outside the home, and by staying home as much as possible.

As of this writing (March 27), the museum is still temporarily closed in an effort to help prevent a possible epidemic in our area. You can contact us by phone at 608-637-7396, or by email at museum@vernoncountyhistory.org. We look forward to re-opening soon!


Hettie M. Rusk
Ottervale School, Town of Webster, early 1900’s


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The previous two articles:

March 22, 2020

March 15, 2020