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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 8/16/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

A “Picnic in the Past” will be held on the lawn of the Sherry-Butt House, 795 N. Main St. in Viroqua, on Tuesday, August 22, from 4 to 7PM. Bring your own picnic and wear a costume from any era between 1800 and 1979. Last year’s picnic featured several outfits inspired by the 1890’s, including white blouses and “prairie skirts” on the women and white shirts with black pants and suspenders on the men. Maybe we’ll see more variety this year – flapper dresses? pinstriped suits? mini skirts?

Try to make your picnic suitable to the era you are representing, in terms of food and packaging. Also bring your own seating, such as a picnic blanket or a wooden stool. This picnic is free and open to the public. In case of rain, the event will be cancelled – check our Facebook page or listen to WVRQ radio.

Another opportunity to enjoy an outdoor meal on the lawn of the Sherry-Butt House is coming up on Friday, August 25. A pork chop dinner will be served that day from 4 to 7PM, or until the food is gone. Dinners are $10 each. The menu is pork chops, baked potatoes, baked beans, cole slaw, bread, and dessert, all provided by volunteers and members of the Vernon County Historical Society.

Tables and chairs will be arranged across the shady lawn for diners. Proceeds from the dinner will benefit the Historical Society. In case of rain, the event will move inside the Expo Center at the Vernon County Fairgrounds next door.

Summer is drawing to a close, and so are the museum’s Saturday hours. If you were planning to visit the museum on a Saturday between 10AM and 2PM, August is your last chance this year to do so. Beginning September 1, our hours will be Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM. As always, the museum is also open by appointment.

Sherry-Butt House
Sherry-Butt House

For the week of 8/9/2017
by Kristen Parrott, curator

Eckhart Park in Viroqua is 100 years old this year. In 1917, Fred Eckhart gave the land to the city as a park. The park sits behind the Vernon County Courthouse and the old jail. Children sometimes call it the “Dragon Park” because of the wonderful wooden dragon on the fence around the playground.

This park was once the Methodist Camp Meeting grounds. The Reverend George Nuzum (1832-1912) was the driving force behind the camp meetings. Nuzum was appointed to the Viroqua Methodist Church in 1878. In 1884, the oak grove behind the courthouse was purchased as the site for an annual camp meeting, held the last two weeks of August.

A large frame building called the “tabernacle” was built for the daily worship services. Families camped out in tents and small cabins nearby. A kitchen/dining room/dormitory was also built near the tabernacle, for feeding attendees and housing visiting preachers. Of course the grounds and tabernacle were used for other events during the year, including graduation ceremonies, plays, and political rallies.

In 1914, two years after the Rev. Nuzum’s death, the Methodist Church sold the camp meeting grounds to the city of Viroqua. The camp meetings ended and the tabernacle was razed in 1915. In 1917, the city sold the grounds to Fred Eckhart, who then gave them back to the city as a public park, with a sum of money for the park’s improvement and upkeep.

And who was this benefactor? Fredrick Eckhart (1840-1929) came to Vernon County in 1862, settling first in De Soto and later moving to Viroqua. Eckhart was a grain and livestock dealer, buying and selling hogs, cattle, sheep, grain, tobacco, wool, hay, and seeds. He shipped the first load of grain out of Viroqua on the Milwaukee Railroad, and opened Viroqua's first tobacco warehouse.

The city named the new park after Eckhart. An article in the local newspaper in 1919 describes the park’s recent improvements: “The old camp grounds have been cleared, a fine pavilion constructed, fountain erected... Concrete walks have been laid, rustic seats and benches placed. On the east section a city play ground established is much appreciated, with a skating rink and toboggan slide for winter, a ball diamond and tennis court for summer.”

The pavilion, or park shelter, was built where the tabernacle once stood, providing continuity with the park’s origins as the camp meeting grounds. Happy birthday, Eckhart Park!

Eckhart Park
Eckhart Park, circa 1920s

The previous two articles:

August 3, 2017

July 26, 2017