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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 9/8/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

A century ago, on September 15, 1919, the brand new Vernon County Normal School building in Viroqua opened to students for the new school year. The 1919-1920 school manual described the new school as “one of the very best buildings of its kind,” as “commodious and convenient,” and as “perhaps the best lighted and best ventilated school building in Wisconsin.”

The purpose of the Vernon County Teachers’ Training School, or Normal School, was “to supply Vernon County with trained and competent teachers for its rural schools and to make the schools of Vernon County, through the teachers, places where the foundations for lives of usefulness are firmly laid.”

Residents of Vernon County could attend the school for free. Tuition fees applied to students from other counties, but often those counties paid the fees.

The school manual also advertised the advantages of Viroqua, where the school was located. Viroqua was described as “a prosperous city, with its many stores, its three substantial banks, its immense tobacco warehouses, and its first-class up-to-date co-operative creamery.” The manual also emphasized that “the moral tone of the city is second to that of no other city in the state”. This was important because teaching certificates were only awarded to people “of good moral character”.

High school graduates could take a one-year course, and then qualify to become teachers. Students with one or more years of high school but no diploma usually took a two-year course. And 8th-grade graduates who were at least 15 years old could take a three-year course.

100 years later, the Vernon County Museum now occupies the old school building. As part of our celebration of the building’s centennial, the Vernon County Historical Society is partnering with McIntosh Memorial Library and with the Temple Theatre to provide a free screening of the Wisconsin Public Television documentary, “Jerry Apps: One-Room School”. This film was chosen because so many Normal School students went on to teach in Vernon County’s one-room schools.

The film will be shown at the historic Temple Theatre on Main Street in Viroqua on Saturday, October 12, at 4PM. Refreshments will be served at 3PM, one hour before the screening. The documentary features Wisconsin author and historian Jerry Apps sharing stories from his childhood days as a student in a one-room country school.


Model School students, faculty and staff
A century ago, Normal School students made and served a noon meal each day in the winter, feeding teachers, students, Model School children, and others. Today this room in the museum holds the archives.


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For the week of 9/1/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

The museum is now on its fall hours of Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM. These will be the museum’s hours for the next two months, through the end of October. As always, the museum is also open by appointment – contact us at 637-7396, or museum@vernoncountyhistory.org to set up a time that works for you.

Our first free public program of the fall season will be held on Tuesday, September 10, at 7PM at the museum. John Heasely of Driftless Stargazing will tell the story of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and its successful journey to the moon and back 50 years ago, in the summer of 1969.

Programs are held in the museum’s handicapped-accessible conference room. Everyone is welcome to attend. Refreshments will be served afterward.

Writing your own story will be the subject of the next genealogy class. The class will meet on Thursday, September 12, at the museum at 10AM. Karen Sherry will guide the class through a writing exercise so that you can put your stories on paper for future generations.

Maybe you’ve been meaning to record some of your memories, but you just never get around to it. Well, this will be your chance to get started. Karen will direct the class to write for a few minutes on one subject, and then a few minutes on another, and so on. By the end of the class, you’ll have several stories recorded, or at least begun.

Vernon County Historical Society members attend genealogy classes for free, and non-members are asked to pay $5 per session. Classes are held in the museum’s handicapped-accessible conference room. New students are always welcome.

Remember to visit the Historical Society’s booth at the Vernon County Fair next week. Our booth is located inside the VMH Expo building. We’ll be running our local history quiz, handing out brochures, and generally having a good time. Stop by!


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The previous two articles:

August 25, 2019

August 18, 2019