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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 5/8/2022
by Kristen Parrott, curator

May is Historic Preservation Month and Archaeology Month in Wisconsin, when we celebrate the preservation of historic and prehistoric places that help us better understand our past. Historic places include old buildings and cemeteries. Prehistoric places include burial mounds and caves with rock art.

Vernon County has an abundance of historic preservation projects and archaeological sites. 24 places in the county are listed on the State and/or National Register of Historic Places, including Coon Prairie Church and Cemetery south of Westby, the Harris round barn in the Town of Forest, and downtown Viroqua’s Masonic Temple building, which will celebrate its centennial this August.

The Wisconsin Historical Society tells us that, “The National Register is the official national list of historic properties in America worthy of preservation. It is maintained by the National Park Service in the U.S. Department of the Interior. The State Register is Wisconsin's official listing of state properties determined to be significant to Wisconsin's heritage and is maintained by the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Both the National Register and State Register include sites, buildings, structures, objects and districts that are significant in national, state or local history, architecture, archaeology, engineering and culture.”

Of special note is the fact that Vernon County has more recorded archaeological sites than any other county in Wisconsin. Most of them are in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, and it was during the creation of the reserve that the sites were recorded. Hundreds of archaeological sites there are listed as one “district”, and it is that district that is on the National Register.

May also brings the celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17, Syttende Mai. Watch for the Vernon County Historical Society’s booth in the craft fair area at Westby’s celebration on Saturday, May 14, and Sunday, May 15.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s travelling exhibit about water, “Great Lakes Small Streams”, continues to be on display at the Vernon County Museum now through May 27. You can visit during regular public hours of Monday through Friday, noon to 4PM, or by appointment.

Charles Lord House

The Charles Lord House in Ontario is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.


For the week of 5/1/2022
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

There are 21 towns that make up Vernon County. In the past we have presented the history of these towns, in alphabetical order. After a long absence, we will feature the town of Wheatland and later, Whitestown.

The town of Wheatland was organized in 1857. In 1858, officers were selected and they were as follows: Adam Carlyle, chairman; Joel Shaw and Hiram Ferguson, supervisors; George G. Van Wagner, clerk; C.B Stevens, treasurer and J.C. Kurtz, town school superintendent.

Before the town was established however, settlers made their way to this part of Vernon County due to its accessibility to the Mississippi River on its western shore. The area was heavily wooded and featured lush valleys. Ira Stevens was the first white man to claim land here in January, 1849 at what is now known as Victory. (Ira Stevens married Eliza Decker in 1848. Her father Moses was the first person to claim land in 1846 in what is now Viroqua.) First called Steven’s Landing, its name changed in 1852 when the village was laid out by Stevens, William F. Terhune, Henry McAuley and Hiram Rice. These 54 acres, claimed by Stevens, were occupied by French traders who came here to trade with the Indians. Hiram Rice erected the first building, a warehouse. The next structure was a hotel, built and operated by John Cavinee. The first store was opened by Henry W. McAuley. John C. Berry operated the second store, selling general merchandise. Berry was also the first postmaster, appointed in 1854. Victory was an important shipping location for the buying and shipment of grain. A stone warehouse for grain, built by local farmers, was named the “Farmers Stock Warehouse.” Other early settlers at Victory were: John Bartholomew, wheelwright; Clark Smith, sawyer and John C. Berry, merchant.

Aaron Cooley settled on section 18 in 1854. Cooley mustered into Company C of the 18th Wisconsin on March 1, 1862 at age 59. He was mustered out due to disability on May 29, 1862. He suffered from a severe case of diarrhea and was so weak, he collapsed and died at age 60 less than a mile from his home.

Other early settlers were Lester P. Miller and wife Orpha, Samuel Huntington and wife Hannah and Willard Fosdick and wife Hannah.

In 1884, when the book History of Vernon County, Wisconsin was published, there were six schools in Wheatland. The first teacher was Nancy Berry who taught near Victory. De Soto Union School was located in De Soto. This two-story frame building was erected in 1872.

The Central Methodist Episcopal Church was established in section 31 in 1857 near what is now the community of Red Mound. Original members where Jacob and Sarah Chase and Moses and June Sanderson. Later the Central, De Soto and Retreat Methodist churches comprised a circuit, served by Rev. Newton Lane and Rev. Clendenning. Layne, from Brookville, town of Franklin, became a captain of Company C of the 18th Wisconsin during the Civil War. After returning from the war, he died of disease on February 28, 1864. He was only about a month shy of turning 25.

In February, 1856, the Congregational Society was formed. Charter members included: Charles and Fannie Houghton, Mrs. Mary (Houghton) Roach, Mrs. Abbie (Houghton) Tobey, Daniel and Mercy P. Fuller and Alexander Young and wife. This congregation may have been located near De Soto.

Be sure to watch for a future column about De Soto, first called Winneshiek’s Landing.

Just a reminder that a special exhibit on loan from the Wisconsin State Historical Society entitled Great Lakes, Small Streams - How Water Shapes Wisconsin will be on display in our first-floor handicapped accessible meeting room through May 27. The museum is currently open Monday-Friday noon to four or call 608-637-7396 if you want to make a special appointment. We will do our best to accommodate you.

Victory, WI

This photograph was taken about 1911. Note the railroad tracks in the lower left. The building on the right was the Post Office. Alexander Tulloch was the Postmaster, appointed in 1892. He retired in 1940.


The previous two articles:

April 24, 2022

April 17, 2022