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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 12/1/2019
by Carol Krogan, assistant curator

The Vernon County Historical Society would like to invite you to attend the annual Candy Cane Christmas Home Tour on Sunday, December 8, 2019. Featured are four historic homes in the city of Viroqua along with a more contemporary home near Sidie Hollow Park. Begin the tour by purchasing your ticket, beginning at 1 P.M., at the Vernon County Museum at the corner of S. Main and E. South Streets in Viroqua, and visit the homes at your leisure until 5 P.M. Refreshments will be served in the museum’s conference room, decorated for the holidays.

One of the city homes, located at 606 E. Court Street, was built in 1881 by Melvin Derby Chase. Chase was born in Vermont in 1852 to Willard T. and Martha L. Chase. The Chase family moved to Hamburg, Vernon County, in 1866 when Melvin was 14. Chase was a well-respected businessman who began his working career as a school teacher at the young age of 15. In 1872, his focus turned to retail when he began work as a clerk in the Viroqua general store operated by William F. Lindemann. He became co-partner in 1876 and remained so until January, 1899.

After dissolving his partnership with Lindemann, Chase, along with his brother, George Edward, established Chase Brothers in La Farge. Due to ill health, Chase was forced to retire from the mercantile trade but retained stock in the business. He was also associated with the John E. Nuzum lumber business in La Farge for a few years.

Melvin D. Chase died at age 59 on April 2, 1912, in Viroqua. His wife, Belle (Robinson) Chase, whom he married in 1877, passed away just two weeks prior on March 18, 1912. Belle was also a well-respected citizen who raised three children, Charles, Willard and Mabel. Charles and Willard entered into the mercantile business with their father and Mabel married Austin Collier in 1907 in the Chase home on Court Street in Viroqua.

Chaseburg, located in the town of Hamburg, was named in honor of Melvin’s uncle, Henry Chase, who settled there about 1862. Henry married Pauline Proctor in 1864 and they had 3 sons, one dying in infancy. Sadly, Henry passed away at age 39 in 1871. The remaining sons were dentist Dr. John H. Chase and Frank A. Chase, who died at age 77 in 1943 while serving as mayor of Viroqua.

If you are looking for Christmas gifts for history buffs, consider a book purchase from the Vernon County Museum. Two popular books are: Barns Without Corners by Kevin and Patsy Alderson, and Viroqua’s Main Street History 1846-1996 compiled by Vic and Donnalee Navrestad. Also available for kids is a coloring book with original drawings by local artists featuring Vernon County landmarks and events. These and others are available on our website,, or stop by the museum next to Vernon Memorial Healthcare on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, noon – four, or by appointment. You may reach us two ways – by phone at 608-637-7396 or by email at

Bell and Katherine
Pictured above are Belle Chase and Katherine R. (Fleming) Devlin, born in 1850 and died in 1911. Katherine’s was the first funeral from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Viroqua, now operated by the Vernon County Historical Society as a historic place. Her husband, John Devlin, was a businessman in Viroqua for forty years. He died in 1934.


For the week of 11/24/2019
by Kristen Parrott, curator

If you’re in downtown Viroqua on the evening of Friday, November 29, for the Twinklefest Parade, then be sure to watch for the Vernon County Historical Society’s parade float. The antique cutter featured on our float will put you in the mood for snow and the holidays.

Kickapoo Coffee has invited the public to a conversation about the Kickapoo tribe and specifically the tribe’s history here in Vernon County. This free event will be held at the Temple Theatre on Thursday, December 5, and will feature Lester Randall, chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas. Refreshments will be served from 5:30 to 6, and the conversation will begin at 6PM and last until about 7:30. Afterward, coffee and cookies will be served at the nearby Kickapoo Coffee Café.

The name “Kickapoo” is found on many places in and around Vernon County, including the Town of Kickapoo, the village of Kickapoo Center, the Kickapoo Valley Reserve, and the Kickapoo Area Schools. Most of these places were probably named for the Kickapoo River, which in turn was named for the tribe that once hunted in this region.

Lester Randall stopped in Viroqua this past summer as he travelled through the states where the Kickapoo once lived – Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. He is currently engaged in a project to recover his tribe’s history. The Temple Theatre event will be an opportunity for him to share some of what he has learned, and for the public to ask him questions.

Other speakers that evening will include Mosiah Bluecloud and Jenny Flinders. Mosiah is a Kickapoo language instructor and a member of the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. Jenny is employed by the University of Kansas, and has been working with Lester Randall on the tribe’s history project and on the new Kickapoo Tribal Museum in Kansas.

Remember to put the Candy Cane Tour of Homes on your calendar. This year’s tour will be held on Sunday, December 8, from 1 to 5PM. Tickets are $10, available that day at the museum. The tour begins at the museum, where you can pick up a map and enjoy holiday treats. Five houses in and around Viroqua will be featured on the tour.


The previous two articles:

November 17, 2019

November 10, 2019