Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coon Prairie Lutheran Church, the beginning

Even Gullord's Barn
After meeting in Even Gullord’s barn for a number of years, Coon Prairie Lutheran Church was incorporated July 9, 1854, and plans were started to build a church.

It was decided to build a church 60 feet long, 40 feet wide and 20 feet high. Four days later the trustees met with the pastor and it was decided to build a church six feet smaller both in length and width. Earlier that year a freewill subscription had been taken for the congregation’s expenses. This subscription did not bring in a large sum. It was therefore decided to assess all real and personal property belonging to the members of the congregation, whereupon all members were asked to pay 3 1/6 percent of this worth toward the congregation’s expenses. Two percent was set aside for the building and 1 1/6 percent for the pastor’s salary. Gunder Sørum was made the assessor and collector, with a salary of $1 per day.

The following was the measure for assessing which he followed:

Unfenced and uncultivated land per acre...$2.50
Fenced but uncultivated land per acre...$5
Fenced and plowed land per acre...$8
Team of horses...$100-$200
Yearling horse...$30
Two-year-old horse...$50
Ox Team...$50-$80
Two-year-old heifer...$12
Year-old heifer...$8
Pair of three-year-old steers…$40
Sheep and lamb...$2

Most pioneers paid their full assessed sum before the year was completed and nearly all the others paid their arrears the following year. This system was in use for five years.

In spite of the self-sacrifice which these settlers showed, not enough money came in to build the church besides paying the congregation’s current bills. On June 8, 1856, it was decided to borrow $1,000 for nine months at 20 percent interest. The congregation was determined to complete the building without delay. Furthermore, Even Gullord was made a one-man committee responsible for completing the church by June 1, 1857. For this work and for necessary materials he was promised $900.

Even Gullord
At the determined date the church stood completely ready, statelly and shinning in its new paint. Boards and planks had been shipped all the way from Black River Falls. They had cost the building master, Even Gullord, much more than the $900 which he had been promised to complete the church, but he said nothing about that, since it was his greatest joy to offer both himself and his means to the congregation’s well-being. In 1857 the value of the new church was $4,200 according to Pastor Halvorsen.

This was the first Norwegian church to be built in western Wisconsin and the first of any kind to be built in Vernon County. This large enterprise among the Northmen at Coon Prairie made a strong and favorable impression on its American neighbors. The year before when the Norwegians had built the first school in the county, the Western Times in Viroqua carried the following appreciative editorial about the Norsemen at Coon Prairie.

“Viroqua has got a few things; many she has not got. In a population of 300 there are 6 foreigners. She has no schoolhouse, no churches, no district school, the voice of the teacher is not heard. Turn to Coon Prairie where the immigrant 5,000 miles from his native land is building up for himself and his children an adopted home. The first good frame schoolhouse built in our county was built by these European Northmen and in it they have a school summer and winter. And what do they teach? Traditions of their native land in their native Tongue? No.

With English teachers and English books they seek to Americanize their children. It seems too, the first church in our county is to be built by these Norwegians. What! Do these white-haired, blue-eyed sons and daughters of Norway, do they have English schools, and do they build meeting houses, and do they worship God? Even so, proud native American, had you not better profit by their example?”

In the publication for August 16, 1856, the editor wrote the following:

“The Norwegians have nearly completed a large substantial church edifice on Coon Prairie. We attended their divine services, We were pleased that every worshipper was in his or her seat on time. There were about 150 persons; there seemed to be an earnest spirit of devotion in the assemblage.”

Foundation stone laying for the second County Coon Prairie Church, Sept. 8, 1875.
In the background is the first Coon Prairie Church, built 1857.
At the time the above photo was taken, the congregation numbered about 1,200 souls and the church built in 1857 was too small so it was decided to build a church large enough to seat everyone. The new church cost $25,000 and much volunteer labor. The congregation kept growing until in 1886 it numbered 1,670. Then following a couple of good years about 50 families withdrew from the congregation over a dispute. On Easter Sunday 1909, the new church was struck by lightning and burned beyond repair. A meeting of the congregation was called and it was decided to build a new church immediately. Because of convenience to the widespread membership it was decided to build one church at the same site and one church in Westby. These two churches were to cost $22,000 each.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dr. Schee house

Standing proud and tall for 113 years

The first medical doctor to call Westby home was Dr. Schreiner who came here in 1883. Dr. John Schee joined him in 1892.

The Schee house was designed by architect A.E. Parkinson of Sparta in 1902. Dr. Schreiner had already built his mansion on Main Street a few years earlier, his house being also designed by A. E. Parkinson. The last owners of the Schreiner house were Martha and Nora Neprud. The house was torn down and is now the location for Premier Cooperative.

Randy Dahlen along his wife Betty helped write this article. They were the past owners buying it in 1988. The current owners are John and Tasha Spears.

After Dr. Schee passed away in 1937, his wife, Ulla, remained in the house until 1951. Between 1951 and 1988 the house had four other owners.
The Schee house is wood frame with a full basement. Outside basement walls are 18-inch thick limestone faced on the outside with ashlar. The inside basement walls are eight inches thick made of red brick. The 1,250 square foot basement includes a wood/coal chute which dumps into the fuel room adjacent to the furnace room. The laundry room was supplied with soft water from a rainwater cistern on the west side of the house. Clothes reached the laundry room via a chute from a second floor room and the first floor kitchen. A vegetable room and the cold storage room which was serviced by a dumb waiter from the first floor pantry complete the basement.

The first floor is 1,350 square feet. The verandah wraps around the front of the house from the south side and alone the east side including the front entrance in the northeast corner. The vestibule opens to the reception hall with an open stairway to the second floor. Off the reception hall is the office which was used by Dr. Schee for afternoon patients. The sitting room has a large colored glass window to the east and a square window bay to the south. The dining room has an angular window bay to the south, right next to the sitting room bay, The dining room has a built-in china cupboard of oak and beveled glass. There was also a floor button which would ring a bell in the kitchen. The kitchen, pantry (now a full bath) and a west porch finish the first floor.

The second floor has three large chambers (as they were called on the blueprint) with closets, a linen closet, full bath and one bedroom that opens to the upper porch. The stairway comes up to a central hall consisting of seven doorways on the 1,015 square foot second floor.
The third floor was designed to include three large chambers with closets, a central hall and sitting area. Three window dormers have been removed from the house. This floor was never completed and now a single 1,015 square-foot room insulated and finished, is used for storage. A standup attic follows the north, south and east ridge lines.

An interesting fact about the house is because of its design and window placement, there are six places (three combinations) that you can look out of he window of one room and look into the window of another room.

Dr. John Schee
Dr. John Schee, born in Norway, came to this area in 1880 and Westby in 1892. His education includes philosophy-University of Oslo, obstetrics in France, pharmacy-University of Wisconsin, Medical University of Michigan. He was known as an outstanding baby doctor serving Westby and area for 35 years. He was a city council member, school board member, on the city library board and city health officer.

Mrs. Ulla Schee came to Westby from Norway in 1896 after training in Oslo for nursing, midwifery and music. She grew up in very Northern Norway and was believed to have had the first piano north of the Arctic Circle. After coming to Westby, the first child she delivered was the youngest daughter of Dr. Schreiner, Dr. Shee’s partner.

The Schees raised five very musically and artistically talented children in this house. They are: Harold - A Chicago area businessman who owned the Patsy Ann Cookie Factory. Eric - A violin teacher and orchestra conductor. Laila - An English teacher and piano player. Nana - An art instructor and Dagney - A music teacher and one of the first rosemalers.

Tom Schee, son of Eric, lives in Timber Coulee and hosts yearly family reunions which have brought many family members to visit their ancestral home.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Second Street about 1907

Photo taken sometime between 1905 and 1909 from the Cargill grain elevator shows Second Street at the intersection of today’s Polly Rude Way. La Crosse & Southeastern railroad tracks are on the left. The white church is Our Savior’s church and the white building with six windows is the former grade school. When this photo was taken the Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran church had not been built.
More than 100 years ago Second Street was the fourth most important street in Westby, after Main, State and First streets. It is unknown if the city leaders of the 1890s had plans for a Third Street or not.

Businesses past and present that have been, or are, located on Second Street starting on the top of the hill and continuing west on the south side of the street are the following.

Today in 2015 the creamery warehouse is located where more than 100 years ago Ole Evenson had his Hard and Soft Coals, Ice and Cement Blox business. In 1951 when the business ended it was Evenson Coal & Equipment. Sometime between 1951 and 1957 all Evenson buildings disappeared being replaced by a small building that housed Dahlen & Gabrielson Television Service. Gabrielson only lasted for one year when the business became Dahlen Television and finally until 1965 it was Dahlen’s TV and Gun Shop.

The only house on this side of the street has had numerous owners but the one who most will remember is Cora Ruud, the city librarian for about one-third of the last century.

Ballsrud’s Grocery, built in 1949, is next as we go down the hill toward Main Street. With different owners, the grocery store continued until 1969. Until recently Rudy’s Lawn Care was located in the Ballsrud Grocery building.
Located on the corner of Man and Second streets since 1979 is Mark Anderson Insurance. Built as a filling station in the 1920s it was first known as the Perfect Oil Company. Later it was Holte’s Service Station until 1950 and then until 1966 it was Larson Mobil Service.

Crossing Second Street, the first business with a Second Street address was Tri-County Farm Supply followed by Badger Environmental & Earthworks. These businesses were located in a building built in 1978 as a hearse garage for Vosseteig Funeral Home. This was formerly the location of Virginia and Ray Way’s house.

Continuing up the hill, the Westby Times building was built in 1950 and continued as the Times office until 1995 when Ron’s (Rood) Pallet Repair moved in and continued until 1999 when Yesteryear’s Restoration moved there.

Today Old Times Group Home is located where the Times building and Vosseteigs Garage was located.

The last building to discuss is the biggest as well as the one with the longest and most varied history. For about 75 years it was a feed mill. Built in 1905 for H.E. McEachron Company with Cargill painted on the grain elevator. For all of the ‘20s and ‘30s the feed mill was known as the Westby Co-operative exchange with E.C. Ballsrud, Olaf Walby, Melvin Svenson, S.O. Johnson as the different managers. In 1941 Ben Logan bought the mill and renamed it Westby Feed & Seed. Logan sold the business in 1967 to Vernon County Farmco and in 1975 it became Great Rivers FS Cooperative who continued their Westby operation until 1991.

Yesterday’s Restoration moved their business into the old mill in 1997 and stayed there until moving next door to the old Westby Times building in 1999. After numerous and extensive remodeling, starting in 1999, Ocooch Mountain Acres was followed by Ben Logan Mill Lodge, both being owned by Ruth and Ken Rupp.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Westby Standpipe

Original standpipe (water tower) built in 1900
In 1899, when Westby had a population of 524, it was decided that all citizens should have the availability of a village water system for all their water needs as well as be able to fight fires. Before this, there was a village well located close to the stockyard and a wooden windmill located east of Main Street and north of First street. Apparently not everyone was connected to village water, however, and those who were, did not have enough water pressure if a fire emergency should arise.

Andrew H. Dahl, in his first general store, that was made of wood, had his own firefighting equipment. He had a sprinkler system. The sprinklers were either connected to the village water system or he had a water storage tank in the attic or both. In the bigger cities this was common but probably he was the only one in Westby who had such a luxury.

A half acre site for the construction of the water tower and well were bought from Ole Thoreson for $100. The site was described as a solid rock 60 feet hill, located in the center of the village.

Original tower with 15 feet in height
and a roof added in the ‘30s
Construction of the water tower and the new well were completed in 1900. Both were located on the hill behind where the Stabbur is located today. The new water tower was 16 feet in diameter and 50 feet tall and the well was dug a depth of 300 feet as a cost of $313.20. The last well dug in Westby in 1975 cost almost $250,000.

When the water tower was completed in 1900, it did not have roof, so anything flying over, could and sometimes did, fall in. A roof was added sometine in the middle to late 1930s. Also at this time an additional 15 feet of height was added.

For 84 years, with the addition of a water storage tank located north of the ballpark, this water tower served the water needs of Westby until it was replaced in 1984 by what we have today. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Country Collectables

Country Collectibles in the former Hagen Grocery
After Rob Hagen died, Betty and Leonard Lund bought the Hagen Store and opened B & L Antiques. After Leonard died, and before selling the Hagen Store to Country Collectables, Betty rented out the store, first to a shoe store for a short time and later Dulin Electronics.

Country Collectables started life in the Thorsen building in November of 1986 by co-mingling several home based businesses. Getting things out of the house took on new meaning as a building one thought could never be filled became pleasingly stuffed.

After 48 years the void created by the Hagen Store fire that happened in September 1941, was about to come to an end. When progress demanded moving, the decision led the Solbergs to purchase the lot formally occupied by the Hagen Store. Since the storeroom of the Hagen building remained on the property after the main store was destroyed by fire, the Solbergs decision to build their new structure in front of and including the storeroom seemed like a good one. Besides retaining the history of the Hagen Store it provided more useable space always at a premium in the antique business.

Upon completion of the new building all of the occupants organized a mass moving and with the aid of three trucks and a few strong-armed men, who carried a showcase across the road, neither store closed for even a minute.

The above photo was taken in the original storeroom of the Hagen Grocery Store that became part of Country Collectables. Some of the articles for sale in this 2000 photo are the same items that were sold 125 years ago when Johan Michelet had his store at this location. And many of the items are the articles that were sold by Hagen & Preuss, Hagen Mercantile Company, Hagen Dry Goods, Hagen’s Clover Farm and Hagen’s Grocery Store in the 69 years that Otto or Reuben Hagen were located at 105 South Main Street.

For more information on the Hagen & Preus, Hagen Mercantile Company, Hagen Dry Goods, Hagen’s Clover Farm Store and Hagen Grocery Store,  click  HERE.

Adams Eye Clinic is now located at this address and the original storeroom from the Hagen Grocery is still being used as part of the eye clinic.
Adams Eye Clinic

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hagen Grocery

Left to right: Clerk, Joseph Borgen, Chester Olson and Phillip Hagen.
In the Hagen Dry Goods taken about 1910 and 1915

Hagen & Preus, Hagen Mercantile Company, Hagen Dry Goods, Hagen’s Clover Farm Store and Hagen Grocery Store are the five names that Otto Hagen and his son Reuben Hagen (Rob) used in the 69 years that they were in business.

Johan Michelet established his Blue Front Store in 1891 and continued it until 1905. The details of how and why Otto Hagen became the new owner is unknown. Blue Front Store

For many years until 1972 when Westby combined the offices of treasurer and city clerk, Rob was the treasurer of Westby and anybody who had taxes to pay would make at least one visit a year to his store. And, as hard as it is to believe today, he really did keep our tax money in a cigar box. At least until the end of the day when the money went in his safe. 

For those of you who do not remember Otto, one of his distinguishing features was his very thick white hair.

Left to right: Chester Olson, Blaine Running, Ole Paulsrud and Phillip Hagen in about 1920

In 1905, when Otto Hagen and George Preus first opened their dry goods store it was only one half of the size it would later become as sometime before 1925 tow adjoining building on Main Street became one. Preus was partner for a very short time, later showing up living in la Crosse. He must have kept Westby ties as obituary was listed in The Westby Times as a former prominent citizen.

Like so many other early buildings built of wood, the Hagen Grocery became another victim of fire. In September of 1941 the main part of the Hagen Grocery was destroyed by fire. Instead of rebuilding the damaged part of the store, the storage room behind the store became the new store. This newer addition was made of a fireproof material so it was able to survive the fire without any damage. For almost 20 years, the floor of the old burned down building was left so anyone going into the store had to walk across the boardwalk-like decking surrounded by bushes and a few blooming plants.

First, Otto Hagen, and later his son Reuben (Rob) ran the Hagen Grocery from 1905 until 1974 when Rob died.

For a time, Hagen Mercantile sold gasoline. Two pumps show up on a few photographs and were located about where the curb is today.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Michelet, a familiar name in early Westby

Blue Front Store ad from the Westby Times
Jacob Post Michelet was born in Moland district, Nedeness Balliwick July 20, 1796. He attended the military academy in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1809-1815. He also attended the military academy in Oslo, Norway. Jacob Michelet Married Gregine Olsen July 6, 1829, and they emigrated to America in 1851 and came to Coon Prairie the same year. Three of their seven children were William E.J., Johan and Charles.

Jacob Post Michelet settled in Section 35, town of Christiana and was one of the first to be buried in Coon Prairie Cemetery November 19. 1866. 

Dr. William E.J. was born in Lillehammer, Norway, January 9, 1846 and came with his parents to Coon Prairie. After his preparatory education in Sparta, he studied at Northwestern University and Rush Medical College, Chicago, and became a doctor in medicine in 1879. He worked in his profession in Chicago until his death in 1921.

Lawyer Charles J. Michelet was born in Lillehammer, Norway, March 24, 1849 and came to Coon Prairie with his parents. After preparatory schooling in Sparta, he became a student at Northwestern University, Chicago. After a full course in law he became a lawyer in 1879 and joined his brother William, in Chicago.

Johan Michelet was born in Lillehammer, Norway, December 12, 1830 and along with his brothers came with his parents to Coon Prairie. Johan was married to Johanne Kvaernstuen on June 4, 1861. Two of his six children were Josephine and Charles.

Johan Michelet held the following Christiana township offices: Chairman, Assessor and Treasurer. He also served as member of the Vernon County Board.

Sometime in the 1860s Johan built a warehouse in Westby and was the first local grain buyer. From 1884 until 1888 he was the Postmaster of Westby and from 1891 until 1905 operated the Blue Front store selling general merchandise.

Josephine Michelet in the 1880s and ‘90s had a millinery shop in Westby, location unknown.

Lawyer Charles Jacob Michelet was born in Westby June 18, 1881 and graduated from Viroqua High School in 1900 and from Michigan University, Ann Arbor in 1905 with B.A. degree and from the same university’s law school in 1908. Portland, Oregon is where he went to Practice law.

In 1905 Johan Michelet sold the Blue Front Store.  Hagen Dry Goods

While Johan Michelet owned and operated the Blue Front Store, Mrs. A. Rice operated the Red Front Store specializing in women’s clothing. The location of the Red Front Store is unknown. Both the Red and Blue Front stores were part of a nationwide chain.

Besides the Michelet offspring who became lawyers and a doctor, many other Westby descendants and others who lived here for only a short time have gone on to greatness. Two examples are: The student center of Oklahoma University is named after a Westby descendant and in Chicago there is a skyscraper named after a former Westby resident. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Leif Erikson Day — October 9 & 10, 2015 schedule

Nordic Fest
Decorah, Iowa
July 25

Jim Aniol and his daughter Betsy, carrying Leif Erikson Day banner in the Syttende Mai parade 

October 10, Jay Vosseteig leading Leif Erikson in his Viking Ship to a Viking Breakfast


Kathy Anderson and Blaine Hedberg
Carrying Leif Erikson banner
Decorah, Iowa
Nordic Fest, July 25


Events planned for 

Leif Erikson Day 2015


Leif Erikson display
Bekkum Memorial Library

Friday, October 9

At the VFW Hall

205 North Main

Scandinavian salg (sales)

noon-8 p.m.

❖ Books, Jewelry, hats and Nordic gifts

Evening Fish Dinners

❖ Bleachers, Borgen’s, Central Express, Nordic Lanes, Old Town, and Rod & Gun Club

At the Library, free Movies & popcorn

6-9 p.m.

Westby Community Center

206 North Main

Sponsored by Bekkum Memorial Library

Viking Double Feature

❖ Vikings Journey To New Worlds - Documentary

❖ The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Ernest Borgnine

Saturday, October 10

At Central Express

411 North Main

❖ Viking Ship with Leif Erikson Arrives

7:30 a.m.

Scandinavian Plate Specials

7-11 a.m.

❖ Viking Breakfast

Swedish Pancakes

7 a.m.-4 p.m.

❖ Open-faced breakfast Sandwich

11 a.m.-4 p.m.

❖ Scandinavian Meatball Meal

At the VFW Hall
205 North Main
Scandinavian salg (sales)
8 a.m.-4 p.m.
❖ Books, Jewelry, Hats and Nordic Gifts
10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Sons of Norway
❖ Kaffe Stua, Including Rømmegrøt

At Westby Area Historical Society
Thoreson House Museum
101 Black River Avenue
❖ Lefse/Pølse  House
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
❖ Kubb Clinic
10 a.m. noon, 2 p.m.
❖ Kubb practice and play
10 a.m.-4 p.m.

At the Stabbur 

Black River Avenue

❖ Tourist Center open with attendant

❖ Viking Ship on display

At United Methodist Church
202 East State Street
11 a.m.-2 p.m.
❖ Lion’s Chili Cook-off

At the Westby Community Center
206 North Main
2 p.m.
❖ Speaker: Owen Christianson
Leif Erikson and his Expedition to Vinland
Sponsored by Bekkum Memorial Library

Leif Erikson Tee Shirts and Limited Edition Buttons are being sold at Leif Erikson locations:

Alex Aakre and Christian Strauss carry the Leif Erikson Banner
in the La Crosse Oktoberfest Parade

Westby Mayor, Dan Helgerson, meets world explorer and discoverer of
North America, Leif Erikson, during Leif Erikson Days celebration.

Next meeting is 5:30 p.m.
October 27, 2015
Logan Mill Lodge
Everyone is welcome

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Westby in 1972

Downtown Westby in 1972 
In little more than one generation, many changes have taken place in downtown Westby but at the same time many buildings have had very little change and look about the same as they did when this 1972 photo was taken.

Starting top center and proceeding clockwise, the buildings that have been torn down or drastically changed are the following:

The cupola topped building was built as the carriage house for the Martin Bekkedal residence. Torn down to make parking space for Community Action Program (Couleecap). To the right of the carriage house is another building CAP had taken down, also for parking space.

Hardly visible to the left of the white building with three upstairs windows is Goettels Meat Market. Torn down to make green space for Weber’s Jewelry.

Right of center is the entrance to Vosseteig Funeral Chapel. The Norwegian-styled entrance was converted to a garage door when the Funeral Chapel was moved to the Main Street side of the building.

In the bottom right-hand corner is the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad. For more than 100 years the Milwaukee Road made stops in Westby. First, four stops a day, two going north and two going south, then one trip a day each way. By the 60s, the train went south one day and north the next day after spending the night in Viroqua. Finally it was one trip a week and some weeks none at all.

The elevator, bottom left, was first seen in photos in 1907 and was torn down in the early 70s for safety reasons.

Immediately to the right of the elevator is what remains of the barn, later garage, for the Hotel Vernon. Time Hotel in 1972. Torn down for the expansion of Old Times - Assisted Living.

Directly above the garage and behind the tree is Westby DX service station. Closed in 1970, it first became part of Erickson’s Department Store and now is the Connelly Law Office.

Center left are three buildings that are also not with us anymore. Walt’s Grocery, Westby Theater and when this photo was taken, Roehl’s Clothing. Today in their place is the building and parking lot rented by the Westby Co-op Creamery for the production of their bottled coffee syrup.

The final part of this photo to discuss is all the semitrailers parked to the left of top center. Sloane Brothers Trucking and later Sloane Foods was headquartered in Westby and distributed dairy products nationwide. Shortly after this photo was taken, Sloane Brothers moved to Viroqua and today, Couleecap is located where Sloane Foods once was.