Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Westby, looking to the southwest

  At the time this 1921 photo was taken the school building in the upper left was only 10 years old. For many years the high school was located on second floor with the grades on first floor. The gymnasium and lunch room were located in the basement. Directly in front of the school, but located downtown on West State Street, is the white dome like structure that was the bell tower for the fire station. The Westby Library was located on the second floor of the fire station had been located there since 1916.

Very visible in this photo is the Martin Bekkedal residence, the three story white building with the darker trim. The rather large white building behind the Bekkedal house, to the right in this photo, with the cupola and four dormers is the Bekkedal carriage house that today would be in the parking lot for Couleecap, Inc.

In the foreground of the photo is the Ole Brothen Blacksmith Shop that was torn down to make room for the Pure Oil gas station that was until recently the home of Victory Auto Sales and is now the Blackjack Auto Sales. Directly across North Main from the blacksmith shop is a white house that today is the Abt Law Office.

The railroad tracks at the very bottom of the photo are those of the La Crosse and Southeastern that were built in 1905 to service Westby and Viroqua with Coon Valley, Chaseburg and La Crosse.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Northern Westby

Taken from the top of the standpipe in 1921, is a view of a northern residential section of Westby. What looks like a picket fence at the bottom of the photo is the the top edge of the water tower.

Front and a little left of center in the photo is 222 North Main, Elaine Lund’s home. Except for the color, it remains today much as it was 93 years ago. At the extreme upper right edge of the photo is the road to La Crosse, Highway 11 at the time. As it enters Westby proper it becomes Ramsland Street. Main Street, north of Black River Avenue was not yet developed.

Two sets of railroad tracks are visible with the La Crosse & Southeastern the upper tracks and the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, the lower set of tracks. The Southeastern tracks followed Highway 11 now 14 and 61, can be seen parallel to the road as it disappears into the distance. The Milwaukee Road followed the old Indian Trail that later would become Highway 27.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Once Upon A Time it snowed on May 29, 1947

On May 29, 1947 it snowed in Westby and also a large area of the Coulee Region

 The Nearly Forgotten Snow Storm of May 27-29, 1947
Jeff Boyne, NWS La Crosse Climate Services Focal Point
Through the years, this late season snow storm has been purged from memories of many people in northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, and western Wisconsin. Maybe it is that people do not want to think about snow in late May or that the snow quickly melted, but very few remember this storm. If it was not for this author stumbling upon a 9 inch snow amount in Viroqua, Wisconsin this reminder that snow storms can occur this late in the spring in the Upper Mississippi Valley may have never been written.

On the morning of May 27, 1947, a developing low pressure system was located over central Nevada. It was this low which would be responsible for the snow storm over the Central Plains, Upper Mississippi Valley, and Upper Michigan from May 27th through May 29th. A strong arctic high pressure system was located over the Mackenzie Basin in northwest Canada. This high would provide the cold air needed for a winter storm to develop. A mixture of rain and snow developed over Colorado and Wyoming during the day on May 27th and changed to all snow during the night as the low deepened and moved slowly east through southern Colorado.

On the morning of the 28th, the high pressure center had moved rapidly south to southern Saskatchewan. This high pressure area brought unprecedented cold for late May to North Dakota. Temperatures fell to as low as 15 degrees at Eckman, which is located near the Canadian border. In addition, the mercury fell to 23 degrees at Bismarck which is the lowest ever recorded there after May 20th. Meanwhile, below freezing temperatures were found across Montana, Wyoming, northeastern Colorado, western Nebraska, northern Minnesota, and western South Dakota. The sub freezing temperatures caused a partial to total loss of fruits and tender plants. During the day, this cold air surged southward across eastern Nebraska, eastern South Dakota, Iowa, southern Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Many cold maximum temperatures were established across the region for the day. 

At the same time this was occurring, the area of low pressure was continuing to strengthen as it moved east through southern Kansas. From the evening of the 27th through the 28th, this low produced a 6-12" snow band from southeast Wyoming east across northern Nebraska into northwest Iowa. The heaviest snow in this band was found in Alliance and Harrison, Nebraska where 12" had fallen. The weight from the heavy wet snow caused considerable damage to power lines, telephone lines, telegraph lines, trees, and shrubs. 

During the late afternoon and evening of May 28th, the surface low began to move northeast across northern Missouri, northwest Illinois, and southeast Wisconsin. The reason for this change in direction was due to a strong upper level disturbance that had dropped into the base of the upper level trough over Nebraska during the day. This upper level disturbance caused an amplification of the upper level ridge over the Ohio Valley and much of New England. As a result, temperatures in this region climbed into the 80s instead of the 50s and 60s which were seen the day before. However on the cold side of the system, temperatures remained in the 30s and 40s in the Upper Mississippi Valley. In addition to the cold temperatures, rain changed to snow across southern Minnesota, northeast Iowa, and across much of Wisconsin. This was the latest snow ever reported in a season in this area, with some places experiencing their biggest May snow storm on record. 

From the late afternoon of the 28th into the early morning hours of the 29th, 7-10" of snow fell across Allamakee County in northeast Iowa, and Vernon, Crawford, southern Monroe, and Richland Counties in southwest Wisconsin. The heaviest snowfall amount was 10" in Gays Mills, WI. Meanwhile, a 7-9" band of snow fell across northern Adams, Waushara, Winnebago, Outagamie, and Waupaca Counties in central and east central Wisconsin. The weight of the heavy snow caused severe damage power lines, telephone lines, bushes, and trees.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Downtown Westby

In 1921, when this photo was taken, Thoreson Lumber Company was located at the bottom left with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad headed north towards Sparta. Across East State Street going south from Thoreson Lumber is Bekkedal Warehouse #4 and directly behind that is the Milwaukee Road Depot that has a line of railroad cars along the west side of it. On the other side of the Milwaukee tracks is the Neprud warehouse that was destroyed in the tornado of 1930. Slightly further south is the grain elevator built in 1905 for the Cargill Grain Company. In this photo what looks to be directly east of the elevator is actually one block further north and is the smoke stack for Westby’s power plant and also visible is the old City Hall next to the smokestack.

Downtown Westby from the water tower 
The white roofed building is the C.L. Coleman Lumber Company that would become Taylor Lumber Company in 1927 and more recently Nuzum’s. Across the street from Coleman Lumber is the A.H. Dahl Ford Agency that would later become the Jules Rudie building and what is now the parking lot for Vernon Telephone Company.

At the center top of the photo is the Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church built in 1909. Moving north along Main Street is the Temperance Hall directly across Highland Street from the old Our Savior’s Lutheran Church that would be moved shortly after this photo was taken to its new location on East State Street and is Mike’s Feed Supply today in 2014.

Westby Population from 1848-2013

Monday, May 26, 2014

Westby Standpipe

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 a well to be able to fight fires. Prior to this there was a village well located close to the stockyard and a wooden windmill located in the parking lot behind where Borgen’s is today. 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.

Westby Standpipe before 15 more feet in height was added. Today the Stabbur would be located near the building in the photo. In the foreground are the
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroad tracks. 

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-foot hill, located in the center of the village.

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 to a depth of 300 feet at a cost of $313.20. The last well dug in Westby in 1975 cost almost $250.000.

When the water tower was built in 1900 it did not have roof, so anything flying over, could and sometimes did, fall in. Thirty plus years later this situation was fixed with an addition of 15 feet and most of all a roof over our water supply.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Coon Prairie Parish call written in 1872

When Pastor A.C. Preus resigned as pastor of Coon Prairie and annexed congregations, a letter of call was sent to Norway to find a pastor there. To inform his possible successor about the situation relating to the call, Pastor Preus wrote the following report which accompanied the letter of call. This interesting report is of such great importance as a historical document that it is reproduced here in its entirety. A Historical report of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Coon Prairie. Written on the occasion of its 75th anniversary.

This Coon Prairie church, built in 1858,
was 54 feet long, 34 feet wide and 20 feet high. It cost $4,200. 

Coon Prairie church was founded by Pastor Brandt in the year 1851 and was visited by him several times as a mission church until Pastor Stub, in 1854, moved here from unhealthy Musquigo. Pastor Stub conducted his service here until in 1861 he had to get a leave for a years time to return to Norway to restore his failing health.  In the meantime the congregation experienced a a large immigration and the call was served occasionally by the remaining pastors until I, after being denied permission by the Synod to return to Norway, accepted the call and have performed the duties until now. After two large parishes have separated from it this call still consists of the following:

Pastor Nils Brandt
“1. Coon Prairie, head church, includes over 200 farmers, a tight, nearly exclusive Norwegian settlement. The parsonage with the main church on its ground, lies in about the center of the settlement. The region is nice and fertile and the parsonage is comfortable situated in an excellent neighborhood. The parsonage land is lightly but well used. Two horses are needed for work and one horse for the pastor’s use, and he can feed 10-12 cattle and harvest all the produce for the use of the house and still sell about 150 dollars per year. The congregation includes many worthy, enlightened and Christian men upon whose aid the pastor in his work can depend for every lawful undertaking. I will also say that there are some quarrelsome people; but they have never in my time been able to harm the church. There are five schoolteachers, worthy and reliable folk. The congregation’s precentor is a very enlightened and honored man, a seminarian from Asker of the best disposition. During my time the church has been used to a determined and strong management without the slightest fear of telling me their opinion, privately or publicly. Forty Sunday services are conducted annually at Coon Prairie.

“2. Coon Valley (the valley), a long and narrow valley running in a northwesterly direction from Coon Prairie in length about 3 Norwegian miles. (1 Norwegian mile equals about 7 U.S. miles) With Coon Prairie it forms a cohesive settlement and is settled almost exclusively by Norwegians, about 200 farmers. The valley is very nice. The people are remarkable good-natured, so I do not know a single member of the church, who could be called troublesome. In this valley there are three small churches in which I usually conduct services each month on three successive days, so that each day is always Sunday, also 12 Sundays annually in the valley. The nearest church is about 1⅜ Norwegian miles from the parsonage, good road, the next about 2 and the farthest about 3 miles. But, the whole tour is made lighter by doing it all at once. In time this valley will have a new head church.

Pastor H.A. Stub
“3. Fish Creek, a smaller settlement about 3 Norwegian miles from the parsonage consisting of 25 farmers and where 6 to 8 services are conducted yearly. From here I used to go to:

“4. Sparta, a not insignificant town, where the people from Coon Prairie do their trading. It is 1½ miles from Fish Creek and 3¾ miles from the parsonage. A number of Norwegian families live here and many young girls and boys work here. To hold them in their father’s church I conduct services here as often as I can and since the pastor’s travel to Synod meetings, pastor’s meetings, etc. most often leave from Sparta where there is a railroad, I make use of these occasions. The road to Fish Creek is very bad, but good to Sparta. From Sparta I usually go to:

“5. Cannon Valley, about 1¾ from Sparta on the way home to Coon Prairie, a smaller settlement of about 30 families. From here to:

“6. Brush Creek is about 1½ miles east. This is the smallest settlement and consists of 10 families. From here to Coon Prairie parsonage is 2½ miles.

“Thus it is seen that the settlements are situated so that they are easily visited in two separate annex rides. It could also easily be done in one trip, since it is only 1½ miles from Upper Coon Valley to Fish Creek. The annexed churches lie in a large half circle from northwest to northeast around Coon Prairie. For a young and healthy man the trips are nothing to talk about, since there are bad roads only to Fish Creek, Cannon Valley and Brush Creek, for the rest they are good.

“In case the call is divided most likely Coon Valley, Fish Creek and Cannon Valley will become one call, Coon Prairie, Sparta and Brush Creek the other. As long as they are united the fixed salary will be supplied thusly: Coon Prairie $360 yearly; Coon Valley $160; Fish Creek about $40; Cannon Valley about $25; Brush Creek about $15. In Sparta the offering each time is from 5-8 dollars. In these small settlements I have not been too concerned about this matter since I am always afraid of giving offense by accounting for every penny, but the fixed salary will never be less than $600 annually. In case of division the fixed salary will still be $600 in the beginning and the loss from ministerial acts insignificant since the income from such acts always becomes better after a division and the little loss is made up in full by reducing travel. At Christmas I usually make the complete tour beginning at home on the first day of Christmas; giving the second day to Upper Coon Valley to conduct services there in the morning and to Middle Coon Valley in the afternoon; on the third day at Lower Coon Valley; the fourth day Fish Creek in the morning, Sparta in the afternoon; the fifth day in Cannon Valley, the sixth day in Brush Creek, and the seventh day at Homstad, the northern part of Coon Prairie, where services are held several times a year in the schoolhouse, 1 mile from the parsonage. They would probably rather have the sermon and offering everywhere at Christmas at which it is usual to receive 130-150 dollars altogether.

“The parish is nearly everywhere very good especially on Coon Prairie and in Coon Valley where the churches are overfilled particularly in the summer. Although there are various stupid and indifferent individual sectarian and willful members and although also there are a few who have fallen into drunkenness and other sins so there also is remarkable truth and respect for God’s Word and its minister is always treated with particular honor and love. This is especially of great comfort on the annex tours and I can never forget all the friendly devotion always shown me. The best that one had and could furnish, that was brought forth. There was a great welcome when the pastor’s family came along and the holiday spirit became so much greater.

“Coon Prairie and Coon Valley churches are members of the Synod, the Upper [Coon Valley] church is not, mainly because I have not urged them because I have not believed that they could do so with the best intent. For information about the Synod I refer you to H.A. Preus’ paper which is available at Bookdealer Dybwad.

Pastor A.C. Preus
“The nearest neighbor pastors are J. Frick, who will hereafter live in La Crosse, about 4 Norwegian miles from here; but on a trip to Coon Valley one is halfway there, since this valley lies between Coon Prairie and La Crosse. Southward from here about 3 miles lives Pastor Juve, pastor at West Prairie and annexed churches, formerly connected with Coon Prairie, so one can quite easily visit these brothers. Of these Pastor Frick is outstanding both in great abilities and amiable mind; and I respect him as one of the most remarkable among our synod pastors.

“The parsonage’s main building is not completely ready, but it now contains six comfortable rooms with a kitchen. When completed it will have 10 rooms with kitchen, dining room and cellar. I have planted an orchard but it is still very young.  The flower garden was destroyed during the building. A small attractive grove is next to t he house. The outhouses are in good condition. All the land was divided and fenced in by me. Fields about 110 measures; good timothy and clover about 80 measures; the rest is divided into 3 small pastures, one for pigs and sheep, the other 2 for horses and cattle. These are excellent and adequate pastures since they have been sown with clover.

“I believe that a pastor and his family can live very well and comfortable here; at the least I can thank God for much comfort and joy, both spiritually and temporally, and I would never have left this place if the condition of my health and doctor’s advice had not made it necessary. May God move then one or another christian theologian, who reads this paper to come here and help my dear congregation!
Coon Prairie parsonage, 20 February, 1872.

A.C, Preus.”

Once Upon A Time about 1915

In about 1915, Westby was a many horse town

Taken shortly after 1914 this view of South Main Street is looking north. The second building on the left is what was known as the Holman Store for many years. Next going north is a vacant lot and then next to that is the Thorson Photography building in the recently vacated Bank of Westby building that moved into its new office in 1914 and is now the Evenstad Building. In between these two buildings in 1937 the Westby Theater owned by L.V. Bergtold was built. The theater, Holman store and Thorson Photography building were located in where was Eric Erlandson’s Market Square Foods was built in 1990 and now is storage for different organizations and is currently leased by the Westby Cooperative Creamery. In the distance on the left is the State Bank of Westby and on the right can be seen the turret of the A. H. Dahl building. On the right, foreground, is the Johann Michelet building 

Westby and the Railroads

Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and
Pacific Depot after an addition was
added to the right.
Original section built in 1879
Although settlers had been homesteading the land in Christiana township, Vernon County, from 1848, Westby did not have its beginning until 1879, when the Milwaukee Railroad built a spur line from Sparta, south to Viroqua. The railroad platted the village of Westby Station and named it to honor Ole Westby a longtime merchant in the newly plotted village and erected a depot with Andrew Johnson as its first agent.

La Crosse and Southeastern Depot.
Built in 1904-1905
Before 1879 the this area was called Coon Prairie. Many of its first settlers were immigrants from Norway; brother sent for brother to come live on this land which is some of Wisconsin's finest farmland. Raccoons, foxes, wolves and such were the earlier settlers, so Coon Prairie was rightfully named. The first regular train reached this spot on the 13 of August 1879, and in 1905 the La Crosse & Southeastern railway arrived at Westby. Soon many new and larger warehouses for lumber, grain, and tobacco were erected. With the arrival of the railroads it was then that the surrounding farmers could ship products to better markets and the whole region prospered.

Jacob Post Michelet letter

Johan Michelet
Like a photo that forever captures a moment in time, a letter can do the same. This letter, was written more than 150 years ago from Jacob Post Michelet in Norway, to his oldest son Johan Michelet. Johan Michelet had come to America in the spring of 1850 at the age of 19. This letter is a primary source which provides insights into the life of a Norwegian family who were among the first settlers of Westby.

In a Westby Times front page article March 25, 1993, Margaret Gulsvig wrote “Johan Michelet’s name became so prominent in the history of Westby, the town could easily be Michelet today, though Ole T. Westby was given the honor.”

Translated by Bjarne O. Breilid
Lillehammer, April 6, 1851

My Dear Johan

I received your precious letter on New Years Day in the afternoon, and it transformed our day from a dismal one to a happy one. I decided at once to take your advice and follow you to America, but as you know the Norwegian inclination is to oppose what other people want, and this had certainly been the case here. Finally, I have triumphed and have sold my property to Mr. Mahlum, the tanner, for 430 spesidaler (sps.) to be paid by April 14. I have had auctions, and from those I have made only 192 (spd). The last auction will take place on April 12. The lack of money is so severe that one can get only ½ or ⅓ of what an item is worth. Confidently, I suppose I have made sales for close to 200 (spd) but the expenses and difficulties are extremely great so that my capital is shrinking considerable. Most likely I will be going on the ship Rochard Cobden, clearing agent Langaard in Christiana (Oslo). The fare is 22 (spd.) per person and 14 (spd) for children without meals.

You dear mother had a baby on the first of February, a beautiful daughter, and we are trying to think of a name for her. (Note: the name Tea has been added above-she was later named Johanna Dorthea) What worries me the most is your mother’s ill health in spite of the fact that this childbirth was the easiest of all. If I could only get her to Christiana (added above 96 miles) from where we expect to leave around the middle of May, then I believe all difficulties would be behind us, and you could expect to meet us cheerful and happy in Milwaukee. Your siblings are doing well and are good looking, healthy and lively. From New York I’ll write to you, and then you must meet us in Milwaukee. As soon as you receive this letter you must start thinking of renting a place to live for us (too faded) the cheapest and best place and make preparations as well as you can, however, without spending any money beyond this. Your efforts ought to concentrate in every way on gathering information about the most fertile and best place for us to settle. Think about and seriously consider whether we ought to buy a farm or rent land, or more correctly what is most advantageous to us, dear Johan, because your own as well as the entire family’s welfare depends on your thoughtful consideration (too faded) always what kind of fortune we can expect in America.

My dear, get advice from anyone you can and pray to God, especially for your mother’s health because of all the child-births have weakened her-she is often ill, but wants very much to go over there to you and then we are going to have a good time.

Here poverty is affecting all of us. Business confidence and friendships are gone.

Christian A. Morterud
I received your greeting in your letter to Morterud. (This was Johan’s friend Christian A. Morterud - who came to Westby later and became a merchant in Bloomingdale) Otherwise I don’t know what to tell you, but you must be informed of everything because our thought are only concerned with the preparation for this long trip and with making it convenient and possible for us to reach you, and for you to be set up in such a way that we, without delay can proceed to our first destination (or place to stay) in America. After receiving your letter, we are trying to work as hard as we can. (note: This sentence is ambiguous because to word handle can mean act-to do some work, or it can mean buy and sell, do business in a store. As Mr. Michelet was a merchant it probably meant that he was trying to liquidate the merchandise. Otherwise they were just very busy getting ready to sail for America.) Accordingly, the middle of May is our departure from Christiana, how I wish we were there! It is no laughing matter for me to get four such small children and my poor wife there all by myself. Today I wrote Landgaard regarding the fare, and I’ll do my best to help and protect in every way so that with luck I can arrive with the family at our future place of residence with God’s help and protection for us against all troubles and hardships, which I also trust He will do for you. Besides, I hope that all your thoughts are focused on yourself and on us since our entire future happiness depends on your present decisions. In addition, you will in a few months (someone added 6 above the months) with certainty be able to meet all of us because God is with us. (Mr. Michelet’s father had been a Lutheran Minister, so he was a religious man.)

Our fondest farewell and greeting from all of us.

Your devoted father
Jacob Post Michelet

Note: Passenger list obtained from the Vesterheim Genealogical Center in Madison, tell that the Jacob Post Michelet family did not come on the Richard Cobden, rather they are listed on the Incognito which is the same ship which John Michelet took a year earlier. On the passenger list dated August 30, 1851 and were listed as: Jacob Post Michelet 55, Gregine 39, Emil (Wilhelm) 5, Charles 2, Sophie 7, The infant was not listed - but she arrived safely.

The letter also mentions Morterud. Johan Michelet and Christian Morterud had been friends in the Lillehammer area. Both were well educated in Norway and raised in the mercantile life. Johan Michelet, was born in 1830 and Christian Morterud was born in 1833.

Johan Michelet general store building.
At the time this photo was taken,
E.T. Borgen owned it as a restaurant.
Corner of First and Main streets.
Johan Michelet general store,
center building. Photo taken from the Cargill
tower southeast of Michelet's general store.
Having been given “gold” by his father he purchased land when he arrived, but Johan Michelet did not farm instead he went to work for merchant Hercules Dousman. In Prairie du Chien. By the year 1850, Dousman had withdrawn from the fur trade and had focused on his other many businesses which included real-estate, grain and lumber. Dousman also beame involved in transportation, steamboats and was a principal investor in the Madison, Prairie du Chien railroad. Dousman is often called Wisconsin’s first millionaire. When he died Dousman was worth 23 million (in today’s money). Working for Hercules Dousman, gave Johan Michelet valuable additional education in business. John later built a warehouse in Westby and was Westby’s first grain buyer. Johan Michelet was active in early Westby, serving as township chairman, assessor and treasurer, as well as member of the county board. He helped to start schools and served on the school boards. He served as postmaster from 1884 to 1888 and operated a general store for about 15 years starting in 1891 at he age of 61.

John’s friend Christian A. Morterud came to Westby in 1865. The history of Vernon County says “when Christian Morterud came to Wisconsin for a short time he clerked for H. Pierce, a merchant in Bloomingdale. He soon formed a partnership with his employer, bought out Mr. Pierce’s interest in stock. Mr. Morterud put in to practice all the business qualifications he was taught in his youth, building up a large lucrative trade. Mr. Morterud served as a member of the school board for several years, treasurer of the town for nine years, was Justice of the Peace two years and was notary public.

The friendship between these two continued through the years, when Charles Michelet, younger brother of Johan requested a letter of recommendation from Morterud for starting a business account after his graduation from law school at Northwestern University. This letter is on the Morterud business letterhead.

Michelet Country House
In the study of history these letters are a primary source of information which is of historical significance as they provide insight into the lives of several people who played important roles in the early history of the village of Westby. I am so glad they were preserved by my family.

Michele Michelet Boyer.

Home at Last

Arrival in America after the long voyage was an exciting moment. For most, however, their welcome was not what they expected, as con-men and swindlers of every kind descended upon them. As a result, some unwarned immigrants found themselves penniless and were forced to find employment in their port of entry. The majority of Norwegians, however, had their destinations fixed before their arrival in the New World. Most set out immediately to join friends or relatives in the Midwest.

After leaving New York for a journey to Wisconsin, for example, the immigrants went by steamboat up the Hudson River to Albany, where they transferred to canal boats bound for Buffalo, and finally booked passage on a Great Lakes sailing vessel for Chicago or Milwaukee. Travel times ranged between seven and ten days. These final days of the journey, however, proved to be the most difficult and dangerous segment of the entire trip. Swindlers and frauds continued to greet them at every stop and the crowding on canal and lake boats was so intense that the immigrants were shoved in like baggage.

Some immigrants were able to buy a wagon with two oxen for their final trip to the Norwegian settlement. Immigrants with no finances had to walk.

Written by Richard J. Fapso, State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Andrew H. Dahl

Dahl Ford Motor Cars Garage
East State Street
Vernon Telephone Cooperative parking lot today

Five generations of Dahl's have influenced the automobile industry for more than 100 years. Dahl Automotive La Crosse is the ninth-oldest family-owned Ford dealership in the nation. This has been made possible through years of customer loyalty, which stems from a constant focus on the customer's complete satisfaction with our products and or services. The rich history of the family as they continue to grow alongside the automotive industry is a great legacy in the making.

Andrew H. Dahl of Westby, Wisconsin, who was already running a general store, serving in the Wisconsin legislature and raising seven children, received an agency agreement from Ford Motor Company in 1911. Ford Model Ts were sold at Andrew's General store, Andrew H. Dahl Co., for $500 each until a new store was built in 1913. At this time two of Andrew's four sons, Harry and Chester were convinced to run the operation acting as managers, salespeople and driving instructors. Ford Motor Company, during the initial years, would transport Model T parts, leaving it up to the dealers to assemble them and then of course teach customers to drive this brand new machine. Dahl expanded to Viroqua, Wisconsin and La Crosse in 1911.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Westby about 1964

Tis The Season – For Lutefisk!

By RuthAnn Wilson

Seeing all the local flyers around town, advertising church lutefisk dinners, reminds me of the lutefisk tub my Aunt Esther Bakke stored in her basement for many years. This note is on the inside lid of the tub:   

 “Lutefisk was shipped to Westby’s Storbakken grocery in this tub. In the early 1960s Edwin Storbakken told his good friend, Victor Bakke, that the suppliers were going to stop using wooden tubs; so he should take this one home and save it. Victor took it home and Esther, his wife, kept it until 2000. Her father, Peter Flugstad, repaired a couple of the wooden staves. Esther gave this tub to Karen Hankee while “downsizing” in 2000, thinking it should be rosemaled.  Karen realized Esther’s health was declining, so she rosemaled the lid and took it back to Esther in 2007. Esther did not want to keep the tub, so Esther and Karen decided that this tub should come to the Westby Historical Society.” 

Lutefisk Tub
Lutefisk dates back to the 16th century or earlier, although it’s not known for sure how it first originated. Remember there was no refrigeration, so fish and meats were dried to preserve them. In Norway, many kinds of fish were used, especially codfish. The process has not changed much over the centuries, and is still done today. The fish is cleaned and hung from wooden racks and dried in the open air. Once dried, it is stacked like firewood and stored indefinitely. Norway exports tons of dried cod to other parts of the world, especially Mediterranean, Caribbean, and African countries.    

To make lutefisk, the dried fish is soaked for several days in a solution made of water and lye. In fact, the term 'lutefisk' comes from the Norwegian word ‘lute’, meaning to wash in lye solution, and ‘fisk, meaning fish. Once the fish has been soaked in the lye solution, it is immersed in water for several more days. After it is rinsed the 'luted' fish is ready for cooking. Do you suppose the lye was used to make it juicy and tender?

This yummy 'delicacy' came to America during the mid-1800s when many Norwegians immigrated to the United States with the dry-preserved, hard slabs packed in their immigrant trunks. Norwegian families continue to look forward to feasts of lutefisk and lefse, especially at this time of year. It's estimated that one million pounds of lutefisk are consumed in the United States each year. For those of us who enjoy lutefisk, it is mostly the fond memories that keep us coming back for more!

In many Scandinavian homes, this is the traditional dinner served on Christmas Eve with boiled potatoes, melted butter and a white cream sauce with a vegetable, usually carrots and peas and lefse, and at my house, meatballs. You may notice that the foods are either all white or are covered with a white sauce! To add color to the plates, I serve cranberries or lingonberries. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Native American Trails

Before there was a written record, State Street was a main thoroughfare in downtown Westby. Used by the Native Americans to travel from the Kickapoo River Valley to the Mississippi River Valley, it intersected at this corner with the other more major travel route, the Black River Trail going from north of Black River Falls to Prairie du Chien in the south.

Intersection of Main and State streets about 1915

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Westby's Underground

First a little history of the beginning of our underground, usually called basements. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, starting with the building of the Bank of Westby on the corner of First and Main Streets, buildings were now being built of brick, steel and rock, replacing the older wooden buildings. These new building were stronger and therefore able to have three or more floors. Basement, main floor and upper floors for storage or office space.

A.H. Dahl & Company
Notice all the people leaning on the railing in front of the steps
that went down to the Barber Shop and Westby Times

Our tour will start at the corner of Main and State at today’s Uff-Da Shoppe, built in 1898 by A.H. Dahl. Facing the front door we take a right and go down the outside stairway. The business we find located in the basement are Edward A. Lins barbershop. And, if the year is 1900, we find the Westby Times newspaper office in their first location.

Continuing south we arrive at the Westby Telephone Building built about 1908. Before this new building, the telephone company had been located in a modest building made of wood at about the same location. The “number please” women were located on the top floor, a drug store located on the main floor, Rudies Drugs being one of them, and in the rear, a walkout basement for telephone company storage.

The E.J. Sveen Furniture & Undertaking establishment is next on the tour. Built in 1898, today it is the location of Treasures on Main. The steps to the basement businesses was under where the front steps are located today. It is unknown what business was located in this basement.  

To the left of the boys leaning against the building are the steps to the basement of E.J. Sveen Furniture & Undertaking establishment.
Under the Bank of Westby on the corner are the steps to the lower level and a Restaurant
Next door, the building on the corner of First and Main, was bought by Carl O. Bye in 1897 from Bergena M. Ballsrud and became Westby’s first official bank. Treasures on Main is the current occupant. The stairway to the lower level was in the front of the building with the top step at the corner. As we step down, we are facing north. As we reach the bottom we find a restaurant possibly G.M. Peterson’s restaurant.  

In 1975, David Vosseteig owner at that time, had a doorway put in to combine the two basements, putting his carpet business in the north building and dining room furniture in the south building.

Crossing Main Street, we will now start going north. The vacant lot between Mary Gajewski, Dentist, and Larson Brothers Body Shop, recently demolished to make room for the Subway being built, is our next stop. Built as a new car showroom that over the years, had numerous car dealers located at this address. How many of you remember the ramp going to the main floor from street level with steps in the middle of the ramp for people to use to walk up to the car showroom? By raising the main floor, the basement had access out the back door for cars to drive in for repairs.

Next stop is the Nelson Barber Shop located under Hotel Evans. The stairway is south of the building and as we step down the steps we are walking west. Starting when the hotel was built in the late nineties, a barber shop continued in the same place until 1957 when Clifford Perkins moved his barbershop to a new location. Remember all the plants he used to have in his front below-ground window?

Nelson Brother's Barber Shop

In 1914, the new Bank of Westby built their building between Hotel Evans and was until recently Westby Bakery & Coffee Shop. While their basement was never a public place, I am mentioning it because it was classified by our government as a Fallout Shelter during the cold war in the 1960s. It was the place to go to if the air raid siren sounded. In the basement, dry food and bottled water were stored if the need should arise. A few other places in town were also classified as air raid shelters.

Of all the underground businesses we have visited, the only one with an inside stairway is next. An unassuming normal sized door located on Main Street opened to a stairway that takes us to down under Stevlingson & Call to C. O. Hagen’s Billiards and Bowling. A pool hall continued in this location until the late 60s. Today, Dregne’s Scandinavian Gifts is located above the former pool hall.

Joseph Borgen working at the Opera Café about 1919

Only one underground left to visit but it is the one with the most unexpected surprise. In 1905 the Westby State Bank opened with the Opera Café in the basement to complement the Opera House on second floor. As we face the bank’s font door we make a left and go down the steps to the Café with their selling point, Oysters in Season. Exiting the Opera Cafe by a back door we find ourselves among many doors used as bank storage rooms. One of these doors opens to one of the most unusual rooms in Westby.

Opening this door, remember we are still in the basement, we find ourselves on a balcony overlooking a huge cavernous dimly lit expanse of nothingness, almost three stories tall. What is the purpose of this room? When Martin Bekkedal built the Westby State Bank he had the foresight to build a room large enough to hold enough coal for an entire heating season, even in the coldest winter. This double deep basement room held three full train cars of coal.

Our tour of Westby’s Underground is now complete, hope you enjoyed it! If you are still in need of more undergrounds, how many of you remember the tunnel connecting the old grade school with the old high school? Demolished many years ago to make room for the new school. What do you remember about this dungeon-like shortcut that was also a tornado shelter and was usually dark, always hot, and sometimes scary?

There is one other tunnel of interest to Westby readers. The tunnel from the Neprud house to another time and place. Written by Joel Lovstad, using the pen name of J.L. Fredrick, The Other End of the Tunnel is Lovstad’s first of many published novels. For anyone interested in Westby’s past with a little bit of fiction and fantasy thrown in for good measure, this is a necessity read for anyone interested in our local history.

Norseland Nursing Home - The first 20 years.

Norseland Nursing Home had its origin in 1973 when the city of Westby entered into an agreement with C.M. Corporation of Sioux City, Iowa to develop and manage a skilled nursing facility in Westby.

Norseland opened its doors in February of 1975. C.M. Corporation managed Norseland Nursing Home from its opening in 1975 until June 30, 1983. On July 1, 1983 C.M. Corporation merged with Beverly Enterprises. Beverly Enterprises continued as the operator of Norseland until December 31, 1984.

Norseland Nursing Home

On January 1, 1985 the city of Westby entered into a management contract with Bethany-St. Joseph Corporation of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Norseland Nursing Home is a municipally owned non-profit skilled nursing facility. The Westby City Council, as governing body, appointed a five-member management committee to oversee the operation of Norseland. This committee has played an integral role in Norseland’s history.

In 1989, Bethany-St. Joseph Corporation purchased land adjacent to Norseland Nursing Home from the city of Westby. In May of 1989 construction began on Friendship House, a nine unit congregate living facility. In October of 1989, Friendship House opened and was soon full. The intent of Friendship House was to offer secure, affordable living to older adults of the Westby Area.

Friendship House — Residence for Seniors 

In April 1993, construction began on an expansion project for Norseland Nursing Home. The project did not increase the 59 bed capacity. It did, however, add 4500 square feet of much needed space. The project entailed increasing the dining room and kitchen size, adding a new living room, a new activity room, new offices and meeting rooms. The project was completed in October 1993 and should help ensure Norselands capability of providing quality care in the future.

Harvest and Tobacco Fest

In the early 1950s Westby had a Harvest Fest. This photo, probably taken in 1950 shows the parade in front of Werner’s Shoe Store, now part of the Uff-Da Shoppe.

Tobacco Festival, probably 1951

Monday, May 19, 2014

Westby Postcard

Mitby Hardware

Is Anton Mitby having a sale on buggies
the day this photo was taken?
There must be something special going on
For at least 25 years and probably more, Anton Mitby sold buggies, surreys and spring wagons. Beginning his business in 1890 and continuing on State Street. This photo was taken in the early teens on a cloudy and cool day according to the clothes being worn. His store is the one in the middle. The Unseth Drug store is on the right in the new Unseth Bekkedal building and the store to the left would become Goettel's Meat Market in only a few years.

The Temperance Hall and the Temperance Society

The Temperance Hall and the Temperance Society
written by Palmer (Polly) Rude

From the early history of Coon Prairie, we learn much about the hardships and difficult conditions encountered by the early settlers. The Civil War hung heavy over their heads, prices for their farm products were extremely low and so money was in short supply for their bare necessities. Sickness, malnutrition and a bleak outlook for the future caused some settlers to start drinking. The diversion of their scarce money for such purposes was a matter of much concern among church members. Pastor Halvorson wanted very much to reach out to these settlers with consolation, encouragement and prayers for the future. The Pastor considered many things to do such as starting a Temperance Society.

Westby Temperance Hall
After consulting with interested members of the congregation, Pastor Halvorson decided to organize a Temperance Society on Coon Prairie. He prepared a constitution, written in Norwegian, and then called a meeting on August 17, 1886, to formally organize a Temperance Society. After an agreement to organize, 19 interested persons followed Halvorson’s lead and signed their names to the necessary papers. The proposed constitution was then read and adopted. This constitution was written in Norwegian asking each member to pledge to abstain from drinking liquor, beer or wine and to avoid all places where these were sold. Then a committee was selected to check on the cost of building an adequate building for their meetings and programs. At a later meeting on June 4, 1888, the committee reported that a building about the size and shape of a country schoolhouse could be built for $350. Volunteers were then asked for to get money and pledges for the building. At the meeting in September it was reported that $25 had already been subscribed. With this information a decision was made to start building that some fall. A parcel of land was bought from Christian Ballsrud for $55 but Mrs. Ballsrud donated $5 so that net cost was $50. 

Mrs. Christine Schreiner reported that she had solicited south of Westby as far as the Three Chimneys. She pulled her one year old daughter Hildur along in a child's wagon and stopped at every place along the way. She said it was tiresome but rewarding. She got donations from every one and some generously.

When the building was completed it became the pride and joy of the Temperance Society. It became known as the Temperance Hall. Norwegians called it Avholds Forstue. Although the building was not large and elaborate it was adequate for their purpose. This was a place of their own where they held their regular meetings followed often by programs and a social hour. The youngsters would have some games and the adults would visit with others and discuss each other’s problems on the farm and make plans for the future.

As time went on the members kept increasing so available room was quite crowded, so in 1893 the society bought a 10 foot strip of land along the north side from Our Savior’s Church for future expansion. At the March 1893 meeting, it was decided to offer membership to the young people eight years or older who had their parents consent. They would have no voting rights but they were required to make the same abstinence pledge the adults did. This was probably the beginning of the Cold Water Army, which I joined about 1913. After the building was enlarged it became popular as a meeting place for many groups, such as school class room and the public library. The library with Mrs. Ole Frederickson as librarian, was there until it was moved into new quarters upstairs over the newly built Westby fire station on West State Street. Places for meeting were scarce at that time so the Temperance Hall was used for many other groups.

The Temperance Hall and the Temperance Society
written by Lillian Leum

The Temperance Society was called “Coon Prairie Afholdsforening” and had a Constitution which was written in Norwegian. The purpose of the Society was to avoid and shun all places where liquor was sold, and its member were not to taste liquor or to give liquor to others. They were to be temperance. 

The building itself was about the size of a country school house about 14’ x 18’. It had a kitchen for serving lunch. It had a pot-bellied stove for heat. For many years there was a pump outdoors for water. A railing was built outdoors on the north side where the horses could be tied and covered with blankets when the weather was was cold. 

In 1892 the Society asked Our Savior’s to buy some of their land on the south side of the church to enlarge the Temperance Hall. In 1893 the church sold them a 10’ strip of land. At this time there was not a street between the two buildings.
The white building with two windows visible located between
Our Savior’s and Westby Coon Prairies Lutheran Churches
was the Temperance Hall in this 1921 photo

The Temperance Hall was used for many meetings of the Our Savior’s church. When the Ladies Aid was first organized, and the membership was too large to continue meeting in the homes, they met at the Temperance Hall. The Lutheran Brotherhood Society held its meetings there. Since this building had tables and chairs, dishes and a kitchen with a stove for cooking coffee, it was a very special place for meetings.

Although the Hall was built for the Temperance Society, it was used for many other things. At one time it was used for the Westby Library, the public school used it to remedy overcrowding before the new school was built and for Manual Training classes after the new high school was built.

The Temperance Society was a very active group. Delegates from the Westby Society would even walk to Brush Creek, which is between Cashton and Ontario, to attend their meetings. They even sent delegates to Racine, Wisconsin to a National Temperance meeting. At their meetings they had elected officers to lead the meetings and had speakers. After the meeting, the tables and chairs would be moved aside for the youth to play games. They especially enjoyed the Grand March. In 1905 there were 52 adults and 9 youth members who met each month. At one meeting there was a basket social in which baskets of lunch were auctioned off to the highest bidder. The youth group was probably called “The Cold Water Society”. In 1907 delegates were sent to Eau Claire to a meeting. In 1908 the total value of the building, wood shed, lot, dishes, and such was $1,220.85. In 1909 the building was moved a few feet in order that a vestibule could be built onto the building again as it was too small to hold all the people who came there for various functions. A basement was built and by this time the village of Westby had a public water supply so water was put into the basement, and electric lights were installed. There were four lights put in the basement, three lights on each side of the main part of the building, one light in the kitchen and one in the vestibule. They also bought a cook stove for the basement and heater for the main room upstairs. After the church split with the Coon Prairie congregation, church services were held in the Temperance Hall. If they had night meetings, they were held in the Hall because of the electric lights. This was continued until the new church was completed in 1922.

After the new church was completed they still continued to use the hall for Ladies Aid, Scouts and other group meetings. Many other groups and worthwhile organizations continued to use the building. Then more meeting and entertainment places became available in Westby. As the years went on and travel conditions improved, new events were started so the interest in the use of the Temperance hall deceased and attendance at meetings dropped. After this lack of interest the building was sold to Bennnie and Josie Johnson for $1,250 on May 15, 1922. A stipulation of the sale was that the property was never to be used for liquor, dance, pool hall, or for public games. So Bennie tore down the building and used the lumber to build the house that now stands on the corner lot. After the sale, the Temperance Society gave $500 to each of the three churches in Westby. They continued their meeting until September 1929. After the society discontinued, the $64.42 in the treasury was given to church and missions.

Westby Village Hall

Before there was a Westby City Hall, the Westby Village Hall was located on top of the hill on First Street between the two railroads. In the center of the photo with the bell over the front door is the village hall and directly one block north on State Street, also facing south, is the Westby Times office.
Photo taken about 1912 from the Cargill grain elevator.

Koshkonong Settlement > Coon Prairie Settlement

The first immigrants from Biri in Norway came to this country in 1846 and settled at Koshkonong. These were Peter Bronstad, Syver Galstad and Even Gullord. Bronstad had money so he paid the fares for the others. Even Gullord was a young bachelor who was very capable and with his well-written letters encouraged many others to follow. Gullord worked for a year at Koshkonong and earned enough to pay back the money he owed for his fare. Then when he felt himself a free man again he left Koshkonong to search for good land for a Norwegian settlement for others he knew were following him. He went to Galena, Illinois where he worked for a year and earned money for a river boat passage northward. After about 150 miles the boat stopped at Coon Slough (Stoddard) for supplies. He disembarked there and wondered up the whole length of Coon Valley, about 20 miles. Even Gullord saw many beautiful places along the way but no settlers. At last he came up on large Coon Prairie, beautiful bountiful and untouched by man. Glorious was the sight of this magnificent prairie. No wonder he knelt down there in the grass and thanked God for bringing him to this good land. He examined the whole prairie and found that in every way it was excellently suited for a large Norwegian settlement. He chose for himself 160 acres of land and wrote his name on the survey marker. This was the first farm on Coon Prairie and later owned by Richard Grimsrud. Thereupon he journeyed back to Galena where he continued his work until fall.

In 1847-1848 a number of others, had on his advice, came to Galena and got work. Together with these he traveled in September of 1848 back to Coon Prairie to take up permanent residence in that new settlement.

When Gullord came back to settle on his claim, he found that someone else had taken residence there. Rather than to fuss about this, he chose another parcel of land nearby. This lies a half mile north of the Coon Prairie Church and has lately been owned by Richard Galstad. Here Even Gullord settled and lived for many ears. After Gullord’s encouraging letters back to Norway, many more immigrants came in 1849 and most of them settled on Coon Prairie. Others took land in the nearest surroundings.