Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Sunday, June 22, 2014

First and Main streets

Bank of Westby, on the corner of First and Main before 1898. The northern half of the two buildings built in 1898. At the time this photo was taken, the bank was on the corner, Jewelry store and the north building being the Sveen Furniture and Funeral.
The first official bank of Westby was the Westby Exchange Bank more commonly called the Bank of Westby, located on the corner of First and Main. Owned by Carl Brye it was sold to Martin Bekkedal in 1902 and became the Westby State Bank.

Numerous businesses have been located in these two buildings the past 117 years. Furniture and Funeral being the most popular businesses to be located at this location. There have also been at least two jewelry stores, a restaurant in the lower level and a dance studio on the upper level.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Syverson Park

By Ellen Pederson

Ole Syverson (Kankerud) was born in Faaberg, Gulbrandsdal, Norway on Oct. 15, 1808. He married Marthe Pedersdaughter Mellenborg on November 12, 1835. Ole and family came to America in March, 1849. They boarded the ship Preciosa and arrived in New York 11 weeks later.

On the way to Coon Prairie Ole needed to find shelter under a tree while Marthe gave birth to their sixth child. When they arrived at Coon Prairie, Ole purchased 40 acres of land and began farming. This land was to become the village of Westby, including the area where the present ball diamond, football field, swimming pool and Syverson Park are located.

Two of Ole’s sons Anton and Simon, bought land from their father in 1881 and settled in Westby. Then there were only 14 dwellings that existed in the village.

In 1962, Simon’s son, Melvin, worked out an agreement with the city of Westby for $2,400, giving the one acre of land as a park, to be known as Syverson Park. The park was dedicated in 1976. The city placed a monument at the entrance to the park with an inscription that read: ‘American Revolution Bicentennial 1776-1976. In memory of the Ole Syverson family, who were among the first settlers of Westby in 1849.’

The park became a winter-use area. There were two ski jumps on the hill. When the “Big” jump was built in Timber Coulee, the jumps in Westby became the Junior Ski Hill. These jumps eventually had to be torn down because of deteriorating wood. In the years to follow, Syverson Park grew up in weeds and became a wasteland.

Today the park is receiving new life, thanks to a group of concerned citizens, the city of Westby and a member of the Eagle Boy Scouts. Much has been accomplished since this project began in 1997 and much more will be accomplished in the years to come.

If Ole Syverson were to be standing in the park today he would probably have this to say “Bra gjort!” “A job well done!”

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ice Storm — February 22, 1922

Pictures like this were taken all over the Coulee Region on February 21-23, 1922. Taken at Westby’s intersection of Main and State streets looking north,
the Bekkedal Bank is visible on the left with the M.H. Iverson Tailor
Shop sign hanging above the entrance to the second floor.
On the east side of Main Street is the former Ole Westby’s second general store
soon to be torn down for one of our first filling stations.

This storm still stands out as one of the worst ice storms ever experienced in Wisconsin. Ice accumulations of 1-2", with a few reports of around 4", built up on trees, poles, and wires. Property damage was a staggering $10 million in Wisconsin. Additional ice damage was reported in northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota, but newspaper accounts were rather sketchy on the extent of this damage.

Current David Mills Residence on State Street
Light rain and freezing rain began falling across the Upper Mississippi River Valley during the afternoon of February 21, 1922. The precipitation intensity increased during the overnight and continued into the evening of the 22nd as a surface low pressure system moved northeast from eastern Kansas to southern Lower Michigan by the morning of the 23rd. There were even reports of an occasional thunderstorm across the region. Precipitation amounts were generally in the 1-3" range; however, there were a few isolated reports of over 4" in central Wisconsin. 

Westby High and Grade School
In the following locations, February 22, 1922 stands as their wettest February day on record:  Fayette, Iowa (2.42"), Hillsboro, Wisconsin (3.00"), Hatfield, Wisconsin (1.45"), La Crosse, Wisconsin (2.05"), Mather, Wisconsin (1.56"), Neillsville, Wisconsin (1.78"), Richland Center, Wisconsin (1.80"), and Winona, Minnesota (1.65”).

According to the February 1922 Monthly Weather Review, a mixture of rain, sleet, and freezing rain fell across the southern two tiers of counties in Wisconsin. Further north, a mixture of freezing rain and sleet was seen north and west of a line from Prairie du Chien to Sheboygan and south of a line from Lake City, Minnesota to Green Bay, Wisconsin. Ice accumulations of 1-2" were common in this area. Meanwhile, the remainder of Wisconsin saw a mix of sleet and heavy snow. Snowfall totals up to 3 feet were reported from Eau Claire to Green Bay.

Westby Standpipe

In Wisconsin, the heavy ice accumulation brought down 15,000-20,000 communication poles. This resulted in interruptions of power, telegraph, and phone service from 2 to 15 days. Along with the poles, there was considerable damage to timber, shade, and fruit trees. Ice accumulation on train tracks accounted for ten train wrecks as locomotives and cars slid off of their tracks. Minor flooding was reported in La Crosse, Sheboygan, Darlington, Fond du Lac, and a suburb in Milwaukee. This flooding caused considerable inconvenience, but little monetary loss. Fortunately, only two deaths were attributed to this storm.

South Main Street

Looking north in 1911 in front of where Rod and Gun Club is today 
On the left is the Carl Anderson Livery that not only was a livery stable it also rented Ford Automobiles at the time this photo was taken. Next is a house that has yet to be identified. What would shortly become O.I. Holman’s General Store with the wide awning is next. Not noticeable in this photo is the gap between the Holman store and the Thoreson building where the Westby Theater would be built in 26 years. The Thoreson building is home to the  new Bank of Westby built in 1910 or 1911. Thorson’s Studio was on second floor for many years. Later Roehl’s would occupy this building and in more recent years by Country Collectables Antiques. The three story building is Hotel Evans, one of the best hotels in the county, or so their advertising says. The darker building is Flugstad Hardware more recently the Westby Bakery & Coffee Shop. Hardly visible is the Stevlingson Hardware on the corner now occupied by Dregne’s Scandinavian Gifts.
Same view as above but taken from the boardwalk
on the east side of the street

Crossing State Street is the new Bekkedal bank only four years old when this photo was taken.

On the east side of Main Street, the building visible beyond the horse and wagon is O.P. Anderson’s Furniture and Funeral, now Treasures on Main. The long white building was built by Johan Michelet as one of the first buildings in Westby and is now the yard in front of Connelly Law Office. The building most of us remember as Storbakken’s Grocery now Nisse House of Art. Notice that when this building was newer there were steps going up to the first floor. The building was later lowered to allowing no steps to enter. The building on the far right is Paulsen Millinery & Company with Sean Paulsen as proprietor and as the newer bottom photo shows it has become Erlandson the Tailor shop.

Same view of above but taken a few years later

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The History of US Highway 14

Every business day, several thousand cars and trucks travel between Westby and Viroqua, on the heavily traveled highway we know as US Highway 14. In the near future, the path of Highway 14, will be dramatically changed. In our busy, busy lifestyles of the twenty first century, we take all this for granted. But, did you ever wonder what the history of this piece of our land is, when was it constructed, how it all began?

Black River Trail
Alfred Bronson began construction of

wagon road in 1843 between Prairie du Chien
and Black River Falls. In 1849 road from
Westby to Viroqua opens
When the white men first came to this area, the Indian trails formed a network of narrow, deep sunken paths over the face of the country, as they connected the Indian villages. Many of these Indian trails followed the earlier trails of the wild animals, deer, and the like, which wandered from place to place, through the forests and valleys in search of food and water. The white men followed these paths as well, first on foot, then on horseback or with oxen.

When the white men began to settle this area in the 1840s and 1850s, there were very few roads. The town of Bad Axe, was first created on January 9, 1849 in Crawford County. Crawford county, at that time, included not only the whole of our present Vernon County, but part of what is now La Crosse County on the north, and part of what is now Crawford county on the south. The roads laid out at that time were as follows: (1). A road leading north through the village of Viroqua to the north line of the village. (2). A road leading from Warner’s Landing (near the present day De Soto) through Spingville. (3). A road leading from De Soto to what is now Liberty Pole. (4) A road leading from what is now Liberty Pole southeasterly to Reed’s Mill (Readstown).

There was not a big need for roads at that time. When it became necessary for the pioneers in our area to go to the nearest mill for provisions for their families, the almost total absence of roads and bridges did make this a difficult and extremely slow process. They were slowed down even further by the oxen teams they used for transportation. The  distance might be as far as sixty miles or more, to La Crosse or Prairie du Chien. With many complications, this trip might end up taking three or four weeks. With a large family, sometimes it was necessary to make this trip three or more times a year.

When the lumber industry got into full swing, still not a big need for roads, as the logs would be transported downstream to their destinations via the Wisconsin, Fox, and Mississippi Rivers.

Highway 11 entering Westby
on what is Ramsland Street today
By the decades between 1870 and 1900, the railroad had proved to be the most popular mode of transportation. Funding was focused on creating additional rail lines rather than highways. 

Another reason for Wisconsin’s poor roads was the fact that the framers of the state’s constitution had inserted a clause prohibiting state appropriations for transportation and internal improvements. All responsibility for maintaining roads had been delegated to local governments. So, if there were no funds or labor for this, it just didn’t get done, or was placed at the bottom of the priority list.

During the early 1890s, a movement known as the Good Roads Movement began, to try to transform the state’s country roads into decent thoroughfares. The movement was supported by a coalition of urban merchants, progressive farm leaders, educators, and during the cycling craze of the 1880s and 1890s, cyclists. Education of the rural citizens was a feature of the Movement. Public meetings, campaign literature and posters, newspapers and farm journals were some of the ways that their cause was distributed.

Gradually, public opinion was being changed toward the acceptance of state-financed highways. At this time, the automobile age began in Wisconsin. The first self-propelled highway vehicle in the United States, if not in the entire world, was designed and operated in 1873 by Reverend Dr. J.W. Carhart of Racine. By 1899, motor cars began to appear quite often. In 1905, there were 1492 registered cars in Wisconsin and by 1916, the number had grown to 124,603.

Westby Viroqua Uffdabahn, 
Highway 14 today after being redone in 2011
In 1917, the state legislature directed the State Highway Commission to establish a State Trunk Highway (STH) system to connect every county seat and city with a population of 5,000 or more. At this time, Wisconsin became the first state to adopt a uniform road-numbering system. These highways were marked with an inverted triangle with the words ”State Trunk Highway” and the route number as in STH14. Originally, State Highway 14 was called State Highway 11. 

In 1926 the US Highway (USH) was implemented, guaranteeing that a highway would maintain a uniform number as it crossed state lines. Several Wisconsin highways became part of the USH system, and today Wisconsin is home to 14 USHs. In 1934, State Highway 11 became USH 14 and for awhile at least, called the Northwest Highway. The paving of roads throughout Wisconsin was not very uniform as shown on old road maps. These same maps show that the completion of paved roads between Westby and Viroqua occurred between 1926 and 1927. Interestingly, the paving of then Highway 11 between Westby and Coon Valley did not appear until the 1932 road map. In 1956, US Highway 14/61 between Westby and Viroqua was constructed in its current location. It was repaired in 1985, and resurfaced with asphalt in 1996.

By Sheri Ballard

View from the Cargill Grain Elevator — 1908

Taken from the top of the new Cargill Grain Elevator, this photo was taken about 1908. The big building at the top center with the eyebrow windows on second floor is the Bekkedal-Unseth Block finished in 1906. The three-story Evans hotel is another noticeable building left of center. At the time of its completion, it was one of Vernon County's best. Remolded in 1899 in preparation for a New Year’s Eve party Westby has not seen again.

A few buildings also visible in the photo: On the very right is the La Crosse and Southeastern Railroad depot; the house located at the bottom would be torn down in a few years to in order to construct Hotel Syverson, later Hotel Ender, and finally the Times Hotel. Before the building became the current private residence it was the Old Times, Assisted Living; The long shed looking building toward the bottom left had numerous businesses located in it throughout the years. It was used as Johan G. Michelet’s general store in 1879  the last being Nielson’s Department store when they built a new building next door and tore this building down to make room for the DX gas station that is now Connelly Law Office.

Christmas in a One-Room Schoolhouse

Being a child in the 1940s and 1950s was living in a different world from what we know today. My own grandchildren would probably not believe how we lived back then.

I started school when I was six, we had no preschool or kindergarten. I started school at the Fairview Grade School, which is located on State Highway 82 above La Farge. My teacher was Doris Sime and she was a wonderful teacher. Teachers were amazing back then. They worked long hours for very little pay. I attended one room schools where there were grades one through eight, all taught by one teacher. She was our music teacher, pianist, art teacher, teacher of all academic subjects, social organizer and nurse when we were hurt. 

We had no indoor plumbing in those days, both at school and at home. Winters seemed so much more severe, too. There were no buses back then, we had to get to school the best way we could. I remember there was one boy in our school, whose father owned a sleigh. He never missed school in the bad weather, his dad was always able to get him there with the horse and sleigh. We had no hot lunch program back then, either. Lunch was a cold sandwich, homemade cookies, maybe a small mason jar of milk. In the winter, we would bring mason jars of soup to school, and Teacher would warm them up for us on the hot plate in our room. Our wet soggy mittens and snow pants, she would dry on the heat register. 

We always went outside for recess and noon hour, I think this was to give our teacher a break. We got plenty of exercise and fresh air and played many games that today’s children probably have never heard of. Games such as Prisoners’ Base, Three Deep, Four Square, and Red Rover, and of course, softball. When the big snows came, we went sledding and sometimes we were gone so long that our teacher would have to ring the bell to remind us to come back to our studies! When the weather was too bad to go outside, the girls played jacks and the boys played marbles. I was pretty good at jacks.

We had no school custodian at our little one room schools either. Teacher would come early and get the heat going in our furnace. All the housekeeping chores were done by our teacher and the children. We took turns each week having a “duty”. There was a whole list of “duties” to be done each day. There was water to be pumped from the outside pump and brought inside, blackboards to be washed, erasers to be clapped outside, floors to be swept. We all worked together and got it done.

Christmas was one of the most special times of the year for us 1950s children. Our school was the center of our community back then. Any event at the school brought the whole community in attendance. We spent several weeks preparing for our Christmas program. We practiced over and over, our songs, skits and little “pieces” that the younger children memorized to recite for our program. As we got closer to the big night, we hung sheets to make a stage with a curtain and a backstage area. We put up our Christmas tree, most of the ornaments were homemade by us children. During our art class, we had been preparing homemade gifts for our Moms. As we got closer to the big night, our excitement grew and grew. 

At last, the big night arrived. I and my little friends were especially happy, as we all had new dresses for the big event. We put on our program, all went smoothly, and almost everyone in the neighborhood was there. Santa Claus even made an appearance, and presented each of us children with a brown paper bag, which we had to save till we got home. It contained popcorn, hard ribbon candy, and an apple, sometimes an orange, and we were happy with that simple little gift.

Our next big event was our spring picnic at the end of the school year. Everyone dressed up for this, too, and the men of the community, most of them farmers, even gave themselves a day off. They played softball with the children while the mothers prepared a delicious potluck meal inside for us all. The food was wonderful and there were many tears shed, as we might not see some of our friends till fall. And it might be the last time we would see our teacher, so if she was a well-liked teacher, tears were shed for her, too.

I am so happy to have been able to attend a one-room country school for my first eight years of education. It gave me many, many wonderful memories, and a good education, too. I wouldn’t have wanted my childhood any other way.

 by Sheri Ballard

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bank and Post Office — 1908

In 1908, the Westby Post Office was located in the northeast corner of what is today a part of Organic Valley. Notice Westby's first gas streetlight hanging in the middle of the State and Main Street intersection. What would later become Westby’s City Park and is now Couleecap-Vernon County was the home built by Johann Michelet, postmaster of the village of Westby for most of the 1880s and 90s. Later the house was owned by C.T. Shannon, who from 1880 and for more than thirty years was a Tobacco Dealer. His warehouse would later become the building that housed Westby Farmers Union in 1941 and until it moved to it's current South Main Street location.

Anton Olson Sidewalks

Beginning in 1893 and continuing for more than thirty years, Anton Olson laid sidewalks all over Westby putting his name on each section with a fancy engraving stamp. Until very recently many of these sidewalks were still being used around the city. Until recently there were two of his sidewalks on Park Street and there should be more of his sidewalks in the older sections Westby. 

Attention all Westby walkers. As you walk around Westby make it your excuse for getting up at dawn to see if you can find some Anton Olson Sidewalks.

Looking south from Westby's watertower

When this photo was taken the upper right had corner of this photo clearly shows what would become many years later Syverson Park. Moving clockwise is the backside of the white Methodist Church that for more than 100 years stood on East State Street replaced a few years ago with their new church at the same location.

Part of the Thoreson Lumber Company is located at the bottom right and not visible at the bottom of the photo, below the trees, is the Thoreson House home of the Westby Area Historical Society.

Monroe Street on the left at this time in 1921 is nothing more than a dirt path, but sidewalks are visible on the south side of the street.

Since Westby did not have a city sewer system until 1927, you will notice that scattered around town and very visible in this photo are numerous outhouses.