Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jacob Post Michelet

Submitted by 
Michele Michelet Boyer

Johann (John) Michelet
When Jacob Post Michelet brought his family to Coon Prairie from Lillehammer, Norway in 1851 he brought with him a desire for his children to be educated. Because of this family’s devotion to education, the Michelet family had involvement in education from one of the earliest schools in Bad Ax Co. to Smith school, one of the last country schools in Vernon Co. The young children of Jacob Post Michelet who came from Lillehammer to Coon Prairie were Sophie Amalia 7, Emil Wilhelm Julian 5, and Carl (Charles) 2; and infant Johanna Dorthea, his teen age son Johann (John) Michelet had come to Coon Prairie the year before. Johan had been educated in the Cathedral or Latin schools in Christiana (Oslo) and worked with his father, a merchant. Because of his experience and education was able to almost immediately get a job working for Hercules Dousman, trader and real estate speculator who played a large role in the economic development of Wisconsin. Johann worked and lived at Prairie du Chien, while he waited for his mother, father and younger siblings to arrive in America. This experience afforded him an education which laid the foundation for his later business success in Westby. In a Westby Times 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 later given the honor. However, Johan Michelet served as township chairman, assessor and treasurer, as well as a member of school boards and the county board. He built a warehouse in Westby and was Westby’s first grain buyer. He served as postmaster from 1884 to 1888 and operated a general store for about 15 years, starting in 1891.” 

In his youth Jacob Post Michelet himself had been sent to attend school in Copenhagen, Denmark and briefly attended University in Christiana (Oslo). His father Johan Wilhelm Michelet, a Lutheran minister, had attended Copenhagen University to become a Lutheran minister. Although the beautiful and fertile topography of the driftless area offered economic opportunity, the opportunity for education was not readily available for these pioneers. Wisconsin had only become a state in 1848. 

Jacob Post Michele residence on North Main Street, Westby
Now the location of Coulecap

The Michelet-Buros cabin which is preserved at Norskedalen Heritage Site  was the home of this pioneer family. Built by Jacob Post Michelet, the cabin was originally located on section 35 near the Coon Prairie Church. According to records at the Vernon County Historical Museum a Michelet School is listed as one of the early schools. Jacob Post Michelet owned land on section 35. Research done by Sandra Lawrence found The History of Vernon County to say “the first term of school in the first school was taught in 1851 in a building erected that year on section 35. It was 22x26 feet and at the time it was built was among the best in the country.” The 1855 Western Times in Viroqua wrote, “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 school house built in our country was built by these European North men 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.” 

Much later in 1881 John Michelet was instrumental in the opening of another school. The Westby Times said “In 1881 another private school was opened by Miss Matilda Gilbertson (later Mrs. E.C Bergh) in a room above Syverson’s machine shop. In 1883, a new school district was formed which elected, the following board of education: Andrew Moen, John Michelet and Simon Syverson three staunch pioneers.” 

Smith School
Research done by Howard Sherpe from early platt books regarding the history of Smith School, shows “sometime between 1878 and 1896 the Smith School was built on its present site.”  and  “John Michelet now owns the land surrounding Smith School”. Our family records show that John Michelet bought that parcel of land in 1888. John Michelet died in 1918 and Richard Grimsrud his son in law (husband of Adella Michelet) then owned the land surrounding the school. It is likely that John Michelet with his previous involvement and interest in education had donated the land for the school.  Anne Nereim Benson, great granddaughter of Johan Michelet remembers her mother Marion Grimsrud Nereim saying that “John Michelet had donated the land for Smith school because he was a very public spirited person.”   
When Jacob Post Michelet died his son Charles was only 17 and William was 20 they had to help each other to continue their education as they cared for their widowed mother and youngest sister Elise who was only 7 when her father died. The brothers took turns attending college and and then coming back to work on the farm. Later when it was necessary for them to have more continuity in their education it appears that they had a business which allowed them to both be away from home. From the letters it is not clear what the business was however the best guess is renting of farm implements or equipment, as some letters briefly name well known equipment makers. Additionally, their sister Johanna Dorthea had married Christopher Sollie and he was working the family farm. Johanna died tragically in 1878 following the birth of a daughter.   

Christian A. Morterud
During these times the family kept in touch with frequent letters. A letter is historically a primary source. Some letters focus on significant events taking place or daily observations. Some letters mention well known figures in Westby and Vernon County history. They used the Bloomingdale post office probably because their friend Christian A. Morterud had a large general store there. In the early letters Charles was at Northwestern University prep to prepare for entrance into Northwestern University, and then a University student. William was in Portage doing an internship with a physician to prepare to enter Rush Medical School. After their long struggle to get an education, Charles graduated Valedictorian of his class at Northwestern University class of 1880 then returned to get a masters degree in Law becoming a lawyer, and William Received his medical degree in 1879 from Rush Medical College (Now Rush University Medical School, Chicago) then he too returned to Rush for medical post-graduate courses. 

The collection of preserved letters numbers more than 60 only a few and excerpts of a few are used here. The first language of these brothers was Norwegian, so the letters often sound somewhat strange in sentence structure.  Some letters are too lengthy and are excerpted. 

These letters offer an insight into the life of a Norwegian-American family of pioneers, in this period of time when it was a struggle to get an education. Letters provide an interesting perspective into an age long since vanished into the pages of history. These were real people with real lives that were very much rooted in Westby and Coon Prairie.
(Northwestern Prep-Northwestern University)
Evanston, Ill. Dec. 1873

Dear Bro,

This is Sunday night and I am not quite well of the mumps yet. I was over to see Dr. Jewell tonight and he advised me to go home in vacation where I could have it more comfortable, and I think you may expect me if I get any money to go with pretty soon.

This mumping has been quite a hard time for me though my fellow batches pretend to have sympathy on a person they are so little self sacrificing that they do not realize an invalid’s true condition. I have suffered much from cold room for they do not mind to leave the doors open, yet when we don’t need it warm for any special reason they are full as careful. If it turns out so I come I may tell you of it before hand.

Your devoted bro.
Charles Michelet
Evanston, Ill (Northwestern Prep)

Dear Bro, Dec. 1873

I have just received the P.O money order in the amount of $20.00 (this amount is equal to $370.00 in today’s money) and notification of the arrival in my box.
     Since I write to you last Sunday night I have been sick abed and I have just recovered so I  have been able to sit up a couple of days. McKay left for home the following Monday and the other one last Saturday and I was left in the care of the folks in the house. I should like to come home to Christmas. I have lost he privilege of attending any of the examinations but if I get well enough before I go I will try to get private examinations yet I understand that my standing is good. I stood 1st in my class.
Salute all my folks and I wish you all a Merry Christmas.
It seems rather lonesome not to hear anything from home for so long a time.

Your devoted Bro.
Chas Michelet
Bloomingdale March 2nd 1873

Dear Brother,

It is a tedious and difficult task for me to write a letter….

The angel of death has visited our neighborhood and called to her reward our aunt, Mrs. Even Peterson. (Christine, sister of Gregine Michelet, wife of Jacob Post Michelet) She died on the 26th February at 1:00 am and they had the funeral yesterday March 1. I have not been able to learn all the circumstances of her death yet; but am happy to hear that she died in a full hope of a glorious resurrection

Your affectionate brother
Charles  Michelet
Bloomingdale April 3rd ‘73

Dear Brother,

As my time is very limited this morning I cannot come up to my expectations in writing to you, you must only expect a little home talk. We are all well as usual and have plenty of small affairs to attend to, yet we have been expecting seed time for quite a while but our hopes have been frustrated so far. A while ago just as the snow was fast changing into water…. I went right into the woods, and got the logs cut and hauled them to the road side, got only two home, of course the others must be hewed on the spot and hauled on the wagon. If you can write to us soon please state for curiosity on what marks you had the seeder last year, for sowing different kinds of grain if you remember, this is all I can scribble this time, I now close with my best wishes to you in every respect.

Your affectionate brother
Chas. Michelet
Portage Wis, Sept, 1876

Dear Brother;

Am still afloat as you will see from the heading of my letter. But as I have passed through but very little yet, I may just as well give a hurried description of my “beings and doings” up to date. As I had alighted the train I took a seat in an Omnibus…. After quite a drive though the dark I arrived at the city hotel.  (The next morning)… After breakfast I went out to see the town and after 5 minutes walk I inquired at the drugstore about the physicians and found that Dr. Waterhouse was the best doctor as he has been the Vice president and President of the State Medical Association and has always had someone study with him. I went to his office which consists of three rooms on the second floor of a brick building. I found the Doctor in and after 5 minutes of questioning I concluded to stay with him, he is expecting me to keep his books and office in order. He has a large library with all the latest work in. He questioned me regarding my education. He is a very agreeable man between 40 and 50 years. 

… This is the present and the beginning, the progress and future will reveal.

Your Bro.
WEJ Michelet
Portage, Wis
Oct. 29, 1876

Dear Bro,

…I have neither heard from Mother or Sollie. How are the prospects with Tate. I am waiting to hear from Morterud. My first surgical operation was to take sand burs from the fingers of the Presbyterian minister—was it not a great one. On the 18th the Dr. and I went out 8 miles to dress the skull of a granger that had been injured in a hop press. The Dr. took out two pieces of bone of the skull. The man had been insensible for several hours. We went out after dark and returned at 6 am. It rained and was dark as pitch.

Your Bro,
WEJ Michelet
Note: other letters indicate surgery was performed with chloroform.
Portage, Wis
Nov 12, 1876

Dear Bro,

Your bearing the date of the 9th of the present month together with Eliza’s letter received… I make good progress in my studies and my preceptor says I do as much as anyone could. Yesterday we has an amputation of a leg below the knee, it was a bloody deed, but very interesting from a professional point of view

Your bro,
WEJ Michelet
Viroqua Oc. 27th 1876
Friend WEJ Michelelt

Dear Sir,
Please find enclosed a Post office order for the amount of Fifty Dollars. (Equal to $1,030 in today’s money)
Yours Truly

J. Tate

P.S. My best wishes to you & Charlie I would like to write you a long letter but my time is precious. Mr. Tate is a way from home so good night.

J. Morton
Bloomingdale, Wis Nov 19, 1876
Dear Bro.
WEJ Michelet

I will write a few lines to let you know that we are all well and I hope that these few lines will find you the same. Ma received your most welcome letter last evening. She was delighted to hear that you was well. When you write next time please tell me if you can come home to Christmas. Ma would like it very much if you will come home; it is very lonesome at home now. The second term of the District school will now commence a week from tomorrow and keep in 10 weeks. If I get well I would like to go every day. I was very sorrow to leave the Viroqua School and I think I learned a great deal. Austin Berger was taken sick up in Sparta and the doctors said that he had the throat disease and they could not cure him. He went in the stage home and they sent for the doctor he said he had the brain fever. He died and was buried last Friday on the Lutheran graveyard. …

I send my best respects from Ma and Solie’s folks.

From your affectionate,
Elise Michelet
Portage Wis,
Nov 26, 1876
Dear Bro.

Your letter bearing the date of the 19th is received. … Had a letter from Morterud, in which he says “collection is hard this fall, having taken out debits leaves $20.00 (equal to $370 in today’s money) I directed him to send to mother the $20 immediately and collect immediately.

… I have come to the conclusion that it would be profitable for Eliza to attend school at home and the letter I wrote her today I urged her to, because if she does not stay with a family she will learn more. Try to persuade her to take advantage of the school at home.

From “Sollie’s Crop reporter for 76” I learn that “granging” don’t pay on investment this year. It will not pay (here means be worth) the $8 tuition and not attend regular but it is hard to direct her to do what is best. (Note: $8 is equal to $165 in money today)

Your affectionate bro
WEJ Michelet
Portage City, Wis
Sept 23, 1876

Dear Bro,

I have been living between hope and fear till today I received you most welcome letter which had been delayed by the P.M. (post master). I am pleased to see you got safe to your place of destination and shall be eager to hear about the freshman class at the University. Yesterday and today I have not been well…Doctor told me not to study, I have started in too hard. Before that I have felt very well and liked the studies. I have all the necessary books, microscope, surgical equipment and dry bones.  The Dr. and his wife are very kind. Last Sunday when I came to church he took me into his pew.

… The town had 2 R.R. and a third will be finished soon. When I came here I wrote to Myers Sigbjorn a number of them to pay up and save cost as we would send the papers to Butt (Lt. Col. Cyrus M. Butt, was a lawyer in Viroqua.) for collection. Write Morterud and tell him we have notified and to appear earnest.
Write soon,

Your Bro.
WEJ Michelet

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Syttende Mai:  Maggie’s Dream Come True

 By RuthAnn Wilson

Arriving in Westby after a winter away, I marvel again at this lovely town with its warm hospitality and stunning Norwegian décor. Now everyone is preparing for Syttende Mai events: parade floats are designed, rømmegrot is bubbling on the stove, and potatoes are peeled for lefse baking. Someone is no doubt baking strull – or is it krumkake?  

Thoreson House is decked out and ready for the summer, the Stabbur is stocked with new tourist information and maps. Borgen’s has their menu planned, and Dregne’s is arrayed with Norwegian displays. Ole and Lena serve luscious ice cream flavors, the Westby House is flying flags, and the new Apotek (Pharmacy) looks more Norwegian than Norway! Evelyn Larson’s Nissen and trolls appear all over town!  

Soon the new princess and her court will be selected, the Grandmother of the Year will be announced, and several thousand people will flock into town for the three-day weekend. This is all the result of Maggie’s Dream. 

For many years the Westby Times ran a weekly column called Maggies’ Musings, written by our own Margaret Gulsvig. She published several books, including Through the Years With Maggie and Her Full Service Bank. On the back of that book she quotes her little nephew, “Not all the world is America. Part of it is Westby, Wisconsin!” Yes, Westby is a very special part of the world!

On June 8, 1967, Maggie described her dream; a dream that seemed nearly impossible at the time. Below you can read Maggie’s dream in her own words.

Today, as one walks (or drives) through Westby, one sees that many aspects of Maggie’s Dream have been realized. She died in January, 2010, but every Syttende Mai I will especially remember Maggie, be thankful for her dream, and be reminded once again that “if you can dream it, you can do it.”

Maggie’s Musings — Westby Times, June 8, 1967

There once was a little old lady in a little old town in Western Wisconsin who rose early on a Sunday morning. She speculated a while on how the pastor would develop the text for the day for this was a game she played every Sunday.

Since it was still early and no one was stirring in the house, she read the paper from the nearby Big City delivered to her front door by an ambitious lad who ran from house to house humming a happy tune. Within minutes the paper proper had been read from stem to stern so she turned to a supplement, added this Sunday, entitled “Recreation in the Coulee Region.” She opened the first page confident that very soon something of her little old town would be spread over one full page, possible two. There was nothing on the next few pages; nor the next; nor the next. Coming to the end she laughed and thought how foolish to have missed it. “I will have to go back and look again.”

The second time through she checked the story date lines looking for her town’s name. Much smaller towns merited write-ups; a far distant Norwegian community received lengthy appraisal. But still her town’s name was missing. The third time she found it in the fourth paragraph of a story primarily interested in the county seat of her county.

Since being ignored is an insult humans do not know how to handle, she was first angry with the newspaper; then she was angry with her town for letting itself be ignored. But her anger softened to a drumming sorrow which perplexed her the rest of that day and well into the next.

You see, this little old lady loved her town very much and did not like to think of ever leaving it. She took personal offense if anyone was overheard saying, “What a stupid town.” Negative thinking of any kind rankled her, for she saw positive possibilities in abundance. The town of peaceful and pretty. Beautiful new buildings spoke of ambition. A breathtakingly scenic highway made the town easily accessible.

But right at this town’s feet lay an untapped resource: its Norwegian ancestry and culture. Letters often came to this town requesting information on points of interest. “We have heard it is a very Norwegian community,” they wrote. But what could be specifically listed?

Friendly Norwegian signs would catch the eye of many a traveler. A chalet featuring Norwegian foods of unmatched delicacy would charm others. Gift shops featuring Norwegian imports would certainly be profitable. Rosemaling should be encouraged and taught. Norwegian nisei — Clever imps — could peak around corners. Native costumes should come out of trunks and be displayed, perhaps worn occasionally. Norwegian music could even be wafted periodically over a loud speaker. “Now I am dreaming foolish dreams,” laughed the little old lady. “I had better forget it.”

But she couldn’t. So she wrote it all down and sent it to the local newspaper to see what response it might bring from others.

The man in the caboose

Original Milwaukee Road Caboose that ran through Westby in the 1950s
Now located at Logan Mill Lodge downtown Westby

by Gloria Lunde Burke 

In 1946 my family moved to our farm home just west of Westby. I was only three at the time and can’t remember the move, but I wasn’t very old before I would have a special memory most children would never have.

The Milwaukee Road Railroad passed between the house and barn, within at least fifty feet of the house. My first memories were the warnings from Mom and Dad to stay away from the tracks and not linger while crossing over them. This wasn’t to do during the summer because snakes would like laying at the edge of the rails in the sun and they’d scare the daylights out of me. If my folks would hear a screaming kid, chances are it would be nothing but me scaring the slither out of the snake. This didn’t happen too often, but I sure can remember when it did.

The train would run only twice a week if I remember right or maybe even less. There was section crew with their little cart, which I called the “hunting car” in Norwegian, which was almost all I spoke then. Once in awhile you’d see a regular car with well dressed men travel the rails. They must have been very important because they never waved to me.

Our house had a large open porch, which I would stand on and wave to the engineer and his crew. They always whistled for the crossing by our house which I thought for years was a personal signal for me that they were coming. As far back as I can remember I could hardly wait for the end of the train which must not have been a long wait, since I never consisted of more than a handful of cars. In the caboose rode the kindest man I have never met. George Kiefer, the conductor, gave me more gifts than I can recall. Candy, gum, toys and even soap. Every week he’d wave and throw me a package all bundled in newspaper and tied with string. I’d wave and wait until the train passed, then jump off the porch to get my package. For several years at the beginning I was a little afraid of the big black chug-chug with its shrill whistle and squealing wheels on the rails; this always kept me a safe distance away, but as quick as it passed, I was off the porch, retrieving my package, ripping it open, wondering what my friend had thought to give me that day. Usually it was candy, cracker-jacks or something of the like, but I did get some of the most unique toys. I never knew where he bought them, but they were small models of a tricycle, lawn mower (the real type) and a motorcycle. The parts moved and they were a colorful plastic. I treasured them then and still do today. I’ve got them tucked away, still hidden from children who wouldn’t appreciate the sentimental value they hold for me. He also gave me soap in the shape of an Indian and a cowboy on a horse. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since and I’ve still got it and the box it came in.

Dad and Mom thought maybe he’d like a picture of me as a token of appreciation and friendship. She wrapped a picture and tied it on the end of an old cane fist pole and as the train came by one day we held it out to George. He grabbed it and threw his usual package to me. It was a real thrill for me to give him something. The next week he gave me a picture of his granddaughters.

The old steam locomotive sometimes didn’t have the power to make the grade by our farm on its return trip to Westby from Coon Valley and Chaseburg. We’d hear it it slowing way down and having to back up, leave some cars and come back for them later. When they’d come by the house, the black coal smoke would roll out the stack. I don’t think Mom always appreciated it, as she had a sparkling white kitchen.

The day came when the chugging and whistle were no more. That day a bright orange and black diesel engine took its place. Times were changing and little did we know how much; they would never be the same again.

One day the train as coming and I was in my usual spot on the porch, watching for the friendly smile and the package. I was very surprised when the engineer threw the package. George wasn’t in the caboose and that seemed strange, because he was always there. I ran and got the package, quickly opened it and found a note with the sad news. George had died of a heart attack while doing his usual nightly check of the cars for his next days run. I didn’t want to believe it, but, of course, I knew it was true. To a kid my age, with the strangeness of our friendship, it seemed as if Santa Claus had died, but this Santa Clause came twice a week by rail I knew I’d really miss him, although I’d never spoken a word to him. He was a dear and loving human being that gave from his heart to children along the tracks of the life he loved.

The engineers kept throwing packages for awhile to carry on the tradition, but somehow it never seemed the same. I’m sure they must have sensed it in the children’s looks and lack of enthusiasm and it ended after awhile.

I’ll always have a fond memory for the old slow trains and the kind of loving conductor I never met.

When I was older, the warming “Stay away from the tracks,” wasn’t needed and my cousins and friends and I would balance walk on the rails and see how many bridges we could cross. The rails were fascinating to the other kids.

We moved away from that farm in 1956 and since I’ve been away there are no trains, smoke, or rails there anymore. Only in my memory can I hear the old whistle and squealing of the wheels, but best of all, see the smiling, loving face of the man in the caboose.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Syttende Mai by P.N. (Polly) Rude

Westby in the early 1970s
With the nationality of Westby residents listed as 97% Norwegian in a Triple A book of the 1940s, celebrating Syttende Mai, or Norway’s Independence Day, on May 17 became apart of Westby’s heritage. Unfortunately both World War I and II took their toll and the observation of the day died as a major Westby holiday. 

As other towns of similar ethnic background revived their celebrations, the momentum began in Westby as well. In June of 1967 a local columnist mourned the fact that other Norwegian localities had Velkommen signs in their towns and Westby certainly should have them - and be celebrating Syttende Mai as well. At that time former mayor P.N. Rude, as a Kiwanis project designed and erected signs at the city limits of the two major highways which pass through Westby. “Nisser Lady” Evelyn Larson helped execute Rude’s unique idea: nisser in costume, painting “Velkommen til Westby” on large board signs.

This impetus led to the concern of other citizens who were also in favor of reviving a celebration on May 17. In 1968, Lyle Lund, Ella Anderson, Norvel Buros and Marian Nuttestad met a few times and discussed the possibility of having a May 17th celebration. However, it was not until the first notice of an official meeting went out on April 22, 1969, when Westby Promoters: David Vosseteig, Larry Anderson and Jim Weber, called together people who were interested in having such a festival. There was much interest in this but there was a question of who would have the time and energy to plan and promote such a celebration. P.N. Rude was elected and accepted the responsibility after the following were elected to serve with him: David Vosseteig, vice president, Larry Anderson, secretary, and Jim Weber, treasurer. Various committees were set up right away as there was very little time and no money to work with, and May 17 was only 25 days away. The committees worked diligently against many obstacles yet everything was in good order for the festive day.

The crowd at this first fest was much greater than expected and the whole celebration was termed a big success, which was the prime reason to consider having more of the same in years to come. In September a meeting was held to review past events and discuss possibilities for coming years. The following officers were elected: P.N. Rude, president - 3 years; David Vosseteig, vice president - 3 years; Margaret Gulsvig, secretary - 2 years, and Jim Weber, treasurer - 2  years. a decision was made to file necessary papers and incorporate as Syttende Mai, Inc. It was also decided that a selection of princess should be added to the festival program. Kay Vosseteig, Sharon Nelson and Armin Fruechte were elected to serve as the Princess committee.

Many features have been added to the first very simple celebration, notable from a one or two day holiday to three days of capacity crowds, enjoying all the added features. Selection of a Syttende Mai Princess, the Princess Banquet and coronation programs became a popular addition on Thursday evenings. Two live nisser in costume have added much to this evening, serving as escorts at every coronation program. Besides being main attractions at the parade on Sunday, these nisser also escort the Princess and her court in many parades throughout the area. The colorful nisser costumes, complete with flowing Santa Claus beards, were designed and executed by Eunice Sherry.

Subsequent additions have included a quilt auction displays of Norwegian arts such as rosemaling and wood carving all of which are featured at the a huge craft sale. An art exhibit and vocal concert, all at the local high school, add the right touch of Norwegian culture. A troll hunt with a monetary prize has been sponsored by Norseman Youth Club, Russell Hanson and currently Kevin Connelly. 
Though most of the first costumes were simple cotton creations, hastily fashioned into Norwegian design, ethnic bunads, or genuine costumes imported from Norway, have become more prevalent in recent years. Ethnic foods are a sellout attraction. Sunday features a Norwegian service in the Westby Coon-Prairie Church. These services are followed by traditional dinner menus of meatballs and lefse both in the churches and at other sites. Finally the huge parade on Sunday afternoon brings thousands of viewer to the Syttende Mai celebration.

Written by P.N. (Polly) Rude.

Wold Cabin - Norskedalen

The first important business of the pioneer settler, upon his arrival on Coon Prairie, was to build a house. Until this was done, some had to camp on the ground or live in their wagons—perhaps the only shelter they had known for weeks. So the prospects for a house, which was also to be a home, was one that gave courage to the rough toil, and added a zest to the heavy labors. The style of the home entered very little into their thoughts—it was shelter they wanted and protection from stress of weather and wearing exposures. The poor settler had neither the money nor the mechanical appliances for building himself a house. He was content, in most instances, to have a mere cabin or hut. This was made of round logs light enough for two or three men to lay up. The house would generally be about fourteen feet square—perhaps a little larger or smaller—roofed with bark or clapboard, and floored with puncheons (logs split once in two and the flat side laid up). For a fireplace, a wall of stones and earth was made in the best practicable shape for the purpose, in an opening in the one end of the building, extending outward, and planked on the outside by bolts of wood notched together to stay it. Sometimes a fireplace of this kind was made so large as to occupy nearly the whole width of the house. In cold weather when a great deal of wood was needed to keep the proper warmth inside, large logs were piled in the fireplace. To protect the crumbling back wall against the effects of the fire and to throw forward the heat, two backlogs one on top of the other, were placed against it.

Wold cabin located at Norskedalen
For a chimney, any contrivance that would carry up the smoke would do. They were usually constructed of clay and sticks. Imagine a cold winter’s night when the storm of wind and snow was raging without, the huge fire blazing within, and the family sitting around. It  might be cozy enough if the cold was not too intense; and, in reality, before those fireplaces there was often something of cheer, as the farmer sat smoking—if he had any tobacco; and the wife knitting—if she had any yarn and needles.

For a door to his log cabin the most simple contrivance that would serve the purpose was brought into requisition. Before a door could be made, a blanket often did duty in guarding the entrance. But, as soon as convenient, some boards were split out and put together, hung upon wooden hinges, and held shut by a wooden pin inserted in an auger-hole.

City of Westby - short version

300 block of West State Street
The City of Westby began as Westby Station in 1879 when the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad named this railroad stop in honor of Ole Westby, who owned a general store and was already one of their best customers. Prior to 1879, this area was called Coon Prairie with a general store and post office located at what is today called “Old Town”. Westby Station became a village in 1896, dropping the word Station in the process. In 1899, Westby voted to dig a well, build a water storage tower and install water pipes to all citizens. This was completed in 1900. A power plant was built in 1902 to have electricity available to anyone who wished it, but for the next twenty plus years electricity was available only during daytime hours. In 1920 Westby became a city. A citywide sewer system was made available in 1927. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Unseth Bekkedal Block

Completed in 1905, the State Bank was located on the corner of State & Main Street with Unseth’s Rexall Drug store located on State Street. In between these two major businesses was located the Unseth & Bratlie Clothing store, later becoming Pickwick Clothing. The Westby Post Office was located in the northeast corner of the bank building on Main Street and upstairs were numerous real estate, law offices and the offices of numerous doctors. Today Organic Valley encompasses the entire building except for the part that is the Ole & Lena Kaffee Hus. 

Shortly after this 1908 photo was taken, the building on the left that is protruding, was moved back to line up with the buildings on either side. Today this building houses the Midwest Natural Gas. The corner building was the Ramsland Drugstore until bought by O.A. Unseth in 1899. At the time of its demolition in the seventies it had been Goettel’s meat market for more than 50 years.

Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran Church

In 1848, when the first settlers came to Coon Prairie, the emigration from Norway was just in its beginning. True, the first group of emigrants sailed from Stavanger for New York with 53 participants in 1825. But that departure was rather unique. The region these immigrants were shown in the northwest corner of New York was not suitable for farming without immense improvements, the members of the colony led a miserable existence. There was therefore no real emigration from Norway to America for another 10-12 years.

In 1833 Cleng Peerson, emigration’s careful and persistent leader, made a journey on foot of a thousand miles from New York to northern Illinois. This journey was of much importance to the history of Norsemen here as well as in Norway. He found out there in Illinois, which then lay outside civilization's outpost, the richest farm land ready for the pioneer’s plow. On Cleng Peerson’s advice, nearly all of the Norwegian settlers in New York moved to Illinois, and they were soon in good circumstances. Cleng Peerson and a man named Knud Anderson Slogvik went to Norway to report to the hard pressed common people about the beautiful land which was available cheap in America’s west. The result of this was that in 1836 and 1837 four ships left Stavanger and Bergen with about 350 emigrants bound for Fox River, the new settlement in Illinois. Thereafter, followed a large exodus which continued for most of a hundred years.

Westby Coon Prairie Lutheran church
before the steeples were removed in 1949
Immigration of Norwegian people to the northwest was about 12 years old when our Coon Prairie settlement was begun in 1848. To begin with, emigration was limited to the west coast areas of Norway, to people from Stavanger and Hardanger. Nearly all of these went to Fox River. But it was not long before the news of the American Goshen found its way over the mountains to the nearest neighborhoods in Telemark and Numedal. In 1838 the first from Numedal arrived at Jefferson Prairie near Beloit, the first Norwegian settlement in Wisconsin. In 1839 a large group from Telemark founded the famous Muskego settlement. In the same year settlers found their way to Rock Prairie, which became a center for people from Numedal, Hallingdal and Land. In 1840 immigration began to Koshkonong in Dane County, which became the primary destination for Norwegian emigrants.

In the southwest corner of Wisconsin, between Dodgeville and Dubuque, were many lead mines. This region was the first in the state to receive considerable population. Many Norseman went there to work in the mines as early as 1840. In 1843 a considerable settlement was founded near Wiota. Most of the Norwegians who settled there were from Land in Norway. The same year a settlement was established north of Oconomowoc which was named Rock River. The first from Sætesdal came there, together with people from near Skien.

A settlement was begun in 1846 south of Blue Mounds in western Dane County. This became very large and was the most important center for people from Valdres. Winchester settlement also began the same years. That is west of Neenah and became an area for people from Telemark.

These were all the noteworthy settlements established before Coon Prairie was colonized. There were many small settlements near the larger ones.

Although all of these settlements counted many thousand Norsemen, there were very few pastors among them. In 1850, when there were about 20,000 Norwegians in American, there were only seven Norwegian Lutheran pastors among them; namely Elling Eiellsen at Jefferson Prairie, C.L. Clausen at Rock Prairie, Ole Andrewson in Fox River, Paul Anderson in Chicago, A.A. Scheie at Leland (near Fox River in Illinois), H.A. Stub in Muskego, and A.C. Preus at Koshkonong. All the pastors had a very large mission field which often stretched over a hundred miles. In spite of their untiring efforts to visit the widespread settlements, both a year and a day often went by between pastoral visits in many places.

This fleeting view is given to provide an idea of the spread of Norwegian settlements and their churchly service at the time when Conn Prairie’s history begins.

100 block of South Main

Taken in 1908 this photo looks north showing the 100 block of South Main Street. On the left is the Evans Hotel and the Flugstad Hardware Company with a vacant space between the two buildings that in six years would become the Bank of Westby. Barely visible is the old Stevlingson and Call general merchandise store before they constructed the building on the corner that exists today. Crossing the street from the State Bank of Westby is Ole Westby’s second store being used in 1908 as a Hardware store. The turret is over the front entrance to the A.H. Dahl general merchandise store, now Uff-Da Mart. The front right of the photo is Erik Sveen & Son Furniture and Funeral business.

Must be a sale at Stevlingson’s or Dahl’s.
Why else would all the buggies be at their locations?
You will notice that in 1908,  one of two city gas street lights was hanging over the middle of the intersection of Main and First. The other gas street light was hanging over the center of the intersection of State and Main. An explanation for this is that when a town, village or city is in its infancy, the center of town is usually First and Main and a bank is on one of the corners. Westby had two banks at this intersection before they both moved north. The new Bank of Westby moved to the middle of the block and the new Bekkedal Bank moved one block north to State and Main. Since the intersection of Main and State by 1908 was also the center of town another gas light lit this intersection.