Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday Sales

Southside Grocery about 1951.
The car belonged to Clinton (Kink) Gronland.
The woman pumping gas was Lila Skundberg Erlandson.
Do you remember when you needed some gas for your car or a loaf of bread, but it was Sunday and the stores and filing stations were closed? What did you do? It’s hard to imagine that not the many years ago almost everything was closed on Sunday.

In the early fifties, the two places that were open for buying groceries on Sunday were the South Side Grocery and Ballsrud’s Grocery. The only places for buying gas were Transport Oil Company and for a short time, South Side Grocery.

South Side Grocery had the following Sunday hours: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. The South Side Grocery had numerous owners until it closed in 1964. Midwest Cablevision was the last business to be located in the old South Side Grocery building.

Ballsrud’s Grocery became Rude & Volden for a few years and was Borgen’s Grocery in 1969, the last year of operation. Rudy’s Lawn & Garden Service was last business to be located in the building on Second Street that once occupied by Ballsrud’s Grocery.

Clayton Chambers

Transport Oil Company started out as Glen’s Royal Service in 1960, became Walt’s Spur Station in 1963 and then Transport Oil Company in 1965 and staying in business until 1977. Erlandson Clinic Of Chiropractic is now at the location of the former Transport Oil Company.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

New Car Dealers

For about 15 years, there was not a problem of buying a new car in the city of Westby. Starting in the middle to late teens of the Twentieth Century and continuing into the early 30s, there were numerous businesses catering to the new car buyer. The following directory, probably not complete, lists the dealers and the automobiles sold by them and one of the years they were selling such autos.

1913. Anderson & Torkelson, Overland.
1915. Johnson Brothers, Buick & Hupmobile.
1916. A.H. Dahl, Ford
1917. Nustad & Johnson, Dodge.
1921. Bennie Johnson, Dodge.
1922. Haakenson & Hanson, Chevrolet.
1922. Ernest Johnson, Overland & Willys-Knight.
1922. C.G. Tostrud, Reo & Maxwell.
1922. Oium & Tostrud, Overland.
1923. The Melodeon, Reo & Maxwell
1924. Oium Garage, Chevrolet, Ford & Willys-Knight.
1925. Oium Brothers, Maxwell, Overland & Chalmers.
1927. S & S (Silbaugh & Silbaugh), Ford & Chevrolet
1927. Bennie Johnson, Chevrolet & Chrysler.
1928. Benny Johnson, Pontiac & Oakland
1929. R.A. Silbaugh, Chevrolet.
1930. Myton Appleman, Willys-Knight & Whippet.
1930. Lind Chevrolet, Chevrolet.
1930. Oium Garage, Overland.
1931. G.C. Rank, Chevrolet.
1936. Westby (Nelson) Service Garage, Plymouth & DeSoto.
1950. Oium Motors, DeSota & Plymouth.
1960. Jules Rudie, Rambler & Ford.

A.H. Dahl was the first to sell Fords and Jules Rudie was the last to sell Fords both in basically the same place as where Dahl had started 50 years earlier. Vernon Communications is today located where both Dahl and Rudie had their car lots. S. & S. sold Fords in the same location between Dahl and Rudie.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two Trains and a Mill — 1905

In 2005, Evelyn Larson was commission by Ruth Rupp to draw Two Trains and a Mill for the 100 year celebration of the Logan Mill and La Crosse and Southeastern railroad. Pictured is the Southeastern headed south and the Milwaukee headed north. Logan Mill (many owners
and name changes over the years) was the only business in Westby that was served
by both railroad companies each having their own railroad tracks,
Milwaukee on the east and Southeastern on the west.

In November 1860, The Milwaukee Sentinel stated that a railroad was proposed to be built from Viroqua south to join the Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific at or near Muscoda. As we all know, this never happened.

Later, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul & Pacific (C. M. St. P & P.) Railroad was planning railroads from Sparta south to Viroqua and from Wauzeka north to Bloomingdale. Construction was started on both but only the line from Sparta to Viroqua developed. Today, County Highway S in Bloomingdale is evidence of the early railroad excavation.

From 1848 until 1879 Westby was called Coon Prairie,with the Coon Prairie General Store and post office located in the town of Viroqua just south of the Accelerated Genetics.

Between the early 1860s and August 13, 1879, the day the first train arrived, many business were located further north of Coon Prairie at today’s State and Main streets. The railroad originally wanted to locate its new station about one mile further north at the intersection of Today’s County P and State Highway 27. The reason for this was that this was a major crossroad: Sparta to Viroqua and La Crosse to Bloomingdale. This attempt was defeated however by two La Crosse merchants Mons Andersen and C. B. Soleberg, who urged that the station be built in the vicinity of their good client, Ole T. Westby, and to honor Westby, the new business district was named Westby Station and replaced Coon Prairie as the post office.

The 1904 timetable for the C.M. St. P. & P. At Westby was: Trains Going South, 7:57 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. Trains Going North, 11:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The La Crosse & Southeastern Railroad arrived in Westby in 1905 and continued until 1933 when it was bought by the C.M. St. P. & P. The Southeastern as it was commonly called, traveled from La Crosse to Viroqua and had a round house in Viroqua that today would be in the vicinity of the Vernon County Highway Shop at the intersection of Main and Broadway streets. The depot was located where the Nelson Agra-Center parking lot is today.

In 1922, the Interstate Commerce Commission valued the La Crosse and Southeastern Railroad at $640,581.

While Bloomingdale and Avalanche never did get a railroad, the Kickapoo Vaålley & Northern Railroad was established between La Farge and Wauzeka with the first train traveling between the two in June 1892.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Lumber Business in Westby

James Lyttle was one of the first lumber dealers in Westby more than 135 years ago. Today the whereabouts of his lumber business is unknown.

Miner Brothers > E.T. Saugstad > Spellum > Colman > Taylor > Nuzum Lumber Company

In 1881, Evan T. Saugstad started in the lumber business and in 1899, E.T. Saugstad bought out Miner Brothers Lumber and for the early part of the 20th Century, Spellum was a partner with Saugstad. 

Colman Lumber bought out Saugstad Lumber about 1918 and Taylor Lumber bought out Colman in 1927 staying in business until 1981. In 1993 Nuzum Lumber added another lumber yard to their Kickapoo Valley yards by opening a yard in the Original Evan T. Saugstad Lumber Yard facilities.

About 1885 after selling furniture for a few years. Theodore Thoreson went into the lumber business and Thoreson Lumber continued in the family until 1950 when Theodore Erickson bought the business. In 1953 the name changed to Westby Lumber and Carroll Olson owned the business in 1967 naming it Carroll’s Lumber.

Thoreson Lumber > Carroll Olson Lumber

Today JGS Computer & Satellite Service is located where Thoreson had his lumber yard.

Martin Bekkedal was also in the lumber business in Westby but in a different capacity. In 1883 he immigrated to Vernon County with his cousin Lars Lium as his sponson In return for transporting him to America, Martin was obligated to help his cousin clear and work land. Working on the farm and cutting ties for the Milwaukee Railroad, he paid off his debt in eight months. During that winter Bekkedal hired out to a lumber mill near Sparta.

Couderay, Wisconsin
September 4, 1922
Martin returned to Westby and started clerking in a local store. Three years later he had saved $1,000 and decided to invest $700 in a timber stand in Bloomingdale. He spent over half the investment in equipping a lumbering and logging crew and in two years had a return of $1,700 from the operation.

About 10 years later, after making considerable money from tobacco and some from lumber, he hadn’t started in banking at this time, Martin bought standing timber and a lumber company the Couderay Indian Reservation north of Rice Lake. By 1925 Martin practically owned all of the village of Couderay and in 1929, the Bekkedal Lumber Company was offered $1 million in cash for their Counderay holdings and they said no, “We’ll wait for a higher offer”.

The higher offer did not come, but the depression did.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Syttende Mai celebration in Westby, May 17, 1914

by Madeline Anderson
Westby Area Historical Society

One of the early Syttende Mai celebrations in Westby was in 1914. It marked the hundredth year of Norwegian independence. The following articles were in the Vernon County Censor. There are no Westby Times articles available as those years were destroyed in a fire.

From the Vernon County Censor for May 13, 1914, under the headline of Centennial Anniversary, we find the following article:

Syttende Mai parade participants lining up in front of the new public school
on West Avenue South.

"Next Sunday, in song and praise, in speech and impressive service Westby citizens will observe the one hundredth anniversary of the independence of Norway. A morning program is arranged at the church, where religious services will be held. At Davidson's grove, in the afternoon, following a parade to the place, fitting exercises will be carried through. People generally are invited to join. The speaking will be in English and Norwegian.”

In a follow-up article from the Censor, dated May 20, 1914, the Censor reported the following: 

"Westby citizens did themselves proud on Sunday last in giving vent to love for the mother country and its institutions and history. The hundredth anniversary of the event was duly and appropriately celebrated throughout the country, but nowhere more in keeping with the times than in our neighboring village of Westby. And there assembled people from all directions making it one of the memorable days in the history of that place.

"The morning hours were given over to religious services in the new Lutheran church. At two o'clock an imposing procession march through the principal streets to Davidson's grove. The cornet band lead the way, blending of stars and striped and the Norwegian flag borne aloft, girls dressed in native costumes, Boy Scouts on bicycles, Sons of Norway, school children, each carrying a flag, making a procession that was both creditable and inspiring.

"The program consisted of addresses by Revs. Eijkarud and Green in Norwegian and Hon. A. H. Dahl in English, singing of American, the Norse national song "Ja, Vi Elsker Dette Landet," band music, etc., making a full afternoon. Rev. H. Halverson presided and Dr. Schreiner was marshal of the day. Mr. Dahl's talk in English combined the historic and patriotic , breathing a spirit of love for the mother and adopted country. He paid a high tribute to Norsemen as statesmen, educators, proficiency as soldiers on land and sea, their earnestness as Christians, thrift as citizens. He said the Norwegians made good Americans because they were peace-lovers, industrious and patriotic.”

The photo of A.H. Dahl addressing the crowd is from a photo album that was donated to Westby Area Historical Society. 

A.H. Dahl addressing the crowd.
Contributed by Westby Area Historical Society
A few historical notes:

Davidson's grove is now Davidson Park. Jens Davidson would often grant permission for special events to be held on his property, prior to donating the land to the city of Westby in 1922 for the park.

Rev. Anders Halvorsen Eijkarud was assistant pastor at Country Coon Prairies church from 1890-1893. He served as pastor at North Coon Prairie church from 1893-1921 when he returned to Norway.

Rev. Joseph Marius Green was a pastor at Perry, Wisconsin and in charge of the Madison circuit for the church at that time.

Hon. A.H. Dahl was Andrew H. Dahl, merchant and influential Westby citizen. He represented Vernon County in the Wisconsin State Assembly, acted as State Treasurer, and also served as a supervisor for the village of Westby among other prestigious offices.

To see the bigger photo, click  HERE.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dr. Johan Kristian Schreiner

by Madeline Anderson
Westby Area Historical Society

Probably one of Westby's most beloved and colorful first doctors, Johan Kristian Schreiner, was born in Oslo, Norway on Sept. 4, 1857. His parents were Christian Emil Schreiner and Bethye Gerhardine Bødker. Well educated, he attend Aars and Voss school, where he received his B. A. degree in 1874. 
Dr. Johan K. Schreiner
He began the study of medicine at Royal Frederick University (today the University of Oslo) in 1875 at the age of 18 and received his medical degree in 1881. At the time of his studies at the university, a letter came into his hands from Pastor Halvor Halvorsen of Coon Prairie who had written to the University requesting that a young doctor "of high scholarship and temperate habits" was needed at Coon Prairie.  

Answering that call was Dr. J. K. Schreiner. Having said his goodbyes to his family and his future bride, Ragnhild Christine Gjerdrum, whom he would send for if this place on the prairie in Wisconsin was to his liking, he prepared to leave Norway. On July 1, 1881, credentials in hand, he left Norway for America to begin his medical practice.  

He arrived at Coon Prairie sometime in mid-July of 1881and wasted no time setting up a practice. Dr. Schreiner placed an advertisement in the Vernon County Censor for July 27, 1881 that stated: "Dr. Schreiner, Norwegian physician and surgeon. Office at Rev. Halvorsen's residence on Coon Prairie. Office hours from 7 to 9 p.m., every day. Will be at T. Jerman's drugstore, Viroqua, every Friday, 2 to 5 p.m."  

A quote from Westby native son, Dr. Ludvig Hektoen tells of Hektoen's impressions of Schreiner when he first arrived at Coon Prairie. "One bright day in the summer of 1881 I visited the Coon Prairie parsonage. Old and young were gathered about the croquet ground to the west and south of the house. It was a lively and pleasant scene. Rev. Halvorsen himself was one of the players, and then there was a rather tall, slender young man of a distinctly foreign cast whose remarks and antics kept the company in a steady uproar of laughter. This colorful person was "den nye doktor'n fra Norge" - Dr. Johan K. Schreiner."  

In 1882, satisfied that Coon Prairie was a good place to live and practice medicine, Dr. Schreiner sent for his bride-to-be, Ragnhild Christine Gjerdrum, to join him. She left Christiania, Norway on July 8, 1882, for Coon Prairie. 

On August 15, 1882, Dr. Schreiner and Ragnhild Christine were married at Country Coon Prairie church with his good friend, Rev. Halvor Halvorsen performing the wedding. Witnesses at the wedding were Peder. P. Hektoen (Ludvig Hektoen's father) and Erling Ramsland (Westby pharmacist). 

In a news item about the wedding, the Vernon County Censor, August 16, 1882, states "Dr. Schreiner, during his residence on the Prairie, has proved himself to be a gentleman of fine attainments in his profession and has a brilliant future before him. Miss Gjerdrum is an accomplished young lady, who recently arrived from Christiana, Norway."

Dr. Schreiner lived with Pastor Halvor Halvorsen at first and had his office at the Coon Prairie parsonage. He also lived with the Peder Hektoen family on the farm near the Coon Prairie church and in Viroqua. Later, he and Christine, as she preferred to be called, would live in Westby.  

It was while living on the Peder Hekoten farm that Dr. Schreiner had a profound influence on the future career of young Ludvig Hektoen. Quoting from a pamphlet on Dr. Hektoen by Morris Fishbein, "Young Hektoen was much in his (Schreiner's) company during the vacation period. Perhaps this example and the encouragement from Dr. Schreiner were the determining factors in his choice of medicine as a career. The keen interest shown by Dr. Schreiner in daily work with his patients and his influence on those with whom he came in contact did much to make the career of a physician irresistibly attractive."

In June of 1884, Dr. Schreiner bought a two acre parcel of land located on Lot 16 in the village of Westby from Anton and Ella Syverson. There was either a house on this property or one was moved there. There is photographic evidence that shows this house with Christine and the Schreiner children in the photo, circa about 1898.

The Schreiner's were active socially and very involved in the community. There were numerous announcements in the Vernon County newspapers concerning visitors and entertaining. They also traveled to Madison several times as guests of Gov. Jeremiah Rusk and his wife in Madison. It was also reported that they were guests of Gov. James Ole Davidson and his wife Helen. 

Residence for Dr. J.K. Schreiner, Westby, Wis.

In 1885, Dr. Schreiner spearheaded efforts for a Syttende Mai celebration in Westby and was the president of this event. 

The Schreiner's would welcome their first child, Hildur Bethy Helene, on April 12, 1887. Two years later, their second child, Alf, was born on May 10, 1889. Their third child, Leif Gjerdrum, was born June 3, 1894. The fourth child was a fair haired daughter named Sigrid Alette. She was born on Dec. 12, 1896. 

Always seeking to improve his knowledge of new medical and surgical practices, Dr. Schreiner left Westby in June 1899 to study at the college of medicine and surgery in Berlin, Germany, making that the second time in 10 years that he had gone for further studies there. He also returned to Norway several times for more medical training.

When the Hotel Evans, billed as Westby's pride and glory, held a banquet jubilee event on New Year's Eve, 1901, the Hon. Andrew. H. Dahl was chairman of the event. The list of speakers read like a who's who of early Westby history. The toastmaster for the event was Dr. Schreiner. To quote the Vernon County Censor for January 8, 1902, "As toastmaster, Dr. Schreiner was a revelation - a discovery in fact. On introduction, neither speaker or toast were spared. The speaker's foible, hobby or fad were riddled with kindly sarcasm and the wittiest comment and similes. The doctor has discovered his vocation. Westby's most valuable and effective advertisement would be to found the office of 'traveling toastmaster', at a liberal salary and to place Dr. Schreiner's services as such." A. H. Dahl brought down the house by his comparison of Dr. Schreiner with George Washington stating that "The latter shed his blood for our country and Dr. Schreiner his hair "from excessive mental effort."

In the late 1890s, another beloved Norwegian doctor came to Westby. Dr. Johan (John) Bjorn Schee and his bride, Ulla Klerck, were married at the Schreiner home in 1898. Ulla Klerck's sister, Alette, was married to Dr. Schreiner's brother, Pastor Fredrick Schreiner. Pastor Schreiner arranged for Ulla to leave Norway and come to Westby. Ulla was trained as a midwife in Norway and  would begin practicing in Vernon County. It is said that the first child delivered by Ulla was the Schreiner's youngest daughter, Sigrid Alette in 1896. 

Drs. Schee and Schreiner would form a lasting friendship and partnership in 1902 when Dr. and Mrs. Schee moved from Blanchardville, to Westby. The partnership would last until Dr. Schreiner left Westby for La Crosse in 1919.

Christine Schreiner was a good match for her husband. She was well educated in Norway and seemed to have countless interests, musical and literary talents, many that coincided with those of her husband. Their four children were very well educated. Many trips were made back and forth to Norway to visit relatives and the children would accompany their parents on these trips.  

Christine was involved in the temperance efforts in Westby speaking out against the consumption of too much alcohol. In 1903, Andrew. H. Dahl appointed Mrs. Schreiner to a committee to make plans for a new Westby library to be housed in the old Temperance Hall on Main Street. She was well-read and often gave presentations to the Women's Literary Club of Viroqua.  

One of the papers that she presented to this club was reprinted in the newspaper in the 1890s and very eloquently relates a journey back to Norway that she and her husband took. While they loved their new home in Westby, the longing for times in Norway is evident in her writing. "Coming near Christiana, we know every bay and island, having rowed and sailed there from childhood till we were twenty-four years old. It was with tears in our eyes that we passed our childhood homes, Blegoen and Karlsborg."

Having seen Dr. Schee's lovely home being built in 1902, Dr. and Mrs. Schreiner hired the same young English architect, Albert E. Parkinson, to build their home. It was a beautiful 3-story home situated on nearly 2 acres of land surrounded by trees and a two level lawn. There was an architect's image of the home in the Sept 20, 1904 Sparta Herald that shows the house and states that it is "probably the finest residence in Vernon County." In the same newspaper is a drawing of Parkinson's design for the new Bekkedal-Unseth building in Westby.

Dr. Johan K. Schreiner
Courtesy of the Norwegian-American Historical Assoc., Northfield, Minn.
A man of strong beliefs, Dr. Schreiner also tried his hand at politics, running for the State Assembly in 1906 on the Democratic ticket. Vernon County was very Republican and he lost to his Republican opponent, D. Frank Main.

On August 15, 1907, the Schreiner's hosted a reception for their 25th wedding anniversary from 3 to 11 p.m. in their new home. Many invitations were sent out. A notice in the Sparta newspaper said it was one of the largest and most elaborate receptions Westby had ever seen with about 600 people from all parts of the area attending this reception.   

There are several often-quoted colorful stories about Dr. Schreiner. He apparently seemed to delight in injecting a bit of profanity in order to irritate his good friend, Pastor Halvorsen. It seems both Schreiner and Halvorsen were lovers of good horses, "but the Bishop (refers to Pastor Halvorsen) drove conservatively while Schreiner tore like mad. On one combination trip in the winter time when Schreiner was putting on an especial burst of speed, Rev Halvorsen anxiously inquired: "But, Doc, what would happen if we were to have an accident at this speed?" "We'd all go to hell," he replied. To which the Bishop rejoined: "Then I am not going along with you," and rolled out of the sled into a convenient snow drift." This was from the Vernon County Censor from May 31, 1951.

A Westby Times article from April 29, 1999 by Ellen Pederson relates the following: "It is well known fact that a large majority of old-time Scandinavians in Westby chewed snuff or 'snoose'. One of Dr. Schreiner's patients, anxious about his health and particularly worried about continued pains in his head, asked, "Doctor, do you suppose chewing snoose would cause injury to the brain?" The Doctor's classic sarcastic reply was, "Certainly not, no one with brains would chew it."

Mid-year 1919, Dr. Schreiner sold his beautiful home in Westby and moved his family to La Crosse. In La Crosse he continued to practice medicine, associating himself for the next two years with two other Norwegian born doctors who were good friends and colleagues of his, Dr. Christian Christiansen and Dr. Adolph Gundersen.

Mrs. Schreiner had been in ill-health for awhile and a year after leaving Westby she passed away at her home in La Crosse at the age of 63 on August 2, 1920. Ragnhild Christine Gjerdrum Schreiner was born March 18, 1857 in Christiania, Norway. Her parents were Jorgen Herman Gjerdrum and Helene Margrethe Lange. The following is a quote from her obituary. "Hundreds who loved her living, mourn her dead. Among us all in Westby she ranked always a woman of culture, refinement, sympathy, a kind neighbor, devoted mother and a true friend." Her funeral was held at Coon Prairie church in Westby, with Pastor Halvorsen officiating. She is buried in Coon Prairie cemetery.

In the fall of 1922, Dr. Schreiner went to Norway to visit family and friends. Most of his time in Norway was spent working as a supply physician in various districts in the Telemark region. When he returned to Wisconsin very briefly in 1924 he paid a visit to friends in Westby.

In late fall 1924, in failing health, he would return to his beloved Norway for the last time. He was in the hospital in Oslo from Christmas 1924 until March 1925.

A telegram was sent to his son, Leif, who lived in Two Rivers, to come to his father's bedside in Norway. Leif got there two days before his father died at Rikshospital in Oslo on March 16, 1925. The sad news of Dr. Schreiner's death was sent back to his former practice partners and friends, Dr. John Schee in Westby and Dr. A. Gundersen in La Crosse.  

A funeral service for Dr. Schreiner was held in Oslo at Oslo Domkirke on March 21, 1925, the same church where he had been baptized sixty-seven years earlier. Dr. Schreiner was cremated and his remains were brought back to Westby for burial beside his wife, Ragnhild Christine, in Coon Prairie cemetery. A private family burial was held at Coon Prairie cemetery on April 26, 1925.  

His obituary reads in part: "For 38 years this tall, splendid, stalwart, honest Viking rode over the hills and valleys of Vernon and other counties ministering to the sick and dying and comforting them by his splendid, honest personality as well as by his advanced knowledge of therapeutics."

Dr. Schreiner in his Westby front yard
A year after his death, a memorial service for Dr. Schreiner was held on Sept 6, 1926 at Coon Prairie with the Rev. J. O. Holum officiating. Rev. Holum read a sketch of Dr. Schreiner's life. Rev. Christian Brandt Bestul (Pastor and Mrs. Halvorsen's son-in-law) spoke, along with a colleague of Dr. Schreiner's, Dr. Henry Jackson Suttle of Viroqua, among many others.

The following telegram from his friend, Prof. Julius E. Olson of the University of Wisconsin in Madison was read: "I am pleased to be told that there was commemoration held in Westby today in honor of the deceased Dr. Schreiner. I knew him as a proud Norwegian and a dutiful citizen of Leif Erikson's Vinland. He could sometimes be gruff, but in reality was a warm hearted, helpful and thoroughly honest man. He rose high among our Norwegian pioneer doctors. All honor to his memory."

Dr. Schreiner was survived by his children, Hildur Molitor, Leif, Alf, and Alette Trainer and his brothers in Norway, Kristian Schreiner, professor at the University of Oslo; Frederick Schreiner, pastor at Ringebu; Karl Schreiner, pastor at Vestre Aker church in Oslo; Anderas Schreiner, wholesaler and importer in Oslo; and Aksel Schreiner, chief of the telegraph system of the Bergen railroad in Trondheim. 

While Dr. Ludvig Hektoen could not attend the memorial service, he sent a tribute to be read at the service. It reads in part: "I never think of him without a feeling of gratefulness to him. He favored me with his friendship ever from the first time I met him and it was his example that aroused in me the wish to study medicine. If I could take part in the exercises next Sunday I would emphasize again his long, hard and faithful service as a physician, his ideals of conduct, his kindness of heart, and his distinctive personality. And I would pay tribute to Mrs. Schreiner. Together Doctor and Mrs. Schreiner contributed much of permanent value to the advancement of the Westby community."

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Norwegian Independence Day Celebration in Westby 1885

by Madeline Anderson
Westby Area Historical Society

Celebrating Syttende Mai is nothing new to Westby. An early celebration occurred in Westby in May 1885. The Vernon County Censor for May 6, 1885 had an article about the upcoming 17th of May celebration that was to be held in Westby. It was held on Monday, May 18, Sunday being reserved for church services and families.  

Officers of the day were listed as follows: President, Dr. J. K. Schreiner, Vice president, C. H. Ballsrud. Others listed were, Thomas Jerman and Marcus Bergh, Viroqua; C. A. Morterud and P. Hanson, Bloomingdale; E. Enochson, Avalanche; Hans Amundson, Springville; Michael Renz and Ole Anderson, Esofea; Nels Neprud and Hans Hanson, Coon Valley; and Peter Nelson and Martin Jackson, Cashton. The marshals of the day were Ole Lien and E. C. Bergh.

The May 20th edition of the Vernon County Censor, recorded the events that occurred and is quoted in its entirety below.

Norwegian Independence Day
The Celebration at Westby

"Notwithstanding the fears of the people at the threatening aspect of the weather for a week previous, Monday was a much better day for the celebration than expected.

"H. C. Dean, who had been engaged as gunner, went to Westby on the evening previous to the celebration, to be ready for the early morning (sunrise) artillery salute, which was fired at sunrise soon after which teams began coming in from all parts of the county.

"At 10:30 the train arrived from Sparta, bearing large numbers from Sparta, Cashton, and other places along the line, to take part in the festivities of the day.

"At 11 o'clock the procession formed and marched to the grove north of Westby in the following order: Westby coronet band, Norwegian musketeers, led by Capt. O. Nordrum, bearing a beautiful banner, and citizens.

"At the grove a short speech was made by the President of the Day, Dr. J. K. Schreiner, who introduced the people to Prof. Heltberg. This gentleman spoke in the Norwegian language, and his address is spoken of in the highest terms by those who understand the language.

"Next came singing by the glee club, which numbered 35 to 40, led by Prof. Heltberg, after which a picnic dinner was indulged in by most of the assemblage.

"At 3:30 Capt. Nordrum, with his drill corps, made a fine display. The program was interspersed at intervals with singing by the glee club, music by the coronet band, and artillery salutes till 5 o'clock, when a variety of amusements were indulged in consisting of wheelbarrow races, sack races, etc.

"Taken altogether the celebration was a success. The crowd was orderly, and nothing occurred to mar the pleasure of the occasion. A dance in the evening closed the day's celebration, and the day will long be remembered by the people of this county as an appropriate celebration of the constitution adopted at Eidsvold in 1814 - the freedom of the mother country from Denmark.”

A few historical notes:

Christian Hanson Ballsrud (1834-1902) was an immigrant from Feiring, Hurdal, Norway, and came to Coon Prairie in 1854. He held various prestigious offices including town chairman, treasurer and justice of the peace. He was also a merchant in Westby from 1879-1893.
Henry C. Dean lived in the town of Webster and was a veteran of the Civil War.
The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul railroad built a branch line from Sparta to Viroqua in 1879.

Prof. C. Heltberg was a school teacher who served Coon Prairie Church.

Capt. O. Nordrum was probably Ole Nordrum who was a shoemaker by trade and lived in Viroqua at this time.

The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814. The constitution declared Norway to be an independent nation.

The grove north of Westby was Davidson's grove now Davidson Park.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Westby's Missing Mansion

by Madeline Anderson
Westby Area Historical Society

When Dr. J.K. Schreiner built his house in Westby, he looked no further than a few blocks away for inspiration. His friend and business partner, Dr. John Schee, had built one in 1902 that had many features that were similar to the house Dr. Schreiner would have built. Dr. Schee's house had been designed by a young English architect from Sparta, Albert E. Parkinson.

Residence for Dr. J.K. Schreiner, Westby, Wis
A.E. Parkinson, Architect
Sparta, Wis
The Schreiner's house was probably started in 1903 and completed in 1904. Parkinson is listed as the sole architect for that house on the architectural plans. Built along what is now Main Street, the house occupied a huge lot. 

An architect's drawing of the outside of the house appeared in the Sparta Herald on September 20, 1904. Certainly the same drawing appeared in the Westby Times also but those early years of the newspaper were destroyed in a fire.

The newspaper release that accompanied the drawing reads in part: "Dr. J. K. Schreiner's new residence at Westby recently completed. It is located on one of the prettiest spots in the village of Westby, the building stands on a lot comprising nearly two acres. It is heated throughout with hot water. One of the pretty features of the place is the terrace that divides the frontage into two lawns, one lawn being about two feet above the other. The ground is dotted with fine trees and flowers. The place is one in which Westby takes much pride, and Dr. and Mrs. Schreiner have several times donated its beauty for the enjoyment of their many friends. It is probably the finest residence property in Vernon County, the structure alone costing $8,000."

Vernon County land records show that on June 18, 1884, J. K. Schreiner purchased a 2 acre parcel of land for $300.00 from Anton And Ella Syverson on Lot 16 as shown on the original plat for the village of Westby Station. Twenty years later the house would be built on this land. There is evidence that there was a structure on this property or that was eventually moved there as living quarters for the Schreiner family prior to 1904.

Schreiner buggy and house

Since the Schreiner house is no longer standing, an actual tour of the house is not possible. However, by using the architectural drawings we can get some idea of what the interior was like. 

It was a large wood frame house with a full basement, with the footprint of the house measuring approximately 2,000 square feet. The basement walls were 18 inches thick, most likely of limestone faced with brick on the interior walls. Thanks to a water tower built in Westby several years earlier, it was possible to use hot water to heat the house. The heating unit was located in the basement of the house.

There were large wraparound porches on the first and second floors of the house and several balconies. One would enter the house through the front vestibule which lead into the reception hall. Pocket doors that were 8' high separated the two areas. The front door and vestibule door had beveled plate glass windows measuring 26 x 36 with bead and core molding around them. Ahead was an open staircase. 

To the right of the reception area was a parlor that measured 14 x 12. This led into a sitting room that had a large bay window and a tiled fireplace with a three flue chimney. Beyond the sitting room was a large library that had a 48 x 24 art glass window. Throughout the first floor, large pocket doors, draped with beautiful tapestries, separated each room.

To the left of the reception area was the dining room that was about 13 x 20. Beyond the dining room toward the back of the house was an elaborate pantry, closets, and china cupboards. The china closet had two beveled glass doors at the top with a beveled mirror, measuring 40 x 12, below these doors. Below the mirror were two other cabinet doors with four drawers in the middle. The kitchen was at the back of the house and measured 13 x 17 feet. The back entry led to the kitchen and to the library.

The main staircase was just off the reception hall, with a secondary staircase located beyond the pantry and cupboard area at the back of the house. These staircases were elaborate, made of either maple or oak, with carved spindles, an ornate handrail and led to all floors of the house. As far as can be determined, maple flooring was used throughout the house. 

The second floor had a large hall at the top of the stairs, with four bedrooms (chambers as they were labeled on the blueprints) and a full bathroom. There was also a room called the 'Girl's room', perhaps for the live-in maids. Each bedroom had walk-in closets each with shelving. A full bathroom was at the back of the house. The master bedroom was located directly above the first floor sitting room. It had two closets that ran the length of room. Both the sitting room and the master bedroom had bay windows with a southern exposure.

There was a full basement under the house with a laundry room and wash tubs, a fuel room, a vegetable room, a cold storage room and a room labeled as an apparatus room. The heating room was located in the middle of the basement.  

The highest point on the house was the tower, which was located on the south west corner. The tower began on the second floor and was part of the front bedroom (or chamber). The tower extended into the attic area with the windows providing a source of light in the attic. The finial at the very top of the tower was embossed galvanized iron and it alone measured 3 feet, 6 inches in height.

The roof of the house was shingled and the roofs of the porches and balconies were tin. Mitered siding was used on the outside of the house and it was painted white. The architectural drawings show a symbol for a light fixture in the middle of each room.

The Schreiner family would occupy this house for about 15 years. When the family moved to La Crosse in 1919, the house was sold to Malla Neprud, and she and some of her family would move into the house in July 1919. According to Vernon County land records, it was sold to Malla Neprud by the Schreiner's for $8,000 with the sale finalized on March 12, 1920. 

Malla was the widow of Serenus Nilsen Neprud who died in 1901. They had lived in the town of Coon on a farm known as the Paulhaugen farm. Serenus and Malla had the following children: Anne (who died as an infant), Anna Marie (Walby), Martha, Nora (Grossman), Selmer, Alf, Ruth (Bachelder), Esther (Heidner) and Lincoln. 

Malla Neprud
After her husband's death, Malla inherited land holdings, warehouse holdings, and property in Moody County, South Dakota. She also owned Lots 14 and 15 located behind the Schreiner house in Westby.

Times were good for awhile, but with the Great Depression and the stock market crash, Malla began to lose money and land holdings. Times would become increasingly hard and bankruptcies were common in the 1930s. Malla sold the house in Westby in 1930 to two of her children, Martha and Lincoln Neprud. Malla Neprud died in 1939. It was the home of Judge Lincoln Neprud for awhile. He was twenty one when Malla bought the house in Westby.

This left Malla's daughters, Martha and Nora, with the home. Both were school teachers. Martha taught in West Allis, and Nora taught in Brookwood and eventually Coon Valley. They would occupy the house on summer breaks but mostly it sat empty. Many cousins would spend summers there in the 1940s and 1950s. One cousin said, "it was a fabulous place for us kids."

It appears stories of the two sisters are legendary. Nora built a shop of some kind on the southwest corner of the property and the story goes that she sold candy bars and ice cream during the Depression and perhaps had it as a root beer stand during the war years.  

In the summers they would rent out rooms. One story goes that when one of the sisters changed the bed sheets she would hang them on the clothes line, hose them off and when they dried she would put them back on the beds. 

Another story is that Martha would write poetry on pieces of paper and hand them out to those who walked by. There is also a story about a town drunk who went around Westby wearing a black cape. He lived in the basement of the house and would read coffee or tea leaves and told fortunes.

Someone also mentioned that when there was trouble with the water system within the house, baths would be taken on the back porch. There was also a minor fire that damaged part of the structure.

On August 7, 1961, Judge Lincoln Neprud, acting as guardian of Martha Neprud, sold the house and land to Westby Farmer's Union Coop. An auction of the furnishing, including 15 hot water room radiators and many Norwegian items, was held on October 31, 1961. Nora Neprud Grossman died in 1962 and her sister Martha died in 1964. 

In an article by Margaret Gulsvig, she notes that "little by little the house fell into disrepair and questions about what would happen to it became a concern upon the deaths of both Nora and Martha." One of the suggestions was to convert it into a library or use it in some way, but it would have needed much renovation to restore it to its original grandeur.  

Squirrels and other creatures had taken up residence in the attic. The house sat empty for several years allowing for the water heating system and water pipes to break and damage some of the house. Some of the windows were also broken.

This once grand home, a Westby showpiece, was torn down after about only 60 years in existence to make room for Westby Farmer's Union Coop buildings. There were several other homes on either side of this house that were torn down on south Main and now the entire area is commercial.

In one of Margaret Gulsvig's columns she says, "One landmark I miss is the Neprud home - a large white house surrounded by a huge lawn, where the Farmer's Union buildings seem to multiply every year."

Researching this article I talked with many people in Westby. No one was able to tell me exactly when the house met its demise but that it was sometime in the 1960s and most likely sometime after 1967. Most everyone talked about what a shame it was that the house was torn down and how they wished it could have been saved and perhaps found a new life as a bed and breakfast.

Most people recall the house as dark, overgrown and scary. Some would not even walk by the house but would cross the street instead. Several talk about the times they would crawl into the house on a dare to see what was in the 'haunted' house. 

There is even a book, The Other End of the Tunnel, written by Westby native, Joel Lovstad, writing under his pen name, J. L. Fredrick, where a foreboding photo of this house is used as the cover illustration. The story itself is a fictional account of two boys daring to enter the house and their adventures and of two colorful unmarried sisters who lived in the house. Real names were not used. 

Had the house been restored it could easily have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places as were many of Albert E. Parkinson's buildings.  

I want to thank the many people in Westby who helped me with this article. BUT you can still help. Did you attend the auction and did you buy anything? What do you remember about the house? Do you know the date it was torn down, have photos of the house in its heyday or of the tear down? We want to hear from you before all these memories are lost to time.

Used as a Christmas card by the Schreiner family.
Card has been donated to Westby Area Historical Society.  
Westby Area Historical Society will have a display of photos and some of the artifacts from the Schreiner/Neprud house at Bekkum Memorial Library during the month of June. We would like to include some of your photos or artifacts from the house in our display. We are looking forward to hearing from you. Please contact Westby Area Historical Society at 608-634-4478; through our email: or by writing to us at P.O. Box 42, Westby, WI 54667.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Don't throw it away

Are you planning a rummage or auction sale, or just cleaning? All too often people throw away the good stuff and try to sell the mediocre. Often people think “Why would anyone want this old thing” and then toss it into the trash, only to realize later that the old thing was worth hundreds while the whatchamacallit or thingamajig they cleaned and polished brought only a few pennies. If you are unsure what is valuable and what is not, please ask someone before you throw it away. Afterward, it’s too late.

Then there are the items that are worthless to sell but are priceless for the information they contain. A sales receipt for a new dress bought at Woodward’s in 1950 or a new hat purchased at Pickwick’s Department store a hundred years ago, the list is endless. Don’t forget that phone books from the past contain more information than just names.

The next time you find something that might be of value concerning the history of your area or hometown, please pass it on to an appropriate collector or historian.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Norwegians and Indians.

Before the arrival of the first white settler to this area, the land had been the hunting ground of the Winnebago Indians, who gave up title to the territory in a treaty in 1837 with the United States government. Many of the Indians continued to live in the Westby area, keeping a watchful eye on the whites as they built their homes and established farms.

As the years went by, the Indians and the whites became friends and today, many of Westby citizens can trace their ancestry back to one of these early Indian settlers.

For hundreds of years, Indians traveled through Westby on a trail that went from Black River Falls to Prairie du Chien. Today Highway 27 and Black River Avenue are located where the old Indian trail once was.

Evelyn Larson cartoon from the Westby Times dated May 8, 2008.
Even Gullord, Westby's first settler, is depicted establishing his claim on Coon Prairie.

Westby City Band

Members of the first Westby City Band in 1907, were: Charles Shannon, Dave Davidson, Paul Steenson, Henry Helgeson, Ivan Nedland, Ole Olson, Irvin Linds, Martin Nelson, Otto Hagen, Bernt Saugstad, F.C. Bunn, Otto Brown (Viroqua), Gudeman Peterson, Melvin Hagen, Jessie Saugstad, Ed Linds, Paul Lien, Frank Dickson (Viroqua), Nordahl Rudie, Selmer Neprud, John Johnson, Henry Nerison, Nordahl Nelson (Dinty) and Tinus Samb.

Hotel Evans

Hotel Evans in 1908
Bernt Gilbertson built the Westby House Hotel in 1879, selling it to Erik Christensen Berge, a lumber dealer, in 1882. In 1890, E.C. Evans bought the Westby House from E.C. Bergh and built in 1901, Hotel Evans with a grand opening celebration December 31, 1901.

The invitation-only New Year’s Eve Party included everyone who was anyone in Westby in 1901. Langstadt’s Orchestra provided the music and some of the food choices were; New York Counts on half shell, Fillet of Beef, Roast Bronzed Turkey, Cheese Straws, Mushroom Sauce, Early June Peas, Homegrown Celery, Roman Punch, St. Julian Clare, Wine and Neapolitan Ice Cream.

From the time it was built and for many years, Hotel Evans was one of Vernon County’s best and biggest hotels. But, between the 1930s and the 1970s the Commercial Hotel as it was called then, had a steady decline from one of the best to one of the worst.

Ad from the September 15, 1904,
Westby Times
The clientele had changed from people needing a place to sleep for the night to men finding a place to spend the night, not necessarily for the benefit of sleep. The hotel had become a place where you could rent a room by the day, week or month. Cleanliness of the building was not a high priority for the absentee owners and if the front doors were open when you walked by, you would get a whiff of anything but a pleasant odor.

The restaurant area become a bowling alley during the forties and fifties with LaVerne Jernander as manager. By 1960 the Rod and Gun Club had moved into the former bowling alley and continued there until moving into its current location. A few business used this now empty area for storage.

Known today as the CBC building, the old Hotel Evans is again an asset to downtown Westby. New businesses are located there and the new apartments are clean and rented by the month or year, not the day.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Westby is the Uff Da capital of the world

Erik’s Butikk proclaims Westby is the Uff Da Capital of the world in 1972.
Ralph Johnson and Russ Hanson are standing in the doorway

Uff Da, pronounced “Off Ta” is an all-purpose expression that Norwegian Americans can hardly do without.

Uff Da are words which can save us all. Two simple ethnic words contain the sum of human existence. Two simple words which rumble up out of the Northlands, charge their way out of the fjords, boldly grow and build until they deafen mortal ears. “Uff Da!”

What would the Scandinavian chant if he sat lotus-position contemplating his navel: Why, “Uff Da”, or course. For Uff Da is all. It identifies with everything and everybody. It is the phrase for all persons.

What does it mean? In 1972 the Westby Norseman Youth club sponsored a contest for the best definition of “What Uff Da Means To Me” with mayor Ivan Schye as the deciding judge.
A spokesman for the Norseman Youth Club said at the time of the contest. “We doubt if Uff Can can be found in any dictionary, or it’s a noun or pronoun, but we’re sure that Westby and area could not exist well or be happy without it!”

Where remembered, the following Uff Da definitions gives the name of the person who submitted the entry.

Uff Da is waking yourself up in church with your own snoring.

Uff Da is eating a good sandwich and finding out that you’ve used cat food. Louise Bergtold.

Uff Da is getting swished in the face with a wet cow’s tail. Norma Haakenstad.

Uff Da is when your two steady girlfriends find out about each other. Phil Bice.

Uff Da is finding your hair brush in the refrigerator. Tip Lund.

Uff Da is overflowing the toilet when you are a guest.

Uff Da is sneezing so hard that your false teeth end up on the bread plate.

Uff Da is having Swedish meatballs at a lutefisk dinner. Eric Leum

Uff Da is forgetting your mother-in-law’s name.

Uff Da is trying to dance the polka to rock and roll music. Colette Skundberg.

Uff Da is eating hot soup when you have a runny nose. Mary Flemming.

Uff Da is walking way downtown and then wondering what you wanted. Sarah Bland.

Uff Da is looking in the mirror and realizing you’re not getting better–you’re getting older.

Uff Da is eating at a church dinner and noticing a “foreigner” using lefse for a napkin.

Uff Da is to a Norwegian what “Good Grief” is to Charlie Brown. Kathryn Buros.

The winner, Harry Hills of Tulsa, Okla., wrote that “It means oops, yech, eek, nuts, oh-oh, heck, darn, snafu, gosh, man, shucks, tarnation, whoops, shoot, ouch, cripes, criminy, gol darn and jeepers.”

Winner of the high school division, Sarah Bland, said: “It comes in handy why your mother finds out how you spend your Friday nights.”

The grade-school winner, Jeff Hagen, said: It’s the expression your mother uses when she looks at your room after you’ve spent two hours cleaning it.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rømmegrøt or Rømmegraut

Cousin Svein in Norway on the correct spelling of Rømmegrøt

Please dad, can I have some more?
Westby's annual Rømmegrøt eating contest
Rømmegrøt is the way it’s spelled in literary language, while rømmegraut is the way we often pronounce it. (It’s also written graut in local dialects.) So both ways are correctly spelled.

In the area of Lillehammer we both write & pronounce it “graut."

It’s not just in America the spelling of words change, it’s even so here.

If you’d been written graut in a text 15 years ago, they’ll been using the red pen and tell you to correct it.

While in the western part of Norway it had been correct to spell it graut.

I guess your ancestors used the word rømmegraut as well.

Rømmegraut is Norwegian porridge made with sour cream,
whole milk, wheat flour, butter, and salt. 

Rømme is a Norwegian word meaning a heavy sour cream made from cream or blend of whole milk and cream which is acidified. Grøt translates as porridge. Traditionally, rømmegrautt is a delicacy prepared for special occasions, including holidays. It is considered to be a traditional Norwegian dish. Recipes differ depending on the region of the country. 

Rømmegraut is thick and sweet and is generally drizzled in butter and sprinkled with sugar and ground cinnamon. Because this is so rich, it is often served in small cups with a small amount of butter topped with brown sugar, cinnamon and cream. Traditionally it is eaten with cured meat.


        1 qt. thick cream
        1-1/4 cups flour
        2 cups milk
        1 cup sugar
        1 T. ground cinnamon

Pour cream into a heavy saucepan and heat until it starts to boil.
Sift in 3/4 cup of the flour and whip with a wire whisk.

Keep beating after the 3/4 cup of flour is all in, until the butter starts to come out of the cream. Then remove from the heat. Take a ladle and take off the butter, and put it in another bowl. Keep stirring until all the butter comes out.

Put the milk in another kettle and heat to boiling.

Sift 1/2 cup flour into the milk while beating. Continue beating until mixture is thick like pudding. Remove it from the heat, add it to the cream mixture, and beat with a wire whisk until smooth and well blended.

Pour into a 2-quart baking dish. Smooth out the top and sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar on top. Pour the butter you saved over the top. Serve warm.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Replicated model of Westby in 1910

Mike Mowery, Sr.
Written by Dorothy Robson, Westby Times.

The first Public Viewing of a replicated model of Westby in 1910, constructed by Mike Mowery Sr., was on display at the Logan Mill Lodge, May 17, 2014.

Mowery, a history buff, moved to Westby area 21 years ago. He retired in December 2013, from Vernon Electric Cooperative after 20 years as a technician and recently completed the scale model railroad diorama depicting Westby from 1908-1910, when the population of the city was 902.

“I enjoy model railroad layouts and I am a history buff. After finding out that Westby had two separate railroad lines, it seemed to be the perfect project for me to undertake,” Mowery said.

Mowery spent eight years on the project, three years of research and five years constructing the scale model down to the very last detail. He researched the city through photographs and history provided by Westby Times historian Eric Leum.

According to Leum, the first railroad came to Westby in 1879. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul railroad started in Sparta, traveled through Leon, Melvina, Cashton, Westby ending its run in Viroqua.

The second railroad, the La Crosse and Southeastern railroad came to Westby in 1905. It traveled from La Crosse through Stoddard, Chaseburg, Coon Valley, Westby and ended in Viroqua.

In Mowery’s scale model, trains are parked by each companies railroad depot.

Replicated model of Westby in 1910
Leum added that the only place the two railroad track were in proximity to each other was on Trygve Thompson farm, two miles south of Westby. There the railway tracks were side by side for a short distance. He said each railway had their own set of tracks and to use each other's tracks they had to pay to a fee. The Rupp's building on Bekkadal and Polly Rude Way was the only structure in the city where access to both railroads was possible.

“The Southeastern was on the west side and the Milwaukee was on the east side of the building,” Leum said.

The scale model layout is 3 foot x 6 foot and stands approximately four feet tall. All buildings were scratch-built by Mowery, using many different types of styrene sheets, polystyrene and basswood.

The project was designed as an N-scale model (160:1), meaning that one actual foot, equals 160 feet of the layout scale. All the pieces are painted or stained, a task he completed all by himself.

“It has been a great hobby, but after eight years, it is very rewarding to have it completed,’ Mowery said.

Dr. Reque and Ole Westby's Store

Dr. S.B. Reque about to cross Main Street
Dr. S.B. Reque, DDS is about to walk east across Main Street shortly after he came to Westby in 1891. Today he would be crossing from Organic Valley to Corner Mechanics. After 1905, Dr. Reque had his office over what was recently Ole and Lena Kaffe Hus.

The hardware store that Dr. Reque is walking toward was built by Ole Westby in 1874 and was his general store until 1884. The upstairs was a hotel until 1879 and from 1880 until 1883 was used as a private school with one of Ole Westby’s daughters as the teacher. This was Ole’s second store as his first was built in 1867 where Organic Valley is located today.

Vang Lutheran Church

By Madeline Neprud Anderson

The Vang Lutheran Church, organized and built in 1898, holds a special place in my family history. My great great grandfather, Tosten Eriksen Vangen, donated part of his farm for the church and the cemetery that adjoins it. The church is a beautiful structure that is situated on the ridge between Coon Valley and Westby on part of section 27 in the town of Coon. It can be seen from Highway 14, nestled amongst pine trees, some of which were planted and cared for by Tosten Vangen himself. 

The Tosten Eriksen Vangen family belonged to the Upper Coon Valley Lutheran Church for many years. Their children were baptized and confirmed at this church and several were married here. Eventually, most of the Vangen family became members of the Vang Lutheran Church.

Vang Lutheran Church
Vernon County land records indicate that on May 3, 1898, Tosten Eriksen and his wife Anne, deeded part of their farm land, "for the purpose that it shall be used partly for the cemetery for said congregation and partly for a church which shall forever be a Lutheran Church and be in connection with Synods of the Norwegian Evangelical Church in America or the Norwegian Synode." In November 1936, their son, Albert Vangen, deeded more land for church use. 

The following is taken in part from "The Golden Anniversary of the Vang Evangelical Lutheran Church, town of Coon, Vernon County, Wisconsin, 1898-1948", a pamphlet published for the 50th Anniversary festival services that were held at the Vang Church on Nov. 14, 1948.

"Vangs Norsk Evangelisk-Luthersk Menighet (Vang Norwegian Lutheran Congregation), town of Coon, Vernon County, was organized at the home of Marcus Gulbrandsen at a meeting that began at 7 p.m. on Wed., March 30, 1898. 

The following resolutions were adopted at this first meeting: "Our congregation shall adhere to a constitution which confesses the same faith and teaching and also endorses the same fundamental principles as those found in the constitution.

‘Upper Coon Valley Congregation.' Upon the above-mentioned foundation, we do hereby organize 'Vor Frelsers Norske Evangelisk Lutherske Menighed' (Our Savior’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation). These resolutions were formulated and adopted by six men: Edward H. Erickson, Neri Olson, Harris Erickson, Johannes Anderson, Lars C. Sagmoen and Hans Bakkestuen. This group elected the following temporary officers: Neri Olson, president; Edward Erickson, secretary, and Lars Sagmoen,treasurer.

 A second meeting was held on April 27, 1898, and the following business was transacted:

1. The name of the congregation was changed to “Vangs Norske Evangelisk-Lutherske Menighet” (Vang Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation). This was done in honor of Tosten Vangen who donated the land which was to be used for the church and cemetery.

 2. The congregation decided to join the “Norwegian Synod” and call Rev. H. Halvorsen who was pastor of the "Coon Prairie Congregation" at Westby. The Letter of Call was sent on April 30 (1898) and Rev. Halvorsen accepted."

When the congregation met on May 22, 1898, plans for the new church were accepted. The constitution, drafted by Ole Anderson, Hans Erickson and Rev. H. Halvorsen, was adopted on May 30, 1898 and signed by the following charter members: Johannes Andersen, Christian C. Bakkestuen, Hans Bakkestuen, Torger G. Bakkestuen, Hans Erickson, Harris Erickson, Matthias Johnson, Ole Larson, Ole O. Nerison, John Oberson, Ole O. Odegaarden, Neri Olson, Anton H. Peterson, Ole P. Role, Edward Ruud, Lars C. Sagmoen, John Sisbach, John L. Strangstad, Johan Sund, Iver Tostensen, Neri Tveidt and Edward Vangen. Additional members added in 1898 were Ole Lee, Gustave Nelson and Peter Ringholen. In 1899 members added were Ole Anderson, Ole Peterson, Johannes J. Strangstad and Tosten Vangen.

Theodore Thoreson of Westby was given the contract to build the church. The total cost of the church was $1,700. On Nov. 11, 1898 the church, which included pews, altar, pulpit and baptismal font, was dedicated. The church bell was installed in 1899. The church measured 30 feet by 50 feet and the steeple tower was 10 feet by 10 feet at the base. The steeple towered 75 feet high. The church held an all day festival to celebrate the dedication with the Ladies Aid serving dinners. The Ladies Aid, which was organized on May 19, 1898 at the home of Mrs. Johannes Liajordet, paid $150.00 toward the cost of building the church. The Ladies Aid also trimmed the pulpit and the altar, donated the altar cloth, and the altar silver. The Ladies Aid of the Vang Church was very active in the affairs of the church.

The Golden Anniversary book further states:
"To begin with, many of the women walked to the meetings carrying the children who were too small to walk.  Where the distances were too great, horses and lumber wagons were used.  (There were very few single and double buggies in those days)."

"In August 1899, there was a storm which moved the church from its proper place on the foundation. The congregation met on August 26th and decided to repair the damage at once. This work was left in the hands of a committee consisting of Johan Sund, Haagen Olsen and Ole Anderson. According to the records of the meeting held Oct. 21, the cost of repairing the damage was $250.24. 

"In April 1900, fifty pines were bought at twenty cents each. Tosten Vangen volunteered to plant them and care for them."

Later additions to the church were the installation of a pipe organ in 1911, a basement under the church in 1927 and a furnace was bought by the Ladies Aid. The church was rededicated in 1937. The Ladies Aid also purchased electric lights for the church in 1940. In 1948, the year of the Golden Anniversary, the installation of beautiful stained glass windows was paid for by the Ladies Aid. The congregation gave many gifts to the church, including the rose window behind the altar, altar cross, bibles and stands. The chandelier in the church that was donated by the Ladies Aid was very beautiful and ornate with places for candles. That chandelier, refitted for electricity, still hangs in the church. They also donated the pews for the church.

In 1949, a new roof was put on the church and a new oil burning furnace installed. More work, done in 1950, included lowering the pulpit, and removing the old pipe organ. The Ladies Aid had new carpeting installed. In 1951, the new organ for the church was installed. A well was drilled in 1965.

In 1973, an addition was added to the church, which covered the front steps, provided space for restrooms, coat rooms and an area that could be used for extra seating. A telephone was installed in the church in 1975 and an illuminated cross was placed on the new addition. Throughout the years, the church has undergone extensive remodeling and improvements made possible by many donations and gifts by members of the congregation. Many of Tosten and Anne’s descendants are still members of this church.

The Vang Church has always been served by the pastors of the Coon Prairie congregation in Westby. Rev. Halvorsen served from 1898 until his death in 1921. The Rev. J. O. Holum served until his resignation in April 1947, although he continued to serve as an interim pastor until January 4, 1948 at which time, Rev. H. O. Aasen was installed. The church continues to share pastors with the Coon Prairie congregation. 

In a note from the history of the church that was prepared for the 90th anniversary in 1988, I found the following:

Vang Church and Cemetery
"When they (the Ladies Aid) decorated the church at funerals, someone would gather juniper branches. The green was stripped from the twigs and strewn on the floor of the aisle and chancel. Wreathes were often woven with myrtle or evergreen and placed on the caskets." 

Anne Amundsdatter Vangen died Jan. 13, 1917 at the age of 82 and her husband, Tosten Eriksen Vangen died Sept. 7, 1918 at the age of 85. Both are buried in Vang Cemetery. Many of Tosten and Anne’s family are buried in the same cemetery. 

In Rev. H. O. Aasen’s greetings to the congregation in 1948, he wrote “There was a time when Tosten Vangen’s farm looked like anyone else’s farm. Now there is a church and tombstones — many tombstones. These mark the places where the dust of many of those who once worshipped here waits for the day when it is to come forth from the grave to meet the Lord Jesus Christ and be assigned a place in eternity.”

Today, as you drive by on Highway 14 at night, the illuminated cross atop the steeple of the Vang Church can be seen from the highway. It is a beautiful church that has been lovingly preserved and cared for by the congregation and is still in use today.  

Note: Parts of this article originally appeared in the 2011 Gudbransdalslaget Yearbook. Used with permission of Gudbrandsdalslaget.