Velkommen til Westby

Velkommen til Westby

Monday, August 24, 2015

Coon Prairie Lutheran Church, the beginning

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

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

The following was the measure for assessing which he followed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dr. Schee house

Standing proud and tall for 113 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Second Street about 1907

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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