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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.

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