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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"100 Year Historical Album of Independence, Wisconsin, 1976":

Donated by Bill Russell

Independence Business - Strength Through Diversity...       

The Milling and Grain Business

Before the arrival of the railroad in the Town of Burnside the Village of Trempealeau was the wheat market for western Wisconsin.  Caravans of ox teams came from long distances to deliver the grain to Trempealeau.  Farmers usually traveled in caravans because of the frequent holdups by robbers when they were returning from the market where they were paid for wheat in gold.

After the railroad depot was established a brisk grain business developed in Independence.  A flour and feed mill and several grain elevators were built.

At least five grain elevators lined the railroad tracks.  The Warner Elevator Company had acquired the old Cargill elevator said to have been erected in 1876.  John Sprecher had two, Liver and Torgerson and Farmers Equity each had one.  Giles Cripps in partnership with Noah Comstock also engaged in the grain business.  These partners erected the Cargill elevator.

All of these grain companies bought and shipped out large quantities of produce.  Most went out of business when farmers switched from raising grain to dairying.  The Warner elevator was the last to be razed.

In 1877 W. S. Newton erected a dam to create a head of water sufficient to provide power for his four story mill which reportedly had the capacity to produce 100 barrels of flour each day, besides other grain products.  This complex of structures cost $22,000, a huge sum in those pioneering days.  In 1880 Newton sold out to Noah Comstock and James Gaveney of Arcadia.  After a few years they sold out to John Brethaur and Syles Meyers.  A. J. Bautch succeeded Meyers as partner and the business was incorporated as Independence Milling Company.  A. J. Bautch became sole owner and operator, but because other enterprises demanded his attention he took in H. F. Eichler.  For health reasons Eichler sold his interest to Frank Bautch in 1922.  A. J. Bautch sold his interest to Mike Skroch.

Frank Bautch operated the mill for 30 years before leasing it in 1952 to Bar-Non Mills.  In 1957 Bar-Non bought the entire business.  The mill was totally destroyed by fire in 1958 with an estimated loss of $26,000.  The company soon erected a new mill.  Production of flour had ceased years ago.

The Lee Anderson and Son Milling Company assumed ownership of the mill in 1972 and has greatly expanded its operations to include mills in Pleasantville and Pigeon Falls.

The company employs fifteen people and buys and sells corn, grain and other farm products, grinds feed for livestock and poultry, sells fertilizer, provides corn drying and storage facilities, markets grain and hay for farmers.

Brick Manufacturing

In the early days of Independence, many structures were erected of red brick, which was readily available from local factories.  Even today Independence has more than its share of red brick homes.

Ferdinand Horst, said to be a bearded man who wore large earrings, began making bricks in 1882.  He set up a factory and blacksmith shop near the old stone quarry just west of the intersections of present 7th and Burrows Streets.  Currently several new dwellings occupy the site.

Horst invented a truck shaped rig that ran on rails for transporting raw clay and bricks for the kilns.  All the work was done by hand to produce about one hundred thousand bricks per season.

When Mr. Horst gave up brick making, H. H. Hertzfeldt took over and ran the plant for several more years.

Mr. Horst was also a partner in the hardware store of Danuser and Horst at Washington and 2nd Street, a building which is now occupied by the post office.

Milton H. Zimmer had his brick making plant at the west end of present Adams Street.  An Independence News Wave item of April 28, 1906 has this to say:  "A visit to M. H. Zimmer brick yard discloses a very busy place.  His  large brick making machine, which arrived in the middle of the week, is now in place and the building is nearly completed.  Three of the five drying sheds are up and ready.  Each shed is 100 feet long and will hold 8000 bricks.  He expects to start up about the middle of next week and hopes to turn out about ten thousand bricks a day.  The yard is equipped with the latest and best machinery and a first class article will be the result.  He will employ from 10 to 12 men to start with."

Mr. Zimmer was also engaged in the lumber business and had served on the village board.

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry W. Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith a might man is he
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

Week in, and out from morn till night
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow;
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

Since ancient times the blacksmith has held an important place in the history of every community.  The Book of Genesis mentions him and King Solomon called him "the father of all mechanics."  He is known by various names in the mythology of many nations. 

At least one smithy achieved fame in American history when, in 1775, he rode through the country side warning the patriots of the approach of the Red Coats.  Many a school child learned about the "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

Perhaps the first artisan to appear in a pioneering community was the blacksmith.  His basic equipment consisted of a forge to heat metal parts, a heavy hammer and an anvil.  Though the smithy's principal task was to shoe draft animals, he was also adept at fabricating and shaping metal into a variety of useful articles such as shoes for oxen and horses, hoes, shovels, rakes, brackets and even ornamental pieces.  He could repair wagons, sleighs and other farm equipment.  He had to be an inventor and an all around mechanic.

The blacksmith shop was a busy place where visitors could see sparks flying when the smithy wielded a heavy hammer on the hot metal while holding it on the anvil.  They saw how the hot shoe was fitted and nailed to the animal's hoof.  They saw the smithy shrink a red hot iron rim on the wood wagon wheel and then plunge the whole thing into a vat of water.

From its founding in 1876, Independence has been fortunate to attract several blacksmiths.  Apparently none worked under the "spreading chestnut" or any other tree.

The first smithy to appear was a Mr. Francher who came in 1876 from New City, about a mile southwest of Independence, where he operated a blacksmith shop.  Nothing is known about him.

Ferdinand Horst is mentioned in the early chronicles of Independence, but not much is known about him except that he was a big bearded man who wore earrings.  He set up his shop near the old, abandoned stone quarry just south of the high school.  There he also operated a brick making plant.  He probably came in the late 1870s or early 1880s.  It is unknown when he departed.

Ole P. Huff was another blacksmith in the village.  He was born in Norway in 1853 and in 1870 came to Ettrick, Wisconsin where he learned blacksmithing from his cousin, Peter Huff.  He spent two years on the Missouri River carrying supplies to the U. S. Army at Fort Benton, Montana, during the Sioux Indian uprising under Sitting Bull.  In 1877 he set up a blacksmith shop in Elk Creek, Township of Hale, Trempealeau County.  In 1882 he married Hannah Gunderson of Chimney Rock and moved to Independence where he operated a blacksmith shop with Simon Larson and later with Ole Hanson.  Their shop was located on Second Street opposite the present fire house.  Mr. Huff retired in 1928 and moved with his family to Barron, Wisconsin where his son, Dr. Henry Huff practiced dentistry.  Mr. Huff died there on April 13, 1934.  Surviving him were his wife Hannah, daughters Blanche and Isadora and son Henry.

Mr. Huff had served for many years on the Independence village board and the school board.

Sam P. Cooke had his blacksmith shop on the east side of Centennial square between Adams and Washington Streets.  The building is now owned by A. D. Bautch.

Mr. Cooke was born on June 26, 1857, the son of Samuel S. Cooke and Ledowska Gardner Cooke who had come to Dover Township, Buffalo County, Wisconsin in 1856.  At age 18, young Sam went to Arcadia, Wisconsin where he served a two year apprenticeship in blacksmithing.  He plied his trade for a year in Eau Claire.  On September 3, 1879 he opened a blacksmith shop in Independence which he conducted until about 1926 when his son, Thomas, took over.

On December 25, 1883, Mr. Cooke married Elizabeth Arnold, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Arnold, pioneers in Wickham Valley Town of Arcadia.  To the marriage were born four children;  Thomas, Evelyn (Mrs. Cornelius Lund); Jennie (Mrs. Ralph Cripps) and Stella (Mrs. William Weinberger).

Mr. Cooke served for many years on the village board of trustees and was a proud charter member of the Fire Department.  He died at 72 in May, 1930.

Thomas Cooke, son of Sam Cooke took over the blacksmith shop in 1926 and continued it until 1944.  He was one of the charter members of the four year high school course inaugurated here in 1906.

Mr. Thomas Cooke was born in 1886 and died in September 1944.  In October 1913 he married Edna Briggs, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Briggs.

Tony Sylla is the present occupant of the former Huff-Hanson blacksmith shop across the street from the fire station.  He does a variety of metal fabricating and repairing.  He does not shoe horses, but he did when living on the farm.

The old time blacksmith shop has largely vanished from the American scene though the smith's services are still needed.  Today he supplies it in a different way.  He packs his shop on a well-equipped truck and visits his clients.

One may ask why the designation "blacksmith".  Probably because the work tends to produce "smudge" on the worker.  But more probably to distinguish him from the whitesmith who works with tin - a white metal.

State Bank of Independence

The early settlers in the Independence area had to seek banking services in distant places, often at great inconvenience.  With the growth in population and increase in agriculture and commerce it was imperative that local banking facilities be provided.  To satisfy this need, John Sprecher and Anton Senty, on April 3, 1897 established a private bank.  In 1902 it was chartered as the State Bank of Independence.  The first days deposits were $57.00 and might have discouraged some people, but the founders had faith in themselves, the people of the community and the continued growth of America.  That faith has been well founded.  The bank has sown a steady growth through good and poor economic conditions.  In 1976, the year in which Independence is celebrating its centennial and the bank its 79th birthday, the deposits are over 8 million and assets are over 9 million.  Since 1970, the bank has occupied new and more spacious quarters equipped with the most modern facilities for fast and efficient service.

The present officers of the Bank are:
  • Lester A. Senty, President and Chairman of the Board
  • Michael Huberty, Vice President
  • John L. Senty, Vice President
  • Edward J. Kulig, Vice President
  • Renette Slaby, Cashier
Directors are:

Lester A. Senty, Edward J. Kulig, Raymond R. Warner, John L. Senty, Mrs. Lester A. Senty.

The Farmers and Merchants Bank of Independence

The bank was incorporated May 9, 1916 and opened for business on November 27, 1916, in rented quarters on Second Street between Washington and Adams Streets.

The incorporators were:  William L. Lambert, Paul Sura, A. C. Stielow, Robert S. Cowie, Peter Nelton, J. P. Libowski, William H. Meyer, Math. Elstad, Ole H. Berg and Peter C. Skroch.

The officers were: 
  • Frank A. Hotchkiss, President
  • Peter Nelton, Vice President
  • Paul T. Schultse, Cashier
Frank A. Hotchkiss, James N. Hunter, P. M. Lambert, Peter Nelton, William H. Meyer, Mike Skroch, and F. G. Theisen.

Statement as of September 13, 1917

Loans and Discounts
Furniture and Fixtures 
Due from reserve bonds
Cash on hand

Undivided profits 
Bills payable 

A few years later the bank moved into the building now occupied by the Coffee Shop on Washington Street.  Banking activities increased for several years until the onset of the great depression in the early 1930s.  The bank ceased operations in 1933.

Ice Business

Before the advent of mechanical refrigeration, harvesting and marketing ice was big business in Wisconsin.  Fortunate was the community that had near it a body of water of sufficient depth for production of ice.

In the early 1900s Frank Wnuk began his ice business in Independence when he erected a large roofless ice house on the east shore of Bugle Lake.  The site is now occupied by the Roman Klimek dwelling and the medical clinic.  The walls were about 25 feet high, constructed of rough unpainted boards and freshly cut timber.  The structure was functional but certainly not a thing of beauty.

Each winter the icehouse accomodated many thousands of tons of ice.  Considerable amounts of work preceded the actual cutting of it.  It was an exciting spectacle for the village youngsters but hard work for a large group of men.  Snow had to be kept off the ice to permit deeper freezing and when it was twenty to thirty inches thick it was scored by use of a horse drawn rig.  The scoring lines went down to a depth of about half the thickness of the ice.  Next, a crew, with the use of long, large toothed saws cut the ice into chunks of three or four hundred pounds each.  The chunks or blocks were then guided to the foot of an incline or chute and from there, with a rope and tackle arrangement, a horse pulled each block up the incline and into the ice house where another crew stacked it, each tier being packed in course sawdust.  During the warm months ice was delivered in 60 pound chunks to homes and business places on a regular routine basis.  Besides filling his own ice house Wnuk cut and sold ice to others.

Many farmers and business places had their own ice houses and bought their ice from the icemen during the winter harvest.

After Mr. Wnuk gave up the ice business, Sam Skroch took over for several years.  Among others who followed were the Marsolek brothers, Pater Dubiel, and Ralph Smick in partnership with Joe Roskos.  Then Mr. Roskos alone carried on the business for the next thirty years.  He had two ice houses located a the north end of Third Street and another at Elk Creek.  At each of these locations he harvested and stored large quantities of ice and also delivered many tons to Arcadia and Whitehall.

Harvesting of ice here and elsewhere passed into history because  of several factors such as mechanical refrigeration, ice making machines and pollution of lakes and streams.

The familiar sound of the iceman's wagon or truck no longer is heard on the streets of Independence, but while it was, the ice harvesting and distribution provided economic benefits to the owners, the workmen and the community.

Telephone Service

Telephone service came to Trempealeau County in the late 19th century.  Probably the first telephone in the county was that of Dr. S. N. Hidershide, who in April 1894, strung a wire between his office and residence in Arcadia.  The first company was the Bluff City Telephone Company, incorporated in Trempealeau on November 12, 1895.

Arcadia Telephone Company was incorporated June 5, 1896 and was granted franchise by the Independence Village Board in July 1896 to run its lines into the village.

In February 1901, A. J. Bautch was granted a franchise by the Independence Village Board and an exchanged office was established in Independence.  Mr. Bautch was instrumental in organizing several telephone companies in Western Wisconsin and in parts of Minnesota.

In 1905 the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company was granted a franchise by the Independence Village Board.

In 1902 the Arcadia Telephone Company was reorganized as the Western Wisconsin Telephone Company and in 1914 it placed its lines underground in the streets and alleys of Independence.

The Independence Telephone Company was organized on June 18, 1908.  In 1927 the Western Wisconsin Company sold its underground lines to the Independence Telephone Company.

Several small rural telephone companies existed in the Independence area.  Competition among them was keen and there was invasion of each others territory.  Most had switching arrangements with the Independence Telephone Company.  In 1948 the Borst Valley Company was taken over by the Independence Company.  All of these small companies were phased out when the Tri-County Telephone Cooperative was organized in 1961 which meant that a more efficient service could be provided over a larger area.

In 1963 the Tri-County Telephone Company substituted cables of greater capacity for those laid underground in 1914.  Surprisingly those cables and their conduits were found to be in excellent condition, evidence of careful planning.

In 1964 the Tri-County Telephone Company went into a direct-dial system and converted to the one party line service in 1974.  The company serves a wide area and has exchanges in Eleva, Strum, Independence, Pigeon Falls, Northfield and Pleasantville.  The company serves 3000 subscribers with 4300 telephones, with general offices located in Independence.  Plans for further expansion and improvement of the service are well on the way.

Officers and Directors
  • Marshall Robbe, President
  • William Amundson, Vice President
  • Richard Nelson, Secretary
  • Reynolds Tomter, Treasurer
  • Ernest Sobotta, General Manager
Marshall Robbe, William Amundson, Gary Hillstad, Richard Nelson, Joe Voss, Reynolds Tomter, Lester Gjestvang, Marvel Lyga, John Pietrek.

Independence News-Wave

NOTES BEGINNING OF 99TH YEAR                                                                                       March 4, 1976

This week marks the beginning of the 99th year of publication of the Independence News-Wave.  As this is a historical year for the City of Independence as well as th                                    nation, it seems fitting that we follow along and acknowledge this occasion.

According to the History of Trempealeau County, published in 1917, the Independence Weekly News was established on March 9, 1878 by George E. Gilkey.  The News absorbed the Blair Bulletin in 1879 and for a time the paper was known as the Weekly News-Bulletin.  Gilkey sold the News to W. R. Allison in December in 1879.  Allison had plenty of the venture in four months and sold it to H. I. Turnbull, who lasted for the same length of time as did Allison.  J. R. and W. P. Faulds, the former later to publish the Arcadia Leader, had charge of the News eight years or so, when George A. Markham took it over.

Markham merged the News with the Independence News-Wave, according to the published history.  Those were the days before the linotype; thus the paper was handset, quite a task.

Around the turn of the century, Markham updated his shop and purchased a linotype which enabled him to handle most of the composition for the paper by machine.  In 1893 the La Crosse and Winona daily papers were still setting type by hand.  This machine put the News-Wave 25 years ahead of every other newspaper in the county, and it was said to be the first weekly newspaper in the state to own one.  This original linotype was built to last and it did, right up until 1961.

Some time prior to 1892, Markham installed the linotype, he also installed a two-revolution Cottrell press for the printing of the paper.  This press printed the News-Wave until the summer of 1974.

At about the same time that Markham installed the linotype, he also installed a kerosene-burning engine to supply power for his press.  The gas engine and electric juice were yet to come.

In 1909, following the death of her husband, Ada Markham took over management of the paper.  At this time the politics of the paper were Prohibitionist.

Mrs. Markham carried on these duties until 1920, when Glen Kirkpatrick purchased the paper.  Mr. Kirkpatrick came to Independence in 1917 and worked for the Markhams for three years prior to purchasing the paper.

Kirkpatrick edited and published the Independence News-Wave up until July of 1957, when it was purchased by the present editor and publisher, O. J. Evenson.

The Independence News-Wave is no longer printed on a letter press and the linotype is seldom used in the composition of the paper.  Today, most of the composition is done on a computer-like type setting machine and the printing is done offset.

The Independence News-Wave has seen many changes in its 98 years of publication.

The above article appeared in the March 4, 1976 issue of the Independence News-Wave.

Merchantile Business in Hands of Fourth Generation

Four generations of the Lyga family have been engaged in general merchandising in Independence since 1906.

The head of the business was Michael A. Lyga who was born in 1861 in Poppelau, Upper Silesia, Prussia.  At age 11 he came to the United States with his parents who settled on a farm in Montana Township, Buffalo County, Wisconsin.  The area later became known as Lyga Valley.

In 1886 Mr. Lyga married Agnes Przybylla, also an immigrant from Poppelau.  The newlyweds settled on the farm now owned by Harry Lyga.  In 1893 Mr. Lyga bought the Henry Wiemer farm and lived there with his family until 1911.

In 1906 Mr. Lyga bought a half interest in the John Jelen & Co., general store in Independence.  The store building is currently occupied by Lloyds Sports Shop.  In 1908 his son Roy started as clerk in the store and acted as representative of his father.

In 1909 the senior Mr. Lyga became the sole owner of the business and in 1911 his entire family moved into Independence.  He was active in the operation of the store until 1920 when he sold the business to his son Roy but continued clerking for 8 years.  He died in 1948 at age 87.  He had served on the village board and was active in community and church affairs.  Agnes, his wife, died in 1958.

Roy M. Lyga, who succeeded his father was born in 1891 on the farm of his parents.  His mercantile career began in 1908 as a clerk in his father's store.  In 1912 he married Helen Sobotta of Independence.  Five children were born to them.

In 1938 the Lyga mercantile business was moved into the building purchased from Peter F. Filla.  It had been the home of the Farmers and Merchants Bank.  The building is currently occupied by the Coffee Shop of Vitus Kampa.

In 1953 the mercantile business of Roy Lyga was moved into the Garthus Store which he purchased to provide more space for his expanding business.  In 1959 he sold the business to son Marcel who started clerking for his father in 1932.  Mr. Lyga remained as a clerk until 1972 when his health began to fail.  He died in 1973.  Like his father, he had served on the village board.  He was very active in church and civic affairs and was an officer in several community organizations.

Marcel, son of Roy was born in 1914 in Independence.  The oldest of five children, he started his business career in his father's store in 1932.  He became the manager and buy in 1938 and in 1959 purchased the business from his father.  In 1935 he married Helen, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Mattson of Whitehall. 

John, son of Marcel Lyga, started clerking in his father's store in 1967.  In 1970 he became the buyer and manager of the grocery department and assumed the ownership of the entire store as of July 1, 1976.

Thus for 70 years the Lyga family has held a prominent place in the mercantile business in Independence.  Who knows - perhaps another generation, the fifth, of Lygas will follow in the footsteps of the first.

The I. M. D. Corporation

I. M. D. Corporation is a non-profit, non-stock corporation which has been engaged in influencing businesses and industries to locate in Independence.

At the present time I. M. D. Corporation is involved in four projects, the Medical Clinic (now known as Lakeside Clinic), the Independence Cabinet Co., Gopher Glove Mfg., and the Mississippi River Human Services Center.

In 1962, when the building in which Dr. C. F. Meyer had his office was sold, the Lions Club selected a committee to investigate the possibilities of building a clinic.  The members of this committee; Lester A. Senty, O. J. Evenson, Roy Lyga, Martin A. Wiemer, John Lucente, R. C. Warner and Edward Kulig, organized the I. M. D. Corporation and served as its Board of Directors until the organization meeting in May of 1962.  At that time Martin Wiemer was elected President; John Lucente, Vice-President; Lester Senty, Treasurer; and Edward J. Kulig, John Walek and Ernest Brickner, Directors.

Donations from 270 businesses and individuals were received toward construction of the clinic.  The balance was borrowed from the State Bank of Independence.

In February of 1963, Dr. C. F. Meyer moved into the new building and practiced there until February of this year when Dr. F. L. Webber took over Dr. C. F. Meyer's practice.

The Mississippi River Human Services Center was located in the basement of the clinic building from 1967 to 1974.  Because they needed more space, an addition to the clinic was built in 1971.  A new building was built for the Human Services Center at the intersection of East End Road and Highway 121.  This building was built in two phases.  The first phase was completed in 1974, and the second in 1975.  A grant in the amount of $263,200 was received from the Economic Development Administration for Phase I.  A ninety per cent grant was obtained from the National Institute of Health for Phase II.  Total cost of the building was approximately $650,000.

The Mississippi River Human Services Center has a 20 year lease on the building.

The Corporation built a factory building for Arcadia Mfg. Inc. in 1966 at a cost of $140,000 financed by the SBA loan.  Independence Cabinet Co. which now occupies the building, has a lease-purchase agreement with I. M. D. Corporation.

Gopher Glove Mfg. Co. moved to Independence in 1967 and was first located in the Ralph Smick building, now occupied by the laundromat.  Later, they moved to the old S. S. Peter and Paul School.  A new building of 18,000 sq. ft. was completed in February of 1974.  This building was financed by Industrial Revenue Bonds.  I. M. D. Corporation has a lease-purchase agreement with Gopher Glove Mfg. Co. on the building.

Gopher Glove, which manufactures buckskin work gloves, is the largest employer within the city.

The four businesses with which I. M. D. Corporation is involved employ over 100 people.

The Board of Directors of I. M. D. Corporation was expanded from seven to nine members.  At present there are only seven directors, due to the death of Joseph M. Roskos, and the vacancy created when Peter Gruenes moved from Independence.

Present officers are:  John Lucente, President;  O. J. Evenson, Secretary; Lester Senty, Treasurer; Marcel Lyga, Assistant Secretary; John Senty, Assistant Treasurer; and Edward J. Kulig and Martin Wiemer, Directors.

Glove Manufacturing in Independence

Production of gloves began here in 1949 when the Independence Manufacturing Company was organized by Ralph Smick, John Jelen and S. A. Disher.  Wool and cotton gloves were produced and shipped in large quantities.  All cutting, sewing and pressing was done in the building part of which is currently occupied by the Smick Laundromat at Second and Adams Streets.  At the peak, sixty-seven people were on the payroll.  Operations ceased in 1966.

The Gopher Glove Company, which was started in Minneapolis in 1947, established a branch plant here in 1967 for the manufacture of leather work gloves.  Production was carried on in the building previously occupied by the Independence Manufacturing Company.  In 1968 operations were moved into the old S. S. Peter and Paul Parochial School building.

In 1974 the Gopher Glove Company moved into the new 120 x 150 building erected by the I. M. D. Corporation, on the east side of Independence.  All cutting, sewing and finishing is done here.  The gloves are shipped to Minneapolis.  The plant is on a 40 hour work schedule, employing 58 women and 7 men.  The manager, Mr. Roman Lucas, has been with the company for 28 years.

The Star Wood Products Company

Can a solid and successful wood products enterprise be built on the foundation of baled hay?  Impossible?  Not to three young and energetic Independence chaps, named Bud (Clarence), Zig (Sigmund) and Joe (Joseph).

Bud is the son of Mike and Sophia Wiench Smieja, Zig is the son of Florian and Arlene Noeski Glaunert and Joe is the son of Bernard and Susie Maule Wozney.  All had full time jobs.  Bud was with Tri-State Breeders.  Zig and Joe were with the Green Bay and Western Railroad.  As a spare time project they bought and sold baled hay, shipping it into many states including the south.  It was hard work but worthwhile.  With cash on hand the partners began thinking of investing in some enterprise with a good potential for growth.  But what?  One summer day, 1964, all three were relaxing in the shade at Bud's place, cooling off with beer, and talking about investment possibilities when a truck load of wood arches passed on the highway in front of them.  But popped the question "why not go into manufacturing Structural arches?"  The idea appealed to Zig and Joe so the partners decided to explore the possibilities.  None of them had extensive knowledge about fabricating wood structures but were confident they could learn.

The succeeding weeks were devoted to study and gathering information on the subject of arch and beam making.  They came up against a blank wall when they tried to visit manufacturing plants in South Dakota, and Minnesota, unfortunately, no manufacturer was about to reveal his trade secrets to some upstart and potential competitor.  Nothing daunted the partners, who kept looking and keeping their ears open.  They visited the United States Forest Products Laboratory at Madison where they learned a great deal about types of wood and glues and assembly procedures best suited for their project.

Because of the prohibitive costs of machinery, tools and other equipment the partners designed and made their own with the aid of artisans.  Some of these items are still in use.

Lacking their own plant the partners assembled the first laminated arches in the unused barn of Clarence Marsolek, immediately north of the Catholic Church, there amidst the stanchions and mangers and lingering aromas, two arches were made the first night, four the next night and six on the third night.  While the men did the heavy work their wives, Bernice, Janet and Kay, applied the glue, a messy job at best.  Success marked the initial effort and a new star was born in the economic sky of Independence - "THE STAR WOOD PRODUCTS COMPANY".

The next step was to erect their own plant at the southwest edge of Independence, using the arches they made in the barn.  Because of increased demand for the product, the company erected more buildings and acquired additional tools and machinery.

Laminated arches and beams are made in various sizes, from 10 foot free span to 100 foot clear span.  They are used in the construction of homes, pole sheds, barns, warehouses and other structures.  Lumber used is west coast Douglas fir and southern yellow pine because of their great strength.  Starwood products are delivered to markets in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota.  The company employs 10 men.  With the Star Wood Products Company well established, Bud, Zig and Joe acquired the Sprecher Lumber Company and renamed it the Independence Lumber Company in 1967.  They also bought in 1970 and reactivated the long dormant Eleva Lumber yard.

Also acquired were tracts of land for housing development in Eleva and Independence.  Several homes have already been erected and sold.

It may be said that baled hay provided the "hay" to launch Bud, Zig and Joe into a bright future.

Sawdust Processing Plant

In 1974 a new industry began operation here on Highway Q, next to Trempealeau River, near the south limits of Independence.

The Bob Nickolson and Son Company of Fairchild, located its sawdust drying plant here because of availability of suitable space and ample supply of energy.

Robert "Bob" Nickolson and son Bob Jr., are respectively president and vice president, and another son, Jim, is actively engaged in the operation.  Currently five men are employed, but more will be added when expansion now underway is completed.

The plant consists of drying drums, elevators, end loaders, fleet of big trailers, bagging shed and miscellaneous equipment.

Sawdust from debarked timber is trucked in from sawmills at Blair, Onalaska, Dellwood and other places.

The moisture content of the sawdust is reduced to 11% in gas fired revolving drums and then shipped to various manufacturers who convert it into a variety of products such as "liquid smoke" used by meat packing plants.  Other processors reduce the sawdust to flour like powder which is used in the making of molded bathroom fixtures and other articles.  Foundries mix the sawdust "flour" with other material to make molds for steel castings.  Dehydrated sawdust is also used for livestock and poultry bedding and as litter for house pets.

The annual rate of production at the local plant is 4 tons of dehydrated sawdust.

The company manufactures railroad ties and industrial pallets at its Fairchild sawmill.

The company is constructing a large plant at Sparta for conversion of sawdust into charcoal and wood "flour".  The many sawmills in the area will assure an ample supply of sawdust.

Gamroth Mink Farm

George Gamroth, son of Roman and Kate Libowski Gamroth, began raising mink, on his father's property at the Reservoir Hill, on the west side of the city.  His initial stock consisted of four female mink which he acquired in 1947.  The herd kept increasing and in 1955 he moved the ranch to his present location, one mile east of Independence on Highway 121.  Here from 2500 to 3000 mink are raised each year.  Pelting is done in November and the sale of pelts is handled by the Hudson Bay Company in New York.

The Gamroth Ranch has exhibited and won prizes at various mink shows such as the Wisconsin and the International.  Among the mutations were Sapphires, Violets, Pastels and Darks.

George and Shirley Jelen were married in 1952 and with their seven children live on the ranch.  All work with the mink.

Smieja Mink Farm

To most people the word farming means the planting and harvesting of corn, grains, hay or vegetables or raising of livestock.  There is a less well known type of farming, called fur farming devoted to raising fur bearing animals for their pelts for assembling into beautiful garments.

Adjacent to Independence are two flourishing fur farms, both located east of the city on Highway 121.  One is the Smieja Fur Farm and the other is the George and Shirley Gamroth Fur Farm.  Both are engaged in raising mink on a commercial scale.

It was in 1929, that brothers George and Roman Smieja, successful grocery and meat market operators ventured into the fur farming business.  Older citizens will recall that 1929 saw a disastrous stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.  Perhaps it was the worst possible time to hazard a new enterprise such as fur farming.  At any rate the brothers were optimistic so they bought three pairs of silver foxes and set up pens at the north edge of Independence, on Highway Q.  In spite of the cloudy economic climate the project prospered.  Through natural increase and additional purchases the fox population grew and produced many prize winning animals.  George recalls that platinum pelts brought as much as $225 each, a big sum in those days.  The silvers were relatively easy to raise in spite of their intense nervousness.  Nevertheless, there were problems.  When some new breeding stock was purchased from Northern Wisconsin lung worm was introduced into the herd.  Quick measures were taken to correct the situation.  Among other actions the fox ranch was moved tot he site of the present mink ranch where wire-floored kennels were set up.

By 1946 foxes had become unpopular and were heading into a long fashion eclipse.  Mink in dazzling colors were appearing in the fashion world.  Roman and George were alert to the trend in furs and decided to get into the mink raising business.  They purchased 12 female mink and as George told it, the initial venture was almost a total disaster.  Eight of the females died during whelping, a most discouraging situation.  Right then and there the brothers were ready to get out of the business.  But the challenge was still there and being born optimists the brothers purchased more breeders, in the following year, with gratifying results.

By 1953 the brothers pelted their last fox.  At that time George bought Roman's interest in the fur business, Roman in turn took over George's interest in the grocery and meat business.

George devoted full time to raising mink.  Sons Jim and Ray, acquired their own herds.  Although all three Smiejas own their individual herds all three share the same mink yard, feed room and pelt together.  When one or two must be absent the other takes care of all the mink.  Brony Matchye, who since he was ten is a full time employee.

Constant effort to upgrade the quality of the mink has resulted in many prize winning animals.  The Smieja's have won many trophies for their Sapphire, Lavender, Violet, Triple Pearl and Pastels.

Pelts are sent to New York where the Hudson Bay Company auctions them off for the Smieja's.

"His Faith In 'Super' And 'Very Good' Mink Bright at 72
(taken from the March 1972 issue of the American Fur Breeders Magazine)

George Smieja, who started with foxes in 1929, is sure mink will always be most wanted fur.

Good mink have brought George Smieja, Independence, Wis., a long way down the road of a good life.  He is 72.

Smieja (pronounced Smie-ya) operates his ranch in a sort of three way "independent partnership" with Ray and Jim, two of his three sons.  It's an "independent" arrangement in that all own their own mink.  It is a "partnership" in that the three share the same mink yard, feed room, and pelt together.  And when one of two are away, the person(s) remaining takes care of all the mink.

The olderman has about 450 breeder females.  Jim has about 550 and Ray about 650.  So the three herds, which have consistently had better than a four kit average down through the years, represent a total pelt production of about 6500 annually.

The senior Smieja, who admits to being not quite as energetic as when he got into fur farming, via Silver foxes, in 1929, has a full-time hired man, Browney Matchey, who, since he was 10 years old, has worked at the ranch.  Jim and Ray, however, take care of their herds alone, with the usual parttime help during busier summer months and at pelting time.

Looking back across more than seven decades, including the last three in fur farming, George Smieja is convinced that good mink produced via a "separate but unified" family-type arrangements such as theirs will still offer a good livelihood far into the future, present circumstances expected.

"So far we've got along fine, but it looks real dark now," is the way he put it this past month while awaiting results of the Hudson Bay Co. sale in New York to which they had consigned their pelts.

The Smiejas estimate that feed costs have only represented about one-third of their pelt returns in other recent bad years.  They feed a fairly conventional ration.  They do enjoy a cost advantage in being able to get fresh chicken necks and backs from a poultry packing plant right at Independence, and they get fresh trip from a packing plant at Whitehall, which is only about five miles away.

However, their relatively low feed costs to pelt returns also is directly related to the high reproduction record of their herds.  And it also is tied to the fact that they do considerably better than the Emba averages most years.  One good index of the quality of their mink is their consistently high placements in the now four year old Wisconsin State Mink Show.

In 1966, the first year of the show, they had a grand champion, a Light Sapphire.  In addition to the Sapphire class, they won the Violet, and Lavender classes.  In 1967, the Smiejas again had the best mink in the show, another Sapphire, plus additional winners in the Violet, Lavender and Triple Pearl classes.  In 1968 they had the Sapphire, Violet, Lavender, and Light Pastel class winners.  And in the most recent show, they had the reserve champion - again a Sapphire class winner - plus winners in Light Triple Pearl and Lavender classes.

"We took 13 mink to the 1960 Milwaukee International Mink Show and came in third," George Smieja recalls.  "Other than that, we've never really seriously competed in other shows."

As you'd guess, the Smiejas tend to grade and regrade with great care.  However, they select the mink from which they are going to select most of their keepers very early in the summer.  They rate the early, bestdoing litters with a grade of "Super".  Then the next largest kits of other litters are given a "Very Good" grade.  Next, in descending order, are Good, Fair and Pelt.

"We pelt early, sometimes starting around Nov. 10 most years and have started as early as Nov. 6," the older man says.

"But we don't pelt early just to save a couple weeks of feed.  We make sure that the skins are white and the pelts are prime.  I'm sure that we can pelt earlier because we always have tried to pick our breeders from the earliest litters, and from those which prime up early."

It might be well to note, however, that the older man raises his mink under unusual circumstances - out under the open skies.  Perhaps influenced by the way he raised Silver foxes, he has always raised his mink outside.  The greater access to daylight is believed by some to hasten priming.  However, the mink of Ray and Jim, raised in large combination sheds, seem to prime up equally early, they report.

"The only problems with raising mink outdoors are the snow and the starlings," the older man says.  "A snowblower pretty well takes care of the snow.  The starlings are only a wintertime problem, when the herd is smallest.  When the snow leaves, the birds leave."  The outside breeders are fed inside their pens when the birds are present; other than that, little attention is paid of them.

As he talks with you, George Smieja comes across as a man who has seen bleak times and is very appreciative for what fur farming has done for him and his family.

He recalls that his father was a 19th century emigrant from Poland, who worked as a mason in the Independence area in the decades preceding World War I.

"He was lucky some years to work three months and to make 25 to 30 cents an hour," Smieja recalls.

To shorten a long story, George and his brother Roman acquired a meat market and grocery business from their uncle in 1920.  While growing up both had done considerable trapping and hunting fox behind hounds, etc., so it was natural for them to become interested in Silver fox as publicity built up around it as the fabulous fur of that era.  In 1929 they acquired three pairs of Silvers which, with cost of pens, represented an investment of about $2500.

Although it was perhaps the worst time of this century to be going into any kind of new business (the stock market crashed in 1929, ushering in the Great Depression), they nonetheless prospered with the foxes.  George recalls that they received as high as $225 for Platinum pelts.

They found the Silvers relatively easy to raise in spite of their intensely nervous natures.  However, when they bought some new breeding stock from northern Wisconsin, these introduced lungworms into their herd.  This eventuated in their moving their fox ranch further out of Independence and setting up wire-floored kennels.  The watchtower for checking fox matings is still part of their mink yard scene.

By 1946 foxes had become over-popular and were heading into a long fashion eclipse as a dazzling array of mutation mink colors began to appear on the scene.  George and Roman realized they had to change with the times and bought 12 female mink.  Their initial experience with these could be described as "two-thirds pure disaster."

Eight of the females died during whelping, the apparent cause being bladder stones.

"I was ready to go right out of mink," George recalls now.  "But next year we bought more breeder mink and had about six kit average..."

By 1953 Smieja pelted his last fox.  At that time he arranged to buy out Roman's interest in the fur farming enterprise.  In doing this, he turned over his interest in the grocery store and meat market which they long had owned together. 

The years from 1953 on were very good years.  Smieja had become very quality conscious during his fox raising days.  Now that he had fur farming as his sole business, this preoccupation with quality paid off very well with the mink.

"I like foxes, but would never go back to raising them, even if they start bringing really good prices," George Smieja says today.  "For one thing, the cost of fox pens today would be very high.  And by any standard that you can name - durability, lack of bulk, variety of colors, etc. - mink is the better fur."

"There is always going to be demand for good mink.  I'm sure that the good years ahead will more than cancel out the bad.  Family-type mink farms with good minks should pay better wages and return on investment than what one can hope to get in most other businesses."

by Will Carleton

There's a gathering in the village, that has never been outdone
Since the soldiers took their muskets to the war of 'sixty-one;
And alot of lumber wagons near the church upon the hill,
And a crowd of country people, Sunday-dressed and very still.

In the night-time or the day-time, he would rally brave and well,
Though the summer lark was fifing, or the frozen lances fell;
Knowing if he won the battle, then the doctor was to blame.
'Twas the brave old virtuous doctor, 'twas the good old faulty doctor,
'Twas the faithful country doctor - fighting stoutly all the same.

Maybe half the congregation, now of great or little worth,
Found this watcher waiting for them, when they came upon the earth;
This undecorated soldier, of a hard, unequal strife,
Fought in many stubborn battles with the foes that sought their life.

When so many pined in sickness, he had stood so strongly by,
Half the people felt a notion that the doctor couldn't die;
They must slowly learn the lesson how to live from day to day,
And have somehow lost their bearing - now this landmark is away.

Now each window is pre-emptied by a dozen heads or more,
Now the spacious pews are crowded from the pulpit to the door,
For with coverlet or blackness on his portly figure spread,
Lies the grim old country doctor - lies the kind old country doctor
Whom the populace considered with a mingled love and dread.

But perhaps it still is better than his busy life is done,
He has seen old views and patients disappearing, one by one;
He has learned that Death is master both of Science and of Art
He has done his duty fairly, and has acted out his part.
And the strong old country doctor - and the weak old country doctor,
Is entitled to a furlough for his brain and for his heart.

According to Franklyn Curtiss Wedge's "The History of Trempealeau County."

"In the early days, great difficulty was often encountered in obtaining a physician.  During the second winter or early fall that the Markhams were here (they came in 1856 to Burnside) Mr. Lyne, the tutor, was taken dangerously ill.  George H. Markham started on foot for Black River Falls, fording the Trempealeau River and other streams.  He took supper at Jim Finn's place east of Blair, and found Dr. Hutchinsons, of Black River Falls, who gave him some medicine and promised to follow later.  Mr. Markham then ate some food, and set out immediately, reaching home within 24 hours of the time he started, after having covered a distance of over 70 miles."

The book does not indicate whether services of another physician were sought for Mr. Lyne but it is probably in view of the episode related in the diary of Arthur Markham, a brother of George H. Markham.  Arthur Markham's diary covered the period from October 11, 1855 to September 17, 1868.  Mr. Lyne was a tutor to George and Arthur Markham in England and here.  He came with the family and stayed a number of years.  Arthur Markham's daughter, Blanche, later edited the diary.  A quote from it follows.

"In November, Mr. Lyne became so ill that Father (Arthur) rode horseback to Fountain City and took a boat from there to Winona to get a doctor.  Dr. Staples and he got a steamboat at 2 A. M. and reached Fountain City 2½ hours later.  After having breakfast, they hired a team and reached Roncival (Markham's Castle) at 10 A. M.  Three weeks later Mr. Lyne was so much worse that father (Arthur) again rode horseback to Fountain City and as the ice on the Mississippi was scarcely safe he walked on the ice and islands, when he could, and reached Winona before noon, but the doctor could not get ready before 2 P. M.  He had dinner and got a rig to take them up along the Minnesota side until they were opposite Fountain City and walked across.  He hired a rig for the doctor and they reached the house at 1:30 A.M.  The doctor prescribed for Mr. Lyne and went back to Winona but returned in a couple of days and opened up the abscess from which he took a quart of pus.  Father (Arthur) accompanied the M.D. to Winona and got some supplies for Mr. Lyne who was feeling better when father (Arthur) reached home again after a long drive.

The Markham diary mentions another medical incident in the family, but this time a seamstress was the "doctor."

A quote from the diary follows:  "Little Charlie (probably the child of Mr. & Mrs. George Hale, employees of the Markhams) got in the way of the men making fence posts and an axe made a five inch wound in the fleshy part of his back.  Miss Cole, the seamstress, was kind enough to sew it up.  The cut did not hurt the boy much."

People still living recall the tales of their elders about home remedies they relied on to treat diseases, fractures and other injuries.  Doctors were not available in small communities and distances were too great to reach them.  According to old timers many pioneers were never treated by a doctor.  From birth to death rarely would any be hospitalized.

Tooth extraction was simple and direct, without fuss.  The sufferer sought out, usually at church on Sunday, a man reportedly skilled at pulling teeth, a man who carried ordinary pliers.  The sufferer and the "dentist" would step behind the church or other structure and in no time the bothersome tooth was out.  The tooth extractor and his pliers returned to his ordinary duties, and so did the "patient," apparently suffering no residuals.

Physicians in Independence

Dr. W. R. Allison was probably the first physician to practice medicine in Independence.  Dates of his arrival and departure are unknown.  The 1884 issue of the Wisconsin State Gazeter lists him as being in residence here.

Drs. Lewis and Brant of Arcadia had a branch officer here but dates are unknown.

Dr. Broadfoot was the village health officer in 1887, but other data on him is not available.

Dr. Gunn practiced medicine here for five years and then moved to Eau Claire.  Some of the senior citizens remember him.

Dr. B. C. Walske came in 1938 and in February of 1941 entered the army medical corps.  He did not resume practice here.

Dr. George F. Stack

Dr. George F. Stack, who practiced medicine for 37 years died in June 1938 at his home in Superior, Wisconsin.  He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Independence.  He was born in 1869.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota Medical School, Dr. Stack joined Dr. John Sprecht in the practice of medicine in Superior.  During his stay of two years he served as an assistant health officer.

In 1898 Dr. Stack moved to Independence where he married May Hutchins in 1899.  She died in June 1929.

During his stay in Independence, Dr. Stack was the village health officer for a number of years.  He was a close friend of Dr. Charles Mayo of Rochester, a nationally known physician and surgeon and cruised with him on various occasions in a houseboat on the Mississippi.  Upon retiring from practice in 1935 Dr. Stack returned to Superior where he lived with his daughter Garnet and sister Miss Theresa Stack who survived him.

Dr.Sylvesten E. Hutchins

Dr. Hutchins was born, September 23, 1867 in Burnside Township, Trempealeau County, Wisconsin.  He graduated from the Rush Medical College in Chicago in 1892.  He practiced medicine in Onalaska, Whitehall, Independence and again in Whitehall and later in Trempealeau, Wisconsin where he died in July 1931.

He had married Jeanie Arnold, daughter of William Arnold, pioneer settler of Wickham Valley, Highways 93 and XX.

Dr. Hutchins served in the Medical Corps in World War I.  His son Otis went down in 1918 with the Tuscania, on February 5, 1918, a troop ship which was torpedoed by a German submarine near the British Isles.

Dr. Charles F. Peterson

Dr. Peterson was born in 1870 in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia.  He died in June 1953 in Independence.

At age 14 he came with his parents to the United States and located in Arcadia, Wisconsin.  Though Charles had finished 8th grade in the old country he entered the first grade in the Arcadian school because he had no knowledge of English.  After graduating from high school he taught at Independence and other Trempealeau and Buffalo county schools at a salary of $30 per month.  He had served as principal in the village school.  After several years of teaching he decided to become a doctor, a difficult decision to make.  He was 30 years of age and had a wife and a baby to support.  He paid for his medical education and supported his family by selling books and doing any other extra work he could find.  Upon graduation from the medical school in 1907 he opened an office in the Independence State Bank building.  In 1930 Dr. Charles Peterson and his son Dr. Donald Peterson, who had just graduated from Marquette Medical School, moved into their own building, across the street from the bank building.

In the early years of his practice, Dr. Charles made home calls over a wide rural area.  He went out night and day in a buggy and cutter and in later years by automobile.  He got stuck many times in mud and snowdrifts.  During the great flu epidemic in 1918 there were 6 nightmarish weeks when he was on the road night and day, young Donald driving.  During those weeks he went to his office just once.  His wife, Helen, took calls at home and then tried to reach him by telephoning into homes in various valleys.  On July 13, 1952, the Lions Club sponsored a Dr. Peterson Day.  The people from near and far turned out in great numbers to pay a special tribute to the doctor for his long service.  It was estimated that he had delivered from 2500 to 3000 babies in the area during his active years.  By 1952 some of the "babies" had become grandparents.  The good doctor had taken care of three generations.  He served on the school board for 30 years as clerk and president.  He also served many years as the Independence health officer.

Dr. Donald Peterson

Donald Peterson, son of Dr. Charles F. and Mrs. Peterson was born on May 31, 1901.  He died January 6, 1958 while living in Independence.  His mother died when he was two years old.

Donald graduated from the Independence High School and then attended River Falls College and University of Wisconsin, Madison.  He completed his medical education at Marquette University, Milwaukee, and served his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital there.  He then joined his father here in the practice of medicine.  He succeeded his father as the physician at the Trempealeau County Hospital.  In August 1939 he married Elsie Hagestad, a nurse, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Hagestad.

In 1951, "Dr. Donald" as the locals called him, moved to Strum, Wisconsin where he practiced for two years.  In January 1953 he moved to Black River Falls to practice at the Krohn Clinic.  Following the death of his father, Dr. Charles F. Peters, "Dr. Donald" resumed practice here in February 1954.  After an illness of several months he died in January of 1958.  He was survived by wife Elsie, son Charles and step mother, Helen, Mrs. Charles F. Peterson.

Dr. Albert H. Kulig

Dr. Kulig was born April 16, 1886 on the farm of his parents, Hyacinth and Susanna Woychik Kulig, three miles south of Independence.

He graduated in 1910 from Marquette Medical College Milwaukee, and interned in a hospital, Duluth, Minnesota.  He practiced in Dodge, Wisconsin until 1917 when he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps.  He sailed for France in July 1918 where he became a member of the medical staff of the U. S. Army Aviation Section.  At the time of his discharge he held the rank of major.

Dr. Kulig returned in June 1919 and opened an office in Independence.  Two years later he opened an office in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin and then moved to Thorp where he practiced until death on January 27, 1946.  His wife Agnes Budnik, born March 2, 1886, died January 26, 1971.

Dr. C. F. Meyer

Dr. Meyer was born in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1922, of German-Swiss parentage.  His early schooling was obtained there, augmented by the atmosphere of grandfather's old world meat market, to which came such luminaries as Frank Lloyd Wright, to pick up some dried beef, and author August Derleth who loved to write about his Sac Prairie.

Dr. Meyer attended the University of Wisconsin and for a year was an analytical chemist in the steel core plant of McQuay-Morris, St. Louis.  He served four years in the Navy during World War II.  He completed his pre-med at DePAUW University, Green Castle, Indiana and his medical course at the State University of Iowa, graduating in 1949.  He served his internship at St. Francis Hospital, La Crosse the following year after which he began general practice in Independence.  After a year he joined Dr. Frank Gillette, Mondovi, Wisconsin where he remained for 10 years.

Then for six months was with the State of Wisconsin at Northern Colony as a resident physician with excellent psychiatric experience.  Subsequently, he resumed general practice at Independence, where he remained until semi-retirement in mid February 1976, when Dr. F. L. Webber took over.  Dr. Meyer continues in institutional and industrial medical practice.


At various times several dentists practiced their profession in Independence.  Among them were:  Dr. Kyle, Dr. Schaefer, Dr. Dickinson, Dr. A. O. Torson and Dr. George Lyga.

Dr. Torson practiced here for 54 year, from June 1917 to retirement in 1971.  Aside from his profession Dr. Torson participated in civil affairs of the community and his interest in it has not abated though he is not as active as formerly.  He maintains his home in Independence.

Mississippi River Human Services Center History

The origin of the Mississippi River Human Services Center dates back to 1968 when outpatient mental health clinics were opened in Independence, Alma, and Black River Falls.  Preceding the openings, citizens from the counties of Trempealeau, Buffalo and Jackson were engaged in four years of continuous planning activities.  The clinics provide out-patient evaluation and counseling, 24-hour emergency services, consultation to other community agencies, and community education for the groups they serve, i.e., the emotionally troubled, alcoholics, drug abusers, and mentally retarded.

Since 1971, federal grants have been used to secure day treatment and hospital treatment from other facilities; also, to develop a day activity center for the adult retarded in Waumandee in 1974; a day activity center in Independence in 1975; a sheltered workshop in Arcadia in 1975; a half-way house for alcoholics in Mondovi in 1975; and two summer day recreation camps for the mentally retarded in 1975.

In 1975, the location of the Independence Center services was moved from Osseo Road to the present site at 503 Whitehall Road in Independence.  This 12,000 square ft. building was completed in 1975 and is leased from the IMD Corporation.  It houses the administrative offices, outpatient clinic, and Trempealeau County Day Activity Center for the mentally retarded.

The mission of the MRHSC is to provide prevention and rehabilitation services to families in the three counties who have the problems of emotional troubles, alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental retardation.  In presentive work, the staff engaged in public education activities with youngsters and adults through speaking engagements, distribution to new parents of a child development newsletter, distribution of written materials, as well as information through the newspaper, radio and television.  In their direct help to families, the staff works closely with area schools, social services departments, county nurses, clergy, physicians, nursing homes, etc.  However, families may request help directly themselves and the charge for services is based on the family's ability to pay.

Veterinary Services

Over the years several resident veterinarians served the Independence farms.  Among them were Drs. Nash, Eastwold, Glasspool and Clafflin, each staying two or three years.

People also relied on Mr. Joseph Wolfe, a farmer, who had considerable knowledge of veterinary medicine, though he was not a graduate veterinarian.  He was self-taught and had worked closely with Dr. Nash who lived with Mr. Wolfe's son, Herman, in the old Markham "castle."

Currently, Dr. Simon J. Kowahl is resident veterinarian.  After graduating in 1961 from the University of Minnesota School of Veterinary Medicine, he was associated for 1 year with Dr. Idsvoog, Osseo.

Dr. Kowahl opened his Independence office in 1962 and provides service over a wide area.  He is skilled in the treatment of all domestic animals but most of his work is with dairy herds.

Dr. Kowahl and Martha A. Wood of Whitehall were married in 1964.  They are the parents of a son Vaughn.

Preservers of Declaration of Independence Legal Profession

The legal profession has been well represented in Independence since the town's founding in 1876 but information is meager on the lawyers who were here in the early years.

Apparently Nathaneal Nichols was the first lawyer to arrive.  It is reported that he came from New City, a hamlet, south of Independence. His tenure here is unknown.

The following biographical data on Mr. Mike Mulligan was excerpted from the "History of Northern Wisconsin" published in 1881 by the Western Historical Society, Chicago, and provides a look into the legal profession when Independence was in its infancy.

"Michael Mulligan, county judge of Trempealeau County was born in Ireland, Westmeath County, July 9, 1845, came to America with his parents when only two years old and settled on a farm in Connecticut in the town of Rookville.

In 1865 Michael came west and lived in Black River Falls, Jackson County, Wisconsin for two years, engaged with W. T. Price on a farm.

He then moved to Durand, Pepin County and later was in Eau Claire for three years of teaching and working part time in a mill.

He attended Gale University at odd times from fall of 1869 and his last in fall of 1874.  He went into the law office of G. L. Freeman and was admitted to the bar in 1876.  He was in partnership with Freeman for a year.

In 1877 he opened his own office in Galesville.  In May 1878 he moved to Independence.  In the fall of 1878 he was elected District Attorney of Trempealeau County for two years.  In April 1881 he was elected judge of Trempealeau County for four years commencing with January 1, 1882, but owing to the resignation of Seth Mills, he was appointed to fill the vacancy from May 28, 1881 to June 1, 1882.  Judge Mulligan was a member of the A. F. & A. M. order of Arcadia 201 lodge and A. O. U. W., Independence.

Editorial Note:  Judge Mulligan served from 1886-87 as the first president of the Board of Trustees (council) of the Village of Independence.  His subsequent whereabouts is unknown.

The most prominent names in legal practice here are those of John F. Kulig, his son Edward J., John A. Markham and Richard Markham.

John F. Kulig was born in 1874 in the Township of Arcadia, Trempealeau County on the farm of his parents, Hyacinth and Susanna Woychik Kulig, immigrants from Upper Silesia, Prussia.  Attorney Kulig graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1898 and immediately opened his law office in Independence.  He returned from active legal work in 1959.  He died in October 11, 1960.  Mr. Kulig was active in community affairs having served as village president for several yeas; was legal advisor to the municipality; was one of the organizers and for many years president of the volunteer fire company, and was the first public administrator of Trempealeau County, a position he held for forty years.  Until his death he was a director of the State Bank of Independence.  He was a member of the State Bank of Independence.  He was a member of the State Bar Association and served as president of the Tri-county Bar Association.  His wife Mary Jazdziewska died in 1956.  They had three children, Martha (Mrs. Henry Gamroth), Edward and Albin.

Edward J. Kulig was born in Independence.  He graduated from the Marquette University Law School, Milwaukee, in 1938 and was admitted to the bar the same year.  He practiced law for two years in Lancaster, Wisconsin.  He served as a Naval officer during World War II and in 1946 joined his father, John F. Kulig, in the practice of law in Independence.  He was for 18 years a member of the Trempealeau County Board.  In 1975 he was appointed to the same board to serve the unexpired term of the late Joseph Roskos.  Like his father attorney "Ed" has been the city legal adviser; active member of the fire department; county public administrator; he is a member of the Tri-county and State Bar Associations.  His wife is the former Katherine Hienrichs.  They have two daughters and two grandchildren:  Mary (Mrs. Howard Andregg), and Travis; Patricia (Mrs. Greg D. Sylla) and Jean Marie.

In 1974 the law office of Edward J. Kulig was expanded into the partnership of Kulig, Luethi and Michalak.

Robert Leuthi received his law degree from the William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota and was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1973.  He saw service int he Army and Navy, including a year in Vietnam as a naval officer and is currently an active reservist in the Navy.

LaVern Michalak is a graduate of Stanley-Boyd High School, the Wisconsin State University, Eau Claire and received his law degree from the University of North Dakota.  He was admitted to the Wisconsin Bar in 1973.

Luethi and Mr. Michalak are members of the State Bar Association.

John A. Markham was born in Independence in 1875, and died here on May 1, 1968 at 93.  He was the son of Arthur Markham who came here from England in 1856.  John's mother was Rose Bishop Markham.

Attorney Markham graduated from Independence Public School in 1896 and obtained his law degree from the University of Minnesota.  For a few years he practiced law with his brother, Claron, in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and in 1905 established his law practice in Independence.  He was district attorney for 10 years; a director of the State Bank of Independence; served for nine years as Trempealeau County divorce counsel; for seven years as family court commissioner; was president of the Village Board and first Mayor when Independence became a city.  He served on the school board and was city attorney.  He also served in the state assembly for Trempealeau County.  He was an active member of the Tri-County Bar and Wisconsin Bar Associations.  His wife Eleanor Brown died in 1953.  They had three sons:  Arthur, George and Richard.  Mr. Markham's second wife was Caroline Webb.  Attorney Richard served in the Navy during World War II, and then joined his father, John Markham, in the practice of law.  After 6 years he again went on active duty as a naval officer in the Judge Advocates Office, Pentagon.

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