Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"100 Year Historical Album of Independence, Wisconsin, 1976":
Donated by Bill Russell
Independence Becomes a City...
At their regular meeting of the village board on January 6, 1942 the trustees voted unanimously that the village became a city of the fourth class composed of four wards, with two aldermen each and a county supervisor from each ward.
At the special election on January 27, 1942; the change from the village to city status was approved by the voters; 120 votes were cast. Those elected to office were: Mayor, John A. Markham; alderman, First Ward: R. G. Pietrek and Peter P. Filla. Second Ward: Martin Wiemer and Thomas Cooke. Third Ward: Myron H. Olson and Roman Giemza. Fourth Ward: Roman Smieja and Hugh Ellison. County board supervisors: Ron D. Kotlarz, Harvey Abend, William Polzer, Lester Senty.
Thus after only 67 years, Independence had grown from a platted, but unincorporated hamlet to a full fledged Wisconsin city and despite the war in Europe and Asia, looked to and prepared for the second half of the twentieth century.
Roster of Presidents and Mayors of Independence:
In 1942 Independence became a city hence the change in title of head of the municipality.
Municipal Services -
The first village hall was a two story building purchased from John Sprecher in 1886.
In 1902 the voters approved an eight thousand dollar bond issue for a new hall and an electric plant.
Construction of the hall was started in 1902 on the site of the old one at the corner of Adams and Second Streets. The two story brick structure is topped by a tower which houses a clock, a fire bell, and fire siren.
The first floor accommodated a public library, council rooms, a jail, a police station, voting booths, and fire fighting equipment.
The civic auditorium was on the second floor providing facilities for drama performances, dances, graduation exercises, and later movies, and many other activities.
The basement area would eventually provide club rooms for the American Legion, Post 186. The basement was also used for storage purposes.
The hall was severely damaged by the 1903 tornado, but was completely repaired by 1906.
In 1974 the first floor was remodeled to provide space for an expanded police department and for the office of the city clerk-treasurer.
Several years ago the fire fighting equipment was moved into its own station on the north side of the hall.
The jail is no longer used.
During the nine year period, prior to its incorporation as a village in December 1885, Independence experienced a boom in the construction of homes and commercial structures. By 1886, the population had grown to 350. Since it is an instinct of mankind to try to protect itself and its property against known hazards it is probably safe to assume that the village had some sort of rudimentary fire fighting procedure set up. Judged by subsequent recorded history there probably were many occasions when fire fighting services were sorely needed.
The first reference to fire protection is found in the proceedings of the first village board of May 17, 1886 when trustees J. C. Taylor and J. W. Runkel were appointed fire marshalls. In the same year the village installed a pump at the flour mill and laid 1000 feet of pipes, in the business district, for fire fighting purposes. It did not, however, erect a reservoir until 1895.
In March 1887 trustee S. P. Cooke was instructed to furnish a hose cart for the fire company and in May of the same year other trustees were instructed to see that proper facilities were provided for draining the hose and that a shed be procured for the hose cart.
Although the records fail to show that a fire company had been organized, the village board in February of 1888 agreed to furnish $100.00 for the purchase of firemen's caps and belts. The actual cost was $96.15. In the same year the board authorized the purchase of a 36 inch fire bell to be installed on top of the old frame structured Village Hall.
On November 7, 1892 a village ordinance authorized the organization of a fire company and a roster of officers was approved but the minutes fail to disclose their names.
After debating for several years the village board in December of 1905 ordered a hook and ladder truck which cost $280.00. Manpower was required to get the truck to the scene of fire or it could be hooked to a horse drawn vehicle or in later years to a motor vehicle.
The human side of Independence fire fighting was recorded in 1953, by Eva John Kuhn, in the Independence News-Wave:
"About that time, 1887, the first Fireman's Ball was planned. It was a masquerade held on Washington's birthday, 1888. That one was reported to be a success, but a little later on they must have found the going tough, because the firemen had to agree to make up the deficit, if any, out of their own pockets. There was and they did! In 1892 the total receipts for the Fireman's Ball were $50.85. Paid out: $66.25.
"Up until not too many years ago the firemen had to pay a 25 cent fine if they failed to show up at a meeting. Only two excuses were accepted. If the person was sick or if he was out of town, he didn't have to pay the quarter. This caused quite a bit of trouble, it seems. In August, 1897, a Mr. Olson declared he had not heard the bell and refused to pay the fine. The fire boys wouldn't accept this as an excuse and the gentleman was dropped from the list.
"They got pretty fancy at a meeting in January, 1891, and voted that the firemen wear uniforms of white shirts, red shields, dark pants with red stripes down the outside seams. There is almost no mention of equipment for fire fighting at that time, but the boys were really dressed up for the occasion.
"In January 1906, fire wards were established. All territory laying east of 2nd Street and south of the millpond constituted the first fire ward. Everything west of 2nd St., the second ward, and everything north of the bridge, the 3rd.
"The new hook and ladder truck and hose carts were decorated and put in the Fourth of July parade in 1909."
On January 22, 1906 J. W. Runkel, village president and Jacob Jackson village clerk signed "An ordinance establishing a Fire Department in and for the Village of Independence, Wisconsin, with Constitution and Bylaws for the organization of a volunteer fire company, designating the officers and number of members thereof and their powers, duties and obligations."
The following members of the Fire Company pledged, in writing to observe and obey the foregoing Constitution and Bylaws:
(alphabetized for easier viewing)
With the establishment of the fire department the village board ceased direct management of the fire company. From time to time the board provided funds and passed ordinances upon request of the fire department. Some of the department funds came from annual fees paid by the several townships for fire protection. The state allots to the municipality 2% of the fire insurance premiums collected in the area. The annual firemen's ball also brings in some money into the department treasury. In the earlier years members were fined 25¢ for each missed meeting and 25¢ for failure to respond to a fire alarm. Records of the department show that chimney fires were frequent but it appears that every member was present at every fire. Such money and the proceeds from the dance went into a special liability reimbursement fund.
The December 11, 1911 minutes show that the fire company would pay $3.00 (later reduced to $1.50) to the driver who would hook on to his vehicle the hook and ladder truck and haul it to the fire. Competition for this job was very keen.
Beginning with 1938 a small hourly rate of pay was allowed to firemen who responded to fire alarms.
In 1928 the fire department acquired its first motorized fire truck (pumper) at the cost of $2090. The second and third pumpers were acquired in 1938 and 1956. The fourth pumper was acquired in 1974 at a cost in excess of $33,000. All the funds for it had been accumulated over several years.
The department now (1976) has five vehicles:
The firemen are covered by workmen compensation laws, firemens accident fund and also a specialized policy.
Fire department officers in 1976 were: Alan Hanson, President; Robert Skroch, Secretary and Treasurer; Dan Schoenberger, Chief; Wilfred Smieja, Assistant Chief; Tony Sylla, Assistant Chief.
The Fire Department has a rigorous training and education program. Drills are held at monthly meetings. A number of members have attended seminars at Eau Claire and La Crosse state universities and at the Western Wisconsin Technical School, all courses of which are related to fire fighting.
Three men of the department have been certified as Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitators (CPR) instructors.
Our volunteer firemen are a dedicated group and stand ready at all times to answer the call to protect lives and property even at the risk of their own lives. The community has reason to be proud of its Fire Department.
The Independence water system dates back from January 4, 1886 when village president, Mike Mulligan, volunteered to ascertain cost of the Galesville water system. That fall 1000 linear feet of wrought iron pipe was laid from the mill to Washington and Third Streets. The system froze solid the first winter because the pipes had not been laid deep enough.
A pump had been installed at the mill and the water which provided power for operation of the mill was also used to provide it for the pump. However, the village had no reservoir. In May 1895, the voters approved a bond issue for a more adequate water system. J. F. Zilla drilled an artesian well about 500 feet deep, on Lot 10 near the present city hall for the sum of $722.00.
In the same year Albert J. Bautch gave the village a lease and easement agreement for a reservoir site on the high hill west of the village. In December of 1895 the artesian well began producing sand and as the problem continued, the village board authorized the digging of a large, shallow well just north of the present site of the fire station. Pond water flowed into the well and from thence it was pumped by steam power into the reservoir. The water was not purified in any way, and therefore it was not fit for human consumption.
The December 7, 1895 issue of the Independence News-Wave had this to report. "Fred H. Pickler of Winona made a final test of the water system and found it in perfect working order."
A. J. Bautch gave the village a splendid job and Independence now has as fine a system of water works as can be found in the northwest.
"The reservoir is situated on what is known as the Bautch Hill west of the village. It is one hundred and seventy-four feet higher than the business district of the town. The reservoir is 14 feet deep and 40 feet in diameter and holds 66 thousand gallons. The pipeline is 3 thousand feet in length and runs as follows: From the reservoir hill to A. Hertzfeldts corner, Washington and 6th Streets then north one block to Adams Street then east to Larson and Short Corner, Adams and 1st Street then south connecting with the old pipe at Taylors corner, Washington and First Streets. The old and new lines are also connected at S. P. Cooke corner, Washington and Third.
"The pump house is solid brick structure, 23 feet square. In this one finds a 30 horse power boiler made by August Grams of Winona. The steam pump was made by Fred M. Prescot Company and has a capacity of 750 thousand gallons in 24 hours."
"John Dagnan of Winona had charge of laying of the mains. The total cost of the plant is sixty three hundred dollars."
Water mains were gradually extended to all parts of the village. In 1908 water was drained out of the pond for ten days to permit laying of mains, on the creek bottom, to the north side of the village all the way to the point opposite the S. S. Peter & Paul Parochial School. A. J. Bautch had the contract and during the ten day period his mill was shut down for lack of water power.
While the quantity of the water was adequate the quality was unsatisfactory and the tax payers petitioned for a source of water other than the pond. In 1912 a new well and pump were installed near the railroad bridge on the east side of the village. In a few years the water from that source proved unsatisfactory and a new search for water began.
In early 1920s a new well was sunk and pump house erected at the old quarry on the west end of Jefferson Street. The water supply was adequate but it had a heavy iron content. The condition was remedied by installation of filtration tanks and other equipment in 1941 at the cost of six thousand dollars. In 1973 work began on a four hundred thousand gallon tank located at Boland Hill north east of the city. The Winona Plumbing Company was awarded the contract for $92,800 plus $74,162.95 for water and sewer extension for a total of $166,962.95 less $1,100 or for a net total of $165,862.95. The source of water for the old and new tanks is the old pumping station on Jefferson Street.
From its beginning in 1886 the Independence water system was under the direct management of the village board and, later the city council.
In 1948 the city council created the Independence Water Utility in accordance with state regulations. From then on the commission assumed jurisdiction. Commissioners Joe Roskos, Wayne Runkel, and Marcel Lyga were appointed and confirmed by the council.
In 1951 a city ordinance established a combined sewer and water utility under three member commission the president of which was Joe Roskos. The other members were Wayne Runkel and Marcel Lyga.
In 1976 the commissioners were Al Sczepanski, president; Ken Gallagher and Aloysie Filla.
As the population of Independence grew and its commerce and industry expanded, it became clear to many villagers that an adequate sewer system was a must. However, on June 22, 1909, the citizens rejected 65 to 24, a proposition to bond the village for $3,200 for a sewer system. But on March 27, 1911, in accordance with a petition previously presented, the village board ordered an election to be held on April 25 on the question of bonding the village, $3,500 for waterworks and a like amount for a sewer system. On the date set both propositions carried, the water works vote was 95 to 35 and the sewer project vote was 95 to 37.
The sewer contract was let to F. C. Robinson and Company for $9,200. Laying of mains started in 1911 from a point near the Trempealeau River and continued north on Green Street and into other areas of the village. Extensions of mains were made from time to time and currently virtually all segments of the city are being served.
In 1957 a primary sewage treatment plant, at the approximate cost of $70,000, was erected on the east side of the city at the confluence of Elk Creek and Trempealeau River. As required by state regulation the storm and sanitary sewer systems were separated.
A more sophisticated disposal plant is in the planning stage.
For illumination the early settlers in the Independence area, as elsewhere, relied on candles, usually home made of bees wax, and on lamps and lanterns fueled by coal oil or kerosene. In time the people began to agitate for modern lighting systems, however, there were no long distance power and light lines extending into small communities. Therefore many villages set up to their own plants of limited capacity.
In 1903 Independence constructed its electric plant on the lot now occupied by the fire department station. The brick building was damaged by the tornado which struck the village on October 3, 1903 In spite of this setback, the plant went into operation in December of that year. The dynamo was powered by a coal fired steam boiler. In homes the clear glass light bulbs had a rather short life, the filaments being quite fragile, and the arc type street lights were limited to the downtown area. Nevertheless, the Independence system had come a long ways from bees wax and coal oil.
From late fall to early spring the light plant was operated from about 4 p.m. to midnight and from 5 a.m. to sunrise. Otherwise the plant operated from sunset to midnight.
As the demand grew for more power and light the village granted a franchise in 1920 to the Wisconsin-Minnesota Power and Light Company to extend its lines into Independence.
Thus the Independence electric light plant began operating in December 1903 and ceased operation in May of 1921. Between those dates Robert Gamroth was the sole operator.
Apparently the first bridge, within the present limits of Independence was a narrow wooden structure spanning Elk Creek in the vicinity of present Island Park on the northwest side of the city. The bridge was part of the road which carried the east and west traffic between the present Sixth Street and Whitehall Road (Highway 121).
The second wooden bridge was erected over Elk Creek in 1877 near the site of the present steel bridge. That same year W. S. Newton built a dam at that point which impounded the water and created the pond, later named Bugle Lake. People still living remember the bridge as a narrow wooden structure with a lower roadway than today.
On July 11, 1899, the village board was petitioned by tax payers for a steel bridge and in a special election the voters approved a $3,000 bond issue for the bridge construction.
Bids were called for and a contract was awarded to J. J. Wagner Company of Milwaukee whose bid was $5,047. The contract called for a bridge of 150 feet in length, width of 18 feet with 5 foot sidewalks along one side. The roadway was to be of wooden planks resting on steel girders.
On May 7, 1900 the village board accepted the bridge as completed by the contractors.
The new bridge generated somewhat of a dispute between the village of Independence and Trempealeau County. The minutes of the board of January 7, 1901, show that the county had levied a tax of $177.03 against a new bridge. The trustees protested that such a tax was "unfair, illegal and without warrant of law."
The November 16, 1901 minutes of the board show that the county had collected the bridge tax of $37 for 1899 and $177.03 for 1900. The village board instructed the clerk to file a claim against the county and secure return of the bridge taxes.
Also the clerk was instructed and prohibited from levying and collecting the bridge tax of $182.64 levied against the village in the year of 1901, "The same being considered an illegal tax against the village." The board contended that the village erected the bridge at its own expense and maintained it at its own expense. Unfortunately the final outcome of this dispute is not indicated by subsequent board minutes.
The wooden planking on the steel bridge would eventually need frequent repairs. About 1916 the rear wheel of the steam threshing engine broke through the weakened flooring and came to rest on the steel girder. The engine did not tip over and none one was injured.
The second and present steel bridge was erected in 1933 as part of the W. P. A. project. The bridge is wider with walks on both sides and the flooring is of concrete. It was not damaged during the flood of 1947 when the south approach was washed away.
During the 1890s hundreds of feet of public walks were constructed in the village. Planks were nailed to wooden stringers which were laid directly on the ground. According tot he village board minutes there was constant need for repairing the walks. Pedestrians suffered some injuries because of defects in the walks and in at least one instance the village paid a personal injury claim.
Beginning with 1900 the village embarked on a program of laying cement sidewalks gradually replacing the wooden ones. Property owners adjacent to the walks paid the bulk of the cost.
As early as 1886 the village purchased a road grader, probably the first in Trempealeau county, at a cost of $218.50. In May of that year John Elstad was appointed street commissioner at $2.00 per day for each day's work of 10 hours.
On August 23, 1913 the village board took the necessary action to place certain streets on the county system of prospective highways and raised $1000 to macadamize, the Osseo-Independence Highway from the mill to the north village limits. The work was completed in 1914 at a cost of $3000. County and state aid was included.
On August 3, 1914 the village board raised $2000 for 1915 street improvements under the state aid program, so that $6000 became available. On May 20, 1915 the village board adapted brick laid over a sand cushion as the type of pavement for the main street.
The 1915 and 1916 street improvement program called for 12,900 square yards of brick and macadam pavement and more than 2000 linear feet of curb and gutter. The completed work cost the village $25,000 without creating a bonding indebtedness.
In 1957 Highway 93, running through the city was paved with hot mix starting at a point near the high school and continuing to the city's north limits. The cost was $147,631, the city's share of which was $61,700. The project included the laying of storm sewers on the highway north of the steel bridge.
"The public library opens up pathways to knowledge and adventure. It swings wide the entrance to inspiration and encourages the search for truth. The library is the doorway to freedom's best hope barring no man's ideas, efforts or dreams"
Independence Public Library
When the city hall was built in 1902, two rooms, one for adults and one for children, were set aside for library purposes.
The village board legally established the public library as of January 1, 1908, and a library board was set up to govern it.
At the meeting of the library board on February 10, 1908, George A. Markham was elected president, Anton Senty, vice president and Charles F. Peterson, secretary. The village treasurer was appointed to serve as library treasurer. Rules and by laws were adopted and Mrs. Minnie Cole acting librarian, was appointed librarian at the annual salary of $50.00, retroactive to January 1, 1908. Library hours were 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturday from October to April and 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. during the summer months.
The village board made periodic appropriations for the library permitting a steady increase in number of books and supplemental material. In the early life of the library, most books cost 50¢ or less and it was the exceptional book which cost as much as $1.50.
In 1933 through the courtesy of Mr. Kirkpatrick publisher of the Independence News-Wave, the library began receiving all the county papers in exchange for copies of the Independence paper for their libraries. Today the library receives only two papers, the Arcadia and Whitehall papers for patrons use.
In 1936 an arrangement was made for the local libraries in Trempealeau County to exchange books between the county libraries, and also for a monthly workshop where librarians could get together to discuss problems and solutions. Consent was granted by the several library boards and this exchange greatly improved the library collections of light fiction, westerns, and mysteries. These were rotating loans and were exchanged whenever the librarians attended meetings.
In 1938 the librarians felt the need to expand these meetings to a once a year workshop and meeting of a larger group and Miss Erna Mathys, librarian at Arcadia was authorized to contact the Library Commissions at Madison about organizing a District meeting of several counties. On June 24, 1938, a meeting was held at Arcadia at which 13 librarians, seven trustees, and 12 visitors were present representing Durand, Mondovi, Black River Falls, Melrose, Galesville, La Crosse County Library, Fountain City, Independence, Whitehall, Osseo, Arcadia, the Library School and Traveling Library of Madison. This was the organization meeting of the West Central Wisconsin Conference, which now meets each year at different locations.
In 1942 the library board permitted the librarian to also, work with student help, at the school library as part of the war effort. This policy was continued for seven years.
In 1964 the library board requested that the townships should contribute to the support of the library in return for the service they were being given. No response was received, thus in 1970 a charge for service outside the city was instituted.
In 1964 work on a program of library development was begun and in 1965 the La Crosse Area Library Development was created and service started. The Independence Public Library became affiliated with the project which was originally funded by the Federal Government. In 1969 the program was to be funded by the counties. Trempealeau refused funding and Independence lost its affiliation with the project, at the end of the development period.
With the beginning of state aid to public libraries a county library committee was appointed and in 1973 the county funded the system and as of January 1974 Independence was again affiliated with the La Crosse Area Library System and free service was again given to the townships.
Affiliation with the System gave the library a wide variety of services. Books of all kinds, reference service which secures books from La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee, access to the film in the La Crosse Library, a Mail-A-Book service for those who cannot reach the library personally or who are handicapped.
The Independence librarians have been:
Over the years many young people have been trained as student assistants, and several have been interested enough to make librarianship their profession. Story Hours have been carried on over the years and reading programs for older children carried on each summer.
The support of the City Council and of dedicated library board members have been of great help in building the library to its present size and many facilities. They have established policies and objectives, adequate financial support and supervision.
The present (1976) Board of Directors include, Robert Runkel, president; Miss Della Marsolek, vice president; Mrs. Wanda Hanson, secretary; Mr. Alex Marsolek, Mrs. Joan Maule, Mrs. Velma Gallagher and Mr. Frank Kazmierczak.
Others who have served on the board over this years were Mr. Segerstrom, Mrs. Martin Olson, Mrs. E. E. Runkel, Mr. Lawson, Mrs. Ada R. Markham, Miss Iva Liver, W. E. Sprecher, M. H. Olson, Miss Edna J. Elstad, E. C. Reardon, Mrs. Anton Senty, Roy Lyga, A. J. Anderson, Mrs. John A. Markham, Mrs. Lee Hutchins, Lon F. Tubbs, Mrs. Otto Sprecher, E. J. Molland, Ernest Sobotta, Mrs. Howard Reynolds, Mrs. Mary Elstad, Mrs. Oscar Betthauser, E. L. Brown, John Maule, Edward Pientok, Ernest Brickner, Leonard Kern, Coddy Gamroth, Mrs. Carol Markham, Enoch Brice, and John Lucente.
The library has many ways of serving the public other than the circulation of books. We have cassette players and cassettes, a record player and several hundred records for children and adults, a 16 mm projector and access to many films, a talking book machine and access to records to use with it, as well as large print book for those with reading difficulties. We have about 45 magazines and a reference file of them for use as reference, clippings, pictures and pamphlets.
The library has over 12,000 books as well as access to books from La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee, adds abut 350 new books each year.
In 1973 an Open House was held on April 1, in honor of 65 years of service and in appreciation of the librarians.
Integral to any library's services is the librarian supplying people with books, their wants is a challenging task. The librarian must keep up with the latest developments in every field. She must know what books are in these fields so she may choose the best ones for the library. Miss Mildred Cripps has served as librarian since 1935, forty one years, when the library contained 4,000 volumes. Certainly the community owes her and her predecessors, a debt of gratitude for their expertise and dedication which have made the library a vital community servant.
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