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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

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

Donated by Bill Russell


Early Trading Centers

In the pioneering days, in many areas, crossroads trading centers sprang up to supply the simple needs of the settlers who found it difficult to trade at more distant centers.

There were several such small centers in the Independence area, among them being Williamsburg, New City, Elk Creek, Chimney Rock and Russell. All had economic and social ties with Independence and their histories are worthy of our consideration even though some have passed out of existence.

New City

The little hamlet of New City was located about a mile southwest of Independence at the intersection of present Highways 93 and X. Its life began in 1869 when Elliot Carpenter erected a store, dam and mill. Others started stores, taverns, and saloons. A blacksmith shop and a post office were also there.

When the Village of Independence was platted in 1876, New City went into decline and eventually remained but a memory. The mill, however, operated for many more years.

More detail on New City is given in the narrative "The Beginning of Independence."

Williamsburg

Williamsburg, originally known as Skillins Corner, was located at the intersection of present Highways 93 and XX, four miles south of Independence. In 1859 Carl Ernst settled there on a homestead. In 1860 Moses Skillins and in 1862 his brother Hiram, a Baptist minister, settled on state and federal land, at and near the present intersection, hence the name Skillins Corner.

Henry E. Pierce, William Eastman, James Wickham, William Boorman and Douglas Arnold came to Skillins Corner in 1863 and engaged in farming. They hauled their grain, over poor roads and high hills, into Fountain City, Trempealeau, and also to Pickwick, Minn.

In 1864 William Arnold, brother of Douglas, and his bride of two years, Carrie Sawyer, came from New York state and settled on 130 acres at Skillins Corner. Eight children were born to them.

When the post office was established at the "Corner" in 1866, William Arnold suggested the name Williamsburg because, he, Arnold, Eastman and Boorman had the same given names. William Arnold was appointed postmaster and held the job until 1876 when the post office was discontinued. The first mail to reach Williamsburg was carried on horseback from points in Minnesota to Black River Falls. Later it was carried by stage or horseback on the route from Trempealeau to Elk Creek. Perry Rumsey was the carrier for many years.

Besides farming, William Arnold taught school during the winter months and held several offices in the Arcadia Township.

After 38 years of farming Mr. Arnold sold the farm to Andrew Passon a neighbor, and moved to Winona, Minn. Before the Passon family could move into the newly acquired house it was destroyed by fire, arson being suspected.

Mr. Arnold died in 1926 at age 94. His wife had passed away in 1899. Three of their daughters married Independence men. Elizabeth to Sam P. Cooks, Bertha to Byron Hutchins, and Jennie to Dr. E.S. Hutchins.

Eben Douglass Pierce, M.D., editor of "The History of Trempealeau County", published in 1917, was born at Williamsburg on August 13, 1974. He attended the district school, graduated from the Arcadia Public School and the Medical College at the University of Oregon.

For a short time he practiced medicine with Dr. George Hidershide at Arcadia and then moved to the West where he continued in his profession. He and his wife Hattie Carsley came back to Wisconsin and settled in the Village of Trempealeau where he practiced medicine. He had a deep interest in history and was author of several historical papers and had other literary interests. Mrs. Pierce took charge of the village library and pursued her art career.

No trace remains of Williamsburg as a trading and postal station, but several farm households are located there. The brick school house, which replaced the original one, still stands but is no longer used for teaching.

Russell

Russell, commonly referred to as Russell's Store, is located at the intersection of Highways 21 on V in Chimney Rock Township, about eight miles northwest of Independence. It is in an area where good farms abound.

The store was started by a Mr. Melsness probably in the 1870's. It also served as a postal station from 1899 to 1905. John Jensen was the next owner who in turn sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Peter Sylla who ran it from 1921 to 1969. Thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. Dominic Roskos operated the store until they closed it in 1975.

In the earlier days a cheese factory was located near the store. Exact dates of its existence and original owner's name are not known. John Jensen operated the plant until 1921 when Peter Sylla assumed ownership.

In 1974 the store was the scene of a hold up. Mrs. Roskos was alone in the store one evening when two young men, both well dressed and courteous, entered. One of them asked for a certain brand of cigarettes. When Mrs. Roskos reached for the cigarettes in back of her one of the men pulled out a gun and held it at her head and said that "this is a stick up". The other man walked to the cash register and took out the paper Toney, about $50.00, but left the coins. The hold up men took three cartons of cigarettes and departed.

The name "Russell's Store" had special significance to an Independence family during World War 11. Due to strict Navy censorship a young sailor could not disclose his whereabouts to his mother. He overcame the obstacle by mentioning in a letter that he recalled the fun he had with the gang at Russell's store. His mother correctly determined that her son was in the Russell Islands in the southwest Pacific.

The little hamlet was named after the Russell family though it had no interest in it or the land on which it stood. However, the family lived near it.

William Russell, a direct descendant of Robert Burns, Scottish poet, was born in Scotland in 1834. His wife Christina Cooper was also born in Scotland in 1840.

Mr. and Mrs. Russell and children came to the United States in 1840. After working in the Pennsylvania coal mines for a year Mr. Russell moved his family onto a 130 acre farm in Borst Valley, Burnside Township (now Chimney Rock Township), about 8 miles north of Independence. The area was sparsely settled and the land, though fertile, had to be cleared of heavy brush.

The family erected a log house which had a puncheon floor and was covered with a slab root. Like other early settlers the Russells endured many hardships for several years.

William and Christina Russell had three children: Alexander; Mary, Mrs. Anton Liver of Independence; and Isabela, Mrs. William Koepke.

After Christina died Mr. Russell married Maybell Mekay. To them were born Tena, Henry, William Jr., and Tona, Mrs. Albert Olson.

William married and moved to Washington State. Henry acquired the home farm which he operated for many years. He served on the district school board for 15 years. He married Allie Back.

Elk Creek

The tidy hamlet of Elk Creek is located six miles north of Independence at the intersection of Highways 93 and E. Several homes and commercial buildings are clustered at that point and the surrounding area is dotted with excellent farms. The grade school is part of the Independence public school system.

The stream which flows through the hamlet was named Elk Creek in 1842 by William D. Bunnell and William Smothers, hunters, who found herds of elk in that area.

Currently the commercial enterprises include a general store owned and operated by Joe Voss; John Wiersgalla - feed mill and blacksmith shop; Robert Knudtson tavern and the Elk Creek Cheese Factory.

The cheese factory began production in March 1974 in the building formerly used by the Elk Creek Cooperative Creamery. On a seven day a week schedule the daily production is 4000 pounds of cheese from 40000 pounds of milk. Cheddar, specialty cheese and cheese spreads are produced under the brand name of "Country Pride". Packaging is done in the former butter making plant at Independence. The cheese is sold in the retail market and in bulk lots to the Borden Company.

Officers of the Elk Creek Cheese Company are Raymond Knudtson, William Mattka and Mrs. Raymond (Ruth) Knudtson.

Mr. Knudtson has worked in cheese factories for almost 40 years.  He also has some buttermaking experience. The Knudtson's have four children: Marlene, Douglas, Gordon, and Eugene. The latter works in the cheese factory.

The first permanent settlers came into the Elk Creek area in the 1850's from eastern states and Scandinavian countries. Polish settlers came in the early 1860's. For the first few years the pioneers lived in houses made of logs and sod and a few made their home in dugouts.

In 1856 Enoch Cummings purchased some government land, part of which is the site of the Joe Voss store.

J.M. Van Ness erected a dam and flour mill and a Mr. Peterson started a store. The name of the first blacksmith is unknown but Ole P. Huff operated a shop from 1877 to 1882 and then moved to Independence. James Luck operated a cheese factory with some of the milk being hauled by wagon from North Creek a distance of about 10 miles.

Elk Creek had a post office from 1867 to 1890 but the postmaster's name is unknown. In the early 1900's there was a telephone switch board in the Charles Nogosek home. Eleven year old Mary Parazinski (now Mrs. Edward Sluga), a member of the Nogosek household, was the operator at $1.75 per week.

Elderly people recall that in the earlier years Elk Creek had a dance hall, two stores and a wagon repair shop. A railroad right of way had been staked out but nothing came of it.

Until recent years Elk Creek was "dry" because of the action of Mr. Lusk, an early pioneer. He had acquired a large tract of land in the area and when he sold any part of it the deed contained a 99 year liquor prohibition clause. He was a strict temperance man.

Elk Creek though old and small is very much alive.

Chimney Rock

What is known as Chimney Rock is located in Section 13, Township of Chimney Rock, on Highway 93, about 8 miles north of Independence. The name derives from a geological formation in nearby hills.

When the early settlers came from Scandinavian countries, mostly from Norway, they found the rich soil covered with heavy brush but little mature timber. Apparently the Indians had been clearing the land with fires to improve hunting and the harvesting of berries . For years the settlers found many arrowheads in the fields.

Chimney Rock had a post office between 1871 and 1906. The first postmaster's name is not known but H.O. Haagenson, a carpenter by trade, served in 1884 according to the Wisconsin Gazetter. There was also a general store in the early days but the proprietor's name is unknown. A general store operated by Robert Everson was destroyed by fire in 1958, and has not been rebuilt. All that remains of Chimney Rock is the Lutheran Church, a handsome brick structure, serving a congregation which was organized in 1870. It is the subject of another article in this album.

During the pioneer days a survey for a railroad had been made through the Chimney Rock area. The right of way was laid out but no construction was started. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Paulson own the farm, adjacent to Highway 93 which in 1880 was purchased by his father Ole Paulson and brother Reier, from the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad. In working the land a few years ago, Mr. Paulson unearthed some well preserved survey stakes of the railroad.

Mr. Paulson's parents Ole and Olie Huseby Paulson came to the United States from Norway and after living a few years at Blair settled in the Chimney Rock area. Mr. Joseph Paulson and wife Gladys Olson have retired from active farming but continue to live on the farm. He had been a township clerk for 22 years.

A subject which has for years intrigued people is the gold supposedly buried by Jesse James, the outlaw, near the geological formation called Chimney Rock. The story is that after the Northfield, Minnesota bank robbery, the James Gang rode through the Chimney Rock area, stopping long enough to bury the loot. Attempts to locate it have been in vain, giving rise to skepticism about its existence. Some of the gang were shot during the hold up, but Jesse and others managed to escape. Sometime later he was shot to death by one of his gang.
 


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