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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

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

Donated by Bill Russell

Independence - Landmarks of Faith...       


The first permanent Methodist Society in Independence was organized in 1877.  Prayer and worship services were held in Taylor's Hall.  The society was part of a circuit of Arcadia and Whitehall.

In 1879 the Presbyterians built a church in Independence.  The Evangelical Association began work in 1878.

In 1893 the Evangelical and Methodist groups decided to buy jointly the Presbyterian church building.  Then the two groups shared the building, holding services at different hours.  Later the congregations united for worship.  Services were held each Sunday, with the Evangelical Association (now known as the Evangelical United Brethren) and the Methodist ministers preaching on alternate Sundays.  This was the first step toward unification of the churches.

In 1935 Reverend Ivey, who had previously served as pastor of the Methodist Church was again appointed to this charge.  Through his effort the Congregations were united.  The Methodists in Arcadia were affiliated with the E. U. B. there.  The Independence E. U. B. became affiliated with the Methodists in Independence.

Many improvements were made in the church buildings.  It was raised on a higher foundation providing for a basement which was used for Sunday School and Ladies Aid Society Meetings.

The interior of the sanctuary was panelled and painted; pews were installed in place of chairs; pulpit, furniture and a communion table were placed in the church.

The last improvement was the installation of stained glass windows each given by some family of the congregation.  Independence is now a member of a three point charge, being served by the United Methodist Church.

Pastors who have served the Methodist Church:

F. W. Straw
E. T. Briggs
G. F. Cowling
John Leimkuler
F. E. Lewis
J. T. Bryan
W. E. Doughty
Harry Philpott
M. R. Hackman
H. A. Snyder
L. N. Wooley
Chris Gurman
Arthur Chalfant
G. E. Boyer
D. A. Levin
E. D. Upson
Lyndon Viel
Rural Freese
Gary Clark
Lowell Reykdal
E. D. Lehman
U. E. Clough
E. P. Stone
Geo. Keepin
D. H. Johnston
A. M. Ivey
Geo. Marshall
N. V. Brink
Harold Huff
A. R. Klein
Virgil Nulton
John Wilcox
Arthur Gausman
Fletcher Bennet
C. W. Landgon
F. J. Smith
Marshall Kamnnerus
Louis Klatsbach
Frederik Schulz


Before a congregation was organized, Pastor H. A. Heyer from Norden, Wisconsin used to make trips through the Independence area and conducted worship services in the homes and in rural school buildings.

On the 6th of November, 1879, a meeting of Norwegian Lutherans in Independence and surrounding area was held to discuss the forming of a parish, to be called the Scandinavia Parish, consisting of Norden, Chimney Rock, Little Elk Creek and Independence; and to call Reverend H. A. Heyer to be the pastor, beginning January 1, 1879.  Rev. Emanuel Christopherson of Pigeon Falls presided at this meeting.

After some discussion, it was decided that those present would sign a resolution to form a congregation and send it on to others, who were not present, to obtain their signatures.  This had to be done in fourteen days.  John C. Leafland and Ole P. Larson were chosen to go out and get signatures.

The original signers were:  Ole P. Larson, John C. Leafland, J. A. Johanson, Martin Christianson, Eland Nelson, Ole Jacobson, Nathan Anderson, Lars E. Qvale, Knut Spangrud, Ed Erickson, Ole Nelson Ronningen, M. C. Tommeraasen, Jens J. Elstad, Hans Austen, Anders A. Aaberg, Andy Anderson, Ole H. Grotem, John Thompson, Bjorn Rud Anderson.

While members of the Scandinavia Parish, the Independence Congregation was active in doing its share in the building of a parsonage at Norden, they also assisted with the purchasing of a team of horses, harnesses and all equipment needed for the pastor's transportation.

The first worship services of the new congregation were held April 11, 1879 with Pastor Heyer conducting the service in the Norwegian language.  All services were held in the J. A. Taylor building, in downtown Independence, until the church was built several years later.

In 1882, the congregation decided to build a church and a drive to raise funds was started.  In 1883, David M. Kelley, who might be considered the founder of the City of Independence, gave the congregation a lot, measuring 60 ft. by 120 ft. at the corner of 5th and Jefferson Streets.  The congregation then purchased a building and lot for $90.00, location unknown.  This lot was sold for $15.00 and in July, 1883, the building was moved to the present site of the church and remodeled into a place suitable for worship.  The original building measured 18 ft. by 28 ft. and is the center section of the church still in use today.  Additions have been built on at both ends since that time.  The church was completed in 1885 at a cost of less than $800.00.

In 1884, the congregation withdrew from the Scandinavia Parish and joined Lutheran Congregation from Winona and Cedar Valley, Minn. with Rev. A. Hauge as pastor.  He served from 1884 to 1898.  H. J. Rasmusen served from1899 to 1913, at which time the congregation withdrew from the parish.

The organ, which was purchased in 1888, is still used occasionally today.

During the years 1894 to 1896, extensive remodeling and additions were made to the church.  In 1894 the church bell was installed and the steeple completed.  The alter, pews, carpeting, and communion ware were also provided during this period.  In May 1896, the now completed church was dedicated.  There was an immense gathering with many from Whitehall, Osseo, Blair, Winona and other points attending.  The dedication took place in the morning, after which dinner was served to all at Kurth's Hall.  Services were again held in the evening.  It was a memorable day in the life of the congregation.

In 1898, the lot in the rear of the church was purchased and in 1899, horse barns were built to provide shelter for the animals while members worshipped.

In 1906, electric lights were installed replacing the kerosene lamps.

Rev. A. J. Oerke of Pigeon Falls served as pastor from 1913 until 1919 when application was made with Our Saviors Lutheran congregation of Whitehall.  Pastors serving this parish since have been the Rev. M. C. Johnshoy, 1919 - 1920; O. L. Hofstad 1920 - 1925; N. G. Maakestad, 1925 - 1930; N. C. A. Garness, 1930 - 1931; O. G. Birkeland, 1931 - 1956.

In 1955, the Independence Lutheran parish was formed, consisting of the Lutheran congregations of Independence, Grace of Pleasantville and Bruce Valley.  Rev. Robert Arneson was called as pastor, serving from 1956 - 1960.  The parsonage adjoining the church property was purchased in 1956 and dedication services were held in October, 1956.  The parsonage has since been remodeled and a pastor's study added.

During parts of 1960 and 1961, the parish was served by student pastors Sheridan Erickson and Marshall Hall.  Upon his ordination in 1961, Rev. Marshall Hall accepted a call to serve the parish, serving until 1966, after which, student pastor Paul Knutson, John Sorenson and Richard Sorenson briefly served the parish.  Rev. Philip Kurtz served as pastor from 1966 to 1968; Rev. Vern Asleson, interim pastor, July 1968 to December 1968; Dr. Lloyd Gunderson, interim pastor, Dec. 1968 to Aug 1969.  Rev. Bruce Kloese assumed his duties September 1, 1969 and served on weekends until September 1970.

The Bruce Valley Congregation withdrew from the parish in August 1969, leaving Independence and Grace as present members of the parish.

In 1962, an addition was built onto the church basement, providing facilities for the Sunday School and other activities.  The kitchen was also provided and furnished.  Rest rooms were provided and a new heating system installed.  The narthex was also built at this time.  The completed addition was dedicated in May, 1963.  Rev. Marshall Hall, assisted by former pastors O. G. Birkeland and Robert Arneson, conducted the Dedication Service.

In 1968, a new Baldwin organ was purchased replacing one that had served since 1943.

The present pastor, Rev. Harvey Pedersen, came to serve the parish in September 1970.  Since that time, the interior of the church building has been renovated, the steeple has been repaired and painted and the exterior of the building painted.  In the year of 1975, the parsonage kitchen was completely remodeled and refurnished.  A first floor half bath and shower room were also installed.

The Bethel Cemetery, which is owned and cared for by the Lutheran congregation, is located just south of the city limits of Independence.

On Jan. 8, 1886, the congregation purchased a parcel of land, to be used for the cemetery, from Syril Dusenberry for $20.00.  In 1892, an additional piece of land was purchased from Mr. Dusenberry for $6.00.  In 1957 another parcel of land was given to the cemetery by Mr. and Mrs. Rufus Warner.

In 1915, the cemetery was officially named the Bethel Cemetery.

In recent years, the appearance of the cemetery has been improved with removal and trimming of trees, repairing and painting fences.  A caretaker is employed and the cemetery is in a well kept condition.

Mrs. Ella Evenson retired as treasurer of the cemetery board in 1970 after 13 years of faithful service.

The Garthus family also provided many years of devoted care to the cemetery.

Present members of the Cemetery Board are:  Mr. Alan Hanson, Mr. R. Aubyn Smith, and Mrs. Edward Anderson.


In the 1860s ever increasing numbers of Polish Catholics immigrated from Upper Silesia, Prussia and settled int he area of what is now Independence.  Their spiritual needs were attended to by visiting priests who periodically conducted services in various private homes.

The SS. Peter and Paul Parish was organized in 1869 at a meeting held on the farm of Peter Sura at whose home services had been held for several years.  George Sylla now owns the farm.  George H. Markham and his brother Arthur donated a 5 acre site for the church and the parish bought another 5 acres from them for $15.00.

Building material for the church was hauled by oxen from distant points.  On October 7, 1875 the first parish church, a frame structure, was dedicated by the late Bishop Michael Heiss of the La Crosse Diocese.  The parish celebrated the centennial of that event on October 12, 1975.

The first priest to serve as pastor was Rev. Hieronymus Klimecki.  The parish was attached as a mission to St. Michael's at North Creek until 1883 when a rectory was completed.  Rev. A. Warnagiris became the first resident pastor in the same year.  He served until November of 1885 when Rev. Raphael Tomaszewski was assigned pastor.  The first school was completed and opened its doors to students under his leadership.

Rev. R. L. Guzowksi took charge of the parish in 1888.  A second rectory and a convent for the teaching sisters were completed during his tenure.  The school was staffed by the school sisters of St. Francis whose motherhouse is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In September of 1890 the parish received a new pastor, Rev. August Babinski.  Under his leadership the present church was completed in 1896 and the present convent in 1901.  The next pastor was Rev. Andrew W. Gara who came late in 1901.  The church as it appears today was completed under his leadership.  The additions, making it one of the largest in the La Crosse Diocese was completed in 1908.  The second school was built in 1903 and was staffed by the sisters of St. Joseph, Third Order of St. Francis, Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

The growth of the parish necessitated help for the pastor and in 1917 Rev. James Brzezinski was appointed the first assistant to Rev. Gara.  The present rectory was also completed under Rev. Gara.

Rev. Lucien J. Kufel, the next pastor, served the parish for the longest period - 1922 to 1961.  An addition was made to the school and numerous improvements were made in the parish under his able leadership.  On June 16, 1941 Rev. Kufel was elevated to the rank of Right Reverend Monsignor.

Reverend Edmund Klimek replaced Msgr. Kufel in 1961 when he retired.  Rev. Klimek and his assistant Rev. Herbert Zoromski were responsible for the leadership in fund raising for the construction of the excellent school facility the parish has today.  It was also during his pastorate that the outside of the church was redone and a stone wall built in front of the church and rectory.  The first lay advisory board was established by Rev. Klimek.  In 1968 Rev. Chester B. Moczarny came to SS. Peter and Paul as pastor.  The first parish school board was organized in 1970 under his direction.  Several improvements were made in the parish complex including the costly installation of storm windows on the church. 

Rev. Herbert Zoromski returned to the parish as pastor in 1971 and remained until November 1975.  During his tenure the interior of the church was redecorated, new carpeting laid and an electric organ installed.  In 1972 Bishop Frederick Freking of the La Crosse Diocese ordained Robert Johnson who had served here as a deacon and after ordination remained as associate pastor and school principal.  Rev. Daniel Kozlowski, the current assistant came in July of 1975.

The present pastor, Rev. James Binkowski came in November 1975.  Mr. William Wera is the principal of the SS. Peter and Paul School which is staffed by all lay teachers.  Mrs. Elnaette Makinen is the religious education coordinator, a new parish staff position.

Forty-six women of the parish entered the religious life.  Eighteen continue to serve in three orders - the School Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, and the Franciscans of Our Lady of the Angels.

Six men from the parish were ordained priests.  Rev. Peter Rombalski is retired.  Rev. Roy Mish is pastor of St. Joseph's parish at Galloway, Wis.  Rev. Eugene Klink is pastor of St. John's parish, Whitehall, and St. Ansgar's at Blair.  Three are deceased, Rev. Paul Sobotta, Rev. Francis Kulig and Rev. Edward Roskos.  In addition Brother Andrew Marsolek serves as the Maryknoll missionary in Mexico City, Mexico.


A few families gathered at the home of Ole Skytterud on January 17, 1870, and after listening to a sermon preached by Rev. S. Svennugson, organized the Chimney Rock Norwegian Lutheran Congregation.  A constitution was adopted and officers elected.  Services were held in the homes of members until 1876 when the first church building was erected on a lot given to the congregation by the brothers Reier and Ole Paulson.  Neighboring pastors, when available, conducted services.

In 1878, Chimney Rock Congregation was invited to join a parish with Trinity of Norden and Little Creek of Independence.  Rev. Hoier was the first pastor called to this parish and services could now be held regularly.  Rev. Hoier held his pastorate until September 1884.

Pastor O. O. Dahlen was called in 1884 with a salary of $440 a year and special offerings, free house, and use of 40 acres of land.  Chimney Rock was to pay $140 per year as their share.

In June, 1885, it was decided to enlarge and remodel the church building.  Each member having a team of horses and wagon hauled building material from Eau Claire, a distance of 20 miles.  The church was dedicated in the fall of 1889 by Rev. L. M. Bjorn.  During Pastor Dahlen's ministry, a Luther League and church choir were organized, and a 3-month parochial school was the order of the day.  In 1888, after four years of service, Rev. Dahlen resigned.  The parish at this time included Kongsberg, a church located in the ridge between Bennett Valley and Borst Valley.

Rev. Olaf Guldseth was called in 1888 as the next pastor.  He resigned after servicing four years.

On January 8, 1893 Rev. M. C. Holseth held his first service in the church and remained for 13 years.  He was succeeded in 1906 by Rev. M. C. Stenson.  At this time the membership had increased so it was decided to build a new and larger church, it was completed in November 1908 at a cost of $8000.  The alter picture was painted and donated by Pastor Stenson.  The church was dedicated by Circuit President Rev. Granskay.

After Pastor Stenson resigned, the partnership with Trinity Norden was dissolved and Chimney Rock joined the Eleva parish.

Pastor O. A. Langehough was called to serve in September 1912.  Up to this time the Norwegian language had been used exclusively, but May 17 it was decided that the English language could be used for Vesper Services.  Rev. Langehough resigned in October, 1923 and during the year of 1923-24 Rev. H. Jemboe of Strum served the congregation.  Rev. H. A. Wichman was installed on April 6, 1924.

In the early hours of November 18, 1935 the fine old church was destroyed by fire.  It was a hard blow to the congregation, but the members expressed both confidence and faith in the Lord and at a meeting unanimously voted to build a new church on the same lot.  Work began on April 22, 1936 and on October 4 of the same year the church was dedicated by Dr. Ristad, District President.  Total cost of the new church was $21,000.

On June 2 and 3, 1945 the Chimney Rock Lutheran Church observed its 75th anniversary.  During 1947 the congregation was served by Sven Thompson a seminary student.  Rev. Thompson was installed as pastor in June 1948 and remained until 1951.  He organized circles for Bible study during his tenure.

In May 1951, Rev. Joseph Hulterstrom was installed and served until June 1955.

In 1955, Chimney Rock withdrew from the Eleva parish and joined with the Elk Creek Lutheran Church of Hale to form the 700-member parish.  Rev. Paul Fretheim was then extended the call to serve Chimney Rock church as well.  The Ladies Aid hosted an "open house" in honor of Mrs. Olson, December 1955.  She had served as church organist for 25 years.  Pastor Fretheim resigned in January 1960 and interim service was received from seminary students.

From May 1960 to July 1961, Donald Myhres, a student at Luther Seminary in St. Paul served the congregation as the licensed student.  He was ordained into the Holy Ministry at his home church in Sinai, South Dakota, on June 11, 1961.  Rev. Myhres accepted the call sent him by the Elk Creek - Chimney Rock Lutheran parish and was installed as pastor on July 30, 1961 by Dr. Theo A. Ohlrogge, President of Northern Wisconsin District.

On June 4, a son of the congregation, Roger P. Olson, son of Palmer and Evelyn Olson, was ordained into the Holy Ministry of the American Lutheran Church.  The service was conducted at the Chimney Rock Church with Rev. Marcus Gravdal of Eau Claire as ordinator.

Pastor Myhres resigned in 1971 and was succeeded by Rev. J. D. Baxter, who served until February 17, 1976.  Pending the arrival of a new pastor, the Reverend Dennis Olson conducted weekend services for the congregation.  He is the chaplain at the Trempealeau County Health Center.

Reverend Calvin Thoreson assumed pastoral duties on March 23, 1976.  He had served churches in Chippewa County, Wisconsin.

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