Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"100 Year Historical Album of Independence, Wisconsin, 1976":
Donated by Bill Russell
Railroad Marks the Beginning
In 1873 it became certain that the Green Bay and Lake Pepin Railroad Company, now the Green Bay and Western, had decided to build a rail line through the Trempealeau Valley, and the Town of Burnside. A proposition was made that the township aid the company by voting a bond issue of $20,000. At the special election held for the purpose on May 3, 1873, the proposition was defeated by a vote of 93 to 9.
During the summer of 1873, the subject of a depot was strongly agitated. The railroad company agreed to build a depot in the township if given a bonus of $5,000. Therefore, a special election was held Nov. 10 to vote on a question of granting bonds in that amount. The vote stood 29 for and 53 against. The adverse vote resulted from agitation over the location of the depot rather than from the question of voting the bonds. At that time the present Township of Chimney Rock was part of the Township of Burnside. Those living in the northern part of the township wanted a depot on the northeast side of Elk Creek. Those in the south wanted a depot about a mile south of Elk Creek, at New City.
In 1876, New City was a flourishing hamlet, located on Traverse or Travis Creek, a tributary of the Trempealeau River, about a mile south of present Independence.
The life of New City actually began in 1869 when Elliot J. Carpenter arrived, and at the junction of present Highways 93 and Highway X, erected a dam and a mill on Traverse Creek and also opened up a store. He was followed by Mike Fugina who opened a store and a saloon. Henry Gibson opened a small store and was appointed postmaster. Peter Eichman opened a tavern and saloon. A man named Fancher had a blacksmith shop there. Carpenter sold the mill and dam to Albert Bautch Sr., and Gibson sold his store to David Garlick who succeeded him as postmaster.
At the "Corners", halfway between New City and present site of Independence, Ed Gorton erected a store and across the road Ernest Walthers erected a small tavern and saloon.
In the fall of 1875, the subject of a depot was again strongly agitated. J.C. Noteman, at that time a station agent in Dodge, took up the matter with the officers of the railroad company with the result that the company agreed that if the people would raise $5,000 by subscription, giving their notes for that amount, the request would be granted. It was finally agreed that the depot was to be located between Elk Creek and Traverse Creek. The full amount was subscribed and the depot was erected, in present day Independence, spring of 1876.
With the depot question finally resolved, David M. Kelly, one of the promoters of the railroad, acquired acreage from Lawrence Pampuch, had it platted in 1876, and according to history books suggested that the village be named Independence in view of the centennial observance of the Declaration of Independence. However, according to Miss Mildred Cripps, city librarian, Jim Reid, Giles Cripps and David M. Kelly were on the committee to select a name for the embryo village.
The Trempealeau County Register of Deeds records show that on May 26, 1876, David M. Kelly filed a plat of the village of Independence. The east and west streets were designated as Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and the north and south streets were numbered from First to Sixth.
The first lots were offered for sale on May 25, 1876, and the first three were bought by David Garlick, J. C. Taylor, and Edward Eistad.
David Garlick erected the first dwelling in 1876 in the Village of Independence at what is now 205 Adams Street. In the lower front he kept the postoffice and a small store. He was the first postmaster within the village. That first dwelling, greatly enlarged, is currently occupied by Mrs. Mary Susa.
Gorton moved his store building to the corner of Washington and Third Street. In time the building had been enlarged and the original part is now occupied by Lloyd's Sport Shop. Walthers moved his tavern to Lot 6 of Block 1 on the east side of Second Street between Washington and Adams. It stood there for many years, eventually bought by the John Schneider family, and later became the first home of the Farmers and Merchants Bank. The lot is now vacant, the building having been razed. North of his original building, Walthers erected a large structure, with rooms for a saloon, and a store on the first floor, and with a public hall on the second floor. This hall served as the social center of Independence for many years. Eventually, the Schneider family, about 1910, replaced it with a three story brick Independence Hotel, now owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Gamroth.
Fugina moved his store to Block 2, at the corner of Third and Adams Streets. He also erected another building in the next lot to the east. Both buildings have been replaced by modern dwellings now at 207 and 209 Adams Street. Eventually the store building was moved to what is now 309 Washington Street and converted into a dwelling. It is currently owned by Basil Mish and is occupied by Valeria Pampuch.
J. C. Taylor, druggist, erected a frame building at the southeast corner of the irregularly shaped Block 1, on First Street, between Washington and Adams Streets. His drug store occupied the first floor and the second floor accomodated the first classes in the newly organized School District Number 6. Religious services were also held there for a time. After the building was destroyed by fire, Taylor erected a brick building on the same site. It was said to be the second brick structure in the village. It is now known as the Glemza Building.
Cyrus J. Lambert and O.P. Larson opened a store in the Walthers Building on Second Street and also began buying grain. They also erected a large building at the corner of Washington Street and Second Street where later the Lambert Brothers, Phil and William (Buck), conducted a general store as successors of their father, Benjamin F. Lambert, who entered business here in 1879. Currently the Myers Bakery Store occupies the first floor.
E. H. Warner erected a hardware store, at the corner of Washington and Second Streets. Chris Meuli bought the store in 1877 and Anton Liver entered his employ. Meuli took in L.F. Danuser as partner and the firm was known as Danuser and Meuti. Ferdinand Horst, the blacksmith and brickmaker, bought out Meuli. By 1883, Anton Liver had his own tin shop on the present site of Kern's Variety Store. In 1888 Liver bought out Horst, and in 1894 Chris Torgeson bought out Danuser and the firm became known as Liver and Torgeson Hardware Store. Upon their retirement, the sons of Chris Torgeson, Albert and Wren, took over the store. Albert took over the store when Wren passed away. When Albert died his wife Evelyn Bautch operated the store for a few years. Currently the United States Postal Service occupies the first floor. At Second and Adams Streets, a frame building was occupied by the John Short Harness Shop and Dusenbery Barber Shop. Paul Sura erected a brick garage on the site. It is currently owned by Ralph Smick who converted it into a laundromat.
The Lange brothers opened a harness shop on the present site of Bud and Blanche's, 103 Second Street. Nick Theisen operated a shoe store on Washington Street. Later he erected a brick building and moved into it.
Edward Elstad erected a saloon about the middle of the south side of Block Two on Washington Street between Second and Third. Later he erected a store where Eistad Brothers Firm was established.
Among the buildings constructed in 1876 there were two dwellings north of the business district which were intended as hotels. They were located on the main road, now Sixth Street, which skirted the foot of the hill on the west side of the village. The road crossed Elk Creek near the sight of present Island Park and continued eastward toward Whitehall. The two houses were never used as hotels because the main road was switched to run through the center of the village.
On September 27, 1876, additional land was platted, this time south of the railroad tracks. The north and south streets were named Warren, Greene and Wayne. The east and west streets, LaFayette and Putnam. This new layout was called the "Centennial Additional."
Platting of the village in 1876 sparked a building boom with consequent demand for large amounts of building material, and to supply it, several lumber yards sprang up.
Ira Smith opened a lumber yard for White and Emery on the present Independence Lumber Company site. That same year, 1876, Artemus Emery took charge. He erected his home south of the track, the first home there. Eventually E.S. Hotchkiss bought this lumber yard. George Hibbard managed a yard for the George Hiles Lumber Company. The Payne Lumber Company of Oshkosh opened a lumber yard east of the mill on a site which later was converted to a stockyard.
J.C. Noteman was the first depot agent and the first elevator man. Noteman, Giles Cripps, of the Town of Burnside, and Noah Comstock, of Arcadia, erected a warehouse, and later sold it to John Sprecher.
John Sprecher came to Independence in 1877 as a representative of Krumdick and Muir, implement dealers and grain buyers in Arcadia, where he previously worked. In 1878 he bought out Krumdick, and a year later bought out Muir. Twenty years later he sold a half-interest in the implement business to William Steiner and soon the balance. He retained the grain business and in partnership with Anton Senty, Sprecher established the first bank in Independence. Nathaniel Nichols, a lawyer, came over from New City. Doctor W.R. Ellison was said to be the first physician to locate in Independence. It is not known how long he remained. Doctors Lewis and Brant, of Arcadia, opened a branch office here. It is not known whether either lived here or how long they maintained their office.
In 1877, J.W. McKay erected a hotel on Washington Street, opposite the Gorton Store at the corner of Washington and Third. He named it the Tremont House, and sold it the following year to William Trumbull, who enlarged it and renamed it the Trumbull House. It was renamed the Welcome House and still stands on the original site. A livery stable was built next to it. Presently the front part of Welcome House is occupied by Welcome Bar.
Eugene Webster had a livery stable on the west side of Second Street on the present vacant lot in back of the Meyers Bakery Store. Later the Lambert Brothers warehouse occupied the site.
In 1877 S.M. Newton erected a dam on Elk Creek, a block north of Adams Street. He also erected the first grist and flour mill, which was powered by water.
Ira Smith built the Merchants Hotel and J.W. Runkel started a furniture store and mortuary.
David M. Kelly, Promoter and Builder of a Railroad
David M. Kelly, founder of Independence, was born on February 11, 1841 in Hamilton, Essex County, Massachusetts. He served during the Civil War as a quartermaster sergeant with Massachusetts regiments.
In the spring of 1867 Kelly came to Wisconsin, settling first at Appleton and then removing to Green Bay where he practiced law. He was one of the promoters of the Green Bay and Lake Pepin Railroad, later renamed Green Bay and Western. He was named chief financial and construction agent and general manager of the railroad. He bought forty acres, in Burnside Township on which he founded the Village of Independence in 1876.
Mr. Kelly presided over the 1877 Republican State Convention. He represented Brown County in the State Legislature, as assemblyman in 1877, 1878, and 1879, and was Speaker of the House in the latter year. During the next two years he was a State Senator.
Later Mr. Kelly went to Iowa to build railroads and then returned to Massachusetts.
On February 28, 1916, the Board of Selectmen of Sharon, Massachusetts announced the disappearance of Mr. Kelly. He had lived there for 15 years. He was 75 years old.
Mr. Kelly's Railroad
In is well established that Independence owes its beginning, in 1876, to the Green Bay and Western Railroad, formerly the Green Bay and Lake Pepin. Not only did the railroad have an impact on the Independence area, it also had been one of the main factors in the development of Central Trempealeau County.
For years there had been much talk of running a rail line across the state from Green Bay to the Mississippi River. The main obstacle was lack of capital for such an expensive and speculative venture to be undertaken only by men of vision and stout hearts. Finally, several men possessing such qualities did organize a railroad company and the state legislature chartered it as the Green Bay and Lake Pepin Railroad with Wabasha, Minn., as its objective terminal.
The people living along the projected route were eager to have the rail line built as quickly and as near their settlements as possible. To help the company, townships, villages, cities and even counties issued bonds in large amounts which were turned over to the railroad company. Each community hoped to be the shipping point. Some even offered a bonus if the rails reached a certain point by a certain date. The voters of Burnside Township refused the company's request for $20,000 in bonds mainly because of lack of agreement on the location of the depot. However, $5000 was raised by voluntary subscription and the depot was built at Independence.
Grading of the road bed began in 1869 and actual laying of rails started in 1871. By December of that year, thirty miles of rails had been laid between Green Bay and New London. Four days later the, first passenger train made the run between these points. There was much rejoicing along the route and at New London the people staged a big celebration.
During the summer of 1872, 110 miles of track was laid from New London to Merrillan Junction in Jackson County and then to Blair in Trempealeau County. Serious thought was given to run the line from Blair, through the hills and into Old Arcadia, located on the tableland south of the present city of Arcadia. The effect of this would be a line shortened by several miles. It also meant that areas of Lincoln and Burnside Townships would be by passed. The additional cost of the shortened route was estimated at $75,000. Therefore, the company requested and did receive $25,000 in bonds and the Township of Preston and $50,000 from the Township of Arcadia, the voters of which expected great economic benefits from the proposed route. Eventually however, the company chose the longer route through Whitehall and Independence, to Marshland and later to Winona rather than Wabasha.
The first passenger service between Green Bay and Winona was inaugurated on December 18, 1873 and the first train to run on a regular schedule was on January 1, 1874.
The railroad company was beset with many difficulties right from the start. The cost of construction greatly exceeded the original estimate. Floods and destructive forest fires along the route added to the burden. The struggle to survive was severe. Running through the 209 or so miles of new and sparsely settled country did not produce sufficient income, from freight and passenger service, to cover operating costs and to pay interest. The company went into receivership several times.
Before the advent of the automobile and good roads traveling by train was popular. It was about the only way most people could get from one place to another even if only a few miles were involved. Because of competition from buses and automobiles passenger train patronage dwindled and such service was ended in 1949 on the Green Bay and Western.
However, daily freight service continued.
History does not record if there were any crowds to meet the first train when it passed through what is now Independence. There was no depot or any resemblance of a village here in 1873, but if there had been, the jubilation described below might have been just as great.
The following article appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel on January 4, 1964:
First Train Into Whitehall
A huge crown had gathered. Everyone was bundled up in his warmest clothes. The anxious moments of exciting waiting were about over.
A whistle screeched the cold air and someone shouted, "Here she comes."
It was Jan. 1, 1874 - 90 years ago-and the Green Bay and Lake Pepin Railroad Co. started passenger service from Green Bay to Winona, Minn. Whitehall was one of the inland towns on the last stretch of newly laid tracks.
The work was completed Dec. 18, 1873, and a trial run completed. But the road did not start regular service on the 209 mile run until New Year's Day. Even then, the Green Bay line ended on Marshland and the La Crosse, Trempealeau and Prescott tracks were used for the remaining miles into Winona. The final rails on the Green Bay and Western were laid in 1881.
The company was organized in 1866 and construction started in Green Bay in 1868. By the fall of 1871, laying of rails was started on the 39 mile stretch to New London.
New London offered an $85,000 bonus if construction were completed by Jan. 1. It was, and the first special train on the first stretch of track ran on Jan. 4, 1872.
During that year, another 110 miles were completed, extending service to Merrillan. Another bonus was offered to speed the work and the last few miles were laid in snow and ice. The last rail was laid on Christmas Eve.
Then, a year later, the track was finished so the first train could run through Whitehall, Dodge, Arcadia, Independence and Blair. But the track reached only to Marshland.
Financial troubles were already hounding the old Green Bay and Pepin Railroad. It went into receivership and was reorganized in 1878 as the Green Bay and Minnesota Railroad. It was reorganized again in 1881 as the Green Bay, Winona and St. Paul Railroad Co. John I. Blair, a New Yorker for whom the city of Blair was named, was one of the principal stock- holders.
In a third reorganization on June 5, 1896 the Green Bay and Western Railroad was formed. Blair had lived to see his dreams come true. He had also invested in the Chicago and North Western.
People in central Wisconsin depended on the Green Bay and Western for emergency trips, business and pleasure trips and almost everyone with the fare in his pocket took a train ride just for the sake of having his first train trip. The stage coach was doomed to almost sudden death along the route of the rails. The Green Bay and Western runs almost straight west from Green Bay to the Mississippi River - one of the most picturesque trips in the state.
West of Merrillan, the road runs through the fertile Trempealeau Valley and crosses the river 15 times. The valley, spotted with bluffs and hills, was a natural roadbed site but the river flooded frequently. In March, 1876 the entire road was washed away from Arcadia to Marshland and was under repair for two months.
Passenger service was discontinued in 1949, but many Whitehall residents remember with glorious nostalgia taking the exciting ride into Winona and others recall stories their parents told about the trips made when passenger service was new.
Whitehall women often rode the Green Bay and Western to Winona for shopping trips, to a concert or just for a little vacation.
In summer, the windows were wide open and passengers rode with their heads out the windows to get a better view of the scenery or some fresh air.
The late Mrs. Hattie Beach, daughter of the town's first postmaster often told of being on the train when her traveling companion stuck her head out a window and lost her hat. The engineer stopped the train, backed up, and retrieved the hat.
John Beatty, now deceased, was a lifelong employee of the railroad as a maintenance man. His favorite anecdote, still repeated by railroad men, concerned the time he was working on the track beside the asylum between Independence and Whitehall.
One of the inmates stood inside the fence enclosure watching as the crew repaired the rails. After a time he asked Beatty how much money he got for all that work. When Beatty told him, the inmate said, "You'd be better off on this side of the fence, wouldn't you?"
Through the years railroad engineers have been the object of little boys' hero worship. The men who sat behind the coal fired engines all day long and through the quiet hours of the night had their own way of keeping in touch with the folks along their run. They would whistle a salute to a wife or sweetheart, sometimes to the extreme irritation of less romantic neighbors. Today the handsome diesel engine glides through Whitehall twice daily -- eastbound at noon and westbound at night. Few people even notice when the train goes through, unless they must wait at the Main St. crossing.
There are no cinders flying, no romantic blasts of the whistle, no ladies' hats flying out the window. The old red brick depot, built around 1916, is no longer in use. The company build a neat little office for the station agent, Reuben Magnuson. The lumber company bought the old depot and now part of it is used by Dr. W.J. Reichenbach, veterinarian, as his office.
It's a cinch the place was jumping with a crowd of excited people, some holding teams of horses to prevent a stampede, when that first train rolled into the city 90 years ago.
The engineer and other trainmen, proud of the great day, probably stepped off the train into the crowd shaking hands and answering questions . . . just as they had done at New London, Merrillan and Blair . . . and as they would do at Independence, Arcadia, Dodge and Marshland.
Running a railroad is a serious business, but now and then the day is brightened by this delightful letter, which had been sent to Traffic Manager Green Bay and Western Railway, Green Bay, Wisconsin:
I got 22 cows what I chase every morning and every night over your railroad tracks here in Northport. Up until 2 weeks ago everything is fine, no trains is coming in the morning at 8 A.M. when we drive our cows over the crossing.
Then last Thursday comes a little pip squeak of a train with maybe 6 empty box cars going like a bat out of hell he comes at just 8 A.M. This I think is maybe a special so I hold my cows from crossing. Now day before yesterday comes the same dam train with those 6 empty box cars and I just get my 22 cows over the tracks when he comes barreling through.
What I want to know is who is this guy the railroad presidents son, so they give him his own little train to lay with or some stupid conductor what forgets to take these box cars along on the regular run.
I would appreciate very much if you would tell this hot shot engineer to kindly take another cup coffee int he morning so he should get here later than 8 A.M. and not maybe make hamburger out of my holsteins. Either that or he should stop at the Northport crossing and look both ways to see if any thing is coming what looks like cows. You can tell the people from the cows because the cows got a smarter look.
You got a pretty nice little railroad and I don't want to make you not trouble so you tell these guys they should send this little train through at maybe noon huh?
Okay and thank you very much, I am
New London, Wis
Some humorous stories about the GB & W by Clarence E. Fugina, Sr.
Remember when humorous stories about the Green Bay and Western Railroad were common in Arcadia?
When I started to practice law in Arcadia in 1927, John C. Gaveney of our firm was counsel for the Company in the area between East Winona and Merrillan. Frequently he had to represent the Company on claims of farmers whose lands lay along the line for stock killed by the trains. It was the duty of the Company to build and maintain the fences on both sides of the right-of-way. The area superintendent was quite tight-fisted about spending money for fence repair, so such claims were quite numerous. Often I heard Mr. Gaveney say that a cross between a scrub-cow and a Green Bay locomotive always produced a full-blooded though unregistered animal.
When Mrs. Fugina started teaching in Arcadia, she would come from Eau Claire by train. She got on the Green Bay train at Merrillan, and after it stopped at Alma Center, it backed up all the way to Merrillan. The conductor informed the curious passengers that one passenger had missed the train at Merrillan, and on orders telegraphed to Alma Center, the train had to go back and pick him up. The conductor said that since there would be no Sunday train, they couldn't very well let him sit there until Monday.
The next story covers an incident taking place the last time the Company's private car came to Arcadia. The new President had the car completely redecorated and refurnished. It was staffed by a colored man who served as cook, waiter, bartender and valet. His name was Oscar. The President had called on Emil Rotering that afternoon. Emil was President of the W.P. Massuere Co., and the railroad President was soliciting business for the Road. Emil had been the dinner guest of the President in the private car, but he was a little anxious to get away. It was poker night and he did not want to miss the game. The President told Emil to invite the poker group over to the car as he would like to join the game. This was done and the game was on.
The most interested person there was Oscar, and as he waited on the players he kept his eye on the game. He didn't miss a thing. There was one outstanding pot that evening. It was opened, and several players stayed. The opener then made a sub-stantial bet, the next two players called, and the last player, who had drawn only one card made a hefty raise. The opener, who had drawn two cards, hesitated for some time, then dropped out, the others did the same and the raiser raked in the pot. The opener had to show his hand to prove that he had openers, and as he did so, he turned to Oscar and said, "What would you have done, sir?" Oscar shook his head and said, "Mistah, ah'd called him if it had taken the last kunnel of cawn in the bahn." There was much laughter. What Oscar did not know was that the opener who failed to call was one of the best poker players in Arcadia.
An Interview with Mrs. Philip Lambert
(Mrs. Lambert's story as it appeared in the September 30, 1938 issue of the Independence News Wave. -Editorial note: parenthetic entries pinpoint the locations).
Mrs. Philip Lambert, the only surviving original settler in the village, can remember when Independence was just a waving field of grain as she first looked upon this site which was to be her home, in June 1876.
The first building (205 Adams Street) completed was the home in which she was to live, but after the railroad depot was constructed, many other buildings were erected the same summer. Her father, David Garlick, was appointed postmaster, and the present home (205 Adams Street) of Mrs. Lambert served as a grocery store and post office with the rear quarters of the residence. "in 1876 there was no lake here, but only a small stream," (Elk Creek) Mrs. Lambert said. "The road (Sixth Street) wound around the hill below what was the former Smieja Brothers fox farm (near entrance to Island Park). It crossed the stream (Elk Creek) near the Kulig barn and then up the hill to Whitehall."
The local picture in the early days of Independence was far different from the village of today, according to Mrs. Lambert. There was no village hall of brick, but only a small frame building at the same location. The house occupied by William Poizer (Adams Street) was a frame saloon with Mike Fugina as the pro- prietor. The Pietrek residence (204 Adams Street) was a jewelry shop and the home of another pioneer, Ayers. The present Sprecher Lumber Company was preceded by Hiles Lumber Company. The August Smieja Building (east end of Washington Street) was also among the first to be constructed here.
Mrs. Lambert recalled the present Wiemer Building (203 Washington Street) and when the Pistrek Tavern (103 Second Street) was a shoe repair shop with Nick Thiesen as the proprietor. Abends Drug Store (110 Washington) in the pioneer days was the site of a butcher shop.
In 1877 this pioneer resident left Independence for Kansas where she lived with an uncle for four years, returning here in the fall of 1881. Her husband, Philip Lambert, is one of the oldest merchants engaged in the mercantile business in Trempealeau County.
Independence and the 1884 Businessmen
(Copied from the Wisconsin State Gazatter of 1884)
Independence, a flourishing village on the G. B.W. & St. P. R. R. in Burnside Township, Trempealeau County, six miles southwest of Whitehall, the county seat and 8 miles northeast of Arcadia, the nearest banking point. It contains a water power flouring mill, a brick yard, three churches and a good public school. A paper, the Weekly News, is published. Wheat, barley and live stock are shipped and land is worth from $1.50 to $5.00 per acre. Population 1000. Telegraph: W.U. Express: AM. Mail Daily. David Garlick, post- master.
Editorial note: The population figure of 1000, for 1884, was a bit optomistic. The 1885 census, at time of incorporation of Independence, disclosed a population of 350.
The 1884 Businessmen included:
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