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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881":

History of Arcadia

-As transcribed from pages 1052 - 1054


Arcadia, which has become, through the enterprise and intelligence of its citizens, the most populous and prosperous village in the county, a station on the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad, whence immense shipments of grain and other produce are annually made, is located on Trempealeau River in the western portion of Arcadia Township.

The date of its first occupation by the white man is not on record, but the first overtures that were made in this vicinity toward establishing a settlement were made in 1855. On October 1 of that year, Noah D. Comstock, from Tippecanoe County, Ind., accompanied by James Broughton, George Shelley and George D. Dewey, of Dodge County, also Collins Bishop, of Buffalo County, Wis., visited this portion of the State with a view to locating, building a mill and founding a town. They were all men of experience, energy and character, and, on the 8th of October, entered lands which have since, in part, become crystallized into the village of Arcadia. The same fall, Broughton erected a rough, almost uninhabitable, cabin near the present residence of Collins Bishop, and upon the completion of this work the entire party returned whence it came.

On the 23d of March following, Mr. Comstock started upon his return trip to Wisconsin, making the journey up the Mississippi River (which was still frozen solid) on foot. After encountering considerable embargoes, and narrowly escaping drowning on one or more occasions by falling through the ice, he reached Fountain City, and thence continued to Arcadia. During February previous, the remainder of the party arrived here, and during the latter part of March Mrs. David Bishop, who is still a resident of the village and is known as Mrs. Mercer, settled at her present home, the first white lady to visit the township to remain permanently. Later came the families of James Broughton and George Shelley, and in July, 1856, that of Collins Bishop. All had made such improvements as were necessary to the accommodation of these accessions to the body politic, and this was the foundation of "Old Arcadia," or "Arcadia on the Hill," to distinguish the old village from its youthful but ambitious rival "under the hill," which has grown into prominence since the railroad was completed.

During this year, the town of Preston was organized by the County Board, of which the present Arcadia was a large proportion. Later in the same year the same authority set off present Arcadia from the west half of the town of Preston, adding thereto a portion of the town of Trempealeau, and what had been previously known as "Bishop's Settlement" was re-named, at the suggestion of Mrs. David Bishop, Arcadia, under which musical substitute it has since been identified as an integer in the make-up of Trempealeau County.

Beyond those mentioned, it is hardly to be believed that any additions were made to the limited population then in possession. Days came and went with the charming regularity peculiar to new settlements, summer graduated into fall and fall yielded precedence to winter. In the meantime farms had been laid out and surveyed, and in one or two instances furrows had been run in the fruitful glebe. The country in the vicinity of the settlement was an almost unknown prairie. Timber was scarcely to be obtained at any cost or labor, and the apprehension as to its substitute was of frequent occurrence.

It might here be observed as a factor in the history of this portion of the country, that two entries had been made prior to those of the pioneers who came in during 1855. One of these was by a man named O'Reilly, the name of the other has been forgotten, but both lapsed for failure to take possession, and have since become the property of more enterprising land owners.

Early in 1857, the organization of the township was completed, and fifteen votes polled, and in May of that year occurred the first death of record in the village or township. It was that of Eugene Broughton, a lad, the son of James Broughton, who was drowned while bathing in a pond, one mile above "Old" Arcadia village. The settlers aided in recovering the body of the unfortunate youth, when it was interred on his father's farm, near the present residence of Joseph Kellogg. This year was also memorable as the annual when the first school was taught. The venture was born in a log house, opposite the present residence of Collins Bishop, and Miss Sarah McMasters presided at its bringing-forth. Very few improvements, however, were made. The building of a mill, which had been contemplated by the settlers upon their original advent into these, at that time, unexplored wilds, and for which entries had been made with a special view to locality, was yet in embryo. Religious services were occasionally had in the schoolhouse or private residence, but no edifice specially for the accommodation of worshipers had been provided. Some few adventurous people united their fortunes with the "Arcadians," but no store or other place of exchange was of existence. Supplies were obtained at Winona, Fountain City and Trempealeau, and the only point at which "custom grain" could be ground, or flour and meal procured, was the Harris mill, at Galesville.

Among those who settled permanently in Arcadia, during 1857, were James Gavney, Robert L. Robertson, accompanied by his wife, who died during August, 1881; Henry Gardner, Thomas A. Simpson, Joseph Sanders, H. M. Tucker, Nicholas and Caspar Myer, Lewis Kniffiin, Frank and Carl Zeller, Bailey Witte, William Johnson and possibly some others whose names have gone with the flight of years. Not forgetting, however, Jesse R. Penny and Phoeby, his wife, who, in the spring of 1858, became parents to the first child born in the village. She was christened Jessie Penny, and as such survived the dangers incident to childhood, the disappointments of callow youth, and, growing to young ladyhood, became the wife of a man named Mason, with whom she has for some years been included as among the pioneer residents of Dakota.

The incidents of 1858 have not been preserved, from which it may be inferred they were neither frequent nor overwhelmingly exciting. The same can be reported of 1859. The most important is said to have been the marriage of George D. Dewey to Josephine Cornell, the stepdaughter of James Broughton. The ceremony, it is supposed, occurred in May, of the latter year, before an admiring audience of ladies and gentlemen, and performed by a Justice of the Peace. It is not related that they were supplemented by a wedding feast or formal reception, but the absence of these formalities is in part supplied by the statement. against the truth of which no denial can successfully prevail, the couple joined in the tide of emigration which tended to Dakota at a period at present not beyond the memory of the proverbially oldest inhabitant, and has since been identified with the success of that State.

There does not appear to have been any arrivals of prominence during these two years, but the year following, 1860, David Masseure, Dr. Isaac Briggs, Andrew Olsen came in and established themselves as resident citizens. The water-power, together with five acres of ground which had been entered by the original settlers for mill purposes, were assigned Mr. Masseure, with the understanding that he should erect a mill, and so received, and it was within a short time subsequent to his advent that he began the building of the same. In the fall of that year, Briggs and D. C. Dewey, the latter an earlier arrival, began merchandising in old Arcadia, the first commercial venture made in the settlement. Since that time, the interests of this line of life have become of such dimensions as to astonish a stranger to the manor born. Main street boasts some of the best-appointed dry goods, general, drug and hardware stores, in this portion of the State, and the amount of business daily transacted with farmers can be estimated when it is related that the shipments of grain from Arcadia, for one year, have reached the enormous value of 425,000 bushels. The lines of goods carried are universal and adapted to general wants, and on market days their interior presents an appearance both varied and attractive.

Up to the breaking-out of the war, the arrivals, while not by any means unusually large, were fairly numerous, and composed of a superior class. With the advent of that calamity, immigration entirely ceased. From 1860 to 1867, times were dull, and little improvement of any kind undertaken. During the war, the Federal Congress passed a Homestead Bill that attracted a large foreign element which was distributed over the country tributary to the village, and has furnished the means of developing the agricultural resources of the vicinity to a wonderful extent. From 1867, times began to improve, and considerable progress was made in all departments, increasing with each year and culminating in 1878, with the completion of the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad, when the "boom" came, at the expense, however, of "old" Arcadia. Lower town was built up at once, and many buildings from upper town were removed to the "new dispensation" bodily and in detail. In 1874, John Rarney who built the Commercial Hotel, erected the first brick house in old Arcadia, and in 1876 did likewise in the lower town. Since that date, it may be said quite a number, composed of this material have been erected in the village, some of which, notably the schoolhouse will more than compare with the structures of towns and villages making greater pretensions than Arcadia. In 1876, the village was selected as the county seat, and the records removed from Galesville, where they had been preserved since the county was first organized, and the building first used as a schoolhouse, now the office of the Republican and Leader, utilized to court house purposes. The next year, the county seat was once more removed to Whitehall. On March 24, 1876, occurred the flood, as it is known to citizens, caused by a blockade of "The Paas," and consequent backing up of the Trempealeau River, and for three days the only boat in the village owned by J. Farlin was the only means of relief to the beleaguered citizens who were imprisoned in their homes, at the mercy of the waters. There was no loss of life it is said, but the damage to property is represented to have been immense.

The village continued to improve until 1879, during which year it was incorporated, when it was sorely stricken by the "Dakota Fever," and has never recovered. Since that calamity, Arcadia has been at a standstill, so to speak, but the industry, enterprise and thrift of its inhabitants, must combine to prevail against less substantial competition in the near future, when the days of "rush" and "business booms" will once more be experienced.

The population of the village is estimated at 700.

The town of Arcadia was organized into one school district, April 24, 1857, and a meeting of the school directory held in the month of May following at the residence of David Bishop. Soon after, as already stated, the first school was opened under the auspices of Sarah McMasters, and from that day to this, the cause of education has never faltered.

In June, 1860, other school districts were organized, and the old schoolhouse in the village was substituted by an entirely new structure. When a court house became necessary, this was appropriated to that purpose, and the present brick academy, of large proportions and handsome finish, erected at a cost of $6,000. Here the youth of the village are educated, and here is offered the advantages of the graded system, beginning with primary and concluding with high school graduation. During 1880, the average daily attendance was 150 scholars. The annual cost of operating the institution is stated at $2,200; four teachers are employed, and the system is under the control of a Board.

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