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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881":

History of Galesville

-As transcribed from pages 1058 - 1062


This most charming village, known to very many travelers who have visited the Badger State in pursuit of health or pleasure, as the scene of one of the earliest and most successful attempts to found a high institution of learning in Wisconsin, is situated on Beaver Creek, in the southwestern portion of Gale Township.

The latter is large, its surface is rolling, in many places quite broken and made picturesque by bluffs looking down upon the valleys through clumps of the beautiful species evergreens, which crowd their sides.

The town and village, as also the county and its superior educational advantages, are indebted to the Hon. George Gale for whatever of success or prosperity that followed their pioneer settlement. He settled in La Crosse in the fall of 1851, where lie urged upon the landed proprietors of the present city the desirability of appropriating lands for the purpose of establishing a institution of learning. But nothing of the kind was attempted, and Mr. Gale conceived the idea of not only establishing a college, but of building a town. Accordingly, in 1853, he purchased two thousand acres of land at the present location of Galesville, including the water power on Beaver Creek, and procuring, with the organization of Trempealeau County, the location of the county seat, also that of a university, at Galesville. He laid out the present village and did what was necessary to secure a portion of the emigration at that period tending toward Wisconsin.

The first settler in the present town was B. F. Heuston, also one of the first settlers in the present village of Trempealeau, who built a half a mile south of where the court house was subsequently located, into which himself and wife moved during the winter of 1853-54. Mrs. Heuston is supposed by some to have been the first white woman in the town; but others contend that honor is due a Mrs. Ingleman, who, with her husband, came into the town at a date anterior to the arrival of the first named. In the fall of 1853 or 1854, Peter Uhle and George Uhle came in and located in Crystal Valley, three miles from Galesville; John Dettinger settled near the present George Smith farm in 1854; in 1855 a man named McCliory located on Beaver Creek, two miles above the village; a Mr. Biddle purchased 700 acres of land, a portion of which is the second farm beyond that of George Smith, and opened the first farm in the township.

There were other arrivals, but those who arrived halted at the village for a season, and perhaps for some time, if at all, delayed the acquisition of property for agricultural purposes.

In the spring of 1854, Augustus H. Armstrong, accompanied, it is believed, by his wife, the first white woman to settle permanently in Galesville, came into Gale Town at the instance of Judge Gale, for the purpose of directing the building of the mill. The season was somewhat backward, and it was not until late in the spring that work on that structure was commenced. Meanwhile a house was built for his occupation on the court house table, as one of the elevations is designated, and though having supplied the wants of a residence, boarding house and what-not generally, is still standing unmarked and unmarred by the hand of time or the contumely of man, proud of his part in the age and generation when architectural superiority is the rule. As soon as the weather permitted, timbers were felled and shaped, quarries were worked, and material having been for that purpose obtained, operations were commenced upon the mill and dam.

This year, Dr. William M. Young settled in the village, the first physician, and among the heaviest land owners of that early day. At the same period, also, came Michael Cullity, whose daughter, born in the fall, was the first white birth in the village or county. He came West to grow up with the country, as it were, and with the assistance of Dr. Young, knocked up a plank shanty, for which a lot near Gale's book-store was appropriated, where himself and family took shelter. The quality of the residence may be inferred when it is stated that the generous hearted physician to whom the inexperienced voyageur was under obligations for this munificence, was but one day procuring and preparing the lumber, framing and erecting the haven of refuge.

Among the next to reach Galesville and become part of its progressive establishment, were John French and Isaac Clark, who decided to remain, and evidenced this decision by the building of shanties on what is now known as "University table." A Mr. Crawford came in about the same time, accompanied by his sister. The latter was an illustrated type of strong-minded women, who became prominent about that period in the history of the sex as elaborated under the patronage and admonitions of Lucy Stone and others, who emulated the privileges and fashions of the opposite sex. Miss Crawford sought to convey the idea that she was a "solid man" in her make-up and attire, and pranced about the prairies in full Bloomer regalia, unawed by the notice she attracted, or unappalled by the comments her appearance provoked. The new-comers lived in a wagon during their stay in Galesville, and at sun-up each day, she emerged from beneath the canvas, and was visible until sun-down. She returned with the darkness to solitude and reflection, and though she aped the manners and aspired to the distinction of man, she was no more like a man, says Dr. Young, than a sand-hill crane is to be compared to Diana of the Ephesians.

The year 1854 was replete with incidents of pioneer life, of which the above is by no means an exaggerated sample. The early days of Galesville were the counterparts of the early days in other portions of the West. Strange scenes, eccentric experiences, queer characters, amusing interludes, and dispensations laden with sadness, not to say woe, were almost daily encountered.

The first commercial venture in the village was undertaken in 1854. Previous to that, the scattering settlers were wont to obtain their groceries and edibles at La Crosse, or more distant points, where they would not be compelled to pay the cost of transportation, as also the profits accruing to dealers, second hand. But with the arrival of Ryland Parker, this practice was to some extent abandoned, and those in need, supplied their wants at the store which he established on the present site of Zippel's harness-shop, opposite the square. Capt. Finch was also added to the population in 1854. He began the building of what is now known as the Tower place, but failed to complete it. Meanwhile, Capt. Alexander Arnold arrived in the village, and procuring Capt. Finch's property by purchase, finished what the latter had begun.

As the season advanced, arrivals, while by no means numerous, were such as to justify the conclusion that Galesville was a point of more than local repute. Among those who came in were A. R. Wyman and family. He built a house upon University table, where he lived for some time, when he moved onto a farm, and the premises were appropriated to the uses of a boarding-house for university students. For many years, Mr. Wyman served the county as County Clerk, as also in other capacities, and died during the fall of 1880.

Before the year was over the efforts of Mr. Armstrong in building the mill and its approaches were not such as had been anticipated. The work went forward slowly, while the dam burst its bonds and the water went out altogether.  At this crisis, Judge Gale was constrained to revoke his contract with Armstrong, which was done, and the latter abandoned his undertaking. To supply his place, and that the mill might be speedily built, William P. Clark was brought from North Bend to superintend its construction, and Ebenezer Batchelder, from the same place, to act in the capacity of millwright. Under these auspices the improvement was re-commenced, and with facilities which were afterward obtained, which included a saw mill, operated by a Mr. Post, who obtained his logs on Black River, the enterprise was made ready for grinding in 1856.

The improvements during 1854, were by no means numerous, but sufficiently so to accommodate all in need of accommodations. The latter included those who came to work on the mill, with such others already mentioned, and some who have been forgotten in the whirl of events. The population on New Year's Day, it is said, did not exceed thirty, all told, and beside the cabins and store already noted as having been completed, a small hotel was in progress of building where the Davis well now is, by a man named Ellsworth. During 1855, settlers failed to materialize with a frequency that was either gratifying to those on the ground or the few who came in. Among the latter was Samuel Bartlett and wife, father and mother of Mrs. W. P. Clark; Romanza Bunn, John Carey and some others, but limited in point of numbers.

There is some dispute as to the priority of claim to the first marriage; whether John Nicholls was married to Mary French, late in the fall of 1858, or whether the marriage of Henry French to a sister of Isaac Clark, the same year, is entitled to precedence. However, opinion may incline, the facts are that John Nicholls to Mary Augusta French, June 15, 1858, and that Henry French and Miss Clark were not married until the 21st of the following November.

The second birth in the town is announced for this year, also the first death in the county; both events happening in the family of the Hon. B. F. Heuston. On July 7th, Ella Heuston, a child, died, and on October 7, George Z. Heuston was born. He has grown to manhood, and is known to the place of his nativity and among Chicago art circles as a young artist of daring and promise. His pictures, which are scenes from life and nature, display a refined perception of objects, combined with a dash and brilliancy of coloring which indicate which must in time command success in the school which he seeks to exemplify and illustrate, and his friends are confident that the future will vindicate their conclusions.

In 1856, a gentleman, who arrived at Galesville from the East, states that J. W. Armstrong, then Register of Deeds, occupied a house on Ridge street; Ryland Parker was a merchant corner of Allen street and the square; Daniel McKeith was a resident of the village; William P. Clark was engaged with Judge Gale and Ebenezer Batchelder in building a grist mill and operating a saw mill; Franklin Gilbert resided down on the flats upon what afterward became Mill street; A. R. Wyman resided on Ridge street; Isaac Clark on Clark street, and J. C. French on French street; the hotel of which Ellsworth was landlord, corner of Allen and Main streets, was finished and in the full flush of success.

The improvements completed included, among others, the court house and a schoolhouse on or near the site of the handsome brick edifice erected in and used since 1874 for school purposes. The court house was built by Noyes & Webb, and for the time and place, one of the most imposing of imposing structures. It is of frame, two stories high, still standing opposite the Commercial Hotel, and in its very appearance is indicative of the objects for which it was originally built. As if the law's delays lay hidden behind its weather-beaten walls, where often they gallopaded with pleas, rejoinders, surrejoinders, rebutters and surrebutters until litigants, lost in the mysteries and crazed with the miseries such delays gave birth to, fled from the scenes and surrendered the rights they had vainly essayed to maintain. Here, in addition to forensic disputations, were to be heard theological discourses, the profundity of which passed ordinary understanding musical selections that caused one to clasp his hands in an excess of ectatic pleasure; lectures from eloquent speakers that evoked applause intuitively, and all that would combine for the good, the true and the beautiful to crystallize into shape and be thought of when the old house was used as a rookery and regarded as a memory.

This year came the first blacksmith to Galesville. His name was J. W. Canterbury, and his services were in general demand. Artisans and mechanics were blessings in those days, whose value appreciated in proportion as they drew nigh unto Galesville. There was no rush this year, nor has there been, indeed, since the village was platted and efforts made to attract immigration. But the adventists remained for the most part and have added to the wealth of posterity one of the loveliest villages in Western Wisconsin.

This year C. E. Perkins, afterward County Judge and at present County Clerk, became a resident of the village, and erected a residence on Free street; also W. H. Wyman, who added to the appearance of Elizabeth street; George W. Swift, likewise a new-comer, located and built on Clark street; R. B. Cooper made himself an abode on Ridge street and G. H. Burnham on Allen street. C. C. Averill came in this year, and Nathaniel Stearns, who had been to Galesville in 1855, then returned; also George W. Stearns, both becoming occupants of the Armstrong House on Allen street.

In addition to these improvements, the Rev. D. D. Van Slyke, organizer of the Methodist Church in the village, built a house; the flouring-mill was completed; residences were built for W. H. Wyman, W. P. Clark, Isaac Clark, Capt. Finch, and one on the flats for Capt. Bartlett, in which the post office was this year opened, with Dr. George W. Young as Postmaster. During this and preceding years, after Judge Gale had obtained the charter, he was engaged in procuring subscriptions for the building of the institution of learning, which at first cautiously assumed the name of "Yale University." During this period the venture was struggling, as it were, like a swimmer with strong courage but weak muscles, to keep head above water. Wealth did not abound in Wisconsin, and men of means elsewhere found it convenient to promise help when it should demonstrate its ability to save itself without help. In spite of these discouragements a period of suspended animation was never reached in its history.

In time, say 1858, a building was commenced upon the ample grounds which constitute the college campus; a president and corps of professors were appointed, funds were provided sufficient to open the institution, and Gale University was at last fairly launched. The faculty was composed of excellent material; students entered, and in due time there was a baccalaureate sermon, and several young gentlemen listened to speeches in Latin and received their parchments. The building was finished and other commencement days followed until the day of orations, bouquets and parchments with Latin have come to be considered as something in the established order.

The panic of 1857 produced no effect upon the business or improvements of the village. Those made were made on credit, observed a gentleman familiar with the facts. S. S. Luce came from the East, and superintended the building up of Judge Gale's property. In 1860, he established the Galesville Transcript, and has since been regarded as a prominent member of the Fourth Estate in Wisconsin. A large addition was made to the hotel this year, and a new house of entertainment built by John Anderson and D. T. Stocking, the latter being among the arrivals of 1856. The hotel was erected on the flats below the mill, where Judge Heuston also had an office.

Among the few who came in 1857 and made improvements was F. Kenyon, who located his residence on Ridge street; Silas Parker on Free street, and some very few others.

The great event of 1858 was the laying the foundations and commencement of building Galesville University. The next in importance was the marriage of John Nicholls, first Clerk of the County, to Miss French-claimed as the first in the village. A Mr. Fifield came in this year and built a house on Ridge street; and others did likewise. Among these were the Thomas Davis house, put up by D. E. Goodnow; one by J. W. Root; a house by D. Lawson, the pioneer blacksmith, and Dr. G. W. Young contracted for and superintended the erection of the house now occupied by Dr. Avery.

The experience of 1858 was duplicated in 1859. Arrivals were similar in point of numbers, and the buildings for store or residence purposes in equal proportions. A store was built on Ridge street, under the auspices of J. M. Dodge; but his occupation of the premises was brief, when he was succeeded by R. A. Odell. This was the first store erected on the West table, and is still standing. The heyday of life in Galesville from 1859 until 1865-66, seemed to have fully passed. Beyond the opening of the Collegiate Department of Gale University, September 12, 1851, and the graduation of the first college class July 13, 1865; with the exception of these events, as also the annual exhibitions of the County Agricultural Society and war incidents, nothing occurred to make the sinews of the infant village strong as steel, or attract wonder from its seniors in the county.

During this period, however, a house here and there went up, the church societies perfected their organizations, and the Rev. John Frothingham, first Presbyterian minister to be settled in the county, took charge of his work.

On the 23d of June, 1866, the dam went out, and destruction and desolation marked the rush of waters. The hotel on the flat, put up in 1857, the saw and grist mills and other improvements, were swept away in an hour, entailing a loss of not less than $10,000; but paving the way for the making of an improvement-the Davis Mill- one of the grandest works of its kind in the Northwest. The next spring he purchased the water-power privileges, the debris left by the flood, and as soon as the same could be removed, began the building of his mill. Since those days the village has grown gradually, becoming annually more attractive to residents and as a resort for strangers. Its beautiful location, picturesque scenery, mineral springs, not to mention the educational facilities to be found there, must render Galesville unsurpassed as a place of residence, as it is now a spot that has only to be known to guide the pleasure seeker, the scholar, the scientist or the capitalist away from the beaten paths of travel to mingle in the delights of elegant rural life.

While not nearly as large as its rivals in the county, there is none among them, it is claimed, in which the amount of business proportioned to the number of inhabitants is equal to that annually disposed of at Galesville. This is, in a great measure, due to the presence of the college and the mill. The citizens of this bright oasis, so to speak, do not claim that the future will develop promises of a commercial or manufacturing character, but insist that in a few short years it will bear the same relation to Wisconsin, as an educational center, that is borne by the old college towns of New England to the Eastern States.

Decora Lodge, No. 177, A., F. & A. M., was chartered in June, 1870, having some time previously received a dispensation, with fifteen charter members and the following charter officers: W. S. Wright, W. M.; J. J. Currier, S. W., and C. E. Perkins, J. W. In the past eleven years the organization has prospered and its roster of membership largely increased. The present officers are: Isaac Wright, W. M.; James Wright, S. W.; G. G. Freeman, J. W.; Aaron Kribs, S. D.; C. R. McGilvroy, J. D.; E. F. Atkins, Secretary; A. H. Kneeland, Treasurer, and C. S. Sheeren, Tiler. The number of members is stated at forty-two; the value of lodge property at $1,000; and meetings are held semi-monthly.

Galesville Lodge, No. 238, I. 0. 0. F., was organized October 30, 1874, with nine members, of whom the following were officers: C. E. Perkins, N. G.;W. G. Austin, V. G.; K. A. Odell, Permanent Secretary, and A. H. Kneeland, Treasurer. The present membership is forty-eight; the value of lodge property, $1,100, and the officers are: F. H. Bidwell, N. G.; F T. Shaake, V. G.; T. B. Ryan, Secretary, and A. Tibbitts, Treasurer. Meetings are convened weekly in Ferrin's building.

Galesville University is located at Galesville, Trempealean Co., Wis.

It was founded by the labors of the Hon. George Gale, LL. D., assisted by donations of the citizens of Galesville, La Crosse, Winona, and a few other friends of education, mostly residents of Wisconsin.

The charter was obtained from the Legislature of Wisconsin in January, 1854. The Board of Trustees was organized in 1855; the college building commenced in 1858; the preparatory department opened for students in May, 1859, and, the collegiate department, in September, 1861: the first college class graduated July 13, 1865.

Judge Gale, the founder, was the first President, though the educational and literary management of the institution was under the supervision of the Rev. Samuel Fallows, now Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Chicago, Ill.

Rev. Harrison Gilliland was elected President in 1865, and held this position till June, 1877.

The charter of the university authorizes a college of letters, of mechanic arts, of agriculture and colleges of law, medicine and theology. None of these have been attempted except the college of letters embracing the ordinary college course of four years, to which is added a preparatory school. In addition to the charter members of the Board of Trustees, the Legislature empowered the Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Wisconsin to elect a majority of the Trustees, giving that body a controlling influence in the management of the university.

In the winter of 1876-77, by act of Legislature, that power was transferred to the Presbytery of Chippewa, since which time the institution has been under its control.

While the influence and management are emphatically Christian, sectarianism is excluded.

In July, 1877, the new board elected Prof. J. W. McLaury, President of the University, who still holds that position.

In 1879, the President of the United States appointed Lieut. John L. Clem, U. S. A., Professor of Military Science and Tactics, thus adding military to the other departments of the university. The building is a handsome stone structure, situated in a beautiful campus of forty acres. Adjacent is a valuable farm of 187 acres.

The library contains about 4,000 volumes. Chemical and philosophical apparatus have been secured; also valuable cabinet collections of natural history.

In addition to the above property, funds for endowments have been secured, which the board intends to increase to $100,000 in the shortest possible time. The Rev. J. Irwin Smith, A. M., has recently been appointed Treasurer and Financial Agent.

The university embraces preparatory and college departments. In the former, are four courses of study, viz., classical, scientific, commercial and normal, each leading to the Freshman class in college. The college includes two courses-classical and scientific-of four years each, leading to the usual baccalaureate degrees.

Women are admitted on equal terms with men, pursue the same studies and receive like honors and degrees. Departments of fine arts and music have recently been added, which aim for the highest excellence.

The university is now well established, and is worthy the patronage of those who desire an education, and the confidence of the benevolent, seeking objects meriting their benefactions.

The first school taught in Galesville or Gale Township was in the summer of 1856, when Miss Margaret Van Ess undertook the venture in a small frame building which had been erected for that purpose, on the same lot and near the present site of the handsome brick building devoted to educational purposes in the village. Miss Van Ess, in time, yielded place to her successors, and they, in turn, to others; the number of pupils increased each year, and, early in the seventies, the necessity of enlarged accommodations became apparent. To supply this demand, the present structure of brick, sufficiently commodious to meet every requirement, and architecturally handsome to ornament the village, was erected in 1874 at a cost of $7,500. It is now occupied as a graded school, employing two teachers and requiring $1,600 annually to conduct, with an average daily attendance of one hundred pupils. The present board consists of A. H. Kneeland, Director; H. W. Avery, Treasurer, and S. S. Luce, Clerk.

The post office was opened in 1856, with Dr. W. M. Young as Postmaster, in a house on the flats erected by Capt. Bartlett. Dr. Young remained in charge until 1867, when he was succeeded by G. W. Gale, who is still in the service. The mail facilities are ample.

Galesville Presbyterian Church was organized during the year 1856, under the auspices of the Rev. J. M. Hayes, one of the earliest ministers of the Gospel to identify himself with the cause of religion in Trempealeau County. In 1859, the society was duly constituted under the Pastorship of the Rev. D. C. Lyon, and worship was regularly conducted in the private residences of members of the congregation. In 1860, the Rev. John Frothingham was settled in Galesville, and about this time efforts were inaugurated looking toward the building of a church. These efforts culminated in the erection of the present church edifice, which was completed in 1862 at a cost of $2,000, and has since been occupied.

The present congregation numbers fifty-six communicants, under the Pastorate of the Rev. J. Irving Smith.

The Methodist Church was organized at an early day, and, until 1875, the congregation worshiped in the court house, schoolhouse, etc. In that year, the present edifice, costing $4,000, was erected. The Rev. G. T. Morgans is the present Pastor.

In addition to those already mentioned, the Lutheran society is established in Galesville, where it was located in 1875 through the efforts of the Rev. Mr, Lunde. The present Pastor is the Rev. Mr. Sedgerblom, and services are held, as yet, in private residences.

Galesville Cemetery Association was organized November 1, 1861, by the election of Isaac Clark, President; W. A. Johnston, Treasurer, and A. A. Arnold, Secretary. The association own eight acres purchased by George Gale, which has been appropriately laid out and ornamented for cemetery purposes.

The present officers are Isaac Clark, President; W. A. Johnston, Treasurer, and G. W. Gale, Secretary.

The property of the association is valued at $500.

Galesville Flouring Mills, the most extensive in the county, and among the most prominent, valuable and elaborate improvements of the kind in the State, were born of the calamity which overtook Galesville in June, 1866, by the giving-way of the dam. The same year, Wilson Davis purchased the site, and in the following spring began the building of the present mills. Two years were occupied in their erection, and it was not until 1870 that the same were ready for work. The mills are of stone, laid on foundations seven feet thick, six stories high, with wheel pit and attic, and in dimensions are 50x70 feet. They are supplied with six run of stone, with five sets of rolls, two of porcelain and three of iron, and turn out an average weekly product of eight hundred barrels of flour. The mills cost $750,000.

To operate these mills requires the services of thirty men at a total weekly compensation of $200; and the annual business is stated at $150,000. There is no single undertaking in Northern Wisconsin more valuable per se, as also to the district wherein it is located, than Wilson's Mills are to Trempealeau County, and the universal verdict seems to be that his enterprise is being deservedly encouraged.

The village of Galesville and vicinity is rapidly becoming celebrated as the locality of mineral springs, the waters of which possess all the virtues which are claimed to be inherent in those, the fame of which long since became national. The first discovered, and, consequently, the best known, is Jordan's well on Dr. G. W. Young's place, at present occupied by Dr. Avery. It was discovered some years ago, and analyzed by Dr. Bode, of Milwaukee, in 1876, with the following result: Chloride of sodium, 0.1792 grains; sulphate of soda, 1.9744 grains; bicarbonate of soda, 0.8904 grains; bicarbonate of oxyde of calcium, 6.500 grains; bicarbonate of magnesia, 8.163 grains; bicarbonate of protoxide of iron, 2.6632 grains; silica, 0.2880 grains; alumina, 0.6832 grains; organic matter, 0.4816 grains, or 21.8332 grains solid salts in one gallon.

The next most prominent in importance is Sommerfield's well on Dacora's Prairie. Its waters are highly impregnated with iron, and, with other properties therein contained, are regarded as a superior tonic. Its analyzation discloses the presence of chloride of iodine, sulphate of soda, bicarbonate of iron, magnesia and lime, also silica, The leading characteristic of this spring is a preponderance of iodine, which is exceedingly rare and very valuable.

In addition to these, there is a sulphur spring which bursts out from the rocks near the old mill, and in which the crude sulphur is so predominant as that it can be easily distinguished floating upon the surface of the water. The medicinal qualities of this spring are undeniable. There is also a beautiful spring on the homestead property of G. Y. Freeman, recently discovered, the waters of which have been analyzed by Prof. Daniels, the State Geologist, who pronounces them valuable. These springs augment the natural attractions of Galesville, and time will certainly secure for them a reputation which will make the vicinity valuable as a summer resort.

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