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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881":

History of Trempealeau

-As transcribed from pages 1042 - 1045


Most delightfully situated on the Mississippi River, in the southeast corner of Trempealeau Town, the village presents many features of excellence that have been availed of from time to time, and, until later years, promised superior advantages that have not, from a variety of reasons, been fully realized.

It was in the vicinity of the village, as also in the village itself, that the first settlement of Trempealeau County was undertaken and consummated.

In 1840, James Reed settled in this county.

In 1843, William Bunnell is reputed as having settled here, building a house on the present site of Jack McCarty's residence. He was followed in 1844, by Paul Grignon; in 1845, by A. Chenevert; in 1847, by Charles Perkins, and in 1848, by Edward Winkleman. These severally settled in and about the present village, and the improvements, all of which, with the exception of the double log house erected by James Reed, near the present site of Krib's hardware store on Front Street, were of a character primitive rather than elaborate.

In October, 1851, B. E. Heuston, subsequently, and when the county was set apart as an independent constituency, the first County Judge, came into present Trempealeau Village from Black River, to locate permanently. He purchased a small story and a half house standing on Front street, below what has since been known as Melchior's Brewery, erected by J. B. Douville, and thus being vested with title, confirmed his decision to settle here by remaining.

At that time, relates Mr. Heuston, the improvements of the future village were limited to the log cabins of those whose names are mentioned above. The coming of this gentleman was prompted by the apparent advantages that were possessed by the site as a shipping-point, and acting upon this conclusion, Heuston and Ira S. Hammond proceeded to the erection of a warehouse, that is still standing on Front street, third door east of the Utter House.

The fall of his arrival, ground was "broke" for the building, and before winter had become altogether an established fact, he had completed, with the assistance of A. A. Angell and others, the cellar, and run up the stone foundations. In the meantime, he procured lumber in the Black River country, floated it down the stream to the mouth of Beaver Creek (a small stream named by James Reed), carted it over to the building site, and in the spring completed the warehouse. It was 24x50, two stories high, and to-day, having served its purpose, is rapidly going to decay.

Among those who came in the fall of 1851 was Mr. Charles Cameron and A. A. Angell, the latter's wife following her husband during the winter, the first white woman, it is claimed by some, to settle here permanently. Others maintain, with equal vehemence, that it was Mrs. Michael Bebault. Horace E. Owen, who located what has since been known as the "Four Mile Farm," came this year, as also did Elezur Smith, etc.

Early in February, 1852, N. B. Grover came hither from La Crosse, and opened a shoe shop opposite the Utter House, in which he also sold notions, etc., the first commercial venture in the village. In May, of this year, George Batchelder and wife made their advent, and put up a house below Hammond & Heuston's warehouse; later came Mrs. Charles Cameron, when herself and husband became occupants of the old Douville mansion, and kept boarders, the first to engage in that checkered, if profitable, business in Trempealeau; a Mr. Marshall came in soon after, and put up a house near where McCarty now lives, above Big Spring; also Israel Noyes, who boarded with the Camerons until October, when he was joined by his wife, and went to living in the second story of Hammond & Heuston's warehouse, where a child was born to them the same season, said to be the first birth in the village. Marvin and James Pierce came in and built a small house on the north side of First street, above Melchior's brewery; Ira E. Moor and Alvin Carter built a residence near the present location of Hoberton's blacksmith-shop. During this year, Alexander McMillan, latterly of La Crosse, put up a blacksmith-shop east of Bright's present store, the first in the village. These, with Alexander McGiloray, S. Seymour, Robert Farrington, Charles Holmes, Miss. Catharine Davidson and possibly one or two others, comprehended the arrivals for 1852.

Among the events was the opening of the first hotel in the village. Mrs. Batchelder was the hostess, and her cuisine is to-day recommended as among the pleasurable experiences of life at that period.

Another was the celebration of the Fourth of July. The ceremonies took place in the second story of the Heuston warehouse, and were usual to the occasion, Mr. Heuston reading the Declaration, and those in attendance, without special reference to precedence, orated.

The chief event, however, and one in which succeeding generations would become more intimately interested, was the formal survey and platting of the village. On the 7th of April, William Hood, as Surveyor, laid off the present site, and at a meeting convened soon after, it was formally named Monteauville, but upon motion the name was changed to Montoville. It was laid off out of lands belonging to James Reed and Hammond & Heuston, which had been claimed at an earlier date by Edward Winkleman, who was divested of the title, however, and came into market as the property of those cited, and others. No sooner had this been accomplished, and the preliminaries toward founding a village complied with, than another survey was completed under the direction of F. M. Rublee, Timothy Burns and Benjamin B. Healy. This was on the 23d of the same month, and the name "Trempealeau" derived from "Mont-trempe-l-eau, the mountain that stands in the water," given to the re-surveyed premises.

This year came also the Rev. Mr. Watts, a minister of the Gospel, and, as already stated, Catharine Davidson, one of the contracting parties to the first marriage between whites in the village, she being united to B. Heuston in February following.

During the succeeding two years, the arrivals were scarcely numerous, though inducements were offered in the price asked for lands, and the advantages assured to be within the reach of even modest men of enterprise with but moderate capital. But few came in though. La Crosse and the Black River country absorbed nearly all the arrivals into this portion of Wisconsin.

Among those who were added to the populousness and importance of the village, in 1853, '54 and '55, were, A. M. Brandenburg, B. B. Healy, A. P. Webb, Romanzo Bunn, D. O. Van Slyke, Patrick Duggan, Frank Duggan, Aaron Houghton, Joseph Gale, Gilbert Gibbs, Oscar Beardsley, John Gillis, Lewis Hutenhow, William Olds, Hiram Brown, Philo Beard, Chester and Chauncey Beard, Chase Wasson, Antoine Grignon, and possibly some few others. The improvements were hardly in keeping with this "rush" of settlers, and beyond the building put up by Grover, in the village limits, and residences on the prairie by H. Stewart and others, but little was (lone to add to the value or appearance of the place and vicinity.

In 1856, the "flush times" of Trempealeau, it may be said, had a beginning. Up to that date, comparatively speaking, very little had been done to aid in rendering the place architecturally, "splendid," and the population did not exceed forty, all told.

Early in 1856, the lumber and shingle company of Bredenthal, King & Co. was organized, and preparations were concluded to locate at some eligible point in the Upper Mississippi, where access to the lumber regions and pineries would be easy. The machinery was completed and shipped to the mouth of Black River, after which Bredenthal & King came West and halted at La Crosse. Here they were joined by J. M. Barrett, identified with them in the mill venture, and the three called on S. D. Hastings, the agent of Rublee, Healy, Batchelder and Utter, for the sale of lands in Trempealeau County, and upon his recommendation, decided, after a personal examination of the territory, to locate on a site given them for that purpose, south of the village. At the time this decision was made, water in the river was unusually high and superficial investigation supplemented by the apparent liberality of Rublee et al., decided the company upon the location of its enterprise. Every nerve was therefore strained to build and complete the mill structure, set up its machinery, and get to work with the least possible delay. Meantime the water subsided and the owners of the mill began to realize that they were engaged in an investment that would, sooner or later, prove profitless. When they began to manufacture, these apprehensions were fully verified. Access to the mill property for logs was impossible, save in a round-about way. The raw material was conveyed to the saw by teams, and at an expense more than neutralizing the profits to be derived from an active, and gradually strengthening market. In short, the mill was a complete failure because of this oversight, and finally the company disbanded. The founders save Mr. Barrett, who is still a resident of Trempealeau, returned whence they came, and the mill was sold to the highest bidder and taken elsewhere.

Notwithstanding these calamitous results to an undertaking that was sought to be established under auspicious surroundings, the effect produced upon Trempealeau and vicinity was identical with that hoped for from the completion of the mill. Property advanced along the line, in value and importance. Many were seeking in the West opportunities for the investment of capital that were denied them on favorable terms elsewhere. The town filled up with strangers; houses, cabins and shanties were built with surprising frequency, and people began to buy in all directions. This demand created the utmost excitement, and the price of lots appreciated so rapidly that no one was able to predict a possible value in advance. In the spring, the most desirable lots could have been purchased for from $40 to $50. In May, when the building of the mill was arranged for, double this price was demanded, and when the mill was completed, as high as $1,000 was refused for the same pieces of property that could not have found a purchaser a year previous.

As an instance, it may be stated that while this scale of prices was maintained, a gentleman offered $2,100 for lots on the river bank opposite the Melchior House, and it was declined. They could not now be sold at anything like that figure.

Among the prominent arrivals for 1856, were 0. S. Bates, S. D. Hastings and family, Noah Payne and family, W. T. Booker, J. H. Crossen, J. P. Israel and family, S. F. Harris and family, Thomas Van Zant, Mr. Mills, William Held, A. W. Hickox, C. W. Thomas, John Smith, Dennis Smith, D. W. Gilfillan, D. B. Phelps, C. C. Crane, the Hall boys, Mr. Jayne and many others. The improvements consisted in part of the mill and a large house adjoining for the accommodation of hands employed therein; the Congregational Church put up under a contract with C. C. Crane, and numerous private buildings for residence and commercial purposes. Gilfillan built a hotel where ----- Russell now lives. Hastings erected a residence opposite the public square. Robert Jones a brick residence on Third street, the first brick house in the village, now occupied by D. Coman, and the Rev. Mr. Hayes put up a frame on the hill. In addition to Gilfillan's tavern, C. S. Seymour was proprietor of the Trempealeau House, built in 1852, by A. A. Angell, and Frederick Harth occupied the old log house of James Reed, as the Washington Hotel. Jasper Kingsley maintained the only saloon in the village, and the commercial and marine interests were divided between J. P. Israel, W. T. Booker, Mills & Van Zant and N. B. Grover.

J. A. Parker came in this year and built the house now occupied by Antoine Gugnon, he was the first lawyer in the village. Dr. Alson Atwood also came in and built a house, and is claimed by some as the first physician to settle in Trempealeau, though it is contended by others that this distinguished honor is legitimately the property of Dr. E. R. Utter. Dr. Bunnell came here at an early day, and located as already stated, but it is doubtful if he was a resident at the time whereof mention is now made. Money was plenty, it is said, and times unprecedentedly prosperous. Almost every steamer bore hither, as passengers, people who were out prospecting, ready to avail themselves of any opportunity that presented itself for purchase. The Fourth of July was celebrated with unusual pomp, the Baptist society was organized, and a terrible cyclone passed over the village in August, doing great damage. These are among the principal events of 1856.

The good times continued, it is said, until the fall of 1857, and were succeeded by "hard times," during which flour was $12 per barrel; pork, $10 per hundred, and commodities generally in proportion. Elk, which at this late day herded among the brush of the bluffs, were killed and supplied the absence of beef; their antlers during this, preceding and succeeding years, until the game became extinct, being presented to the first steamboat to make Trempealeau with the resumption of navigation in the spring.

When hardships and impoverishment followed in the wake of prosperity, it was thought that lands would depreciate, and an opportunity be afforded those who came in to settle while they continued, but the opposite of this was the case. The extravagant valuation mentioned was maintained, and had the effect of lessening, in a material degree, the attractions, which at first blush, persuaded the visitor to this portion of the country to halt and investigate. Their investigations extended no further than to ascertain that lots and lands were held at prices, which to them, seemed fancy, whereupon, they retired and sought elsewhere what they were unable to obtain here of Healy and others who controlled the market. The "high prices " drove a number to La Crosse, Winona, St. Paul, etc., who would, but for this impediment, insist those familiar with the facts, have remained and assisted in resolving the village of Trempealeau into a city. As an example, it may be said that a jewelry manufacturer wishing to extend his field of operations, visited Trempealeau for the purpose of locating, and arranged for the purchase of lands upon which to erect a residence and manufactory. Before the negotiations were concluded, however, he became appalled at the price demanded, and returned to Lowell.

Another instance is related of a capitalist from Pittsburgh, who came here at the solicitation of citizens, with a view to the erection of a hotel. He agreed and bound himself to put up one, first-class in every respect, and was ready to commence work, but the "high prices" of lands caused him to abandon the project and flee from the vicinity.

This short-sighted policy, in the light of subsequent events, has since been regarded as one of the chief reasons for the decline of the village. Trempealeau came to a standstill for the time being, at least, and though it revived under an era of prosperity acquired as a shipping point, land owners seem not to have profited by their experience of 1857.

Among those who settled here during that year were W. P. Heuston, R. W. Russell, N. W. Allen, Harvey Bowles, F. A. Utter and others, including Wilson Johnston, who established the first ferry from Trempealeau Village to the Minnesota shore.

In 1858, wheat began to come in here in search of a market, and was readily purchased for shipment to Milwaukee, via Prairie du Chien, as also to St. Louis. During this year, it is estimated that fully 1,000 bushels were thus bartered, and the fading hopes of those who had centered in the village were revived. The absence of railroads in the interior, and the fact that Trempealeau was the most accessible point for farmers to merchant their produce, served to attract them in time, and they came in numbers so large that the streets lining the river were often packed for hours by teamsters waiting an opportunity to unload.

The trade, so to speak, inaugurated in 1857-58, increased in strength and vigor with succeeding years, and attained its maximum prior to the completion of railroad in August, 1871. Farmers coming in from Arcadia, Independence, Whitehall and other points in the county, as also from points in adjoining counties, and the sales are said to have averaged 5,000 bushels per diem for not less than 100 successive days. A vast amount of money was thus put in circulation, and an immense tonnage necessary to its transportation. In spite of these facts, there was no perceptible improvement in the policy of land owners, and scarcely any in the material interests of the city. When the road from Portage to La Crosse was completed, shipments were made via the latter place, and Trempealeau's value, as a shipping point, was greatly enhanced. As a result, it was thought that the building of the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott road would be a valuable adjunct, and its completion was anticipated with unalloyed pleasure. But the opposite of these anticipations have since been experienced. The line tapped the regions of country theretofore tributary to Trempealeau, and, thus handicapped, its history since has been as a tale that its told.

H. Hoberton's wagon factory, the chief manufacturing establishment in the village, is located on the corner of Main and Second streets, where Mr. Hoberton began the building of vehicles in 1863. In 1868, he erected his present buildings, which are of brick, one 40x24, and the other 30x20, at a cost of $2,000, which he has since occupied. His line of manufacture embraces every description of wagon, buggy, carriage, etc., furnishing employment to five men, at a weekly compensation of $50, and doing an annual business of $5,000.

Mail facilities were first enjoyed in Trempealeau, while yet that village was known as Montoville, with B. F. Heuston as Postmaster, and the office on Front street. Since that date, the following officials have served: Isaac Noyes, George Batchelder, Albert Booth and A. H. Touner, the present incumbent. Mails are received daily from east and west.

Planing mill of W. & C. Church. Included in the manufacturing industries of the village, is this establishment, which owes its origin to the enterprise of John and Joseph Shaw, and was erected in 1869. Some time after its completion, the mill was sold to S. F. Harris, who, in turn, disposed of his interest to Boynton & Utter. These gentlemen maintained possession until 1880, when they sold to the present owners for a nominal consideration. The mill is supplied with equipments usual to the trade, and possesses a capacity of 10,000 feet daily.

The religious interests of Trempealeau supports three churches, though there are four church edifices within the village limits. Of these the Methodist congregation was organized in 1856 by H. M. Hays, with Mr. and Mrs. Goodhue, Mr. and Mrs. Payne, and Mr. and Mrs. Kribbs as the constituent members. In 1857 the present edifice was built at a cost of $1,300, and the society now claims a membership of three hundred, with a property valued at $1,000.

The Baptist Association was instituted in 1857, by the Rev. J. M. Winn, with twenty-three members. Until 1866 services were conducted in the schoolhouse and at a hall on Front street. In that year the present edifice was erected at a cost of $2,300. The organization still maintains an active existence, but since March, 1880, has been without a pastor.

The Catholic Church was established in 1858 or 1859, and worship held in the houses of members until 1867, when the present church of brick was erected at a cost of $2,000. The parish is a mission attached to the diocese of La Crosse, and administered by Father J. B. H. Conroy, of Ettrick.

The first school taught in the village was by Miss Susannah Holbrook, in 1854, in a log house located then on Front street. This lady was subsequently succeeded by P. O. Vanslyke and Mrs. Romanzo Bunn. In 1856, Miss Harris taught in a frame on Third street south of the present edifice. This was used until 1860, but is now occupied as a Masonic Hall. In 1859 the present school building was commenced and finished as demands for accommodations increased. It is of brick, two stories high, 40x60, and cost $5,000. At first but two departments were needed, under the care of Mr. and Mrs. Dewey, but in 1862 a third department was added, and the school became graded and has so continued. In 1870, a primary school building was erected at a cost of $1,200, and the service now requires the services of a principal and two assistants. It requires an annual levy of fifteen mills on the dollar for school purposes, the fund thereby derived being disposed of by a Board of Trustees, composed of J. M. Barrell, Director; A. Hoberton, Treasurer, and E. J. Hanke, Clerk.

Trempealeau Lodge, No. 107, A., F. & A. M., was chartered June 14, 1859, with a total of twenty members, and the following officers: J. M. Erwin, W. M.; C. C. Crane, S. W., and S. F. Harris, J. W. Meetings were continued for a number of years in Noyes & Jones brick block on Front street, where the lodge remained until 1867 or 1868, when the present building on the same thoroughfare was purchased of C. W. Thomas, and fitted up in a handsome manner for permanent occupation. The present officers are: John Boyinton, W. M.; Henry Heller, S. W.; William Kribs, J. W.; H. Hoberton, Treasurer; J. H. Crosen, Secretary; T. J. Seymour, S. D.; L. G. Huntley, J. D.; C. C. Cribs, Tiler. Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, and the value of lodge property is stated at $1,000.

The Trempealeau Cemetery Association was organized October 6, 1856, with S. D. Hastings as President; D. W. Gilfillan, Secretary and Treasurer; Noah Payne, S. F. Harris, J. Nichols, George Batchelder and Byron Veits, Trustees. A purchase of four acres of land was made for cemetery purposes, one mile northwest of the village, in Section 22, and has since been platted and laid out. The annual meeting is convened on the first Monday in October, and the present officers are: E. N. Trowbridge, President, and F. H. Kribbs, Secretary and Treasurer.

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