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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Northern Wisconsin, 1881":

History of Whitehall

-As transcribed from pages 1037 - 1040


Whitehall, the capital of the county, and the quiet, unpretentious abode of wealth and intelligence, lies hidden among the verdure of trees which line its streets, and shrubberies, which deck the gardens of residents, presenting many features of rural felicity to its citizens not more than to the traveler, as he hurries through on his journeys of business and pleasure.

In October, 1873, the line of road which connects the Mississippi with Green Bay had been completed to subsequent Whitehall, and it was decided to establish a station at this point. This question being settled, Henry Ketchum, a land owner, appropriated sufficient for the purposes indicated, which T. H. Earl laid out, platted and divided into fourteen blocks. This being completed, that gentleman, who had built himself a house, arrived on the ground and "side-tracked," so to speak, on one of the most cheerless and unauspicious days of that wonderfully peculiar season, which is still remembered as one of the severest the annals of severe annuals give any account. On the day Mr. Earl was engaged in procuring a site for his house, the thermometer marked thirty degrees below zero, and the freezing blasts and congealed atmosphere was propelled at a rate of miles per hour it was impossible to attempt resistance against. Notwithstanding these embargoes, the venturesome pioneer resident of Whitehall established a home for his families, and rested. He was the first to decide to permanently settle in the village, and his domicile the first to be raised within its limits.

During the winter, no others came in, either to view the site of the town, purchase lots for residence or speculative purposes, or in any manner sought to identify themselves with the undertaking which was to develop within a brief period into one of the " loveliest villages of the plain." This was in part due to the inclemency of the weather, and in part to other causes and combinations of causes, it would be difficult to designate or discover.

Early in the spring of 1874, however, voyageurs from distant sections began to come hither, and, while many returned to the spot whence they hailed, there was not a few who remained, and have since grown into prominence with Whitehall-so named, by the way, after old Whitehall, a short distance above the present city, by Benjamin Wing and Ole Knudson.

Among the first to settle permanently were H. E. Getts and C. J. Lambert, former residents of North La Crosse. The former opened the first merchandise store in the village and soon acquired prominence in commercial circles. Mr. Lambert became associated with Mr. Earl in the building of a warehouse, which still stands, and commenced handling grain. Soon after, Daniel L. Camp was acknowledged as a citizen of the village, when he purchased wheat in the capacity of agent for Kelly & Elmore, factors in this cereal at Green Bay. As spring advanced, and the warm days of summer followed in its wake, the accessions to the population became more numerous. The insufficiency of accommodations for the traveling public was severely felt. To supply this deficiency, the Empire Hotel was erected by Mr. Stratton, and the Exchange by S. L. Alexander. Another residence was added to the town, the second built, being that of George Olds, the pioneer purchaser of lots after the village had been surveyed and platted. A Mr. Cook came in and became a dealer in furniture, building a store for the sale of stock at the corner of Main and Scranton streets. He was soon followed by Nelson Comstock in the same line of business, and was accompanied in his ventures by T. C. McDermot, who opened a hardware store, as also by C. E. Scott and L. H. Whitney in depots for the sale of dry goods, groceries and notions. Camp's Block was erected this year, and B. F. Wing became a general merchant. The cause of education was also consulted; and, the old schoolhouse, which had served its purposes in years gone by, was razed to give place to the edifice which has since obtained in which to teach the young idea how to read, write and study decimals.

These included the improvements consummated during 1874. They were adapted to the uses which their building was sought to conserve, and some of them still exist, having withstood the ravages of time and the elements, though during the summer a tornado swept over the village and unroofed the structures of Cook and Whitney, then in progress of construction.

Though the village was in its infancy, it was deemed a desirable location for the publication of a weekly paper, and with a view to consulting the public needs, Bert E. Clark purchased the Galesville Journal and Recorder from George S. Luce, and transporting its furniture, tackle and apparel to Whitehall, began the issue of the Trempealeau Messenger. And here, it might be observed, was inaugurated a policy regarding the location of the county seat, which has not yet entirely subsided.

Business during the period herein mentioned, it might be observed, was "booming." The farmers found an accessible and available market for their crops, and the stores of merchants were thronged with cash customers. It is estimated that, including the crop of 1873, there had been shipped from Whitehall, at the close of the season of 1874, about 225,000 bushels of wheat, in addition to large quantities of oats, barley, corn, etc., etc.

Such, then, was the outlook which greeted factor and consignor as 1875 dawned upon the community; and it may be observed that the anticipations born of this experience were fraught with realizations. When the spring succeeded winter, the arrivals of settlers were resumed, and gradually increased as the year advanced. Business, too, kept pace with the progress of events. Not the dilatory, devil-may-care quality to be observed to-day in some portions of the country, but a hurrying, bustling, prosperous type, so apparent in flush times in a new country. The commercial community was increased in point of numbers, wealth and influence by the arrival of Melvin Johnson, who put up a store, as also a dwelling-house; by the arrival of A. J. Cady and others. Rogerson & Warner entered an appearance as dealers in hardware, and other branches of trade also were represented in new ventures. The demand for mechanical skill attracted hither William Blodgett, Joseph Augustine, A. J. Roscoe and James Hiner, the latter dividing his time and services between the bench and the pulpit.

About twenty-five dwelling-houses and stores were erected this year, it is estimated ; the new schoolhouse was made ready for occupation, and the Methodist and Baptist Churches were commenced. It should also be added that Carpenter & Coates took charge of Eimon & Kelley's wheat interests, and the changes concluded were for the better. While there were many who came in, there were some who declined to remain, but their fortunes were in other directions.

The building requirements had by this time developed an immense lumber trade. So large, indeed, had this become that sometimes it was found difficult to supply the demand for home consumption without reference to the wants of country customers. As an illustration of this statement, it can be said that in the space of four years, or until 1877, one firm, T. H. Earl & Co., disposed of an amount aggregating in value the sum of $100,000.

From these facts it will be seen that Whitehall had become a prosperous town. and its ambition to secure the permanent location of the county seat not entirely without substantial claims. But that object of special interest to rival villages in the county was not to be obtained without a contest. Galesville still preserved the county records in the county building in that village, and declined to pass them over without protest, and the citizens of Arcadia would not be comforted because they were made their custodian.

When 1876 was ushered into existence, as it were, there were some changes among the established residents who disposed of their properties at an advance to new-comers and moved on to farming. This branch of industry, by the way, had not been neglected meanwhile, and the number of agriculturists who served in the field while the artisan, the merchant and the artificer built the town, was gratifyingly large.

This year, to supply an increased demand, Martin V. Allen built the Whitehall House, and W. T. Tesser became the owner, by purchase, of the Empire House, which he enlarged and improved. William Scott came in and offered his services as a carpenter; Alonzo Tucker purchased the Ed. Cook House and advertised himself as a mason; Eugene Webster and J. R. King severally opened livery stables; M. C. C. Olsen was known as the village tailor and Edward Romander as the village harness-maker. This year, also, came R. G. Floyd, M. D., the first physician to locate permanently in Whitehall. A. S. Trow & Co. opened a lumber-yard, and Decker & Lawton a store of general supplies. Business continued excellent and numerous improvements were made. Notwithstanding these facts the campaign "waxed hot," and the intensity of feeling displayed by supporters of rival candidates is said to have been radical to the last degree. This year, too, to contest for the county seat took shape, though Whitehall took no part, preferring, in a tacit sort of a way, that Galesville retain the prize until its forces had been drilled and massed for active service.

Another feature of excellence in connection with the location of Whitehall was the freedom of its inhabitants from malarious and other diseases. The general health was good, and this desideratum, to which can be attributed a modicum, at least, of the success which attended the village, was during no year exceptional.

The ensuing year opened auspiciously, and during 1877 the volume of business transacted was greater than during any previous year, while the improvements were general. It is estimated that not less than two hundred and fifty thousand bushels of wheat were shipped. This year the Whitehall Mills were commenced by a man named Golden, who came in, as the sequel proved, with but about $500 in capital, and, enlisting the confidence of the community, involved several citizens, who, to save themselves, were obliged to take charge of the property, and by whom it has since been conducted with dispatch, if not with profit. This year a Norwegian paper, Der Nord Staed, was established, but survived the storms of journalistic experience but a year. A new boot and shoe store was added to the village, and A. G. Fossegaard established a tannery, which is still operated. The town hall was built in 1877, in anticipation, in fact, of securing the county seat. It is of frame, originally designed to be one story high. But the Odd Fellows subscribed $600 and the original plan was changed to make the building two stories high. It cost a total of $1,200, and was completed in time to be selected as a court house, when the county seat was finally removed from Arcadia to Whitehall by 600 majority on the popular vote.

The three succeeding years have not been attended with that success prior experiences would justify, the belief would be requited unto those who labored. The repeated failure of the crops to a large extent prevented this, but the people, confident that the opposite to that produced by these causes, can be realized with a removal of the causes know that they also serve who wait. No prettier village can be found in the county, with its population of 400, and the utmost prosperity is its desert.

The first school taught in the present village was by A. L. Sherwood, in a building that had always been used for that purpose, south of the court house. In 1874-75, the premises were removed and their absence supplied by the present structure, at a cost of $1,500. The school is graded, employing two teachers, and furnishing the means of education to an average daily attendance of 100 pupils. It requires $1,200, for the annual support of the institution, derived in part by taxation on the basis of $1.50 on the $100, and although two-thirds of all taxes levied is willingly paid by property holders, to sustain a cause so meritorious.

When George Olds erected the second private residence on Main street, in the village, a short distance from the depot, his house was selected as the post office, and himself as Postmaster. These selections have not since been changed.

Whitehall Mills were begun by William Golden, in 1877, and completed in 1878, by a party of capitalists, headed by T. P. Earl, who have since conducted and operated them. They are among the largest in the State, being of frame, three stories high, 36x48 and supplied with five run of stone, with a capacity for eighty barrels of flour every twenty-four hours.

In this connection, it may be stated that there are three elevators in the village, one owned by H. E. Getts, erected by Earl & Lambert, in 1873, with a capacity for 10,000 bushels; the Decker & Lawton elevator, with 5,000 bushels capacity; and the Eimon & Kelly elevator, with 10,000 bushels capacity, both the latter being owned by Cargill & Van. Abundant means are furnished by these elevators, for the storage and shipment of grains, and these, as has beer shown, have equaled 250,000 bushels in one year.

The village is supplied with a Baptist and Methodist Church, both of which are commodious, handsomely situated and finished, and furnishing ample accommodations for worshipers.

The former sect, it is stated, was organized in 1863, and from that date until 1875, worshiped at old Whitehall. In the latter year they disposed of to the Lutherans, and the present edifice erected at a cost of $1,500, and has since been occupied. The congregation is made up in a large degree of farmers of the surrounding country. The present pastor is the Rev. Mr. Dismon, and services are held semimonthly.

The Methodist society was organized in 1867, though there had been preaching at intervals, from the year the country was first settled. The society held its meetings in schoolhouses, and formed part of the Arcadia charge until 1874, when it became a separate charge. The following year the present church was built in 1875, at a cost of $2,000.

The present pastor is the Rev. W. H. Chynoweth, and the congregation numbers about 100 worshipers.

Whitehall Lodge No. 15, N. W. B. A., was organized March 11, 1880, with fifteen members and the following officers: S. S. Miller, President; F. E. Beach, Vice President; C. E. Scott, Past President; L. H. Whitney, Secretary; 0. J. Allen, Treasurer; Joseph Augustine, Chaplain, and G. G. Graham, Conductor.

The society is purely beneficial, the families of members being the beneficiaries. After death of members decedent's family is entitled to receive the sum of $2,000 from the society fund.

At present there are seventeen members, with the following officers: 0. J. Allen, President; G. H. Olds, Vice President; G. G. Graham, Secretary, and C. E. Scott, Treasurer.

Trempealeau Valley Lodge, No. 249, I. O. O. F., was organized August 27, 1875, with a compliment of members and the following officers: N. N. Green, N. G.; R. G. Floyd, V. G.; Daniel L. Camp, Secretary, and H. E. Getts, Treasurer.

Since that day the membership has been increased to sixty-seven, with the following officers at present in service: W. L. Munson, N. G.; Andrew Benson, V. G.; Daniel L. Camp, Secretary, and H. E. Getts, Treasurer.

Meetings are held weekly on Friday evenings, and the value of Lodge property is stated at $827.

Lincoln Cemetery Association was organized in 1862, at which time two and one-half acres of ground southeast of the village were purchased for burial purposes. The Society was controlled by its regularly constituted officers until 1866, when the direction of its affairs was assigned to the town authorities, who retained possession until 1878, when they reverted to the assignors, by whom they have since been administered. The cemetery has been regularly surveyed and platted and is adorned with much artificially as also by nature that will attract admiration. The present officers are: D. Wood, President; H. C. Stratton, Treasurer, and L. D. McVitt, Secretary.

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