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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 10:

Williamsburg

-As transcribed from pages 178 - 181


The next settler after Lewis Niffin to locate directly up the Trempealeau Valley above Arcadia was Carl Ernst, a native of Germany.  Ernst settled on a homestead about three miles above Arcadia, a short distance from the state road, in 1859.  The next year Moses Skillins, a native of Connecticut, came up from Winnebago County, Wisconsin, and settled on a piece of state land about four and one-half miles above Arcadia, on the state road.  This was the beginning of the Williamsburg settlement.  In 1862 Hiram Skillins, a Baptist preacher, and a brother of Moses Skillins, came form Winneone, Wisconsin, and bought some state land about half a mile up the Trempealeau River from his brother's place.

We have noticed how customary it was for a new settlement to take its name from the original settler as instances, Reed's Landing, Bishop's Settlement, Lewis Valley.  And so the Williamsburg settlement was first known as Skillins' Corners, and the small creek which flowed through Hiram's place was called Skillins' Creek.

Moses Skillins had broken seven acres of land and erected a log shanty where he was "baching" when his brother arrived.  But pioneering and "baching" were not to his taste, and he sold his right to his brother and returned to Connecticut.

Henry E. Pierce was the next Williamsburg settler to arrive.  He was a native of New York State, and came from Sparta, Wisconsin, in May, 1863, and bought the Moses Skillins place from Hiram Skillins and took the 140 acres of homestead land adjoining it.  In June, the same year, William Eastman, another New York Stater, came and selected a homestead about a quarter of a mile above Skillins' Corners, in Wickham Valley, and in August, James Wickham, arrived from new York State and picked out a homestead a few miles up the Wickham Valley for his son Andrew.

The next spring (1864) Douglas Arnold arrived and bought some State land and took up some government land, and in the fall his brother came and settled at Skillins' Corners.  These two brothers were also from New York State.  The same year William Boorman bought out the Skillins place, and Andrew T. Wickham moved onto is homestead in Wickham Valley.

The Williamsburg farmers were soon raising large crops of wheat, and getting war prices for it; there was an abundance of wild grass for their herds, and the only drawback was the long distance to market.  They hauled their wheat to Fountain City, Trempealeau, and in the winter when the Mississippi was frozen over they hauled the grain to the Pickwick mills, in Minnesota.

A postoffice was established in 1866, and thereafter the place was called Williamsburg.  It had been known before this as Skillins' Corners, or simply the Corners.

W. B. Arnold has the honor of giving this name to the community, which was a very appropriate name on account of the three Williams, Arnold, Eastman and Boorman, all of whom lived near the Corners.

William Arnold was appointed postmaster at Williamsburg and held the office until it was discontinued in January, 1876.  The first mail to Williams burg was carried on horseback over the route from Minneska, Minnesota, to Black River Falls.  Later it was carried by stage, and horseback when roads were bad from Trempealeau on the Trempealeau Elk Creek route.  Perry Rumsy was mail carrier for years.

The same year the post office was established a schoolhouse was built about twenty rods above the Pierce home on the main road, and near the south corner of Douglas Arnold's place.  The first school was taught by Miss Francis Lewis, a sister of Captain John D. Lewis, of Lewis Valley.  Things moved along rapidly now.  The valleys tributary to Williamsburg were being taken up, and cultivated fields soon took the place of the rolling waste of wild grass, and the woodland hillsides resounded with the ax of the wood chopper.

A woodyard was opened, and soon the peddler's wagon found its way into the new settlement with shining new wares to attract the thrifty housewife.  Occasionally the schoolhouse was utilized as a church, and on such Sundays the neighbors would gather from the country round about and hold religious services, and it would sometimes happen that on a pleasant summer Sabbath, some farmer who had been repairing pasture fences would loiter along the deserted road towards the old schoolhouse, and have his vision of rich golden harvest fields suddenly interrupted by the sound of the itinerant preacher's voice coming in sanctimonious quavers from the open windows of the schoolhouse; or perchance the lagging farmer would be stirred by the sound of the music, as out on the fragrant summer air there floated the strains of "The Sweet Bye and Bye."

Then one day from the Trempealeau River came the thrilling whistle of a steamboat.  The peaceful quiet of the country was broken, and the inhabitants were stirred with excitement at this undreamed-of occurrence and people flocked down to the river to feast their eyes on a real live steamboat actually navigating the modest little Trempealeau River.  A landing was made, the gangplank touched shore, and every inhabitant of Williamsburg felt his property rise in value so fast that it was necessary to hold onto the trees to keep from sliding downhill.

The steamboat men wanted to buy some eggs from the Williamsburg farmers, and William Eastman, eager to secure the trade of the boatmen, hurried home and in a short time returned with a basket of eggs.  But, alas!  Mr. Eastman was more accustomed to walking the wide country roads than a narrow gangplank, and when he had taken a few steps on the plank he slipped and fell, but like the boy who tumbled out of the barn loft and clung to his pail of nails to keep them from spilling, Bill froze to is basket of eggs, and regained his foothold with but a few of them broken, and the captain of the boat paid him for the original number of eggs, and Mr. Eastman walked home the crowned monarch of the rural market, and the first and last Williamsburg settler to trade with a Trempealeau River steamboat.

The new community grew rapidly and prospered, for they were thrifty society should not be forgotten in Williamsburg history.  In the winter time every other Friday night was given to the literary society or spelling school, and people would come from neighboring districts to attend.  There was a great deal of rivalry between contending districts in these spelling school matches, and the pupils were kept in good trim for the contest.  Then on a winter's night when the chores were done, there would be a merry jingle of sleigh bells vibrating along the road to the schoolhouse and by 8 o'clock in the evening the strains of some well-known school song would announce the opening of the exercises.  And if you would listen in the course of an hour you would hear the droning of words as the teacher pronounced them to the pupils lined along the walls of the schoolroom eager for the spelling-down contest.  It is surprising what large words some of those bright little country maidens would wade through - words that would give one a kink in the neck to pronounce were consumed as easily and greedily as a robin devours an angleworm.

The new community grew rapidly and prospered, for they were thrifty farmers, and brought from the Empire State a wealth of dairy experience and agricultural knowledge that proved useful in opening up the new country.

In the summer there was the school picnic, which was worth while to a hungry bunch of children.  There under the green shade trees, near the limpid brook, where the blue violets bloomed in profusion we would enjoy a picnic dinner with tablecloths spread out on the ground and covered with, Oh, my, what good things to eat! not to forget the blueberry pie.

The railroad went through the valley, and by 1876, Williamsburg had two markets, Arcadia and Independence.

There is not an original settler or a descendant of one left in Williamsburg.  You hardly ever hear the name any more, except among a few of the old settlers who still tell of the days when there was good deer hunting in Wickham Valley, and elk horns were picked up on the hillside back of the old Skillins place.

(By Eben D. Pierce.)




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