Histories: Trempealeau County Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
-As transcribed from pages 232 - 237
Whitehall, the county seat of Trempealeau County, is located at the geographical center of the county, within the northernmost bend of the Trempealeau River. Platted on the river bottoms, the village is almost entirely level, but is almost entirely surrounded with picturesque hills and bluffs, broken here and there by cooleys and valleys which lead into some of the richest farming land in the county, notable among which is the Pigeon Valley region, known far and wide for its prosperity and fertility. The Trempealeau River, dammed a short distance below where it receives Pigeon Creek, forms a picturesque artificial lake, excellent for boating and fishing. The public bathhouse and the city light plant are located below the dam.
The business section of the village is located north of the Green Bay tracks. This section is surrounded by a portion of the residence district. Many of the principal residences, however, are located on the two principal streets south of the tracks, one of the streets being at right angles to the tracks, and the other parallel with the tracks.
In the south portion of the village are the courthouse, the jail, the high school, the hospital, the village hall, the public library, the town hall, and the churches, as well as the public park and the cemetery.
Among the leading business industries of the village are the tobacco warehouse, the creamery, the pickling station, the mill, three elevators, two banks and the newspaper. The principal shipments are tobacco, butter, grain, eggs and potatoes.
Especially beautiful is the park system. Beginning at the railroad tracks, a small park north of the village hall is ornamented with numerous flower beds and a cement bandstand erected by the ladies of the Chautauqua Circle in 1915. Southwest from the village hall, the courthouse yard begins, with its spreading lawns and magnificent trees. The courthouse and jail are of yellow brick, and the schoolhouse, west of these buildings is of the same material. Without interruption, the courthouse grounds and the school playgrounds merge into the John O. Melby Park, and this in turn stretches to the sightly public cemetery, and likewise faces the community hospital. On the hill above towers the reservoir of the waterworks system.
The waterworks system was originally inaugurated in 1895. A large tank, on a nearby ride, gives ample pressure, and the system covers the principal streets. On Feb. 23, 1895, the village voted bonds for the installation of a waterworks system, and on May 31, 1895, the first contract was awarded for about $6,500. The original sewer system was installed in the spring of 1902, bonds of $2,500 being voted for the purpose. Additions to the water and sewer system have since been made, and an elaborate extension is now planned in the north and west part of the village at a cost of some $12,000, bonds of $8,000 having been voted.
The electric light current is furnished by the mill. It gives an every-night service from twilight until midnight, and also furnishes power for domestic purposes on Tuesday forenoons. Bonds of $2,000 were voted for electric light service on Oct. 21, 1897, and the lights were first turned on Oct. 21, of that year.
The village hall is a sightly brick structure, which houses the fire department, the public library and the council chamber, and provides a large audience chamber for theatrical entertainments and public meetings. The hall cost about $18,000. Bonds of $12,000 were voted Dec. 8, 1911, the hall was opened late in December, 1912, and the first council meeting was held therein on January 13, 1913. Elections are still held in the town hall of Lincoln, half a block south of the village hall.
The town hall was built in 1877, in anticipation 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. For a time before the courthouse was built it was used for county offices.
The principal streets were macadamized in 1915 and 1916 at a cost of about $8,000.
Whitehall was incorporated in 1887. The census of April 15, 1887, having shown a population of 318, application was made to the circuit judge, who on April 26 ordered an election to be held on July 8. The election was duly held in charge of C. E. Scott, L. L. Solsrud and C. A. Adams, resulting in a vote of 47 to 25 in favor of incorporating. The first election of officers was held Aug. 12, and resulted as follows: President, H. E. Getts; trustees, J. S. Tull, Even Ekern, John Porter, M. C. Olson, Joseph Sherwood and A. T. Tucker; clerk, F. M. Scott; treasurer, L. L. Solsrud; supervisor, C. E. Scott; constable, William Duer; justice, R. A. Odell; police justice, A. Tuttle. The officers for 1917 are: President, Ludvig Hammerstad; trustees, Anton O. Melby, A. E. Wood, E. A. Sorenson, C. A. Adams, George Larson and Ed. Scott; clerk, F. N. Larson; treasurer, J. E. Wilberg; assessor, O. F. Harlow; supervisor, N. L. Fredrickson; justices, F. N. Larson and Henry Hundt.
The Whitehall Community Hospital was stared in 1916, and will be completed late in 1917. It is a beautiful structure, constructed along the most modern lines, and occupies a most commanding position facing the John O. Melby Park. No less than 843 citizens are shareholders in the venture, and the rooms are being furnished by various local organizations. The officers are: President, Ludwig Solsrud; vice-president, Ole J. Eggum; secretary, George Larson; treasurer, S. N. Hegge; directors, Ludwig Solsrud, Richard H. Holtan, Claude Everson, F. W. Lowe, Gilbert Peterson, A. E. Wood and Ole J. Eggum.
The John O. Melby Park is to be developed into one of the beauty spots of Whitehall. Already it is beautified by a boulevard and a number of shade trees. It is devoted at present largely to athletic purposes. The original gift was made by Mr. and Mrs. John O. Melby, Sept. 28, 1906, and at the same time the village acquired an additional tract by purchase. Mr. and Mrs. Melby's dedication of the park declares that its purpose is to promote the comfort, enjoyment and well being of the people of Whitehall. The park borders on the cemetery, the community hospital, the courthouse, the jail, the high school and several churches.
Music has been an important factor in the life of Whitehall since the earliest days. The Whitehall Concert Band, which enjoys a wide fame, was established some thirty-five years ago. The present officers are: President, Joel Haugh; vice-president, Herbert Holtan; treasurer, A. P. Tallman; secretary, Ralph H. Wiezorek. The leader is Leo Haesle. The Whitehall Ladies' Band is a notable organization that has won extensive praise wherever it has appeared. It was organized in 1913, composed of the leading ladies of the town, and is an important social as well as musical organization. The officers are: President, Mrs. Ted Harnden; vice-president, Mrs. Ward Lowe; secretary, Miss Mabel Larson; treasurer, Mrs. Eugene Sorenson; leader, Leo Haesle.
The Whitehall Free Library is one of the vital educational features of the village. In early days, the idea of a free library had been growing in the minds of the citizens of Whitehall, and in May, 1881, we find from the Whitehall Times, a dime entertainment was given to start a fund for establishing a public library.
In June of that year, a library association having been formed, the first order of books was made from Holmes, Hawthorne, Bryant, Longfellow, Dickens and Scott. Maple sugar parties and other forms of entertainment helped until in 1883, the "Ladies Athenaeum," a reading club being founded, they began immediately to incite more interest, so that at the end of that year 152 volumes were in the library, as reported by J. O. Melby. The old bookcase in which the books were stored can still be seen in the Whitehall Times-Banner office. The checking system was very primitive.
In March, 1899, the village president, Charles Harnden, called a meeting of the village board to consider the proposition of a free library in Whitehall. It carried and he appointed Messrs. F. E. Beach, E. Berg, A. M. Dake, H. L. Ekern, J. O. Melby, Ludwig Solsrud, Mesdames W. J. Webb (who has served continuously to present time), O. Rogan, W. H. Stallings and Professor C. F. Huleatt as ex-officio member from the public school. Five hundred dollars was appropriated. "Whitehall was the first village in Trempealeau County to vote an appropriation for such a cause." Besides the village, the town of Lincoln gave $100, with promise of further support. J. O. Melby donated a lot, and private individuals increased the amount until at the first meeting of the library board, April 9, it was decided to build.
The building was dedicated Sept. 14, 1899. The formal exercises were held in the afternoon, Judge R. A. Odell presiding. R. S. Cowie gave the address of welcome. H. L. Ekern, who was entitled to more credit than any one other person, gave a history of the movement. L. H. Withee, of La Crosse, and Senator Stout, of Menomonie, both had been very helpful and were present, with abut 500 out-of-town visitors. A social evening session closed the day.
The library has grown from 450 volumes at dedication to about 3,000. The last year's report gave the borrowers as 615, and reading room attendance was 9,295.
The village appropriation is at present $300 annually, $200 for library board, $100 on librarian's salary.
The present library board is: President, C. B. Melby; vice-president, Mrs. W. J. Webb; secretary, S. N. Hegge; Miss Minnie Barron, O. J. Eggum, D. P. Gibson, Mrs. C. F. Huleatt; P. K. Risberg and A. E. Wood, with Principal F. C. Martin as ex-officio member.
At the beginning of each school year, the librarian meets the high school and eighth grade pupils to explain the working use of the library. Each teacher is given a special card on which they may draw as many books and keep as long as they need. The Whitehall Free Library is depository for county traveling library system, which at present has fifteen boxes in different parts of the county.
A Chautauqua course has been given at Whitehall every year beginning with 1913. The work had its beginning in April, 1910, when 20 ladies gathered as a Whitehall Lecture Course committee. At the second meeting but six ladies were present, and these six - the Mesdames R. S. Cowie, O. J. Eggum, E. F. Hensel, J. F. Hager, C. B. Melby and J. M. Ingalls - have since constituted the entire committee. In the winter of 1910-11 a four-number lecture course was given, the talent being furnished by the Central Lyceum Bureau. In 1911-12 no hall was available. In 1913-14 and 1914-15 the University Extension Lecture Course was given. Then the lecture field was left in the hands of the high school. The Chautauqua is given under the direction of the Travers-Wick system. In 1913 the committee purchased the piano which now stands in the village hall. In 1915 the ladies, at a cost of $700, erected a cement bandstand which now ornaments the village park. They are at present planning to furnish a room in the new hospital. The officers are: Chairman, Mrs. R. S. Cowie; secretary, Mrs. O. J. Eggum; treasurer, Mrs. E. F. Hensel.
The Trempealeau County Industrial, Agricultural and Driving Park Association held a county fair in Whitehall for several years, beginning with 1887, maintaining grounds and a race track on the south side of Dewey Street near the west limits of the village.
The vicinity of Whitehall has a history dating back to 1855, when the first settlers arrived in this vicinity. The railroad came through late in 1873, and at that time the future site of the village was yielding a rich harvest of wheat. Up and down the Trempealeau Valley, and spreading into the tributary cooleys and valleys, many a prosperous farm could be found.
A mile up Pigeon Creek was located Old Whitehall, platted on May 23, 1862, by Alex. A. Arnold for Benjamin F. Wing. Another mile further up that creek was Coral City, platted May 28, 1868, by George Hodgkin for Phineas Wright. Both of these hamlets were flourishing trading points.
For a time it appeared that the railroad was to go westward from Blair to Arcadia, without following the northern loop of the river, but the present route was finally decided upon, and a village near this point assured.
The tracks were laid through the wheat field that is now Whitehall, on Sept. 2, 1873. Charles Adams, now a leading Whitehall merchant, was one of the crew. Where the courthouse now stands, the harvesters were gathering wheat.
In November, 1873, Theodore H. Earle arrived and selected the site for a dwelling. He was the son-in-law of Henry Ketchum, for several years president of the railroad, and his purpose was to establish a town in the interests of Mr. Ketchum and C. M. Kelley, a Green Bay grain capitalist and one of the backers of the Green Bay road.
On New Year's Day, 1874, the first passenger train passed Whitehall on regular schedule. That same day the lumber was unloaded for the first depot, and a section crew in charge of Charles Adams started putting in the side track and switch. Jan. 4, C. J. Lambert purchased the first load of wheat at $1.00 a bushel. Jan. 6, Daniel C. Camp arrived as station agent and grain buyer for Elmore & Kelley. Jan. 20, the village was platted by T. H. Earle, C. M. Kelly and Henry Ketchum.
During the winter two grain houses went up, one owned by Elmore & Kelley, of Green Bay, and one by T. H. Earle and C. J. Lambert, who came here to make their homes. Mr. Earle's interest was soon acquired by H. E. Getts.
The first residence started was that of T. H. Earle, the second that of George Olds.
During the spring and summer of 1874, the village presented a scene of busy activity. Hotels, business houses and residences went up here and there, and before fall a flourishing hamlet had been established.
The first hotel was the Empire house, erected by Henry Stratton. The Alexander Hotel, owned by S. L. Alexander, and the Whitehall House, moved in part fro Coral City by M. V. Allen, soon followed.
H. E. Getts built the first house. August Cook and Nelson Comstock started hardware stores, but before they could open the tornado demolished their buildings, and they never opened for business. The general store of L. H. Whitney was also swept by the tornado, but he at once rebuilt, and put in a stock of goods.
D. L. Camp put up a double block, and opened a general store in one side, while T. C. McDermott opened a hardware store in the other. C. E. Scott put up a building and opened a general store. Benjamin F. Wing, the original proprietor of Old Whitehall, moved in and erected a general store. John Rogerson and C. H. Warner opened a hardware store and Melby & Johnson a tailor shop.
The first carpenters to locate permanently in the new village were William Blodgett, Joseph Augustine, A. J. Roscoe and James Hiner. A year or two later came William Scott, also a carpenter, and Alonzo Tucker, a mason.
The first physician was Dr. R. G. Floyd.
Charles Adams thus describes the village in the late fall of 1874:
South of the track and east of the street was the store of B. F. Wing.
North of the track and east of the street on the present site of the Model Store was the Alexander Hotel. North of what is now the John O. Melby & Co. Bank was the store of H. E. Getts, the building being still standing. D. L. Camp and T. C. McDermott were on the present site of the Solsrud Mercantile Co., Camp occupying the side farthest north.
East of the present site of the Solsrud building was the tailor shop of Melby & Johnson. East of this was L. H. Whitney, east of this were the foundations of the stores of August Cook and Nelson Comstock.
North of the track and west of the street north of the present location of the Huleatt Mercantile Company was the home of George Olds, the second residence in the village. North of this was the Rogerson & Warner store. On the northeast corner of the block was the store of C. E. Scott. The building is still standing. In this block, the first term of Circuit Court in Whitehall was held.
The Empire Hotel was on the present site of the American House. The Whitehall House, now called Hotel Allen, is still standing and is operated by Mrs. M. V. Allen.
The Earle House was a block east of the present site of the Model.
Various other residences were scattered about the plat.
The Trempealeau messenger had already been started, Bert E. Clark having purchased the Galesville Journal and Recorder from George S. Luce and moved the material here.
A schoolhouse had been moved from its location a half mile east, and a new building, still standing but not now in use, had been built west of what is now the O. P. Larson residence.
The wisdom of the establishment of the village was shown by the fact that during the year there were shipped from Whitehall 225,000 bushels of wheat in addition to quantities of oats, barley and corn.
The village was now well established, the various lines of industry were satisfactorily represented, and during the next two years there were but few new business houses erected, though there were many additions to the number of residences. The schoolhouse was completed in 1875, and the Baptist and Methodist churches erected. In that and the succeeding year the new business houses were the grocery store of A. J. Cady, the tailor shop of M. C. Olson, the harness shop of Edward Romander, the general store of Decker & Lawton, the general store of Melvin Johnson, the lumber yards of A. S. Trow & Co. and T. H. Earle Company, and the liveries of Eugene Webster and J. R. King.
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