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Histories:  Trempealeau County Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 11:

Blair

-As transcribed from pages 245 - 248


The village of Blair is one of the best shipping towns of its size in the state.  The village has about 500 people within its borders, but there are twenty families living just outside the corporate limits int he town of Preston.

It is situated in the east central part of the county and is surrounded by some excellent stock farms.  The farmers are enterprising and a big majority of them have fine herds of full-blooded stock.

Blair can well feel proud of its municipal improvements.  The electric light and waterworks systems are municipally owned and the power for operation is both water and steam.  The main streets are macadamized and it has recently purchased a large market square.

There is a credited High school, two large Lutheran churches and a Baptist church; a large village hall; two banks; a newspaper; a flour mill; a creamery, and the usual stores, garages and other places of business.

In 1894 an application was made to the circuit court for Trempealeau county for incorporation.  The territory embraced was the southeast quarter and south half of the northeast quarter of 16-21-7, and comprised 241.68 acres.  The application was signed by E. L. Immell,  T. I. Gilbert, L. S. Fenny, G. A. Slye, J. W. Dalton, J. E. Mayer, Ole O. Moe, H. Thorsgaard, J. O. Gilbert, J. Leasum and E. O. Gilfillan.  The survey was made by Geo. M. Adams.  The census, taken by Oscar T. Gilbert, gave the proposed village 324 residents.  The judgment was entered on September 6, by O. B. Wyman, circuit judge, and a vote was taken on October 16, which resulted as follows:  50 for incorporation and 43 against.

At the first village election held on October 30, 1894, the following officers were chosen:  Village president, M. A. Peterson; trustees, E. Bergseng, J. E. Thorstad, Lars Hanson, H. Knutson, O. H. Benrud, C. O. Hanson; supervisor, Morris Hanson; clerk, S. H. Neperud; treasurer, H. T. Thompson; marshal, W. H. Welch; justices of the peace, O. A. Brekke, H. N. Halvorson; police justice, F. M. Immell; constable, Lars Hanson.  The question of issuing corporate bonds in the sum of $3,000 for the purpose of constructing a waterworks system for the village was submitted to the electors at a special election held May 28, 1898.  There were 68 votes cast, of which 64 favored the proposition and 4 opposed.

The electric light system was constructed through private subscription together with moneys in the general fund, the village having been bonded almost to the constitutional limitation.  The lights were installed in the early part of 1901, and the shares owned by the individuals were gradually taken over by the village in the following five years.

On Sept. 8, 1911, an election was held for the purpose of authorizing the village board to borrow $10,000 from the trust funds for building a village hall.  At the election there were 45 in favor and 39 against.  The matter was protested before the trust board and the loan held up until the middle of the year 1913, when it was granted.  On August 29 of that year the village board let the contract for its construction for the sum of $11,850, and the building was completed and opened for use in February, 1914.

A movement was made in the spring of 1917 for the extension of the corporate limits of the village so as to include a number of families of the town of Preston, living east of Blair, but the proposition was defeated by a vote of the people.

There is no village park, but the High school has ample grounds and the magnificent grove of Thomas Hogan near the banks of the Trempealeau is used for picnic and recreation purposes.

Following is a list of the present officers of the village:  President, J. O. Knutson; trustees, A. E. Bratland, E. C. Hanson, A. L. Thompson, A. S. Fenney, G. W. Metzgard, E. L. Immell; village clerk, A. J. Sather; treasurer, O. B. Borsheim; assessor, C. O. Grinde; supervisor, K. S. Knutson; justice of the peace, K. H. Skaar; police justice, Ebert Olson; constable and marshal, Sid Jacques.

The vicinity of what is now the village of Blair was a center of travel long before the railroad was projected through Trempealeau Valley.  From further down the main valley, from many a vale and cooley, and from over the ridges, came the travel into the older Jackson County region, especially to Merrillan, where the pioneers of the eastern Trempealeau County sold their wheat and where they secured lumber to build their houses and barns.  One of the principal routes came up from Bear Creek over the ridge, led north through Reynolds Cooley, joined the Trempealeau Valley road as at present, just west of what is now the Ettrick & Northern right-of-way, ran east on the section line a quarter of a mile, turned north on the dividing line of section 16, past what is now the United Lutheran church, thence across the Trempealeau River on a bridge some distance west from what is now the mill bridge, and then eastward up the Trempealeau Valley, north of the river.

A few rods west of where the Reynolds Cooley road joins the main road, lived Martin Hanson.  Just north of the north end of the Reynolds Cooley road lived Carl O. Strum.  This farm was a famous stopping place, where the settlers arriving in the evening on their return journey from Merrillan, found it convenient to rest before undertaking the slow and toilsome trip over the ridge.  Many a night found the house filled to overflowing with drivers and the barns and yard crowded with teams and vehicles.  Just east of where the Reynolds Cooley road joins the main road, T. I. Gilbert, about 1870, opened a small store, moving to that location from Mound Spring, four miles east.  Ole Strum lived a short distance south of what is now the United Lutheran church.  On the east edge of what is now the village was the house of Duke Porter, while his mother and her family lived still further east.  North of the river, west of where the road after crossing the bridge, turned east toward Jackson county, was the South Bend postoffice at the home of Ebenezer Thurston, "Yankee" Thurston, as he was called by his foreign-born neighbors.

Early in 1873, the railroad being assured, and a station at this point having already been decided upon, John Van Ness, Orrin Van Ness and Henry Thorsgaard came over the ridge from Ettrick and selected on the snow-covered flats the location for a mill.  These men had all been actively interested in the milling industry in western Wisconsin for several years, and at the time of this trip, Mr. Thorsgaard was employed by John Van Ness in the mill which Orrin Van Ness had built at Ettrick, Orrin Van Ness himself being in charge of a mill near West Salem.  Mr. Thorsgaard became the active factor in the Blair mill and in a few years bought out the Van Ness interests.  He rebuilt the mill after it was burned in 1880, sold it in 1883, and is now actively engaged in the grain business.

As soon as the snow was off the ground in the spring of 1873, active operations were commenced.  Two forty-acre tracts were purchased from Ebenezer Thurston for a mill and pond, lumber was hauled from Merrillan, and men put to work on the dam, the mill, the bridge and a dwelling for Mr. Thorsgaard.  At the same time the tracks for the railroad were being laid, and every farmhouse along the line was crowded with workmen.  While the work was in progress, a farmer named John Thinbacken broke through the old bridge with a yoke of oxen, and the mill bridge received all the traffic.  Soon afterward a road was established from the mill south to the main highway.

The depot was erected not far from the mill.  Two warehouses and a lumber yard were opened in the same neighborhood.  The business center developed on higher ground several blocks south of the mill.  Even Berseng opened a hotel, the first business establishment in the new village.  Three years later an addition was built.  This hotel was an important feature in the village life until it burned in 1916.  In the hall on the second floor were held dances, public meetings and theatrical entertainments, and many an entertainer since famous played behind its oil footlights in the seventies and eighties.

Some time during the summer of 1873, T. I. Gilbert & Co. moved from Strum's Corners to the new site, and within a short time other places of business had started, including C. C. Hanson's general store, John E. Johnson's hardware store and John Hanson's drug store.

In the meantime Ebenezer Thurston had given forty acres to the railroad, and on a part of the Porter estate, Duke Porter had platted a village which he called Porterville.  The Hiles & Ketchum plat of Blair, the railroad plat, was filed April 16, 1877.  Later the land was the subject of considerable litigation, and the title to some of the best land in the village remained long in dispute, some of the railroad officials claiming that the plat belonged to them personally instead of to the railroad as a company.

In 1891 the business section of the village was entirely wiped out by fire. The conflagration took place at about noon on July 27, and rapidly destroyed several blocks, leaving on the east and west a blacksmith shop, on the north the hotel, and nothing else but blackened ruins.

Undaunted the citizens started to make plans for rebuilding.  For a time there was considerable talk of remodeling the village plat and establishing a public square around which the business houses would be grouped, but the owners were unable to agree upon a satisfactory plan, for the stores were eventually rebuilt on their former sites.



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