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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 8:


-As transcribed from pages 83 - 86

Galesville was founded by Judge George Gale, jurist, educator and author. Unable to enthuse the people of La Crosse with the idea of securing for that place an institution of higher learning, he determined to establish somewhere in the vicinity a university city. After looking about for a while, he selected a beautiful spot in the Beaver Creek most admirably suited to his purpose. Here, amid a picturesque stretch of hill and dale, lay two tables or plateaus, separated by a wide depression or flat, and watered by the meandering course of the creek, whose gorge-like bed seemed especially designed for the building of a dam and the creation of an artificial lake. The land was unsettled and cheap, and Judge Gale had no difficulty in securing 2,000 acres in the vicinity of his chosen site.

His duties at La Crosse prevented his moving at once to his new possessions, so in 1854 he sent Augustus H. Armstrong to start operations in inaugurating the future village. Mr. Armstrong erected a residence on what is now known as the lower or courthouse table, and as soon as the weather of the late spring permitted, superintended the construction of a mill and dam, the stone and the timber being obtained from the gorge itself.

Dr. William M. Young, a brother of Mrs. Gale, arrived a short time later, followed by Michael Cullity, who erected a shanty on the lower table on the south side of what is now Allen street, between Ridge and Main streets. An interesting example of conditions in those days is seen in the fact that Dr. Young and Mr. Cullity started out at sunrise to obtain the material for this shanty, and before night had it ready for occupancy by the Cullity family. Ryland Parker opened a small store east of the south. east corner of the public square on the present site of the Bank of Galesville. He started a hotel on the corner of Main and Allen streets, lot 2, block 3, original plat. Captain Finch started a home northeast of the northeast corner of the public square, but later sold out to Captain Alexander A. Arnold. Work on the mill progressed slowly. The dam proved, inadequate and the harnessed waters soon broke their bonds. Judge Gale therefore secured the services of William O. Clark as builder and Ebenezer Batchelder as millwright, and under their auspices the dam was repaired and sawing started. The grist mill, obtaining power from the same dam, was not put into operation until later.

While the lower table, now the business district, was thus the scene of pioneer activity in 1854, the upper table, now the residence district, was receiving its first settlers. Isaac Clark established his home near the west end of what is now the north side of Clark street, and John French located on the west side of what is now French street. A Mr. Crawford came in about the same time, accompanied by his sister, and lived here a while in their pioneer wagon. The sister was a strong-minded woman, a follower of Lucy Stone, and wore a bloomer suit instead of the conventional feminine attire, thus provoking much satirical and sometimes cruel comment on the part of the other settlers. A. R. Wyman erected a house on the upper table, but later moved onto a farm, leaving his original home to be used for many years as a boarding. house 'for university students. The village was platted. on both tables April 22, 1854.

The population of both tables probably did not number thirty people on New Year's Day, 1855. A few settlers arrived during that year. Early in 1856 J. W. Armstrong, then registrar of deeds, occupied a house on Ridge street; Ryland Parker was a merchant on the corner of Allen street and the square; Daniel McKeith had a primitive home; William P. Clark was engaged with Judge George Gale and Ebenezer Batchelder in building a grist mill and operating a sawmill; Franklin Gilbert resided down on the flats upon what afterward became Mill street; A. R. Wyman resided on Ridge street; Isaac Clark on Clark street, and J. C. French on French street. The hotel, of which Ellsworth was landlord, corner of Allen and Main streets, was finished; and in the full flush of success. The improvements completed included among others the courthouse and a schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was on the site of the present high school. The courthouse was still standing as a west part of the building north of the west corner of the public square.

Later in the year the village saw a considerable growth. J. W. Canterbury opened the first blacksmith shop. C. E. Perkins, afterward a prominent county officer, erected a residence on Free street; W. H. Wyman on Elizabeth street; George W. Swift on Clark street; R. B. Cooper on Ridge street, and G. H. Burnham on Allen street. C. C. Averill, Nathaniel Stearns, who had been to Galesville in 1855, and George W. Stearns located here, and the latter two moved into the Armstrong house on Allen street. The Rev. D. D. Van Slyke, organizer of the Methodist church in the village, also built a house. Captain Bartlet completed a house in which the postoffice was this year opened, with Dr. William M. Young as postmaster. Several of the pioneer shanties were replaced with frame houses.

With this beginning, the village experienced a quick growth, enjoying a heyday of prosperity until the close of the Civil War. The panic of 1857 apparently did not retard the progress. In 1859 an attempt was made to transfer some of the business from the lower to the upper table. J. M. Dodge built a store on Ridge street and soon sold to R. A. Odell, who conducted it for several years. This was the only store ever started on the upper table.

Work on Gale College, on the upper table, was started in 1858, the preparatory department opened in the courthouse in the summer of 1859 and the collegiate department opened in the fall of 1861. The first county fair was held in the fall of 1859. The Galesville Transcript was established in 1860.

During this period of prosperity many houses were erected, several church societies perfected their organizations, and the Rev. John Frothingham, first Presbyterian minister to be settled in the county, took charge of his work.

On June 2, 1866, the dam went out, and destruction and desolation marked the rush of waters. The hotel on the flat, put up in 1857; the saw and grist mills and other improvements were swept away in an hour, entailing a loss of not less than $10,000. The next spring Webster Davis purchased the water power privileges and the debris left by the flood, and began the construction of a new dam and mill on the present site several rods above the old location.

Of Galesville, in the fall of 1870, Stephen Richmond has said:

"It was a beautiful, thriving and famed little city, nestling in the shade of the mighty cliff, which then as now, forms the east bank of Beaver Creek, under the shadow of which towered the granite walls of the Davis Flouring Mill, the whir and busy trundle of which bespoke an active industry. Galesville University stood near the western boundary or outskirts of the village after the fashion of southern colleges and was then a flourishing school under the presidency of Professor Gilliland and a corps of strong, active teachers. The public square in the center of the business part of the village on the lower table was also a reminder of southern cities and villages, on the north side of which stood the courthouse, the remainder of the square being built about by business places, all active with bustle and an air of successful local commerce, presenting a scene and fixing in my memory a very pleasant remembrance of that day, then bespeaking the intelligence, business ability and financial foresight of a community of people able to cope successfully with all municipal problems. It was a sight not to be in all the years since effaced from my memory.

"On the day of which I try to sketch my mental picture, the public square, the streets, and along the bank of the creek were many teams from the country, and many of the active, hardy, intelligent farmers, their wives and children, who were tributary to Galesville, as their market place, were present. Good order was manifest everywhere, and the democracy of which so many have spoken and written was surely there. Away to the north spread in a sheen of golden ripple lay the Davis mill pond looking in all respects like a lake formed by the handiwork of Providence, while to the southwest could be seen the mighty bluffs and rugged hills in Minnesota ranged along the western side of the Mississippi River. Every line of local municipal activity now present in, and the boast of modern days, appeared to be actively and intelligently represented. The ragged edge of the frontier town and the far-western outpost were absent, and there was an air of permanency, tradition and stability usually lacking in new towns."


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