Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
County Seat, Courthouse and Jail
-As transcribed from pages 114 - 116
The county having been created through the influence and clever planning of Judge Gale, the county seat was placed at his proposed village of Galesville. In the years that immediately followed, Trempealeau occasionally expressed its aspirations, and once went so far as to prepare a petition to the legislature for a vote on the question of removing the county seat there. The petition was accepted by the legislature and an Act passed March 5, 1868, authorizing the election. The voters rejected the proposition. To the majority of the people of the county the division of honors between the two villages seemed an equitable one. Galesville was the seat of learning as the home of Gale College, it was the source of government by reason of the location of the county seat, and it was the center of considerable influence as the residence of several prominent men. Trempealeau possessed the advantage of being on the Mississippi, and as all of the exports of the county were shipped from there, it naturally became the commercial metropolis.
But the growth of the county in the decade following the Civil War, the building of the railroad through the center of the county in 1873, and the increasing importance of the villages along its line in the Trempealeau Valley caused a growing discontent with the location of the courthouse in the southeast corner of the county. Judge Gale was dead, the prestige of the name no longer upheld Galesville, Trempealeau had ceased to be the shipping point of the county, the balance of power had shifted from the southern townships. Whitehall, Arcadia, Independence and Blair were all ambitious, and the people of the northern part of the county naturally joined with the people of the central part against those in the southern part.
In order to establish their grip on the county seat, the people of Galesville caused to be introduced at the board meeting of November 13, 1875, a motion to spend $500 in repairing the courthouse, repairs which in fact were needed, as the building was becoming inadequate for the demands upon it. That motion being defeated, a proposition was made to erect a new courthouse at a cost of $15,000. This was likewise defeated.
A year later, at the election of November 7, 1876, the voters of the county decided in favor of removing the county seat to Arcadia, which had become the metropolis of the county. The people of Gale, however, did not propose to let their advantages slip from their grasp without a fight, and on November 18, 1876, John McKeith of Gale proposed to the county board that the county offices and meeting place of the board should remain at Galesville until the next annual meeting, or until otherwise ordered by the board. The proposition was defeated, being favored only by the members from Gale, Caledonia and Ettrick, who hoped to keep the county seat in the southern part of the county, and by the member from Lincoln, who desired Arcadia to secure no advantages. John D. Lewis led the fight for Arcadia, and on the final proposition of selling the property at Galesville he had only two opponents, the members from Gale and Trempealeau. November 21, 1876, a committee was appointed to supervise the removal to Arcadia. January 2, 1877, the board met in the schoolhouse at that place.
Whitehall now entered the fight in earnest. Galesville, strongly entrenched in historic tradition, had been defeated, and it was believed that Arcadia would prove a less formidable foe. Presenting the argument that Arcadia was on the western edge of the county and Whitehall in the geographical center, the people of the latter village had circulated a petition, and securing the necessary number of signatures, asked the board on January 3, 1877, to call for an election on the question. Mr. Lewis alleged that many names had been secured by misrepresentation, and that most of the signers thought the petition was one requesting that no county tax be laid for erecting county buildings. He demanded for Arcadia the right to be represented by an attorney and witnesses before the county board. But he was denied that privilege and the election was ordered to be held in the fall. However, in spite of this coming contest, the board appointed a committee to draw plans for the erection of a $20,000 building at Arcadia.
At the election held November 6, 1877, the voters decided by about 600 majority to move the county seat to Whitehall. The citizens of Arcadia alleged fraud and secured an injunction, but in the end were unsuccessful in their contentions.
January 23, 1878, the board met at Scott's Hall, at the southwest corner of Main and Scranton streets, in Whitehall, and after considerable jockeying passed a resolution condemning the people of Arcadia for their attitude, accused them of stirring up strife, and engendering animosities which would take years to overcome, and wrongfully putting on the county the cost of expensive litigation. In the same resolution S. W. Button was authorized to employ Judge Thomas Wilson of Winona to defend the board in the injunction proceedings brought by Arcadia. On the final vote, the only members opposing the resolutionwere the ones from Arcadia and its adjoining town of Dodge, and the two southern towns of Caledonia and Trempealeau.
Blair now appeared as an aspirant for county seat honors, but on November 5, 1878, the voters again declared in favor of Whitehall.
The people of Arcadia continued to feel that not only was Arcadia the logical place for the county seat, but that they had in fact been defrauded out of it. The necessary number of names being secured to a petition, the question of removing the county seat to Arcadia came before the voters November 7, 1882, and was defeated by a county of 1,874 to 1,454.
Thus for the third time, the people had declared in favor of Whitehall. The fight had been long and bitter, the newspapers had been filled with recriminations, the quarrel had been the chief subject of conversation for years, the ill feeling engendered was long to remain, but the people of Arcadia accepted the situation cheerfully and set about to maintain the position of that village as a metropolis of the county, even though its geographical position had defeated its county seat aspirations. The question was now practically dead, though the people of Independence prepared a petition and endeavored to secure an election in the fall of 1883 on the proposition of removing the county seat to Independence. It was found, however, that the number of votes cast at the previous election was 2,013 of which two-thirds was 1,342. Of the 1,493 names on the petition, 1,318 were on the poll lists and 162 were not. The status of 16 names was in doubt. The petition thus fell short of the necessary 1,342 and no similar petition has since been attempted.
November 15, 1882, O. J. Allen of Lincoln, moved before the county board that the courthouse be erected in Whitehall. The proposition carried by a vote of 12 to 5, the opposing votes being those of the members of Arcadia township and village, and their neighbor Dodge, of Burnside where the people had aspirations for Independence, and of Preston were the people had aspirations for Blair. A building committee was appointed consisting of A. H. Cary, J. D. Olds, M. J. Warner, H. Hoberton and John McKeith. A large lot was presented by the town of Lincoln, and that town also paid $5,000 toward the construction of the building. Work was started in the spring of 1883, and the building was completed late that year at a cost of about $20,000, being occupied early in January, 1884.
November 11, 1885, money was appropriated for a jail, and work was commenced the following spring in charge of a building committee consisting of H. Hoberton, E. H. Warner and Peter Ekern. It was accepted November 1, 1886, having cost about $8,000.
The courthouse and jail proved adequate for more than thirty years. In 1910 the need of improvement was apparent, and on November 16, 1910, after preliminary investigation and due consultation with the State Board of Control, it was decided to rebuild the jail, and at the same time to build an addition to the courthouse which would nearly double its capacity. The first set of bids was rejected, and on January 10, 1911, the contracts were let. The work on the courthouse and jail was completed late in the fall of 1911 at a cost of nearly $30,000, the committee in charge consisting of James N. Hunter, chairman; E. F. Hensel, secretary; E. F. Clark, C. Q. Gage and F. A. Hotchkiss.
The courthouse and jail are surrounded by beautiful wooded lawns which stretch across the schoolhouse property and merge in the public park, which in turn extends to the village cemetery, this giving the people a beautiful sweep of public property scarcely to be equaled in western Wisconsin.
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