Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dam Book on WDRT-FM

I have been taping my book, "THAT DAM HISTORY - The Story of The La Farge Dam Project", for play on "Page Turner Radio" for WDRT-FM, 91.9, Viroqua.  The program continues to run Monday through Friday mornings beginning at 8:20 and may also be "seen" on Channel 17 of Vernon Communications TV cable access.  One can also hear the book read online at  Many thanks to Cyndy Hubbard of WDRT for helping with the reading and taping of the dam book and putting everything together to be used on the program.  The book will begin to be read on the program on Monday, July 30 and continue for about five weeks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Lots 1,2,3 & 10,11,12; Block 4; Bailey’s Plat; Village of La Farge

            It is a piece of land in the Kickapoo Valley.
            It has a story to tell.
            The deed for the piece of land denotes ownership.  With the deed in hand and the piece of land registered at the land office, ownership is secured.
            The abstract of the piece of land narrates the story of the ownership of the land; it tells who has owned it over the years.  The question of who sold it to whom is answered on the narration of the land that is the abstract.
            Ownership for the piece of land could be determined only after the lands of the Kickapoo Valley were surveyed and marked into grids and squares.  That was done in 1846 by a crew of government surveyors who dragged their measuring chains rod by rod up the Valley in January of that year.  Wisconsin became a state two years later and land offices were established so that deeds for pieces of land could be entered.
            In 1853, Thomas DeJean came to this part of the Valley and probably walked on this piece of land.  He went to the nearest land office, located in Mineral Point, and laid claim to his land in the Kickapoo Valley.  For a few dollars paid down, DeJean had legal claim to his Kickapoo Valley land, but not this particular piece of land whose story we tell.   He returned two years later to the Kickapoo Valley and with his son, Anson, they began to claim a homestead from the wilderness.
            It was Anson who first made a legal claim on this piece of land, as he purchased it from the United States government in 1856.  President Franklin Pierce authorized the purchase transaction for this piece of land and the deed was entered at the land office in Mineral Point.  Anson’s piece of land laid to the west of his father’s.  Together, the DeJeans, father and adopted son, owned all the lands where Otter Creek and Bear Creek flow into the Kickapoo.  They owned the land south of the trail that ran from east to west through this part of the Valley and Anson’s lands lay on both sides of the Kickapoo River and on west along Otter Creek.
            Anson and Thomas DeJean built a sawmill and then a gristmill and bought more land for their lumbering pursuits.  In 1882, Anson DeJean sold this piece of land of whose story we tell to John Bailey. 
            The Baileys were farmers and soon had milking cows on the land and bought milk from their neighbors and made cheese on their farm for others to buy.  “Ma” Bailey ran a general store from a room next to where they made cheese.  Money was scarce then, so Ma Bailey operated a bank of sorts out of her apron for neighbors and friends to conduct business in the place that became known as DeJean’s Corners.
            In 1896, when word came that a railroad was coming to this place that was now known as La Farge, John Bailey was the first to officially plat his lands for sale.  He divided his lands and lots were sold to people anxious to own land in the railroad boomtown.
            In 1901, two brothers, John and Fred Thayer, purchased this piece of land of whose story we tell.  The Thayer brothers were businessmen and soon built a general store facing the busy Main Street of the boomtown.  Since lumbering was fueling the boom in La Farge, the Thayer brothers also became lumber retailers and built a large shed attached to the south end of their store to house those operations.  The lumber business became so lucrative and demanding of their time, that the Thayer brothers soon dropped the general store line of goods.  With their lumber business located within a few hundred yards of the railroad line and the various processing mills in La Farge, the Thayer brothers business flourished.  John Thayer eventually left the business partnership with his brother.  In 1904, Fred Thayer sold his lumber business on this piece of land to his son-in-law, Levi Millison, who had been working in the lumber business for some time.
            Floodwaters from the Kickapoo covered this piece of land in 1907.  Water ran through Levi Millison’s buildings and in that year he sold the land and business back to Fred Thayer.  By that time, Levi was heavily involved in speculations on lands in the West.  After selling the La Farge lumber business back to his father-in-law, Levi left the Kickapoo Valley and moved his family west to Montana.  The Thayer Lumber Company continued on this piece of land for another two decades. 
            Fred Thayer passed away in December 1927.  His son, Emory, ran the business on this piece of land until 1929 when the family sold out to Nuzum’s Lumber, their main lumber retail competitor in La Farge.  Emory Thayer was made the manager of Nuzum’s La Farge operation soon after.  The old Thayer Lumber buildings became additional storage space for Nuzum’s products.  Lots 10, 11, & 12, which fronted onto Snow Street, were used for outside storage of products. 
Floodwaters from the Kickapoo again covered this piece of land in 1935.  This land remained a part of the Nuzum’s retail lumber operation for more than two more decades.  Eventually, Nuzum’s Lumber no longer needed the piece of land for their business.
            Lester Fulmer bought Lots 1 and 2 and the buildings located on that piece of land from Nuzum’s in 1952.  Fulmer, who was active in a variety of businesses in La Farge, used the office of the old lumber store briefly, but then sold the buildings and the two lots to the Town of Stark in 1953.  The township used the old lumber office for a town hall and the shed to store its road maintenance equipment.  In 1954, Stark bought lot 3 of this piece of land from Ralph Nuzum and purchased lots 10-12 from him in 1958 to reunite the parcels, as they had been most of the time since being platted.  The township stored sand and gravel on the lots until 1986, when they moved much of their road maintenance operation to the Corps of Engineers maintenance building at the dam site north of La Farge.  The Town of Stark continued to use the old office for a town hall and the shed for recycling and storage of the township’s road grader.  With the lots empty, the township began renting the space to the nearby truck center for vehicle parking.
            Kickapoo floodwaters again swept through the buildings on this piece of land in June 2008.  The town hall building was condemned after the flood’s damages and the township began looking for other land options for their building needs.               
It is shown on the plat maps as Lots 1,2,3 & 10,11,12 of Block 4 of Bailey’s Plat in the Village of La Farge.  Three lots fronting Main Street; three lots on Snow Street; divided by a platted alley running east and west in the middle of the piece of land.  It is owned by the Town of Stark, but will soon be sold to Earl Nelson for use with his truck center business.  His name will be placed on the deed and his name added to the narrative of the abstract for this piece of land, as its story continues to be told. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bean's Grove

I spent some time in La Farge’s Village Park over the past couple of weeks.  Despite the oppressive heat spell, the park is still a pleasant outdoors setting with its abundant shade and seemingly constant breezes.  For those venturing out from their air conditioning during the summer’s sweltering heat wave, the wooded park on the hill might be the coolest place in La Farge.  And that is as it has always been.
            When Dredsel Bean returned from his time in America’s Civil War, he bought property located just to the south of the bustling lumber boom town of Seelyburg and on the northwest corner of where two old trails crossed.  He built his house and blacksmith shop near the place known as “The Corners” and started clearing much of the rest of his land for farming.  But on the hill on the northern edge of his property, he kept a stand of mature maple, oak and elm trees as his wood lot and sugar bush.  Eventually because of the cool summer breezes, which wafted through the forested glade, people began to gather on the wooded hill when the weather warmed up.
            After the maple sugar season ended in early spring, Dred Bean would let a crew of town’s folk trim the undergrowth to better promote gatherings in his grove of trees during the warmer months of each year.  By the 1870’s, Bean was hosting reunions of his Civil War comrades on a yearly basis in his grove.  Picnics, church gatherings and other reunions and gatherings became common during these early years in Bean’s Grove and by the 1880’s the 4th of July Celebration was played out either in Dred Bean’s front yard or in his grove on the hill.  By the time that La Farge was incorporated as a village at the turn of the century, Bean’s Grove was hosting nearly all of the village’s important outdoor events.  The Civil War veteran reunions, usually held in the month of September, drew thousands to the events held in Bean’s Grove.  Dred Bean never charged a penny to anyone who used his grove during all of those years.  His only requirement was that people keep the place clean and help mow the weeds back.  Bean also frowned on the evils of liquor, so his grove was always “dry” regardless of the status of saloons in town.  By that early tradition, alcoholic beverages have never been sold in his grove.
            When Dred Bean passed away in 1913, the village leaders made inquiries to acquire Bean’s Grove as a village park.  The family offered to sell the grove to the village.  This move caused some considerable consternation among some folks in La Farge since Dred had never charged anyone for the use of his woods.  Finally in the spring of 1916, the good people of La Farge voted overwhelming in a special referendum to instruct the village board to purchase the woods on the hill.  La Farge’s new village park located in Bean’s Grove was officially dedicated that year at the 4th of July festivities.  This year the grove hosted its 97th 4th of July Celebration as the village’s park.
            Because of its heavy use for gatherings of all kinds, bandstands and shelters were added to the park over the years.  Structures to host food stands, particularly for the 4th of July, were constructed.  After World War II, the La Farge VFW members built a new cement dance bowery in the grove.  My recollections of the Village Park began soon after that.
            The Free Methodist Church moved their Sunday service to the Village Park on July 1 of this year, calling it “Church In The Park” and invited the community to attend.  The service was followed by a potluck dinner and drew an overflow crowd to the Village Park bowery.  I was sitting way in the back and could not hear Pastor Mark Phillips very well, so my mind started to wander back to my first remembrances of Dred Bean’s Grove.  (I felt kind of bad for not paying attention to Pastor Mark’s message, but then remembered how he sometimes didn’t pay the best attention to some of my history lectures back in the days when he was a student at LHS.  So maybe, what goes around; comes around?)
            My early memories of the Village Park revolve around the 4th of July Celebrations and the Steinmetz family reunions, always held there the Sunday before Labor Day.  Those family reunions were immense gatherings at the time in the early 1950’s as my grandfather Emery Steinmetz and his siblings and cousins were all still alive.  All of “The Cousins”, which is what my Dad’s generation was called, would return with their families to the grove each year for socializing and a big family potluck picnic – the highlight of the reunion.  Oddly, I remember that there were large outhouses along the east edge of the park back then.  The outdoor privies were dark; foul-smelling places and the men’s featured a long metal trough urinal, which intrigued me to no end.  Romping around the park with my seldom-seen cousins in endless games of tag is a fond memory.  With so many trees to hide behind, Hide & Seek was another favorite game in the grove during those family reunions of over fifty years ago.
            My favorite memory of the Village Park is of those first 4th of July celebrations when I was a kid.  Growing up in the village, I was always up to the park to check out preparations for the holiday, as the “grounds” were being prepared.  One year I helped Dick Trappe, who worked for the village, put up red, white & blue bunting for the celebration.  We wrapped it around trees and draped it on the bandstands and food stands.  A large American flag was hung on a wire above the bowery for people to dance under.  By the time we were finished on that Independence Day eve, the green arbor of the grove was adorned with red, white & blue everywhere.
            Another time, I helped Leo Smith, who was the village clerk at the time, to stake out where all of the carnival stands would be located along the park’s midway.  In those days the carnival midway ran from the top of the park, down both sides of the road that led to the bowery and on down nearly to the road that looped back to the entrance.  Leo had the stakes marked with the name and size of the carny stands.  As we pounded the stakes in the ground, my imagination leapt ahead to the thrill of playing the carnival games.  By late in the afternoon, the first carnival trucks drove up to the park and the tents of the carnival started to blossom along the midway.
            Somebody had to watch the park grounds overnight to keep mischief-makers from causing trouble.  Often the village would hire Cody Kidd to do that night watch of the grounds.  When dawn broke the next morning on the 4th, I was usually up early and begging my folks to let me head up to the park.  Once I reached the midway, my nickels and dimes just flew out of my pockets as I tried the carny games of chance.  I was always trying to win that nice large teddy bear, but it seemed the Chinese finger tortures and the “Made in Japan” statuary was all that I could come up with.  (One time I won a large garish clown statue, which I proudly presented to my Gramma Campbell as a present.  She smiled and accepted the fat clown of a gift, but I’m not sure she was too impressed with the thing.  It eventually found a home in the back of an out-of-way knickknack shelf on the back porch – far out of anyone’s sight.)  I was often dead broke by the time I traipsed back down the hill to go downtown and watch the parade and it was only 9:30 in the morning!  What was a boy to do?
            The parade always led everybody back up to the park right before noon and the picnicking would begin in earnest.  Before my Granddad and Gramma Campbell, Pearl and Isa, moved to town from up on Salem Ridge, our Independence Day picnic would center around wherever they set out their blanket in the grove.  Uncle Mike and Aunt Alice Lawrence and their kids were usually there as well and many others would drop by.  The gatherings for the 4th of July picnics were rather fluid as old friends and former neighbors wandered around striking up conversations and reconnecting with folks not seen in awhile.  The food was always the best and someone always made some lemon pies – an old tradition on the 4th.
            By the time dinner was done, I usually had begged or otherwise acquired a handful of change to lead another charge on the carny games.  If Chief Whitehorse was there, and he usually was, I would watch him handle his snakes and sell rattlesnake soap.  The longer the day went on, the cheaper the soap would get as Chief Whitehorse didn’t want to haul it all back to Madison.  I could listen to the Chief’s wonderful lingo all afternoon and sometimes did.  (Did you know that rattlesnake soap contained no animal fats as all other soaps did?  Learned that from the Chief and I knew he wouldn’t tell a lie!))   One year I was patient and ended up buying a whole armful of soap for fifty cents, which I was made to reluctantly share with family.  (Might have been my Mother’s attempt to square things with family after my earlier begging for money foray.)  For the next several weeks, I washed up more frequently than a small boy was want to and smelled of the Chief’s special and wonderful rattlesnake soap.
            Oh my – memories of Bean’s Grove – the coolest place in La Farge.