Wednesday, December 12, 2012

History Update

I send my apologies to those of you who frequent this blog for not posting any thing for nearly six weeks.  I have been busy, but there is no excusing my absence.  I hope Santa will forgive me for my feeble effort and bring this Kickapoo boy some presents in a couple of weeks.
My little talk at the Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison on November 10 went unexpectedly well.  I was not anticipating much of a crowd, but there were probably more than 100 in attendance as I talked about the La Farge dam project.  Chuck Hatfield, my amazingly talented co-publisher on my book projects, served as the introducer and also handled a nice slide show that accompanied my talk.  Milton Bates, who wrote a book on canoeing and the history of the Bark River, also was part of the program and it was interesting to meet him and hear of his watershed.
There seemed to have been a number of students in attendance at my dam talk.  Some of them were taking notes, so I imagine some course at UW uses the La Farge dam project as a learning lesson for something.
I recently went to Arcadia, WI and picked up a new printing of my dam book from Supreme Graphics located there.  Carolyn and Chuck rode along and we enjoyed a nice tour of the facilities.  The new printing is very nice as the new cover rendition has a brighter color and the photographs in the book are much sharper than in the first printing.
I have just finished a two-part Local History Notebook for the Episcope newspaper on some history of gas stations in La Farge.  That research proved interesting and after the first part was published, I heard from many people about the topic.
I have been busy researching the clip files of the old Enterprise newspapers, which was La Farge's town newspaper until 1973.  Sarah Gudgeon had loaned me the files for the last twelve years that the paper was printed - 1960-1973.  Her father, Arnie Widstrand was the paper's editor and her mother, Doris, wrote a column in the paper for several years.  All of the files are still in the family, so they are a real treasure of historical information.  I'm finishing up the issues from 1970 right now, so I need to get two and a half more years of La Farge's history out of them as Sarah needs them back for a family history project of her own.

If you would like me to send you one or both of my books, please send a check and your address to me at P.O. Box 202, La Farge 54639.  Volume I of my history is $25, which includes mailing costs and That Dam History - The Story of The La Farge Dam Project is $20.  I can mail both books for $40.

Take care everyone, I'll see you soon (promise) on this history blog.

La Farge's Christmas Tree History


            As I was driving down La Farge’s Main Street the other night admiring the holiday lights in the neighborhoods, I noticed how nice the village Christmas tree looks.  The pine tree, located in the side yard of the old shoe shop on south State Street, has grown into a handsome representation of what a town’s “O Tannenbaum” should be.  As I was awed by the wonder of the beauty of the lighted tree, my mind began to wonder about other trees that served in that capacity for La Farge.
            The first village Christmas trees were indoor versions.  Around the time the village was being established at the end of the 19th century, La Farge had a Christmas tree in the Opera House.  The Opera House was a large public hall located above what now is Phil & Deb’s Town Tap.  That building was constructed by La Farge’s local chapter of the Modern Woodman of America, when that organization outgrew their previous building located a few doors to the east.  The Woodmen were a combination fraternal order/insurance company and the La Farge chapter numbered over one hundred members around 1900. 
When the Woodmen built their new structure, the idea was to rent out the first floor as a place of business (something in high demand in La Farge at the time) and use the huge second floor as a meeting room for Woodmen activities.  Unfortunately, the Woodmen soon found that they couldn’t make the payments on the money borrowed for the construction of the hall.  Some of the officers of the bank enlisted others in the area to form a stock company to take over the payments and the upstairs hall became a public Opera House.
            At Christmas time, the merchants and other leaders of the community would arrange for a large tree to be put in the hall and decorated for the season.  One Yuletide night each year, usually the Saturday before Christmas, the candles on the tree would be lit, a program of music and recitations would be given by the talented of the village and gifts would be distributed to the children in attendance by a surprise visit from a stranger from the North Pole.  The event would draw hundreds to the hall for the lighting of the village’s Christmas tree.
It came to pass that electricity came to town and the village’s tree could be moved outside for all to admire.  Since so much of the activity of the early village centered on the intersection of Main and State Streets, the village Christmas tree was placed right in the middle of the intersection.  Decorated with brightly colored lights and festoons of sparkly garland, La Farge’s Christmas tree, located in the middle of that busy intersection, became a focal point for Yuletide activities.  Christmas carolers and the La Farge Cornet Band would regale audiences with performances from the nearby bandstand on those busy nights of shopping in the village.
The placement of the village Christmas tree in that busy crossroads eventually was put to a stop by state highway department rules and regulations, so a new location was needed.  Fortunately, a nice pine tree was growing in the east yard of the Belcher building, located on the northeast corner of that same intersection.  (For you younger folks, that’s the big pine that was next to Eston Major’s barbershop.) So that tree was decorated with lights each Yuletide season and became the village’s Christmas tree.  It was still decorated during the time of World War II in the 1940s and La Farge lads serving in the armed forces and strewn across the world in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific dreamed of seeing that home-town Christmas tree again.
As is want to happen in these parts of the Kickapoo Valley, that pine tree soon grew so large that it became dangerous to decorate, so for many years the village did not really have a tree decorated on Main Street.  When I was growing up in La Farge during the 1950s and ‘60s, I don’t seem to remember a village Christmas tree, official or unofficial, anywhere.  Perhaps looking for that special outdoor Christmas tree, I do remember a yearly Yuletide car trip up to Buckeye Ridge to see the brightly lit Christmas tree on top of the tallest silo at the Thelen farm, a Yuletide tradition started by Al Thelen back in the 1940s.
 However, at that same time, there was a scrawny little pine tree growing behind the old firehouse (I’m going back a ways here to the fire house that was located with access to the alley by the present motel.) in the vacant lot where Mac Marshall’s hotel had been (present site of the post office).  That little conifer faced Main Street and as is want to happen in these parts, the tree rapidly grew to be nice sized and took its place as the village’s Christmas tree, decorated with lights each Yuletide season.
Alas, that tree found itself in the way of progress and when the new post office was built in 1980, the tree had to come down as part of the construction.  Much chagrin was shown by many village residents and even a few letters-to-the-editor were written to show support for the tree, but soon, with a swipe or two with a chain saw, it was gone.  Quickly, the present tree, much shorter then, was offered as a replacement for its departed conifer brethren a block away.  La Farge grade school students made ornaments to decorate the rookie tree and make it more Christmassy, a tradition continued from earlier years.  And so our present village Christmas tree took its place in the history of La Farge.
Merry Christmas everyone!  May you all make it home for Christmas.