Sunday, July 5, 2015


(This is the third and last part of a narration that was used with the trolley rides scheduled to run through La Farge on the afternoon of July 4th.  We begin this last segment of the tour at the corner of south State and Snow Streets, heading east.)

As we turn east onto Snow Street, notice the second house on the left.  That used to be the old schoolhouse at Seelyburg, located up on Plum Run Road.  When Seelyburg combined its school district with La Farge’s in 1895, a new school was built midway between the two communities at the present site of La Farge’s school.  The old Seelyburg schoolhouse was then moved to this location over one hundred years ago and made into a residence.
As we approach Main Street again, notice this old gas station building on our right.  Carson Lawrence last ran a gas station here in the 1970’s.  Before that, Lovell North and Leo Smith had a gas station here for years.  The building was originally built as a blacksmith shop and is over one hundred years old as well.
Across the street is Bergum’s Food Mart, the last grocery store in town – actually, one of the last in the Kickapoo Valley.  Before this store was built, this was the site of Donaldson Brothers Hardware, which operated as a business at that location for nearly half a century.
To our left is another brick building, the former home of C and S Motors that was also constructed in 1916.  J.E. Neefe had this building erected beginning in 1915, putting up the brick walls of the new garage first, then had to wait for over six months for the steel I-beams to arrive on the train.  When they were lifted into place, tying the walls together, the roof was added last.  Neefe’s immediately began selling new autos and repairing the same here.  Others who had a garage and sold cars here were the Jantz Brothers, Ed Deibig and lastly, C and S Motors.  My Dad, Earl Steinmetz, was the “S” in C and S and sold lots of new Chevys and Buicks from here.
Across the street is the old grocery store and feed mill building.  Today it is the home of the “Episcope” newspaper.  Donna and Lee Gudgeon were the last to run a grocery store here, then built the new store across the street and moved over there.  The Wheeler Brothers from Viola last ran a feed mill at this site.
We’re moving out to the east end of La Farge now.  Notice that most of the houses along Main Street here are quite small.  When built in the early 1900’s, they were called “bungalows” and were built as fast as they could obtain the lumber for the men working in the lumber mills here in town.  See the old Free Methodist Church on the corner; originally dedicated in January of 1903, the church has been lovingly converted to a residence by the Albright family.
This is the new Emergency Services Building for La Farge and it houses the fire department, police department and the Ambulance Squad.  The village received a large grant after the 2008 flood to move their emergency services away from the flood plain and they were all relocated to this new location in 2010.  Village board meetings, elections and many community events are held here.
Across the street is the new Free Methodist Church, dedicated in 2004.  A local lad, Mark Phillips leads the active congregation here in this new place of worship.  That’s the bell from the old church that sits just to the north of the new building.  Looking down towards Bear Creek to our right, this was once the home of the brickyards in town.  All that Bear Creek clay was fired in kilns there to make the bricks to build the new houses and stores in the growing town of La Farge.
Heading back west on Main Street, notice Deb Moore’s barber’s pole in front of her beauty shop.  On the corner, we see the old building that housed the barbershop when I was a kid growing up here.  It was where Eston Major and Everett Parr cut hair for the men in the community.  The building was originally La Farge’s first hotel, the Belcher House, and later was a ladies hat and millinery store for years.
This is Bean Park on the left and the original site of the home of Dredsel Bean, a founding father of “The Corners”.  The Masonic Temple was built in 1927 when the Rockton Chapter of Mason’s closed and merged with the one in La Farge.  The village bought this temple in the 1980’s (another of Glenn Alderman’s ideas) and with much help from the members of the local Lions Club the building was converted into this fine community center.
On our left is the Lawton Memorial Library, opened in 1990 thanks to a generous donation by Dr. Jim Lawton (an LHS alum). This will soon be a construction site, as work on an addition that will double the size of the present library will begin later this summer.  Funds are still being raised for that addition – stop at the information table at school if you would like to contribute to the cause.
Remember when I said that the Methodist congregation moved from Seelyburg to La Farge.  This is where they built their new church in 1902.  This newer church, dedicated in 1971, replaced that original church.  But look!  There is the bell from the old church, still ready to peal out to the village.
We’re heading up the hill now and as we ascend, we pass this house on the left that once housed one of the first beauty salons in La Farge – where women could have their hair done.  This was Lathrop’s Salon and further up the hill here on our right was the Maple Street Salon, operated by Joyce Steinmetz until her retirement last year.
We are now entering Lakeview Addition, a housing development created by some local men in response to the Lake La Farge project.  With the wonderful 1,800-acre lake coming to La Farge, promising all sorts of recreational opportunities for tourism, new houses would need to be built in town.  The group purchased Whitey Barclay’s mink ranch, plotted out the property for sale and had the village add the streets.  It was already to go in 1973 and Lonnie and Gail Muller, who were operating the “Epitaph” newspaper from a building on Main Street and living in an apartment overhead their business, built the first house in the new addition.
As we round the corner of Lakeview Addition, we see again the Organic Valley headquarters.  The addition on the right of the headquarters building was added in 2012.  In May of 2013, a fire completely destroyed the west wing of the headquarters building – it was the largest fire, money-wise, in the history of Vernon County.  But within a year, the west wing had been rebuilt, and the OV employees who had spread out to various sites in the area to do their jobs during the rebuild, were back in their own offices once again.
The Village Park, dedicated in 1916 (so much happened in that year), was once known as Bean’s Grove.  It was here on this forested hillside on the northern most part of his farm that Dred Bean had his sugar camp.  In the summer, he would keep the weeds cut back so that his Civil War veteran pals could hold reunions here.  It was also a favorite picnic spot for all kinds of family and community gatherings.  Try to catch the “Music In The Park”, playing in the park’s big shelter beginning at three this afternoon.
Now, we are back at the school and as we look at the old two-story building, we should remember that this 1901 brick schoolhouse replaced that original two-story wooden schoolhouse built in 1895 when La Farge and Seelyburg merged their schools.  That original schoolhouse, which housed grades one through eight being taught by three teachers, burned down in 1900.  If you want to know more about the school’s history and when some of the other parts of the school were built, there are self-guided tours in the school available all afternoon.  Looking towards a bright future in 1901, the citizens of La Farge decided to build a new school, twice as big as the one being replaced and one that could possibly serve a brand new high school!
We are back where we started now and our trolley tour is over.  If you would like to learn more about the village’s early history and the Lake La Farge project, both of my books that tell some of the stories are for sale today in the gymnasium.


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