Once again, we continue with the origin of the towns in our county, this time featuring the history of the town of Viroqua. Much of the history is taken from the book "History of Vernon County, Wisconsin – 1884." Because so much material is written about Viroqua and the township, it will be necessary to present this history in several installments.
Although he was not the first to settle in Vernon County, Moses Decker has the distinction of being the first to purchase land in what is now the city of Viroqua which led to the development of the town of Viroqua. It was in 1846 when Decker traveled from Illinois and came upon the spot described as “a kind of an oak opening, interspersed with large oak trees, scattered irregularly over the surface.” His land holdings amounted to 160 acres and the first building was his log cabin, which sat on the northwest side of Main Street in the 200 block. Two of Decker’s sons, Solomon and Reasoner, followed later that fall. They assisted their father in the erection of their home and in the improvements in the surrounding land. The sons returned to Illinois and in 1847, returned with the remainder of the family. Moses Decker was born in Orange County, New York and grew up in Muskingum County, Ohio. It was in Ohio where he married Elizabeth Reasoner. The family eventually moved to Mercer County, Illinois, then Vernon County. Their children numbered fourteen, however only eight grew to adulthood.
In 1850, Decker engaged Samuel Mc Michael to survey and plat Viroqua. Decker also erected the city’s first courthouse on the northwest side of Main Street in the 100 block. This 18 x 22 foot log building was one story high and had split log seats and desks. The building had many uses; school, church services, dances and other social activities as well as being the first building to hold circuit court in the spring of 1851. This building was used until 1856.
Other early settlers include Ohio natives Rufus and Martha Dunlap who came from Dane County in 1849 and New York state native Orin Wisel and his wife Eliza who arrived in 1850. Dunlap was a merchant and hotel keeper. He brought with him a large stock of goods and erected a log building with two wings, one for a general store and one for use as a hotel. He died in 1855 at age 42.
Wisel was a blacksmith who later moved to Readstown. He was elected the first county clerk and clerk of circuit court of Bad Axe County. (The name was changed to Vernon County in 1861.) In August of 1851, attorney William F. Terhune and his wife Margaret settled in Viroqua. Shortly after their arrival they erected the first frame building on the northeast side of Main Street in the 100 block. It was used as their first residence and later moved to the site where the Hotel Fortney currently sits. Additions were made to it and it became the North Star Hotel.
The early 1850s brought many more settlers here and homes and buildings were erected to accommodate them. Some lumber was supplied by Daniel Read’s sawmill near Readstown. Other early settlers were James Foster, Sylvester C. Lincoln, Cyrus and Rufus Gillett, James E. Newell and Arza and John Strait. Henry Nichols arrived in 1852 and operated a general store. His son Marshall C. followed in his father’s footsteps as a merchant and also was elected as a member of the State Legislature in 1882. Marshall C. Nichols Jr. and his wife Hettie were the parents of six children, one of which, Hettie, married William F. Lindemann. The Lindemanns had three daughters, Mary, Lurana and Regina. It was because of a bequest from Regina Lindemann that the Vernon County Historical Society was able to purchase the Vernon County Normal School for use as a museum. To be continued…
The Vernon County Museum will be closed on Friday, Oct. 20, so staff can attend the Wisconsin Historical Society conference in La Crosse. We will however be open on Saturday the 21st during our regular hours, noon-4 p.m., so if you have been wanting to see the exhibits or do some research, please stop by. If you need to contact us for any reason, our phone number is 637-7396.