Viroqua's old stone school

This image of the old stone school in Viroqua was taken sometime before 1890 by professional photographer George W. Morgan. It was built in 1868 and razed in 1971.

The book "History of Vernon County, Wisconsin," published in 1884, contains a wealth of information about our county and the city of Viroqua. We will continue this week with more of that history.

New settlers with children required education so in September 1851, Margaret C. Terhune, wife of William F. Terhune, became the first to teach 16 students in the log courthouse building, built in 1850. The Terhune family came to Vernon County on Aug. 5, 1851, first landing at Victory and then Viroqua. Terhune, a lawyer, was soon appointed deputy clerk of the court and deputy clerk of the board of supervisors. He held several other county offices including register of deeds, district attorney and county judge. Terhune was also instrumental along with Jeremiah Rusk, to change the name of our county from Bad Axe to Vernon in 1861.

The courthouse building was used for a school until 1856 when a new two story, two room frame building was erected. It was later moved and used as a dwelling. In 1868, a large stone building was erected. It was located on East Jefferson Street across from the Church of Christ, now known as The Ark. It was torn down in 1971. In 1876, the Viroqua High School was organized. A brick school for those students was built next to the stone school which then was able to house the lower grades. It was torn down in 1953 and a new elementary school was built. The elementary school is currently the home of Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School.

Prior to 1884, nine different school districts were formed in the town of Viroqua. According to the 1878 plat map of Vernon County, the schools existed at that time were: Smith, Round Prairie, Seas Branch, Cherry Grove, Asbury, Cook, Bishop Branch, Pleasant Ridge, White and Brookville. For more information on all the country schools in Vernon County, visit the museum to see what is in our school archives.

The first post office established in the town of Viroqua in was in 1848 at Springville when Vernon County was still part of Crawford County. In 1852, Judge William F. Terhune petitioned for the establishment of a post office in Viroqua and it was granted in November, 1852. Sylvester C. Lincoln was appointed the first postmaster.

On May 25, 1852 a vote determined that the county seat would be located in Viroqua. Springville was a strong contender but Viroqua was chosen due to its more central location and because 40 acres of land was promised to the city on the condition that Viroqua would be named the county seat. Four years later, Viroqua grew from just three log buildings to approximately 60 homes and 350 people. The town of Viroqua was not incorporated until June 1866. Carson Graham was elected council president; W.S.S. White, Ingalls K. Buck and Cyrus M. Butt were elected trustees; John R. Casson, clerk; Anson K. Burrell was elected constable; Jerome S. Tinker, street commissioner and John Dawson, treasurer.

The first issue of the North Western Times was published in Viroqua on June 7, 1856 by Joseph A. Somerby. Somerby walked from Madison to Viroqua to see if publishing a newspaper here would be a good prospect. He was sole publisher until June 28, 1865 when a tornado tore through Viroqua and damaged the newspaper office. He soon sold the business to Daniel B. Priest, Jeremiah M. Rusk and William Nelson and the first issue of the Vernon County Censor was published on Aug. 23, 1865. Rusk remained with the paper until Nov. 29, 1865 when he was elected comptroller of Wisconsin. In May 1869, William Nelson became the sole proprietor of the Censor. Henry Casson Jr. became sole owner in January 1877. He had previously worked as manager of the paper under Mr. Nelson. At the time of the publication of the History of Vernon County, Wisconsin, in 1884, Casson was still owner of the Vernon County Censor.

Another newspaper published early on in Viroqua was the Viroqua Expositor. It was first issued on Aug. 28, 1858 by brothers O.C. Smith, Justus Smith and Jesse Smith.

A future installment will discuss the evolvement of the many religions that were established in our county. As always, more information can be obtained at the Vernon County Museum. Our winter hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

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The Vernon County Museum, 410 S. Center Ave., Viroqua, can be reached at 608-637-7396 or museum@vernoncountyhistory.org.

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