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Vernon County Museum Notes

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William F. Terhune

William F. Terhune arrived in Viroqua in August, 1851 and was instrumental in forming the county government.

It was 175 years ago when Moses Decker and two of his sons arrived in what we now call Viroqua. First called Deckerville, then Farwell, it was officially named Viroqua in May 1854. Among the first families to settle in Viroqua was the Terhune family.

This account of their travels was published in the Viroqua Republican on Aug. 23, 1905. In the summer of 1851, William F. Terhune, age 30 and his wife Margaret, age 31, left their home in New York to make a new home in Fort Snelling, MN. Their boat trip west on the Ohio River culminated in Quincy, IL and it was pure fate that they arrived there alive. A cholera outbreak on the boat took many lives. The next leg of their trip took them up the Mississippi on a different boat which most likely would have taken them all the way to Fort Snelling. However, in August, 1851, the boat made a stop at Stevens Landing (now Victory), Bad Axe county (now Vernon), for the purpose of taking on wood and freight. The passengers were enamored with the beauty of the landscape and left the boat to view the bluffs and enchanting scenery. Ira Stevens, the first white man to settle in Victory in 1849, greeted the travelers. His captivating description of the area persuaded the Terhunes to locate here instead of Minnesota. After staying with Stevens for two days, they traveled by wagon and oxen, escorted by Moses Decker’s son Solomon to their new home. Their final stop was no doubt due to the fact that Ira Stevens was married to the daughter of Moses and Elizabeth Decker, Eliza, in 1848.

On entering their new home they saw a “picturesque woodland, with here and there a natural opening wherein a giant oak reared itself skyward. Hazel brush lined Main street and the roadways leading into town. On the space of ground where now stands Rogers and Williams store (N. Main and W. Decker), stood the first building in the place, around which was a grove of native trees. The home of Orin Wisel, on the corner north, was the next building and two more buildings comprised the principal structures of the village, which were the abodes of Moses Decker and Rufus Dunlap.”

Mrs. Terhune described her first impression of Farwell this way, “On entering the Decker home, I saw an old-fashioned fire place ornamented with the most beautiful wildflowers. A ladder answered for a stairway to the room above. Two beds were in the first room and a dining table and slab benches comprised nearly all of the furniture. The next morning, on going out, the scene was of solitude and a dreary silence seemed to make the surroundings lonesome in the extreme. The same morning Mr. Terhune and I walked out on the prairie north of the place, which looked most beautiful in the sunlight. The wild grass was very high and waved like the waves of a sea whenever there was a breeze. Flowers were scattered everywhere and nature seemed to have long been sleeping in these solitary surroundings.”

William Terhune was an attorney who was instrumental in the organization of the county government and held many county offices – court clerk, district attorney, judge, register of deeds and chairman of the county board. Margaret became the first teacher in Viroqua. At the request of Jeremiah Rusk, it was William who suggested a new, more pleasant name for Bad Axe County. The name Vernon, was chosen in 1862. The Terhunes had nine children, 7 of which grew to adulthood. Unfortunately, there are no descendents of William and Margaret Terhune in Vernon County as they all moved to other states. However, we can be sure that William F. and Margaret Terhune helped to make Vernon County what it is today.

We have rescheduled our annual Pork Chop Dinner for Saturday, Sept. 25 at the Vernon County Museum. It will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. or until gone. The cost is $10 per person and will be a strictly drive-through event this year. Enter the museum parking lot off East South Street and we will serve you as you wait in your vehicle. You may then exit through the driveway on the south side of the parking lot. Feel free to park in the space normally reserved for clinic and hospital visitors. The same menu will be featured with Maynard Cox grilling the pork chops. Hope to see you there!


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