More history shows growth of Spring Valley
Tuesday, April 09, 2013 7:47 AM
Today we continue the early Spring Valley history, thanks to information provided by Mrs. John Halbkat, historian, back in 1956.
‘Spring Valley could boast these attributes by 1894 — pretty impressive for a small pioneer village. One can count at least 15 to 18 that directly or indirectly relate to the value of horses that were owned by almost everyone.’
It was reported that the first frame house was built by Cordello Wilkins on Hudson Avenue just north of the creek in 1855. It had only three rooms - a bedroom, family room and pantry - but was considered "luxurious" and folks came to marvel at it. In the 1970s we old-timers knew it as Susie Paulson's neighborhood grocery, home of delectable baked goods and a fine meat counter. The property was purchased in the flood buy-out in 2008 and the structure burned down.
The same 1855 year, William Wilkins built a larger home at 302 North Broadway, still standing, and other frame homes were built in the northeast and southwest parts of town. Lumber for store buildings and frame homes came from numerous sawmills erected at once, and a brick yard two miles northwest of town furnished bricks.
Many families kept a cow and a few chickens, meaning that most lots in the residential areas were fenced to keep your own animals at home and to keep out those belonging to the neighbors. Two outstanding fences were noted: Charles Washburn, a carpenter and cabinet maker who lived at 220 West Courtland across the street from the Methodist church created a unique fence - each white picket was a fancy cut-out head. On North Broadway at the corner of Grant Street, Ephraim Steffens built a brick "mansion" in 1874. His expansive property was surrounded by a five-foot high ornamental iron fence, which also enclosed a productive apple orchard. Steffens often carried a basket of apples down the street to the Ward School for the young people.
Sidewalks? What few existed were of wooden planks; storekeepers and homeowners were required to keep them in good repair. The first concrete sidewalk was a short section laid in 1892 on the north side of Main Street. Kids lucky enough to have tricycles spent happy hours racing along the sidewalk, a treat after bumping along on rough streets or board walks. Caring for dirt streets posed a problem, no matter the season. Following heavy snowfalls, streets were impassable as there was no equipment to clear them. In spring, melting snow and torrential rains made terrible mud puddles to wallow through. When the dirt dried in the summer, clouds of dust filled the air so the village employed a man with a horse-drawn watering wagon. A large tank was filled with water, hand pumped from the creek, placed atop a four-wheeled wagon box, and the driver regulated the water spray by pressing a foot lever. He was always a welcome sight.
Before electricity (established in 1893), streets were poorly lit with oil lamps mounted on seven foot posts. The lamplighter made the rounds with his short ladder, lighting the lamps every evening. In the morning he cleaned the chimneys and added only enough oil to last till midnight. On moonlit nights, none were lighted, and folks had to carry their own lanterns. Being the horse era, metal or wooden hitching posts were found in front of many homes. At business places, long rails fastened to posts served to tie up one's horses. These hitching rails were in place until 1928 when creosote-soaked wooden blocks were installed as street covering on Broadway. The latter were a new headache for storekeepers - customers tracked in nasty stuff.
Food? Most families maintained a garden to raise some of their foodstuffs. However, general stores carried staples such as coffee, sugar, spices, cheeses, butter, meats. Many folks kept a cow to furnish milk to their family, but a milkman might establish a route. Hauling a big can of milk on his wagon, he rang a bell as he traveled through the neighborhoods. Housewives met him at the street - 5 cents a quart, ladled into their own containers. Before railroads, supplies came by covered wagon called freighters from La Crosse and Decorah. These freighters often picked up meat and grain to haul back. In the early village, ready-made clothing was not available, so several dressmakers, milliners, and tailors were kept busy. Sometimes a dressmaker would live with a family for a week or more, making clothing as needed. Often farmers' work clothes were made from grain sacks, but yard goods soon became available at the general stores.
Spring Valley was settled by unusually well educated and morally responsible people, so it was obvious they would be interested in establishing churches and schools. While plans were made to erect church buildings, various groups met in the homes or in large halls. The first church to be built was the Congregational church in 1856. A small building on the corner of Broadway and Jefferson, it was later replaced by a brick building facing Jefferson. That served until 1934 when a frame church was erected, and when three congregations merged to form Faith United Methodist, that building, too, was demolished.
The Methodist-Episcopal Church was built in 1876-78 on West Courtland by architect and builder, Hans Andersen. Because of its Victorian-Gothic architecture and remarkable windows, it is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and home to the local historical society's Laura Ingalls Wilder site. The first Catholic church was of brick on West High Street, now a residence. A larger frame church was built about 1908, and replaced by the present modern structure in 1968. About four miles east of town, the first Lutheran church was built in 1873, known as "Midway." For many years a parochial school was conducted by the parish. The church was taken down years ago and a cemetery and church bell remain on the grounds near Hyland Motors. As the village grew, other congregations built churches - Baptist in 1885, Trinity (Norwegian) Lutheran in 1890, and the United Brethren in 1891.
Our story on pre-1900 Spring Valley will continue next week. Stay tuned.