Spirit of cooperation allowed SV to grow
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 3:22 AM
Today is the third and last segment of early Spring Valley history, much of it from a compilation by Mrs. John Halbkat written about 1956. The school had offered a few rooms in the basement hallways near the old gym for displays by the newly formed historical society. Mrs. Halbkat wrote the 19-page story for use in the sixth grade history class. The story continues in an intellectual vein as these early pioneer settlers were eager for education and entertainment.
These two young men, both age 22, were part of the 1894 Ringling Brothers Circus as a "sideshow." Fred Howe was 5' 4" tall and weighed 435 pounds; George Moore was 7' 2" tall and weighed 110 pounds.
The first library may have been when Dr. Alvah Whitman, as early as the 1870s, set aside a portion of his waiting room for a collection of books that folks could take or bring as they pleased. However, in 1901 a group started a campaign to establish a permanent library, collecting money and books. A boon came to Spring Valley - Andrew Carnegie, an eastern philanthropist, donated $8,000 to build a library provided the city bought the lot. It was indeed built in 1904 and substantial contributions of books came from the defunct Peoples Church and individuals, plus cash from Richard Sears and countless folks and organizations that raised money for the project. One hundred years later, more enthusiasts raised over a million dollars to establish the present Spring Valley Area Public Library on West Jefferson, and the Carnegie building is now our city hall. Tax dollars, allocations from the Osterud-Winter Trust and generous donations offer the needed support. We are so blessed.
The very first school was in a small log cabin in "old Spring Valley," northeast of town, in 1854-55, where Miss Ann Kingsley taught 15 students. As people moved to the newly platted town, several buildings served as schools. In 1868, a two-story, eight room brick building, heated by wood-burning stoves, was erected on South Broadway on "schoolhouse hill." A furnace was finally installed in the basement in 1884, and all new desks were in place, made by Whitman & Brown Mfg., but that winter the newly refurbished building went up in flames. By the fall of 1885, a new building was already in place, named the Molstad Building in honor of a respected citizen and the president of the schoolboard, M.E. Molstad, who had invested a great deal of time in the project. A home at 210 North Section (Downtowner Apartments are now at that location) served youngsters on the north end of town until the Ward School was constructed on Hudson Avenue in 1890.
What did folks do to have a good time long before radio, television, automobiles and movies? Everyone worked so hard at clearing land, planting seeds, erecting buildings, making clothing - any relaxation was truly enjoyed. Sundays and holidays were times to visit friends and relatives; there was usually a big July 4 celebration with a parade and ballgame. People came from miles around with their buggies and teams, sharing picnic meals with others. There were graduation class events, Sunday school picnics and any number of social activities. After the railroad came through from La Crosse in 1870, there were excursions on Sundays, costing $1.50, which included round trip fare plus a steamboat ride on the Mississippi from La Crosse to Winona and back. Church socials and suppers were popular ways to meet, and to raise money for special projects. Both men and women took part in home talent plays and literary societies. Traveling companies often came to town and street corner medicine shows attracted attention. After 1890, Ringling Brothers Circus came to town, a monumental affair that required close to 90 railcars to bring all the staff and entertainers, animals, tents and paraphernalia. Some of the finest entertainment was the summer Chautauqua ,with music, lectures on countless subjects, magicians and plays. They stayed for a whole week, with afternoon and evening programs. The big tent was set up on the Grant Street Park, later the lot was used for a skating rink.
In the summer, children enjoyed fishing and swimming in the area streams, and in winter, they skated on the ice. In the village the hilly streets offered ideal spots for sleds and homemade toboggans (from cheese boxes) and skiing on old barrel staves. Young people also did "good deeds" by gathering maple and elm seeds, drying and storing them in bags; in summer they collected wild plums, walnuts and hazelnuts - all to be given to folks on wagon trains heading west to Dakota.
As 1900 approached, the rural village began to take on the aspects of a thriving town. The old Central House Hotel that had served the public since 1857 was replaced by a large bank building, later Home Federal, now the Essig Agency. A farmers' cooperative creamery company was organized and a suitable building erected a mile east of town. On July 4, 1893, electric lights were turned on for the first time - a gala occasion following a big daytime celebration. A few months later, water was turned in to the newly laid mains. The supply came from a large spring located in back of the Carnegie Library. Now deep wells furnish an abundance of good water. In 1897 the first telephones were installed; marching clubs were organized to pep up the political campaigns of 1888 and 1890. Fancy bicycles appeared on the streets, and surreys with fringe on top pulled by the family horse carried ladies to their afternoon teas.
Thus by the 1900s, the 1855 frontier village of a few dozen hardy pioneers living in log cabins and hastily built shacks had grown to almost 1,800 prosperous citizens owning 300 well-built homes. From 1900 to 1965, the population continued to grow; many improvements were made, streets opened up and paved, modern homes built. Mrs. Halbkat ended her story this way: "We are proud of the new schools and churches...new business concerns have boosted financial growth. There seems to be a spirit of cooperation that is vital to continued growth and improvement in Spring Valley, a town that was built over a hundred years ago on a foundation of moral strength and integrity."
At the time of the 1955 centennial, the census taken five years earlier was at 2,467, about what it is today. John and Betty Halbkat, together with dozens of helpful individuals sharing stories, information and pictures, put together the centennial booklet, a treasure-trove of early history. Fifty years later, Sharon Jahn and I compiled "Tales of Our Town" for our sesquicentennial, which included edited columns I had been writing since 2004. The book contains 156 pages of information and 172 pictures, a treasure-trove, as well. The history is available at the museum gift shop, open daily Memorial Day through Labor Day. You can always contact museum director, Julie (Mrs. Mark) Mlinar, or me at (507) 346-2763.