Spring Valley history dates back to 1850s
Tuesday, April 02, 2013 3:28 AM
A recent inquiry prompted me to look for a Spring Valley history written by Mrs. John (Betty) Halbkat, done shortly after the 1955 Centennial celebration. It was used at the elementary school and would still be useful for students. I'll be quoting much of her material, adjusted as necessary.
The first creamery, built in 1881 half a mile west of town near the railroad, later converted to a flax fiber mill.
Spring Valley: 1855 to 1900. The first white men to visit before 1850 were believed to be trappers and hunters who followed the Root River and its tributaries up from settlements on the Mississippi River. They carried back reports of this fine country, rich in timber, rolling prairie land with plentiful water in springs and creeks. Adventurous land seekers from Iowa and Wisconsin came, liked it, and staked out claims.
One of the first settlers was Simeon Phillips, who chose land near the creek northeast of the present town about 1852. This seemed an ideal spot, the land sloped gently to the south, the creek supplied water for his stock, and bubbling springs furnished drinking water. Several others came, staked claims in the same neighborhood, built log cabins and prepared to stay. John M. Smith, who started a store in 1855, was influential in having a post office established, known as Spring Valley. He became the first postmaster, with the office located in the corner of his store. The mail arrived every two weeks, carried by horseback rider from Decorah, Iowa. Miss Ann Kingsley came from the east and taught school in a log cabin with 15 pupils, and church services were held in the homes of settlers. Thus a village known as Spring Valley was platted and recorded on what later was known as the Crawford Kellogg farm, and folks settled down to a new life on the prairie.
About 1855, a party of well-to-do men from Pennsylvania arrived, liked what they saw one mile west of the Kellogg farm, and organized the Spring Valley Association. They purchased 20 acres from Zara Warner , located north of Jefferson Street, and 160 acres from T.F. Huntley, south of Jefferson and west of Section Avenue. This was platted and recorded as the "original town." The fact that two territorial roads converged within these boundaries had much to do with its rapid growth. A hastily built store was put up by Isaac Cummings in 1856 on the corner where the Commercial House stands, and a log hotel was erected across the corner. A blacksmith shop was in business on Main Street, several log houses had been built, school was in session, and Sunday school classes being held in homes. Two streets soon filled with shops of various kinds - Market Street located south of what would become the railroad tracks, and east of Section Avenue, and Jefferson Street between Section Avenue and Broadway. The Hart Hotel was built on the north side of Jefferson and two more on Broadway - Central House on the northeast corner of Broadway and Courtland, and Valley House one block south on the corner of Main Street. New travelers came through on the territorial roads and innkeepers did a thriving business.
This village continued to grow, while the one platted one mile to the east gradually became a neighborhood of farmers. Smith, the storekeeper and postmaster, moved to the growing village and the post office for many years moved from one store to another, depending on the postmaster's business. Mail continued to arrive by horseback every two weeks from Decorah through Carimona and Forestville. The mail later came three times a week by stagecoach from Chatfield, and when the daily coach was established between LaCrosse and Austin, the post office was a busy gathering place for villagers.
For the benefit of farmers coming to town and travelers driving through, several wells were dug and pumps and troughs installed so horses and oxen could be watered. One well was near the Hart Hotel, another behind the Central House, and the third on Market Street. The only fire protection at first was furnished by bucket brigade, which was not very effective. This meant that folks lined up and passed buckets of water from the well or cistern along the line to the fire. The rapid ringing of a church bell was the only fire alarm. After the Hook & Ladder Company was organized, long lengths of hose were purchased, and three large cisterns built to hold water. One was on North Broadway near the present post office, another on Jefferson Street near Hudson Avenue, and the third close to the school on the hill, with that cistern filled with rainwater running off the roof. Others were filled with water from the creek by use of a large hand pump.
Some of the first business buildings are still in use - check their upper facades for dates. Parson's Stone Block, built in 1884, always had retail stores on the ground floor and lodge halls on the second floor. The Commercial House was only two stories when built, the third story was, added later. The brick store on the corner of Broadway and Courtland was built in 1867. Allard's Opera House, Broadway and Jefferson, built in 1875, was a three-story building with stores on the first floor, apartments on the second, and a large hall for entertainment on the third. In 1899, the state fire marshal declared the third floor a fire trap and it was removed. Allen's Hall, on the corner of Section Avenue and Park Street, was used for business concerns on the first floor and community gatherings, church services and apartments on the second floor. That site is now the cheese factory warehouse.
A building that played an important part of early town history was Stevens' Mill, located on Washington Avenue about a block north of the creek. At first it was a steam powered saw and grist mill, but soon the mill was moved to Hard Scrabble north of the village where cheaper waterpower could be utilized. However, the building continued to be used for any number of purposes: a carding mill, blacksmith shop, fanning mill, a hat factory, cheese factory, and then, when the railroad came through in 1870, the work crews used it for living quarters. Its upper story was used for church services, a Masonic hall, town meetings, and other community gatherings. Long gone.
Besides several saw, flour and gristmills located on the creeks near the village, other small factories were established to manufacture needed supplies. A cheese factory on the DuMez farm northeast of town furnished cheese for Spring Valley and neighboring towns from 1880 to 1900. About 1876, a broom factory was built in the southwest corner of town, making as many as 800 dozen brooms a year that were sold throughout the region. A sorghum mill located on what is now the school grounds was making about 7,000 gallons in a good season. This was a good sugar substitute, sold for 40 to 50 cents a gallon. Whitman & Brown on East Park Street manufactured wooden pumps, doors and shutters, sleds and school desks from 1866 to 1887. Potter's Foundry next door furnished the iron works for Whitman & Brown. A cooper's factory was located on Park Street near the South Broadway bridge, making barrels and kegs used to ship flour, eggs, fruits and sorghum. Weisbeck's Sawmill & Furniture Factory was built in 1863 on Deer Creek five miles north of Spring Valley (now Masonic Park) where they made beds, tables and chairs of fine black walnut.
It was 1868 when Mrs. Bella French moved her Western Progress from Brownsville to Spring Valley, making this our first local newspaper. Mrs. French moved to St. Paul after a short time and many editors followed. It became the Vidette, then was consolidated with the Mercury in 1903; followed by George Van Rhee, who bought the paper in 1928 and changed the name to the Tribune. Another early newspaper was the Sun, edited and published by E.G.H. Adams in connection with his job-printing shop.
In 1872, the first bank was organized as a private bank and owned and operated by four businessmen. In 1899, it was reorganized under a new state charter and became the First State Bank of Spring Valley, dissolving in the panic of 1929. First National Bank was organized in 1902 and has been doing business ever since.
We will continue with more Spring Valley history in the coming columns.