Stoddard WI

History of Stoddard

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The information you are about to read was taken from the History of Stoddard, printed by the Chipmunk Press in 1976. All information was compiled by Peter D. De Cicco


The aim of this brief history of the Village of Stoddard, Wisconsin is to provide the residents of the Village, the residents of the surrounding countryside and interested former residents with some material to remind them of the historical heritage of the locality during this bicentennial year. Because of the relatively short time devoted to collecting of photographs and information for this history, only a sampling of what a comprehensive history of Stoddard would contain is presented.

Some of the information presented here is taken from original records, some is taken from earlier historical writings and much of it is from conversations with Village residents. For supplying information and/or photographs, thanks are due to Marge Hirschuber, Ray Umberger, Mrs. Clifford May, Pat Davis, Danny Hanesworth, Tony Lee, Lorine Hendersin, Harry Rick, Otto Wodzynski, Walter Krause and Judy Jensen. Worthy of special mention are the extensive research notes compiled by Pat Davis at the State Historical Society.

The History of Stoddard, WI

Unlike its neighbors to the north and south, La Crosse and Bad Axe City (now known as Genoa), the Village of Stoddard did not start up as a fur trading post. This is probably because Stoddard is located on a narrow slough about two miles from the main channel of the Mississippi, a fact obscured by the water backed up by the dam at Genoa.

Instead, the Village grew up to serve the commercial and other needs of the farmers in the surrounding Town of Bergen. It is therefore appropriate to begin a historical account of Stoddard with a discussion of the settlement and growth of the Town of Bergen.

The Town of Bergen was organized in or about 1853, 5 years after Wisconsin was admitted to the Union and 12 years after the first log cabins were built by Nathan Myrick at Front and State Streets in La Crosse. According to the 1884 History of Vernon County published by the Union Publishing Company of Springfield Illinois, the first settlers of Bergen were Halver Jorgenson and Andrew Emberson who settled on the south side of Coon Creek in 1852. Another native of Norway who came in that year was Christian Allison. Three more natives of Norway, Peter Olson, William Nelson and John Peterson settled in Bergen in 1853. Then came the S.C. Stetson family from New York State in 1854 and Samuel Sims and Engrebret Enghe in 1855.

In 1853 the Bad Axe (later Vernon) County Board authorized the organization of the town and the first election was held at the residence of John Warner. The town board members elected were Orin Calkins, Philander Bartlett and Ranson Burnett with clerk J.P. Harkness, Superintendent of Schools, John Raywalt and assessor Lafayette Everson. This quite a formidable government for the families of six Norwegians none of whom was elected to anything! Obviously this account of the settling of Bergen is very incomplete even for the period up to 1853. Other sources state that John Warner settled there in 1848.

The 1870 census showed the Town of Bergen as having 795 people of whom 283 were born in Wisconsin, 106 in Norway, 152 in Prussia with others having come from other parts of Germany, Western Europe and the United States, mostly the northeast. There were 147 families, 409 males, 386 females and 412 foreign born. School was generally attended by those between the ages of 7 and 15 who lived fairly close to a school while those living farther away did not go. Most of the men were farmers (109) or farm laborers (43). There were three teachers, Ellen Shorey 24, James Downie 62, and Heuldah Stetson 19, daughter of S.C. Stetson. There were two shoemakers, Fredrick Banker 57, and Alanson Brundage 48, a domestic servant Eliza Gray 30, a retired merchant John Britt 58, blacksmith Daniel Hanesworth 55, showman William Beaton 55, retail merchant Samuel Tompkins 52, carpenter Henry Thompson 29, ship carpenter Asa Blum 41, brewer Rodolf Weile 37, and mill laborer Joseph Derre.

According to the census, Henry H. White was the wealthiest farmer with land worth $8,000 and $950 of personal estate. It is of interest to compare these figures with the total value of the six schools in the town of Bergen in 1884, namely $1,325. Clearly White was a man of sufficient means to put some time and effort into founding a village.

Other information about the Town of Bergen found in the 1870 census includes some agricultural statistics. In addition to sheep, cows and swine there were 76 oxen and 180 horses. There were 2,177 acres of "improved land" on which were grown 17,528 bu. spring wheat, 556 bu. winter wheat, 514 bu. rye, 10, 826 bu. Indian corn, 11, 745 bu. oats, 1,392 bu. barley, 5,019 pounds of Irish potatoes and no tobacco. Other production included 4, 945 lobs. of honey, 16,985 lbs. of butter, 420 lbs. of cheese and no milk. Evidently production for home use did not count.

In 1856, the first post office in the Town of Bergen was established in section 4 at Warner's Landing a little more than two miles south of the site of the future Village of Stoddard. The 1870 census listed three post offices: Genoa, Warner's Landing and Stoddard. The Stoddard post office was located in section 21, less than a mile north of the recent village limits.

In 1873, the Rest post office was established in section 11 in the southern part of the town and an 1878 postal directory listed Stoddard section 21, Bergen Section 9 and Rest section 11, the Bergen post office having seemingly drifted about a mile down stream from Warner's Landing. It is not clear where the Genoa post office in the Town of Bergen was. However, the names and locations of post offices are of importance since to this day, the address of a location is determined by the name of the post office which serves it. Now that the only post office within the Town of Bergen is the Stoddard post office, most of the town is "Rural Stoddard", the rest being served by other post offices.
In the early days of the Town of Bergen there were two congregations holding religious services within the town. The Methodist Episcopal congregation organized in 1860 held services at Dudley schoolhouse on section 25. The German Lutheran congregation organized in 1867 and had a church in the southwest part of town.

Founding and Naming of the Village

The man generally given credit for being the founder of the Village of Stoddard is Henry H. White who came to the area from New England in 1867 and bought land in and around the future site of Stoddard. As the 1870's indicated, he did quite well and he probably started out pretty well off to begin with. Two events contributing to the formation of the village were the building of a two-room schoolhouse in 1881-82, and the building of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad down the Mississippi Valley in 1885. In 1886, White platted the portion of the Village east from the railroad tracks to Main Street between "B" (Broadway) and "D" (Division) Streets. According to a post office record book started in 1887, Henry H. White was postmaster in that year.

A very nice story attributed to Charles P. White, son of H.H. White has it that the elder White named the village in honor of Colonel Thomas B. Stoddard, first mayor of La Crosse (in 1856) "who helped the new community advance and expand". This would be remarkable not only because Stoddard was born in 1800 and would have been 86 years old at the time, but also because he was already been dead for ten years.

Actually it would have been difficult in 1886 for H.H. White to name the village anything but Stoddard. After all, it already had a two-room schoolhouse located less than a mile from the Stoddard post office, which had already been in operation under the name Stoddard Post Office for sixteen years or more. Thus a sizable number of people already had Stoddard as their mailing address. To find the origin of the name of the village, we should ask where the name of the Stoddard Post Office came from. Presumably, this name was chosen for the post office by the first postmaster, a Mr. Bochee. One account, attributed to a former postmaster, Anton Nelson, is that Mr. Bochee had the help of a friend named Stoddard in setting up his post office. Bochee is thought to have named the post office after this friend who left the area shortly thereafter.

If we accept the fact that the name of the village came from the Stoddard post office, which in turn received its name in or before 1870, it is interesting to consider what Colonel Stoddard, who had been Mayor of La Crosse for only one year in 1856, was up to in that period. According to the History of La Crosse, Wisconsin 1841-1900 (by Sanford, Hirshheimer and Fries, published by the La Crosse Historical Society), Stoddard was a great promoter of railroads. In 1855 he organized the La Crosse and Prairie du Chien Railroad Corporation. This corporation, which never produced a railroad, did however let a contract for grading of the first ten miles southward from La Crosse in 1865. This then brought Colonel Stoddard's influence very close, both in time and place, to the naming of the Stoddard Post Office. In 1869, the above-mentioned corporation combined with two others planning lines south from La Crosse through Viroqua and presumably also the site of the village. These developments would certainly have been of interest to such area residents as Mr. Bochee and the recently arrived H.H. White, more than fifteen years before the arrival of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

Early Industry and Commerce

As mentioned at the outset, the Village of Stoddard came into being to serve the needs of the farmers in the surrounding area. From early on, there were general stores, blacksmith shops and of course the school. Next to the railroad tracks there was built a warehouse and grain elevator and later a tobacco warehouse. Carpenters and masons lived in the Village and did work for the framers and there was a Dr. W. Tillman in the Village in the early 1900's and perhaps before.

In 1891, Henry Blashek, who had come to Stoddard in 1887 and John H. Hanesworth, who came to the Village from Genoa in 1889 formed a partnership and operated a flourmill, feed mill and planer. They produced a variety of wood products of use to area farmers including shingles and beehives.

They also produced a product for "export" called the "boom plug." In the early 1890's, North La Crosse was sending massive quantities of logs from the Black River down the Mississippi. These masses of logs were kept together by being surrounded by a chain or boom composed of logs. The pins, which held this chain of logs together, were called boom plugs. They had to be made of wood rather than iron because the logs forming the boom went through the sawmill at the destination. According to one account, North La Crosse ran out of logs before Stoddard ran out of boom plugs.

Of particular interest are the means that were used to power the Blashek-Hanesworth mill. At first, a one-cylinder (large cylinder) gasoline engine with twin flywheels weighing one ton each was used. This was later replaced by a more conventional power source - a coal fired steam engine. The resulting need for coal prompted the establishment of a fuel business, which continues to the present time, with oil replacing the coal. Around 1900, Hanesworth introduced hydroelectric power with a 25 foot overshot waterwheel driven by artesian well water. (In Stoddard, the term "artesian well" is reserved for free-flowing wells from which water flows under natural pressure.) The waterwheel ran a dynamo that produced 110-volt direct current for the mill, two houses and a barbershop. Possibly because of the newness of electricity, the light switches were often left on and the water turned off at bedtime.

Incorporation - One Dollar and a Fire Hose

The formal move toward incorporation of the Village of Stoddard began in August 1903 with a meeting called for by H.H. White, John Hanesworth, Dr. Tillman and others. The result of the meeting was that John C. Johnson, O.J.Stokke and H.H. White were named as a committee to "look after incorporation of said Village of Stoddard." To satisfy state requirements, the area chosen to be in the Village had to be surveyed and shown to contain at least one half square mile and a census had to be taken to establish that there were at least 300 people living there. In circuit court for Vernon County held at La Crosse, the Honorable J.J. Fruit accepted the census survey on November 14, 1903 and ruled that "the Village shall be incorporated if the electors assent." A combination meeting and election was held on December 8, 1903 and the vote for incorporation was 52 in favor to 39 against.

The first election of officers was held on January 12, 1904 and resulted in the election of Village President John H. Hanesworth, Trustees Henry E. Stumpf, Peter Running, J.P. Harrington, Anton Lee, Gustave Granke and Peter Adams. O.J. Stokke was elected clerk and Frank H. White, Treasurer. All were elected by almost unanimous vote.

On January 25, 1904, the Village Board borrowed from other municipalities in the county by adopting a number of articles from the bylaws of La Farge and one from De Soto. On February 1 it adopted the La Farge ordinances relating to peace and quiet.

At the end of March 1904, the Village settled accounts with the Town of Bergen receiving the sum of $1 for relinquishing all claim to the town hall. It received some recently purchased fire hose and $156.34 as its hare of town funds.

The above information relating to the establishment of the Village government was taken from the (hand written) official record of the Village. This record, which now comprises ten volumes, represents a significant historical resource, not because it makes very exciting reading, but because it is helpful in establishing dates when some events occurred. It is interesting to note how few Village Clerks wrote most of it: W.H. Hanesworth (son of J.J.) up to 1941, Tilmer Hanson 1941-55 and Martin DeGarmo 1955-75 with a brief interruption. Part way through DeGarmo's term of office, the Village seems to have come to appreciate an invention known as the typewriter.

Other data, which can be gathered from the official record, are the names and terms of office of the Village Presidents:

John H. Hanesworth 1904-05
Gustave Wrobel 1906-07
W.T. Nottingham 1907-09
G.E. Granke 1909-10
Gustave Wrobel 1910-11
G.E. Granke 1911-1922
C.P. White 1922-23
Henry A. Robinson 1923-24
Otto Krause 1924-29
C.C. Olson 1929-51
A.J. Pielhop 1951-53
Addison Weiland 1953-55
K.J. Robinson 1955-57
Lyndon Lawrynk 1957-59
K.J. Robinson 1959-65
Forrest Umberger 1965-67
Odell Umberger 1965-67 (acting)
Irvin Dahlke 1968-71
Paul Gray 1971-72
Lester Helgeson 1972-1975
Raymond Umberger 1975

From the early 1920's until 1941, the Village Board consisted of the Village President and two trustees as opposed to six before and since.

The La Crosse Southeastern Railroad

We may now continue the history of the Village with the construction of the La Crosse Southeastern Railroad in 1904, making Stoddard the gateway to the interior of Vernon County and stimulating the growth of the Village. We should notice, however, that the population figures for the Village fail to show any significant growth until after the Southeaster ceased running through Stoddard in 1933.

In fact, the people of the area were not universally overjoyed to see it come through. Before 1904, the Bergen Town Board had granted the railroad company an exclusive right of way north of Stoddard (essentially the route followed by Highway 35 today). The abutters claimed that no public road had existed there and the railroad ended up paying a high price for the right of way. As the Southeastern came into Stoddard, the Village Board in September 1904 moved to seek an injunction to keep the railroad from crossing Main Street "without making satisfactory arrangements with the Board." Then, according to one account, the railroad waited until a Sunday when the Village Marshal would not be able to serve papers, and commenced laying track early in the morning. By night, the track had been laid across Main Street and out the east side of the Village.

One effect, which the Southeastern had on Stoddard, was to stimulate the hotel business. Karl Groth built a hotel in 1910 on Main Street near the Southeastern station. Along with two other hotels in the Village it provided traveling salesmen with overnight accommodations between trains (Burlington and Southeastern). Railroad workers also stayed there, as the section of line up the course of Coon Creek needed considerable maintenance. Lunch pails were filled to order every morning. During the First World War, day old bread was not fit to eat because of the poor quality of the flour available, so bread had to be baked every day.

Keeping the Southeastern running provided occasional employment for men and boys in the Village as for example when a train would get stuck on a ridge in wintertime and a trainload of men would be sent to shovel it out. One industry well served by the Southeastern was the Rick Brothers Ice Business. Ice was cut from the river using a horse drawn ice plow and two by two foot squares were pulled up a loading ramp onto sleds. Every store and hotel at the time had an icehouse, and these were filled with river ice. In addition, as many as 100 carloads per season were sent out on the Southeastern to Chaseburg, coon Valley, Westby and Viroqua, and sometimes Sparta. The Rick's ice business, which employed about 17 men in season, operated from about 1926 into the early 1930's.


In 1900, the partnership between John Hanesworth and Henry Blashek dissolved and Blashek went into retail hardware and had a large store on the site of the present hardware store. He soon made it into a hardware and 5 and 10 cent store. He also engaged in some quasi-banking business. He is said to have slept in his store at night for fear of having it robbed. This fear was not unfounded since according to a report in the Vernon County Censor of August 5, 1905, one Karl Trainer blew up the safe in the Stoddard Post Office (C.P. White's store, now Lawrynk's) and further displayed his talents by sawing his way out of the La Crosse County Jail. In 1911, the Farmer's and Merchant's State Bank was built, probably the first commercial brick building in the Village. The present bank building was erected in 1967 and the change in name to the Bank of Stoddard occurred at about the same time.

One first for the Village in the way of things modern was the first automobile owned in Vernon County in 1906. The owner, Otto Wodzynski, who was the first rural letter carrier out of the Stoddard Post Office (1902-1911) says he was unaware of being the county's first car owner until he read it in the newspaper some years later.

An important promoter of local commerce was Charles G. Dudley who published the Stoddard Times from 1905 to 1918. Previously, James Blaha had published a paper called the Stoddard Bugle, but in the words of Earl M. Rogers (Memoirs of Vernon County 1907) "a few months later it ceased to blow." Dudley also served the job printing needs of the community.

A file of the Stoddard Times, if one existed, would of course be an important source of information about the period. From the one issue, which has been provided for this account, one can at least learn some interesting facts about the Stoddard Times. This issue, dated Thursday, May 25, 1916 was found by Arnold Asp, hidden inside a wall where it probably had been left and closed in by accident. In addition to local advertising, the front page contained news items and notices of local interest. A typical news item announced that a particular person was in the village on business on a certain day. In another item, "Contract-or Gust. Wiese of Chipmunk Ridge this week has our thanks for extension of subscription another year." Subscriptions were 75 cents per year in advance and the single copy price of the paper was 5 cents. The front page also contained an announcement by Pastor Theo Fraling of services at the Catholic Church at Stoddard. This church as located a short distance south of the German Lutheran Church.

Unlike most local weekly newspapers today, the Stoddard Times devoted the second of its four pages to a summary of world and National news. Another page was devoted to state news. One item concerned President J.W. Crabtree of river Falls Normal School who suggested gum racks in schools. "Pupils have a right to chew gum...But what will the poor child do with his gum while in the recitation room...A gum rack at the entrance of the room containing a number and a peg for each pupil solves the problem...One seldom gets the gum from the wrong number."

The latest newspaper published in Stoddard is the Stoddard Tuesday Advertiser, published by the Chipmunk Press since July 1975. The name suggests that it too advertises commercial activities in Stoddard, but the contents usually do not.
Other commercial activities in the Village were a pickle factory in the building, which earlier was the tobacco warehouse, and the fish market. In the 1930's, before the dam damaged fishing, Charlie Rick's fish market exported as many as two million pounds of fish in one year, many of them alive in tanks of water. The fish came from as far away as Prairie du Chien and Lake Pepin. There was also the creamery, which made butter between the world wars. One of the last commercial activities producing for outside the immediate community was the Umbergers' sawmill, which produced railroad ties and other lumber.

Social History

Perhaps the first social event in Stoddard of which evidence is available is the posing for group pictures taken by H.H. Denison of Esofea in 1895. Other recollections involve a wooden bandstand situated on private land a little east of the present Village Park. At some time before 1900, a Professor Nottingham, who was a Civil War Veteran, conducted a 40-piece band, which must have been quite impressive for such a small town.

The need for spirits was amply met by a number of saloons before and during prohibition, and by taverns afterward. Dance halls were popular with one behind what is now Payne's Tavern and another in what is now Lawrynk's apartment building. Vaudeville acts were enjoyed except in the case of one lady made sick by a hypnotism act and confined to bed all the next day. Another popular meeting place was the telephone office where telephone operators lived and were presumably not busy all the time (with the switch board).

In the early 1920's, the local post of the American Legion was founded by Veterans of World War I including Adolph Asp, George Stellner and Harry Rick who still live in or near Stoddard. Others among the first members were Henry J. Brindell, Joseph Hirshuber, William Hirschuber, Clarence O. Hoff, Earnest Leo, Charles Monske, Henry A. Robinson, Lawrence H. Scholl, William D. Spears, George A. Stillwell, William Stillwell, Arthur Twite and James A. Wall. Meetings were held in the dance hall behind Payne's Tavern at first and later in the La Crosse Southeastern Station after the railroad shut down. The present building, on approximately the same site as the railroad station, was built in 1960 to serve various community needs for a large public meeting place as well as the needs of the Legion.

Getting to school in the 1920's was more interesting than the daily bus ride of today. Grade school children, including those in the country, walked to school. Of course, there were more schools then. Stoddard High School students went to La Crosse and in the early 1920's, stayed there. Later, car pools were used. The "highway" in the wintertime contained two ruts for the wheels of the car so there was little chance of going off the road.

A major Village improvement of social importance is the Village Park. The land for the park was purchased from Harry and Chester Rick in 1967 by the Village, with matching federal funds. Since then, the land has been landscaped and a shelter house and tennis courts built through the cooperation of the Village Organizations, the Stoddard Volunteer Fire Department, the Stoddard Lions club founded in 1971, and the Legion. This year's Bicentennial Celebration is also designed by these organizations to benefit the park.

Tour of Historic Stoddard

Suppose we enter Stoddard on Main Street from the south. First, we pass the Village Park on our right. Crossing Division Street we come to the Mobil Station on the right and directly across Main Street is probably Stoddard's most historic building, an old garage which once was the upper story of the tow room school house of 1882. Next on the left comes another transplant, the Methodist Church that was shipped in from La Crosse on the Southeaster and reassembled (and since remodeled).

Skipping a few houses, we have two antique shops on the right and a former meat market. On the left is a beauty shop where Harry Rick's IGA store once was. Approaching Center Street we have Rocky's on the right, a much-remodeled version of Wodzynski's Hotel and Payne's Tavern on the left. Crossing Center Street we have on the left Lawrynk's store formerly owned by the Whites and then C. C. Olsen. Joined to it is the 1911 bank building. Across Main is a former gas station and an apartment building formerly a black smith and wagon shop, dance hall, meat market, barbershop and restaurant.Continuing on the left, we have the present Post Office, Bick and Marge's Tavern and George's Sport Shop, the previous post office. This building is on the site of Curry's store, a general merchandise store previously run by H.E. Stumpf and E.G. Wolf and before that by O.P. Clinton, postmaster from 1892-96. Across the street is the hardware store, until recently the IGA store, and on the site of Blashek's store.

Further up the street on the left is the bank and across from it is the Chipmunk Press where the telephone office was. Next on the right is Groth's Hotel, now a private home. The beauty shop on the left is on the side of an auto dealership and garage which burned down as did Curry's store. Further up on the right is the Village Hall, an old concrete block garage disguised in 19742 by a brick facade. Next to it, at the corner of Main and Broadway, is the fire station right where the railroad crossing used to be. Across Broadway the new Furlano's IGA on a site previously occupied by a restaurant. A block down Broadway Street is the Legion Hall neat the site of the Southeastern station. block farther up Main Street on the left is St. Matthew's, the German Lutheran Church with new front added.

Perhaps the most historic looking building in the Village is the first story of the Hanesworth mill which sits on blocks about 100 feet south of its original site, at the north end of the lumber yard on Pearl Street.


An Article in the August 26, 1975 issue of the Stoddard Tuesday Advertiser suggested the need for a local historical society. Perhaps errors and omissions in the forgoing account may emphasize this need. As the article stated, "People interested in the history of Stoddard are encouraged to contact the publisher."


One of the few buildings on the east side of the street was Wodzynsky's Hotel, now Rocky's Supper Club, shown in the lower picture. The brick exterior, no longer to be seen, is believed to be a sheet metal imitation.


Intersection of Main and "C" (Center) Streets 1905 - Looking north we see the front steps of Wodzynsky's Hotel at the far right, and judging from the telephone pole, the telephone business had picked up considerably from 1895. Further up Main Street on the right can be seen a sign on the side of Henry Blashek's Hardware, 5 & 10 etc. store. The building at the far left, now Payne's Tavern, used to have a dance hall in back. Across C Street is C.P. White's General Store and Post Office. One may wonder what sort of flour C.P. White thought was the best.