HISTORY OF NELSONVILLE

Two articles about Nelsonville: one written in 1992, another in the 1930's.

By SUSAN ALLEN
of the Journal
From the Stevens Point Journal May 19, 1992

Every morning at about 9 a.m. a crowd gathers in the back of Waller’s Market and Locker in Nelsonville to gather the latest news about the community. The place, names and faces have changed, but the idea is still the same as when the village was incorporated in 1913. Back then, people would gather at the local creamery to sell their milk and talk. “That was a way where everybody knew what was going on in the town,” said Gale Gordon, a lifelong resident of Nelsonville. “Of course they didn’t go right home. They had to shoot the bull a little bit.”

When the creamery closed in the mid-1960s, the local feed mill took its place as the gathering spot, but eventually that closed too. Now residents come to Waller’s if they want to know what’s going on. The coffee mugs that they keep at the store hang over a doorway waiting for them.

The community takes its name from Jerome Nelson, an Englishman who started a sawmill in the area in 1855 or 1856, wrote Malcolm Rosholt in his book “Our County Our Story.” Nelson built a dam along the Tomorrow River that not only provided electricity to his mill but to all the residents of the village. For $1, he bought the rights from Charles and Anna Stoltenberg to create a mill pond on their land along the Tomorrow River, Rosholt wrote.

“Residents used water power to generate electricity for the village,” Gordon said. “You had to hurry up and get home because at 11 or 12 o’clock at night they’d turn off the power to build reserve for the next day.”

At the time of its incorporation, there were 177 people living in the village, slightly more than the 171 people that live there today. But not only has the population dropped off slightly, so have the businesses along the community’s main street. “There have been dramatic changes in terms of what the (the village) used to be -  really dramatic,” Gordon said.

Although the village used to be self-sustaining with its own doctor, service station, banks and other essential businesses, now the village seems to be a residential place where people “live here and work somewhere else,” Gordon said. “There’s a lot of people who like the lifestyle, like to life in the country but be close enough to the city to work there,’ he said.

Only two businesses remain in the village, Waller’s Market and Faivre Implement. But at one time, Nelsonvillle boasted of a blacksmith shop, a barbershop, four service stations, a creamery, a feed mill, an elementary school and a television store, Gordon said. The building that has housed Waller’s Market since the 1950s also has hosted a furniture store, a funeral home, a paint store and a harness shop, he said.

In the 1920s, the village’s doctor, Halfdan Raasoch, had a makeshift hospital with a few beds, Gordon said. The Tomorrow River, which curls through the community, also has played an important role in the community’s development and was a source of fun for Nelsonville’s youth, he said.

“The river was important, but it’s changed greatly too,” Gordon said. “It was the greatest thing ever. All of the kids fished there. It was a great trout stream. Today, part of the river is designated as a special trout section (by the Department of Natural Resources), where the trout have to be a certain size.

“It used to be you would take the cane and go fishing,” he said. “Now those opportunities don’t exist. Now (children) just sit and watch the tube. We used to have a lot of fun. We’d go floating on the ice chunks, fish, wade. There was a golf course up the river in Nelsonville that was mowed by cows. We’d go fishing for golf balls in the river.”



The following History of Nelsonville was sent to the PCHS by Pat Raddatz, the Librarian at Amherst. According to Ms. Raddatz the History “was written in the 1930’s by Donna Nelson and members of her class at Jerome Nelson Graded School. Harvey Raasoch was the principal at the time and helped the class with their research. I have put the names of current residents and places in parentheses with the help of Cassie Raasoch. The rest of the history is the way it was written then.” In addition, Ms. Raddatz has updated the manuscript through 1978 by attaching several items taken from local newspapers.

HISTORY OF NELSONVILLE

In 1851, two young men, Charles Stoltenberg and a Mr. Firesocker (Fairesticke) left Germany for the United States. They spent a year in Missouri and then decided to move to Wisconsin. Charles Stoltenberg took up a homestead in 1852 of eight acres on the western edge of what is now Nelsonville. He located on the farm which is now occupied by his son Andrew Stoltenberg. (Aileen Alm) Mr. Firesocker took up a homestead on the neighboring 80 acres just west of Mr. Stoltenberg. Mr. Stoltenberg built his first cabin near the Lake (Stoltenberg Lake--now called Lake Elaine), across the cement highway from where Andrew now lives. (Highway SS)

He was a cabinetmaker by trade from Germany and spent considerable time of his first years here working at his trade in Stevens Point. There was a small settlement of Indians living just west along the river from the Stoltenberg farm. Mr. Stoltenberg reported that he asked the Indians to watch his property while he was working in Stevens Point and he never did find anything missing. He said that when he came to Nelsonville there weren’t any settlers living between what is now Nelsonville and Stevens Point. The next year, in 1853, Jerome Nelson, the founder of Nelsonville moved up from Fond du Lac County and took out a homestead in what is now the central part of Nelsonville. He built his first cabin on the edge of the river about where John Loberg’s barn is now. (Former Stratton’s Rest Home) A few months later, we find a lot of settlers moving in and taking up homesteads in and around Nelsonville. A Mr. Townsend took up a homestead on what is now the Oscar Loberg farm. (Meddaugh) He built his first home down near the river across from Jerome Nelson on the property which is now owned by Carl Jacobson. (Antills) Outside of the first two settlers, Mr. Stoltenberg and Mr. Firesocker, most of the early settlers were of English stock from down east along the Atlantic coast. The land along the river both north and south of Nelsonville was taken up by Englishmen. The next year we find a number of Norwegians moving into the territory. A Mr. Hendrickson took up a homestead on what is now the L.E. Gordon farm. (Gale Gordon). Mr. Townsend decided to move further west so he sold his farm to Jerome Nelson. He sold all but five acres which he sold to Mr. Thompson. In 1856 Jerome Nelson built a dam across the Tomorrow River and started an up and down saw mill. The mill was located about 30 feet southeast of the present village icehouse. (Behind Raasochs) Some of the supports are still standing. Mr. Thompson was employed by Jerome Nelson to run the mill. Later a Mr. Meachem was hired to run the mill and he built a little frame building for a home near the saw mill, about the place where Theo. Johnson’s barn is now located. (Behind Raasochs) Another early settler in Nelsonville was a Mr. Blower. He took up a homestead on what is now the Oscar Henjum farm. (Larry Raddatz) His cabin was located down near the river just a few feet northwest of the slaughterhouse. (On Welton Drive, just behind Kaufmans) He died a few years later and was buried on his farm along the fence between Oscar Loberg and the Henjum farm. (Near Drifkas) Oliver Yerkes purchased the land from the government which is now owned by Dan Bobbe. (Just past Cairns) He never lived on his farm but lived in Nelsonville in a little board house which stood where Almer Loberg’s house stands now. (Woldings) The highway from the north came down through Martin Moes yard (Shatters) and ran through the woods and came out between what is now Dan Bobbe’s house and barn. From here it swung west towards the sawmill, going back of what is now Nels Loberg’s house. (Jesse Loberg - next to Gerhard Anderson) The highway from the east came down across the valley from Anton Melbo’s farm (on Hwy. A) and across Oscar Loberg’s fields and woods. It followed the road which can still be seen in the woods. From here it followed the lane down to his barn (behind Meddaughs) where it swung over to the sawmill. The road across the river led down back of the sawmill across the river and then ran northwest along the river until it got to where Harvey Floistad lived. (Beckland) There it turned west and followed the present concrete highway (SS). There wasn’t any road leading to Amherst Junction in those early days. The road to Amherst turned off southeast at Oscar Henjums and ran back of Hemmie Alms (Neumann) buildings on what was called the prairie then and then along the river to Amherst. Most of the woods along the river was fine large white pine, while a short distance back from the river you found mostly oak. The oak trees were not as large as the trees in the average oak woods today.

There is some question where the first schoolhouse was located. It seems that the first schoolhouse was located over in the park across from T. T. Loberg’s residence. (Stankes) Miss Sarah Nelson was the first teacher. Just what happened to the first schoolhouse no one seems to know, but a year later about 1861 we find another school house being built about thirty rods and a little north of where the present school is now. (Brueggeman) The little board schoolhouse stands today, but it has been moved a few rods to the Christianson property. (Cairns) A plank bench was built around the wall and served as seats in this little one room schoolhouse of about fifteen by twenty feet, which was built of single boards. Another plank built about four feet high around the room served as a book rest. The scholars sat with their backs to the wall and the stove was in the center of the room. On cold days it blew right through the thin walls and the pupils had to stand in the center of the room to keep warm. Most of the teachers were English from down east. Besides Miss Nelson we find such English names as Sue B. Webster, Helen Holly, and one German teacher by the name of Schult who could hardly speak English was also hired for one term. A little later a Norwegian by the name of Sarah Anderson taught.

In 1867, Jerome Nelson built a gristmill which is still standing and is now occupied by the Wisconsin Power and Light Co. (Koziczowski Mill) In building the grist mill Mr. Nelson had to go to quite an expense in straightening out the river and the mill pond. He had to build a new river bed below and he had to fill in quite a stretch of the old mill pond between the present mill and his home. The blacksmith shop and Carl Loberg’s store are both built on the ground which was once part of the old mill pond. (The area of Faivre’s and the road where 161 goes next to Faivre’s) The building of the gristmill was the first move in starting a village. We now find the first store being built on the corner now occupied by Carl

Jacobson’s store. (The village park where the swings are) Mr. Ed Creed operated the first general store in this little frame building. He built a cabin - the house that Herbert Groves now lives in. He moved it twice up to the hill until it reached its present location. (Wakelands) The next store to be built was a little frame building which stood where the present Henke and Melum warehouse is now. (Just below the building across from the post office) Mrs. Joseph moved down from Benson Corner and operated this store. She also became Nelsonville’s first postmaster. The next business to be built was a saloon on the corner by Henke and Melums. (Wallers) It was a one story garret and the children used to like to watch the different saloon keepers crawl up an outside ladder and through a little opening in the garret to sleep. A shoemaker shop was built by August Peterson. This was the first business place on top of the hill. This old shop still stands and is the present central office. Mr. Peterson became the second postmaster and held this position for nearly forty years. Mr. Iverson, a blacksmith now moved to town and built a blacksmith shop where the present shop now stands. (Across from Faivre’s) He also built a home which is now occupied by Sherman Floistad. (Viola Waller)

Other homes were built about this time. The little house next to the schoolhouse was built by a carpenter by the name of Hank Darling. The little house now occupied by Andrew Soli was built by Jerome Nelson. (The site where Stremkowski’s garage is now) The Carrie Loberg house was built at this time. (The house on the corner next to Raasochs) The next business place to be built was another general store at the present site of Carl Loberg’s store. (Faivre’s) This building is now being used as a warehouse by Carol Loberg. A sawmill was built west of the gristmill by Jerome Nelson and this was run by steam. (Faivre’s machine shop) It was now decided by the people of the vicinity to build a new schoolhouse. Mr. L. L. Loberg and Charles Stoltenberg didn’t like their children walking along the millpond to school so they were instrumental in getting the new schoolhouse built on the west side of the river. The schoolhouse has been remodeled and still stands in the same location. It is the T. T. Loberg residence. (Stankes) In 1882 L.L. Loberg moved to town and built a general store on top of the hill next to the shoemaker shop. (Apartments) Mr. John Moen built the store now owned by Henry Wimme. (Firehouse) It was used as a furniture store. He also built the building now occupied by Waller’s Meat Market. The Ole Gordon store building was built a few years later but was recently destroyed by fire. (Lot above post office) In 1888 the Norwegian Lutheran church was built. Before this time the people in Nelsonville attended church in New Hope.

In 1895 Dr. Tufte built the building now owned by Solveruds. (Hedbany) He used it for a hospital, drug store and doctor’s office. His investment did not pay so he sold out to L. L. Loberg a few years later.

In the spring of 1896, the Nelsonville Creamery was started with just a few patrons. This institution has grown under the management of Odin Christianson into a large plant with over five hundred and fifty patrons.

In 1903 a bank was started in what is now the Henry Wimme building by Hans Johnson. Ludwig Johnson was the first cashier. A new brick bank building was built down the hill and the bank did business until closed by the present depression in 1932.

A new brick one room school was built in 1901 on the east side. Another room was built on in 1907.

In 1914 a garage was built by Theo H. Johnson next to Carl Loberg’s general store but was destroyed by fire in 1933. Palmer Severson built a garage across from the creamery a few years later. (Next to George Lees station)

Nelsonville became an incorporated village in 1913. The main reason for incorporating the village was to get rid of the saloons which the Town of Amherst refused to vote out.

New places of business to be built in the village in recent years are two filling stations and a new hardware store. Nelsonville has its own private golf course and public bathing beach. (On Lake Elaine) The village of Nelsonville has grown quite a little since it was incorporated. Its population has always been very much Norwegian except during the first few years when it was mostly English. When Nelsonville was incorporated it was about 95 per cent Norwegian and the Norwegian language could be heard most everywhere. During the last fifteen years about 75 per cent of the young people have intermarried with other races, mostly German and English. Of all the early English settlers up and down the river only one family remains. The Polish, which settled down several miles west of Nelsonville have moved in closer and now own most of the farm land west and north of Nelsonville.

Nelsonville is still much of a Norwegian village with only one family that cannot trace its Scandinavian ancestry in at least one member of its family. During this depression Nelsonville had at any time only one family on the relief rolls. This does not mean that everyone in the village is well fixed or has a job but that many families have struggled to get along on a great deal less than many people who are on relief rolls of other villages.

1953 - John Wimme has been chosen as acting postmaster here Monday. succeeding Almer Loberg, postmaster for the past 40 years, who resigned. Loberg said he has no plans for the future. Prior to 1950 Loberg maintained the post office in a store with his brother in law, Charles Sorbye. He bought out Sorbye in 1947 and in 1950 he sold the store to Howard Stoltenberg and moved the post office to it’s present location.

1959 - To many people, Nelsonville means butter. Much of the milk produced in the area is turned into high-grade butter at the Farmer’s Cooperative Dairy Assn. plant in the community. The plant provides employment in the village and a sales outlet for dairy farmers in the surrounding countryside. Nelsonville, in eastern Portage County lies on the Tomorrow River, a scenic stream which contains some of the best trout fishing in Wisconsin. So highly prized is the Tomorrow River that the state Conservation Department is acquiring frontage along the stream to preserve it for future generations. A dam across the stream in the village provides power for the Koziczkowski feed mill. Lake Elaine, site of Camp Mikquano for boys, also lies partly within the village limits. It is one of the few lakes in the County from which marl is dug. An unusual business operation in Nelsonville is Welton Alm’s game farm. At one time Nelsonville was located on Hwy 10, but the road was later relocated and misses the village. However, Hwy 161 runs through the village. A prominent landmark in the village is the Nelsonville Evangelical Lutheran church, whose white steeple rises above the surrounding trees. It is the only church in this predominantly Norwegian community. Nelsonville, named after an early pioneer, Jerome Nelson, was incorporated in 1913 It’s 1950 population of 188 was three more than that of Amherst Junction.

1963 - Seventy five years of Grace was the theme of the Diamond Jubilee held at Nelsonville Lutheran church on Sunday June 23. The Nelsonville Norwegian Evangelical Luthern Church was organized on Dec. 15, 1887. Most of the members had been affiliated with the New Hope congregation and consent was given to them for the separation. Rev. K. O. Eidahl was to serve Nelsonville as its pastor as well as Alban and New Hope congregations. He remained as pastor until his resignation in 1904. Rev. G. Kluxdahl then served the congregation until October, 1911 when the congregation joined Amherst in calling Finn Magellson.

1966 - There’s only one manual telephone exchange left in Portage County at Nelsonville. A new masonry building has been built and the frame one has been moved out of the way.

1968 - After more than 100 years, the mill at Nelsonville is no longer operating. It was the last gristmill in the area using waterpower. The Tomorrow River at Nelsonville was first damned in 1855 or 1856 by Jerome Nelson.... At first it provided power for a sawmill with a flour and feed mill added later on. Nelson also purchased the old Red Mill at Lower Amherst in 1869. He installed the first telephone in his home. It reached from his home to the Red Mill and connected with the railroad depots at Amherst and Amherst Junction. An advertisement in the Amherst Advocate of June 7, 1893 reads: “Rising Star Mills at Nelsonville, and Excelsior Mills one mile south of Amherst are the best. Custom work a specialty. All work guaranteed. Flour and feed always in stock. Your trade is solicited. Jerome Nelson, Proprietor” Later, the mill passed into the hands of his son-in-law, John Loberg who ran it until 1916.

1972 - Members of the Championship Nelsonville Baseball team were Carl Anderson, Almer Loberg, Jerry Stoltenberg, Joe Waller, Anton Anderson, Harvey Raasoch, Guy Larson and Dr. Raasoch, Tom Howen, Ward Hanna, Maynard Nelson, Jerome Nelson and Gerhard Anderson. The game was played 41 years ago. The games were played in Oscar Loberg’s “cow pasture” on the banks of the Tomorrow River. The terrain formed a natural ampitheater. Spectators sat on the hill by third base, and the team built bleachers behind the backstop. Loberg would keep his cows confined when there was a game. However, players would have to be on the alert for the animals. Sometimes there were more than 4,000 people attending, each paying 50 cents to see the game. The official scorekeeper through the years was Dr. Raasoch, who was also a member of the original team back in 1908. Other early day club members were Irving Loberg, Olaf Swenson, Almer Loberg, Carl Jacobson, and Oscar Loberg. Not long after these championship games were played enthusiasm faded and baseball faded out. But the Loberg cow pasture continued to be utilized. This time, Oscar, his brother Almer and Charlie Sorbye adapted the rolling terrain into a nine hole golf course. Many area enthusiasts came to Nelsonville to play. Again, being alert for the cows, which must have by this time been used to flying balls. The pasture is empty now even minus the cows, and at rest after many years of activity.

1978 - Dr. Halfdan Raasoch, a colorful character in Nelsonville history was born in Norway in 1872. He came to Nelsonville and started his practice in 1899. The doctor and his team of horses were a familiar sight in the streets of Nelsonville. Dr. Raasoch was an avid reader and helped found the Nelsonville Reading Association. He died of a heart attack in 1943. His hospital has since been a meat market, restaurant, post office and a private residence. (Hedbany) Dr. Raasoch’s office was on one side and the other side of the downstairs was a millinery shop. The second floor had eight rooms opening onto a hall. Dr. Tufte built the building in 1895, but his venture failed.


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