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Biography of Moses Decker, Wisconsin (Vernon County)

History of Vernon County, Wisconsin

History of Wisconsin, Union Publishing Co., Springfield, Ill., 1884

Pages 675-676 [Summary]

Chapter XLVII.  Village and Town of Viroqua

A third of a century ago, the beautiful and enterprising village of Viroqua had its origin.  While there may be nothing really remarkable in the development of the past, or anything peculiarly striking in the present, still there is much that cannot fail to be of interest to those who have been closely connected and identified with the city in all the various changes that have occurred.  To those who have watched the growth and progress from its earliest origin, when Vernon county, then called Bad Ax, was but a wilderness, until the present time, the accomplishment of by-gone days would seem now like a great task, but it is, in fact, the sure and legitimate results of an advanced state of civilization.



When the earliest settlers came upon the site now occupied by the village of Viroqua they found a most inviting spot.  As it is expressed by one of the pioneers, the site was a kind of an oak opening, interspersed with large oak trees, scattered irregularly over the surface.  Adjacent to the north laid the fertile Round Prairie - as inviting a spot as could be found in the west.  The very first settlement on the site was made by Moses Decker.  In 1846 he came here prospecting and selected land which is described as the east half of the southeast quarter of section 32, and the west half of the southeast quarter of section 31, town 13, range 4 west.  The same fall his sons Solomon and Reasoner came and erected the first building upon the site of the village.  They also did some breaking and began other improvements on the land.  The log cabin which they erected stood about where the door-yard or garden, surrounding the present brick cottage of James H. Layne, now is.  After attending to these improvements, the boys returned to Illinois, from whence they had come.  In the following year, 1847, the whole family came and moved into the building that had been erected.  In 1850 Moses Decker erected another building within a few feet of the first one.  This was of hewn logs.  Although much improved, having been weather-boarded, this building is still standing, the oldest building in the place.  In 1850 Mr. Decker had the original village surveyed and platted into lots and blocks by Samuel McMichael.  A brief notice of Mr. Decker's life will doubtless be of interest:

Moses Decker, the first settler on the plat of the village of Viroqua, was born in Orange Co., N. Y., of German parentage.  he removed with his parents to Muskingam Co., Ohio, when a boy, where he grew to manhood and was married to Elizabeth Reasoner, subsequently removing with his family to Mercer Co., Ill.  He had a family of fourteen children, eight of whom, five sons and three daughters, are living.  Joseph and Henry, the two eldest sons, reside in Ohio.  Solomon, who had grown to manhood when the family came to Viroqua, and where he lived for many years, is now in California.  Lewis R., or "Dede," as he is familiarly known, is in Stevens, Minn.  Thomas J., the youngest son, is now in Kansas.  The daughters are:  Eliza J, wife of Ira Stevens, of Victory, in this county; Sarah A. is the wife George Nicholas, of Chain Lakes, Minn., and Elizabeth, wife of Owen Rice, of California.

In the meantime, in 1850, Rufus Dunlap had come from Dane Co., Wis.  He brought with him a large family and the remainder of a stock of goods, coming across the country by way of Baraboo, with teams.  He purchased two acres of ground where the Park Hotel now stands and erected a log building, with two wings.  In this building he placed his stock of goods and opened up a hotel or public house.  Dunlap's was the first store in Viroqua.  He kept dry goods, occasionally groceries, and a stock of crockery ware lasted from the time he went in business until the time of his death in 1858.

In 1850 Orin Wisel came to Viroqua from near Liberty Pole, in the town of Franklin, where he made a claim.  He put up a board shanty a few feet north of where the Tremont Hotel now stands, hauling lumber from the saw mill in the town of Kickapoo.  he was a blacksmith by trade, and opened a shop, here, which he continued for a short time, and then removed to Readstown.  he was a strong democrat, quite a politician, and was elected the first county clerk and clerk of the circuit court of Bad Ax county.

During the same year, 1850, Moses Decker erected the old school, meeting and court house, which stood upon lots now occupied by the Williams Block.  This little building was the scene of all public doings in early days; it was used for schools, dances, religious services and as a court house.  It is fully described in the chapter upon the courts in the county, the first term of court having been held in it.

In August, 1851, the entire population of the village consisted of the families of Moses Decker, Rufus Dunlap, and Orin Wisel.

During this month William F Terbune, the first educated lawyer in the county, came with his wife and located in the village.  He at once became a leading spirit among the settlers.  While the county had been organized, yet the wheels of county government had not yet been fairly put in motion.  he became a sort of deputy for the county at large, opening the books for the various offices and otherwise perfecting the system of county government.  Mrs. Terhune opened a subscription school in the little log court house.

During the same fall, for the accommodation of Judge Terhune, Isaac and Solomon Decker erected a small building about 12x16 feet in size, which stood upon the lot now occupied by the Proctor & Tollefson building.  This was the first frame building erected in the village.  Judge Terhune occupied the building as a residence during the following winter.  This building was afterwards removed to the corner where now stands the Tremont Hotel, and was used as an addition to that building.


May 7, 2009