Galesville, quite the historic town preserved

Galesville is located about 20 miles north of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the Coulee Region of the Mississippi Valley, in Trempealeau County near the Mississippi River. The city sits in the Western Uplands Geographic Province, among rolling hills, towering cliffs, forests and spring-fed streams. Downtown, Ridge Avenue and the Gale College Historic Districts are all on the National Register of Historic Places. The townspeople have worked very hard to preserve this town, and it is uplifting to visit

April 7, 2012

We had been exploring Trempeauleau County on our way to St. Louis through Le Claire, Iowa and came upon the town of Galesville, frankly, by chance. We had been doing so much sight-seeing in the county on CH D and its near environs that we were running short of time. Nonetheless, we were so enchanted with this beautiful, well-preserved historic town that I had to stop, take a few photos, and walk around. A good visit should last a day with, perhaps, an overnight depending on what time you get there.


Galesville public square with Gazebo styled bandstand

Historic legend, greatly dependent on stories handed down through the decades, says that B.F. Heuston was living in Trempeauleau County, and met Catherine Davidson, who had just come to the county. They fell in love and represented the first marriage of white settlers in county, in 1853. They soon moved to what is now Galesville. The county was organized officially in 1854 and Heuston became the first county judge.

The economy was good until a downturn in 1857. A sorely needed mill was put into operation that year, which allowed settlers to get their flour locally instead of having to travel to Prairie du Chien. The
Trempeauleau Times began publishing in the spring of 1859 and a county agricultural society formed up. The economy started to spark again in 1870.

Judge George Gale founded Galesville. Born in Vermont, he relocated to Elkhorn, Wisconsin around 1841, in Walworth County. He worked as a lawyer and in 1847 participated in the drafting of the state constitution. He would become a state senator. In 1851, he also became a brigadier general in the state militia, then moved to La Crosse where he became a county judge. Judge Gale was a great advocate of higher education, and noted that all of northern Wisconsin was devoid of colleges or higher institutions of learning. He tried to set up such an institution in La Crosse, but had no luck, so he left to found a town and a school. In 1853 he bought 2,000 acres which includes the present town of Galesville. He then procured a charter for the county of Trempealeau and set up Galesville as the county seat, in 1854. In 1855 he organized Galesville University. The first class graduated in 1865. He died in 1868.


The university was renamed Gale College in the 1890s. It was then transferred to the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. In 1930 it was closed due to debt problems. the Garden of Eden Preservation Society obtained the building from the city in 2000, with a 50-year lease. t now serves as a community center.

The Gazebo bandstand shown in the beginning was built in 1912 and is still used for Memorial Day and Farmers Market.

The Chamber of Commerce has produced a wonderful
brochure on the town that guides you through a historic walking tour. I commend it to you. I will be excerpting from it. In this brochure, the Chamber wrote:

“Galesville’s well preserved, decorative buildings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflect the wealth that agricultural development and the regional mill brought to our town.”

Back in 2005, a friend sent us an editorial from the Wausau Daily Herald, done by Mary Jane Hettinga, at the time, the executive director of the Marathon County Historical Society in Wisconsin. Having lived in the concrete and vinyl neon jungles of northern Virginia, her words struck a chord and we want to share them with you. Here is an extract.

"The past is important because whether or not you study history or even like history, there is no way of getting around the fact that the past is responsible for everything we are today. The past is what shapes individuals as well as organizations, cities and even countries. It is our individual collective identity.

"When I was growing up I traveled a lot with my parents by car. Even as a child I knew which town we were passing through because of the unique buildings in each town. My parents would always point out special landmarks along the way.

"Today things have changed. Almost every town looks the same. Most towns have the same fast-food chains and retail stores that are built in similar style no matter what the location. Because of this, cities and towns across our country have lost their individualism. They are no longer unique, unless they have retained some of their historic buildings. Replicas don't count.

"It is the uniqueness of the historic buildings that make each place individual. The history and heritage of a city gives it a sense of place. Preservation of historic buildings is changing the face of and actually saving many towns."

That is Galesville for sure. Let’s take a short walk around the town center.


This is the Gilbertson-Myhre Co. building, erected in 1884. It is on East Gale Ave., south of the Gazebo. It is now home to the Treasure Chest Antiques and The Common Market while sells groceries, spices, produce and baked goods. The stone nameplate on the building says it was built in 1886. Mrs. Borgwardt’s class, 3B Galesville History Project, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District, wrote the following about this building:

“The Gilbertson-Myhre Company was built in 1884. The building originally had two stories. The third story was added in 1913. The Gilbertson-Myhre Company was used for an Opera House, a Public Hall, a Theater, and parties (mostly for the politicians when they came to town). Later a skating rink was added to the third floor. When business got bigger and grew, the entire store was used for merchandise … It was once called Casberg’s Department Store.”

I commend their project’s work to you. It addresses a bunch of buildings I did not have a chance to visit.


I wanted to clip the photo a bit to show some of the decorative features of the building. Forget the garbage can, though it does help keep the town clean, and from what I saw, the town is spotless.


Another look at the left side of the building. Neat. There is a stone at the top of the building with the name, “T.F. Jensen,” and the date 1902. So it looks like this was added on.


This gives you a good view of Davis Street, on the east side of the Gazebo. I want to focus on the building to the far right.


This is the Clark Building, built in 1886. Mrs. Borgwardt’s class, 3B Galesville History Project, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District, wrote the following about this building:

“The Clark Building was built in 1886. It has red bricks, a flat roof, and grouped windows, with semicircular arches. The Clark Building also has a corner entrance. This building was built originally as the Bank of Galesville by Isaac Clark. The bank was there until the 1960s when it moved to where it is now. Today the building is occupied by Ristow Insurance and Jackie-Os.”


And, of course, just down the East Gale Ave a bit, just out of the town center, are a cafe and Mike’s Bar and Gril, the latter in business since 1972.

There is a lot more to see in this town and surrounding area. We’ll be heading back.