A Home with a History: The Hall Homestead

It’s been a while since I’ve done a family history post, now that I am in gardening mode. This one also took a while to research!

I have done some research on Todd’s side of the family and he has some deep roots in Wisconsin. Lucky for us! I’ve also been researching his ancestral homes. Many are no longer standing, including one in Madison (where the iris his great-aunt gave me originally came from).

Before we moved to Wisconsin, Todd and I would come to stay with Janet, his great-aunt, for a weekend or even longer (she also helped Todd plan his marriage proposal to me!). She lives just a block off one of Wisconsin’s largest lakes. And it wasn’t like visiting some old stuffy lady. Janet is a character and a well-loved, well-known local. On occasion, she would pull out old family albums and tell us all the stories. I loved it.

She told me many stories of her grandparents farm in Viroqua, and that the farmhouse was moved into town many years ago. I’ve tried to figure out which one it may be and even where the Leonard farm was. I have yet to find that house. In the process of searching for that farm, names started popping up in old maps that were familiar and I started discovering even more family ties in Vernon Co, but never pursued them.

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Aunt Janet, Todd, and myself at one of our favorite lunch spots!

A couple years ago, we were visiting and looking through some stacks of albums and photos and an old faded family portrait jumped out at me. Behind an old frame, the faded picture showed a family standing in front of a house. Not exciting. Unless, you’re me and you’re trying to track down ancestral homes.

The Hall House

The old photo in the old frame

I immediately started interrogating Janet about the photo. She wasn’t sure who was in it or where it was, but I wasn’t about to give up. She ruled out it being the storied Leonard farm, but not the other side of her family, the Halls.

I took several photos of the photo and worked on enhancing the features on the computer when I got home. Soon, the figures became somewhat familiar. They looked like people I had seen before. Not in person, but in many other old family photos. Their features were too small and blurred to make out, but other things like height and statures gave me clues.

Hall Home Enhanced

I determined it was members of the Hall family and based on the age and my own recognition from other photos. I believe the photo may be of John R. Hall, his wife, Effie (Osvald) Hall, and three of their children. The children should be Clarence, Elda Mae, and Elmer Eugene. Elmer Eugene would be the youngest, born in 1894. Their youngest brother, Harold, was born in 1897.  I think that should place the photo right around 1896? Below are some photos of John, Effie, and a portrait of the family.

I did some searching, as always, through some historic maps and found J.R. Hall owning land just south of Viroqua in the late 1890s. Sure enough, when I overlaid the maps, I found a house that looks suspiciously similar to the one in the photo. At least from what I can tell on Google Maps!

After some more sleuthing, I am certain this is the Hall farm just south of Viroqua. The farm itself has a long history from what I’ve been able to pull out of various maps and a great excerpt from History of Vernon County, Wisconsin, together with sketches of its towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens; history of Wisconsin, published in 1884. You can see the entire book here

Mrs. Martha A. (Sabin) Hall is the relict of Ralph Hall, who with his family came to Vernon county in October, 1856, and settled on section 5, town 12 north, of range 4 west, where Mrs. Hall with her family still resides. Mr. Hall purchased the farm of Oscar Henry. He was born in England in 1830, and came to the United States in July, 1843, with his parents, who settled in Cook Co., Il. He was married in Illinois in 1851, to his present widow, Martha A. Sabin. Mr. Hall died July 6, 1872. His father, George Hall, died in Illinois. His mother came to Viroqua in the fall of 1865, where she still resides. Mr. Hall was a highly respected and industrious citizen; was a charter member of the Vernon County Agricultural Society, and was also for some time treasurer of that organization, and was also at one time chairman of the town board of Viroqua. Mrs. Hall was born near Cleveland, Ohio, in October, 1830. Her parents, Sylvester and Phebe Hall, settled in Cook Co., Il., in 1841, where they lived till their decease. Mrs. Hall has three children — Phebe A., wife of Henry McDermott, was born in Cook Co., Il.; Ananias, born in the town of Viroqua, in December, 1858, and John, born in 1868. She still resides on the homestead farm, which contains 140 acres.

I completely lucked out finding this bit of information. It is super rich not only in genealogical information, but for tracking down the ancestral home. I had seen this biography before, but used it only for the genealogy. When I reread it, I was excited about it all over again.  All the bits and pieces are adding up. And to have a photograph of the home from so long ago is even more special.

Martha and Ralph Hall

Ralph Hall and Martha (Sabin) Hall

In the decades after this biography, based on a few historical maps, the farm went to John Ralph before 1896 then on to his brother Ananias some time before 1915. I have yet to do much research after that. I am just too excited to see what’s still there knowing that the land hasn’t been turned into a neighborhood yet, and there still seems to be an old farm house on it.

My next plan of action is to contact the current owner of the house and send a copy of the photo to them. Hopefully, as with all attempts to visit ancestral homes, they current owners will respond positively!

Last year, I visited my paternal grandfather’s birth site, and the year before we collected my maternal grandmother’s flowers. This year, I think this is the farm to see!

A little side note for genealogy nuts: Ralph Hall, is my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather on his paternal grandmother’s side.

 

Creating a Family History Gallery

Now, that the spare room is relatively complete, it’s time to start my family history gallery. It’s harder than I thought. Deciding what to include has been the most overwhelming part. Fortunately, I have access to many family photos through digital copies shared by other family members and many originals in my own collection. I recognize that some may not have this luxury. But a family history gallery doesn’t have to be just family trees and ancestor photos. It can be so much more!

Here is a list of ideas that I am using as inspiration for what to put on my wall:

  • genealogy fan chart
  • ancestor Photos
  • photos or paintings of ancestral homes or lands
  • maps (there are so many amazing historic maps available online)
  • documents like marriage certificates, land patents, ship manifests…anything visually interesting
  • artifacts, like medals, jewelry, gloves, small items owned by the family
  • items that represent heritage (in my case things like Danish hearts, Swedish Dala horses etc.)
  • pressed flowers from heritage sites (this one is particularly exciting to me)
  • painted or printed sayings meaningful to the family
  • framed family recipes

I have been slowly gathering each item I want to put on my gallery wall. Before going on the wall, everything will be laid out on floor or bed to get an idea of how I want to look on the wall. One thing I have to decide is if there will be a few ‘extra’ pieces beyond family history items. I have a handful of garden/natural curiosity items I may add as well. I guess It will come down to space and what looks good!

Selecting what photos I want to use has been the hardest part, but I’ve started a folder on my desktop. Getting photos printed off these days is pretty inexpensive, so even if I don’t use them in my gallery, I won’t have spent a lot. I think it’s important to remember, that gallery images can change too! You don’t have to find an image and have it on the wall forever. I plan on using standard sized frames for photos I don’t plan to keep up long-term.

Above is the room, future gallery wall, and the beginning layout of the gallery. I will need to get some more frames, and get the pictures printed. I will be sure to post the gallery when it’s finished (someday)!

There are some really important things to remember when displaying and storing family photos, artifacts, and heirlooms. Working in the archives really showed me the importance of taking care of precious items. I may write a whole post on it, sharing some of my favorite resources.

Two of the best pieces of advice, if you can’t use a duplicate as a display:

  1. Keep items/photos/documents out direct sunlight and fluctuating temps
  2. Use archival or museum quality framing materials

I didn’t expect this to take me so long to put together becuase I have a lot of things too add, but it is really hard to choose what to include! It is a fun process though, I have gotten to revisit parts of the family tree I have’t looked at in a long time.