Don Blegen shows the photograph from the 1903 train wreck. Photo by Paul J. Seeling
Don Blegen shows the photograph from the 1903 train wreck. Photo by Paul J. Seeling

SPRING VALLEY, WI – On Sunday afternoon, March 19, the St. John’s Lutheran Church Fellowship Hall was the place to be for the informative history talk given by Don Blegen, local retired teacher, professional wildlife photographer, historian and brother of deceased author, historian Doug Blegen.

Forty people attended this interesting talk on the history of the area including Spring Valley. Blegen’s one-hour presentation was part of the on-going Senior Sunday Speaker series at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Much of the material in Don’s talk was drawn from the fascinating hardcover books published by his brother Doug, “Spring Valley – The Early Days and “Spring Valley - Yesteryear Revisited.”

Blegen began the history going back to the period of the Native Americans and white settlers interacting and how the Battle of Bad Axe affected history in the Wisconsin Territory. The Battle of Bad Axe, also known as the Bad Axe Massacre, occurred 1–2 August 1832, between Sauk (Sac) and Fox Indians and United States Army regulars and militia. This final battle of the Black Hawk War took place near present-day Victory, Wisconsin in the United States. The victory for the United States was decisive and the end of the war allowed much of Illinois and present-day Wisconsin to be opened for further settlement.

The first settlers to the area began to appear in 1857 after a geology professor came through and discovered iron ore deposits in the area of what is now Schmitt Timber and out by Cady Creek. From that discovery, the area flourished and there was the 1890 construction of the iron smelter, and the rail spur to it. 1892 saw the smelter operating 24 hours a day, and it lit up the night sky for miles around. The smelter companies would go broke and another one would take it over.

By 1908 it was all over. He also spoke about the pig iron produced that led to the thriving Spring Valley Iron Works foundry.

Don gave many fascinating details and page references to go to from Doug’s engaging two volumes of books that are available for sale at the Spring Valley Drug and Hardware. He directed everyone to page 187 for an interesting section on the timber industry in the area.

He also covered the many interesting details about the many floods that plagued Spring Valley before the dam was finally constructed, which occurred from 1965 to 1968. That two and three shift construction employed many locals and paid a lot of debts and sent kids to college.

Blegen also discussed the tremendous impact of the railroad on the area. He showed an amazing photograph of a disastrous train accident in 1903 that had one fatality.

There was a good question and answer session with many historical recollections from the audience. Following the presentation was a nice social time with ice cream and brownies.

Kudos to St. John’s for holding this informative session as part of their Senior Sunday Speaker series.