Regular readers of ‘D News’ know that I grew up in downtown DeForest, which is sometimes referred to as the “Main Square” of the village. I thought that this would be a good time to take my readers on a Historic Walk of Downtown DeForest.
As I was growing up, it seemed like the downtown area never changed — the buildings and people stayed pretty much the same year after year. Then in the early 2000s there was a rebuilding of this area. Old buildings around the main square began to come down and they were replaced by the new buildings that you see there today.
Today there is about a 50/50 mix of old and new buildings. On the walk I will tell you a few things about some of those old buildings that were around when I was growing up and no longer exist today.
We’ll start the walk at the corner of East Holum and Market Streets, at the Century Link telephone building. Years ago, there was a two-story house located here and it was the residence for the local manager of the North-West Telephone district which served the DeForest-Poynette area. There was a one-room addition on the north side of the building which had a big switchboard that was tended to around the clock by telephone operators. There was a barn behind the building that stored all necessary telephone equipment for local linemen to service the lines and switching equipment for the district.
The next building on Market Street was the Times Publishing Office downstairs and the upstairs was my home for the first 12 years of my life. In the basement was the big press that printed the DeForest Times-Tribune every week. Today this area is the north end of the DeForest Area Public Library.
The library moved into this distinctive building in 2002. Eight old buildings had to be taken down to make way for this impressive structure. They were — DeForest Times Office, Bredeson Barber Shop, an apartment house, Village Beauty Shop with family residence behind, an apartment house that once was William Grinde Attorney Office, another apartment house that was originally the DeForest Times Office, Kreps Photography Studio, and Ethun Agency Insurance and Real Estate office.
The brick building on the corner was the Wisconsin Power & Light Building and is now owned by Genesis Hair and Day Spa and also houses Aranda’s Mexican Restaurant.
There are two other buildings at the corner of Market and Commerce Streets. One is the office of the DeForest Windsor Chamber of Commerce office in the old Lyster home that was originally located on East Holum Street. It was moved to its corner location a few years ago. On the other corner is a beautiful, massive house of the Moldstad family built in 1880. It has been converted into an apartment building.
The buildings on the south side of Commerce Street are family type homes and all built in the early years of DeForest. They have all been well kept over the years. I lived in the old John Connor house at 105 Commerce Street during my teen years and my early 20s. It was a grand old house.
The north side of Commerce Street has a newer large building that has apartments in the upper floors and commercial businesses and offices on the main floor. Let’s talk about some of the buildings that were replaced by this large building.
Next to the Genesis Hair and Day Spa building was a two-story building that was a hardware store on the main floor. It was first a Marshall Wells Store and changed names and was a Coast to Coast Store for a number of years.
The building next door was the insurance office for Simon Ethun. It was then rented to the Postal Service as DeForest’s Post Office for many years. Then it was rented as a beauty parlor, electric fixtures store, and a dry cleaning store.
The next building to the west on Commerce Street was originally a drug store owned by Dr. Bertrand. It was used as furniture store, and clothing store over the years. “Fussy Olson” operated a saloon there for many years. And there was a TV and radio shop in the building. It was also used as the American Legion Hall.
Ralph Johnson built a quonset building in the center of the block and opened the Norway Theatre which ran for a number of years. Two local churches held services there for a while as major construction work took place at their main church buildings. When the movie house closed down, the building was bought by the American Legion Post who planned to build a hall that they would rent out for public gatherings but this did not work out well so the Legion sold the building to local masons, Haug and Lochner who remodeled it into the Thunderbird Club. It was a popular supper club over the years and was known for its Friday Night Fish Fries.
Four original structure buildings close out the west end of Commerce Street. At 108 Commerce Street was the home of Lewis Dahl who was one of the founders of the village and a former village president. The house next door, 124 Commerce, was the house of Walter “Bolah” Dahl who was the fire chief of DeForest for many years.
The print shop building has held many businesses over the years. Chiropractor Nelson Bakke opened his first office in this building. It was also used as a restaurant and laundromat over the years.
The last store on the corner of Commerce and Main Streets has a long history as being the grocery store for the community. It was a grocery store when it first opened in 1902. Farness and Johnson ran the IGA store for many years and the store was sold to Norman Egstad in 1951 who sold it to Henry “Bud” Schultz in 1953. When Schultz Store moved up Main Street to the new shopping center, the store was a Gambles Store and later became an auto parts store. It has been a T-shirt store for a number of years.
I’ve covered only half of the walking tour and I have run out of space for my column this week. Tune in next week and I will finish off this tour for Main and East Holum Street.
Dick Emerson is the former publisher of the DeForest Times-Tribune.