top of page

History of Rockland

The following was taken from the LaCrosse Tribune 1964

 “The village is situated at the east central edge of LaCrosse County in the LaCrosse River Valley in a fertile agricultural region. A huge rock stands at the village edge and it is this monument of nature which gave the community its name. The first known settler was John Nicholson, who was born in England and came to this country in 1850.  He came to this region with his family and established a large farm in 1859. The surrounding area was first settled in 1851, and many other settlers followed before it was organized as the Town of Burns in 1854 by 36 voters. The town grew until there were 82 voters registered in 1857, 91 in 1858, 133 in 1859 the year Nicholson settled and 143 in 1860. Local townspeople became embroiled in a spirited controversy four decades ago over the issue of whether to incorporate as a village. An election took place and when the ballots were counted 29 citizens had voted in favor and 26 against the proposed change from town rule to local government. Opponents of the change claimed some of the votes for incorporation were illegal and they appealed to the courts to void the election. The courts prohibited incorporation until the appeal could be heard, and the matter was finally settled by a judge who dissolved the injunction which had halted incorporation.The village was officially incorporated in 1919 and its first president was Eugene Hesselberg.”


The following was written by Carl Friske

“Years ago Rockland was on the Stage Coach Road from Portage on the Wisconsin River, to LaCrosse. This was before, and maybe up to1858, when the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad came through, and Northwestern about 1873. The stage stop was called Fish Creek stop.  Everything was called Fish Creek, even up to the present Fish Creek Ridge. The Stage House was part of the present Betts House. (201 Rock Street)  The Stage barn was on the present Hulda Langrehr and Fay Olson property. The first well for the community was south-west of the Stage House. It was laid up with stone, and was about 4 feet across and 40 feet deep. Water was first pulled up with a bucket. Later a chain bucket pump was installed: and last of all, a regular iron cylinder pump was installed. 

About the time the Railroad came through, Fish Creek was renamed Rockland because there was another Fish Creek Post Office in Wisconsin, and there could not be two of the same name.  Mr. R.D. Edwards suggested the name “Rockland” because of the Rock. Mr. Edward, a Welchman, was born in 1822, and had settled on a farm on the present Random Rd. about 2 miles southeast of Rockland, in 1875.  He became the station agent for the Northwestern Railroad in 1878. Martin Ondell Sr., born in Norway in 1814, built a store and a grain warehouse in about 1879. His son Lewis began running the store in 1879, and another son Martin Jr., ran the warehouse, located on the Milwaukee Railroad. John Campbell was on the Rockland’s first was one of Rockland’s first Milwaukee station agents and postmasters.  There is a street named after him. Another house in Rockland that was one of the originals is the house east of the church.  When it was remodeled, some time ago, the name J.B. Powell, 1873, was found on the bottom side of the threshold. Mr. Dave Hughs probably had the first blacksmith and wagon shop west of the Stage House. William Friske was the second blacksmith and wagon maker in Rockland. He learned his trade in Germany. In 1890 he started his shop in a large frame building that John Erickson had moved into town from Hersheyville (at one time a town and station 3 miles east of Rockland). Mr. Friske replaced the old shop with the present building on the same corner in 1913: and it was a hardware and farm machine store, as well as a blacksmith shop. This is now a 3 family apartment building."



“When rural mail carriers duties occupied Carl W. Friske of Rockland, from 1928-1963, he had to contend with rough roads in early years on R. 1 Rockland. He covered from 132 miles initially to 160 miles a day when he neared retirement. In the picture, he shows off the tail-end of three vehicles he used during a 12 month period. From right: an early snowmobile, the “mud car” with a truck axle, and the “summer” car of the “Overland” class. The boys are Friskes.” Photo by Carl Friske

Corner Ondell and Main Street

Erickson Store and Post Office, Erickson House, Gaylord Hotel


“Mr. John Erickson, born in Norway in 1845, came to Sparta and worked in a store. He married Mary Thompson. They had two daughters—Josephine and Ella.  Mr. Erickson came to Rockland in the summer 1873 and bought the Ondell Store and warehouse, and became one of Rockland’s main promoters. He was the Milwaukee Railroad station agent and postmaster for many years, also the Justice of Peace. He planned and plotted the original Village of Rockland. Mr. Erickson built a large 2 story frame building store on the corner of Ondell and Main Street, and lived upstairs many years until he built a large home north of his store in 1900.” (Carl Friske)


Oliver Homstad bought the store.  The Homstad Store had living quarters upstairs.  It burned Sunday night, June 13, 1920.  A new store was built out of brick.  


“The Heintz Company in about 1918 started what was known as the Heintz Pickle Factory near the site of the first Milwaukee depot.  They bought cucumbers from many local farmers and gardeners.  Large open-top silo type vats were used to salt down the pickles for a number of months.  They were later removed from the salt brine, soaked in cold water for a period of time to draw out the salt before being made

into sweet and dill pickles at a canning factory in Sparta. Nearly all youngsters, some even quite small, experienced picking pickles as it was called, and not a desirable job according to all past reports.  The cucumbers had to be picked real often as the smaller the pickle the more valuable.  They were strictly graded according to size.  An inch to two and a half inches long was priced at possibly four dollars a hundred pounds, larger sizes lower priced per hundred weights.” (written by Lillian Fleming 1981) 

The pickle factory was right along the North side of the railroad tracks on the East side of town. After the pickle factory there was a stave mill in the same general area.  

Schroeder Grocery, Barber shop, Hicks Grocery-Restaurant

Ice Cream Parlor and Post Office

Rockland State Bank on right


There was a feed store operated by Christmas Jones and Tom Davis.

A lumber yard and gas station operated by Arthur Ammundson.

Rockland had a tavern owned by Frank Arentz before the town went dry in 1938.  There was a barber shop with barbers 

Fred Pfaff and Oscar Erlandson.


In 1924 electric street lights were installed and most of 

the homes had electric lights for the first time.

In 1957 EauClaire Electric came through and moved the substation that was next to the railroad tracks to the Axlesen farm.

Electric is now provided by Northern States.


Story from Bangor Independent

“Scene of many social activities in Rockland earlier in this century was the Berg-Jones Department Store which was constructed in 1913 by Nels Berg and Steven Jones.

The second floor of the building was used as a dance hall and a large number of social activities of the Village of Rockland were held in the hall, including a number of political rallys.  One such political rally is recalled by several Rockland citizens as being for Wisconsin Governor Phillips.

Red Cross benefits during World War I were also given in the hall. 

After dances turkey and oyster suppers were popular in the restaurant of Mr. and Mrs. Oswald (Mary Jane) Evans.  The restaurant first occupied a part of the basement of the hall but later was located nearby.  A barber shop run by Carl Medhaug and Rex Carpenter was also located in the basement of the building.  The store also housed on of the banks for a period of time.

The Berg-Jones store handled a large number of items and even had a bargain basement section.  Among items included in their stock were shoes, dry goods, hardware items, a complete line of groceries, pianos, and also gasoline as noted by the gas pump in the photo.

Unfortunately the building burned about 46 years ago in September 1922.  The owner of the store at the time it burned was John Layton.

The lot is still vacant as the store was just north of the present Rockland Post Office. 

Shown in the picture are a portion of the Nels Berg Home and the auto owned by Tom Jones.  The auto is believed to be a Studebaker.  Signs posted on the store windows are those of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus which was to appear on August 2 of that year.  Erickson Bakery products were sold in the store as that firm’s name appears on the dark blue baskets on the sidewalk in the front of the store.  The Photo was loaned to the Independent courtesy of Mrs. Gladys Campbell”


A creamery was built in 1885, but it closed, and a second started about 1911.  It later became a cheese factory before it was destroyed by fire in the late 1930’s.  Note the Depot and the Rock on far right.

Cheese makers were Lewis Campbell and Jake Ammerman.

In the 1950’s, this area provided free movies on Friday nights.  

The area businesses paid for Moen Photo from LaCrosse to play the movies. This was to draw people into town.  It was a great social event.  During intermission people would visit the businesses.


Rockland history 14
Rockland history 14 copy
Rockland history 15
Rockland history 15 copy

Dr. Walter Jones and family came to America in 1858 from south Wales.  There were two boys, John J. and William J.  John J. became a doctor after studying at John Hopkins University.  He practiced in Wilmington Delaware.  William J. studied at Rush University at Chicago. Within a month illness compelled him to relinquish his studies and he returned home.  He then took over his fathers practice. His reputation as bonesetter and his marvelous cures extended throughout western Wisconsin. He became known as Bonesetter Jones.

Carl Friske said that Jones had quite a clientele for his sort of practice, hopping the morning Chicago and North Western train out of Rockland, transferring at Sparta to take the branch line to Norwalk, Kendall and thereabouts.  Then he’d come back in the evening.

He built the three story house to be a clinic / hospital. Patients would come and even stay overnight.  They would house their horses in the barn behind the clinic. In later years he set up an office in LaCrosse.

In 1958 Grace and Robert Mulder purchased the former John Erickson home for the veterans.  The community home plan, offered by the Tomah Veterans Hospital for patients who are no longer in need of regular institutional care but not yet adjusted to the extent that they may live on their own without supervision, was adopted by the Mulders.  The house would house 12 residents. 

When the house was filled to capacity and there were more patients in need, James and Charlene Beron closed their grocery store and converted the building into a dormitory for eight men.  The Berons also aided in supervising the men in occupational chores and recreation.  LaCrosse Vocational school would send a representative weekly during the school season to help with crafts.

The Mulders and the Berons alternated escorting their “family” of veterans on trips, including the regular Sunday trip in the Mulder-owned school bus to Bangor to attend church.

James and Charlene bought the business in 1963 when the Mulders opened a nursing home in West Salem.  Charlene did the book work everyday for 30 years. “My kids grew up in the business,” said Jim.  “Some of the men had a lot of visitors, some had a few, and some had none.  That’s when we had to be their family. It was good therapy to have children around,”

A garage has been converted into a workshop, where veterans repair the dividers in wooden soft drink shells and package sponges for the Sparta Brush Co.  In an occupational therapy room in the Jones house leather work is done.  The veterans tool belts, billfolds, moccasins and other leather items for Christmas gift sales. 

At one time there were 4 houses used for the Veterans.  There was the big house, the newly built house, the middle house (old grocery store) and the brown house. (109 May Street)

Life at the home was rewarding enough for Rick to return from the Navy and act as the facility’s maintenance man.  Tim who is also a veteran must have been equally impressed because he and his other brother, Terry, bought the home from their father in 1991.  Tim bought out Terry’s interest in 1999 and the facility was licensed for 32 beds.

In 2005  the home was sold to Jess and Jessica Betts and became Betts’ Place of Peace. 


The Rockland Methodist Church was built in 1896. Anton Hesselberg was the carpenter that built the church and Charles Wooley helped quarry the stone for the foundation. The land site was received from the John and Mary Erickson family.  First ministers mentioned were Rev. Alfred Verran and Rev. Jesse D. Searles. This picture was taken in 1908. The house to the right was Grace Irvine’s house.  



 In 1963 the wood furnace was converted to oil. A bathroom addition was constructed in October 1969.  Remodeling was completed in 1971 for the church’s 75th Anniversary.  The ceiling in the church proper was lowered, new lights, interior painting, new carpeting, refurbishing pews and installation of new doors and steps.

In 1858 The Milwaukee and St.Paul railroad came through Rockland.  The Chicago Northwestern came through in 1873 with a depot being built in 1878.The Chicago & Northwestern Depot was fifty by sixteen feet, one story and was surrounded by a plank platform which extended in either direction along the track for a distance of one hundred and twenty-five feet.  Mr. R.E. Edwards was the station agent and the agent for the American Express Company.  


Aeriel View 1964

The school was closed in 1967 when all schools consolidated.  Students were then bused to Bangor. The school was purchased from the Bangor School District in 1969. The building had 2 large rooms and two small rooms. One of the large rooms was the village office and the other was used for community meetings and elections. The 2 small rooms were a kitchen and a library. The library was a branch of the LaCrosse County Library. The Village then added picnic tables, playground equipment, and fireplaces for the park grounds. In later years the library was converted into 2 bathrooms and it is now handicap accessible. The grounds have a softball field, basketball court and volleyball court.


Two postcards from the 1930’s.

The Rock in Rockland Rock Park, and the Ice cave in Hylandale.

 The post office has been in many building through its history.  It started at the stage coach station then to the railroad depot.  From there it moved to many different stores. The present day Post Office was built in 2000.


1964- In the following picture you can see the Hart Tie and Lumber Co. shown in the foreground parallel with the Milwaukee Road tracks. The saw mill produced ties, lumber and wood chips operated by Henry Loomis. The firm started in about 1960. Earl Arentz operated a saw mill along the railroad tracks.The only grocery and meat store is Swanson Grocery, operated by Harold Swanson. Edward Slafer ran the only service station.


The new facilities include a deep well as a water supply, an iron-removal plant, a 50,000 gallon elevated storage reservoir, and a system of mains, valves, and hydrants to serve all developed properties in the village. The cost of the water utility facilities is estimated to be $138,043 distributed as follows:

The sewage facilities include a contact stabilization active sludge plant for complete treatment to provide an effluent of a quality suitable for discharge through the LaCrosse River to the Mississippi River.  The entire collecting, treatment, and disposal system will be gravity flow.  Collecting sewers will serve all developed properties in the village. The effluent from the disposal plant is 90% pure.

The total cost of the new Rockland facilities is $262,000 with the village assuming $24,000 sale of bonds, $125,000 and the balance of a Federal Grant of $112,600 and loans from Farmers Home Administration. This information take from the July 11, 1968 LaCrosse Tribune newspaper.

In 1968 Rockland has 85 homes and a population of 257.


Interstate 90 opened Nov. 4, 1969, a 38 mile section from Tomah to LaCrosse. There was a petition in favor of an I-90 access in 1968. Also a resolution was sent by the LaCrosse County Board to the Wisconsin Highway Department in favor of an interchange for the Village of Rockland in Sept of 1968. Historic correspondence approved a proposed interchange for Rockland back in 1972, however funding through traditional Federal-aid Interstate funds were removed as an option.

The village continues to look for opportunities to promote an interchange to the village. So close and but no access.


Hummingbird addition was annexed in 1976.


 Rockland and Bangor joined fire departments in Sept.1993.



Farmers State Bank was built in 2000 and closed in 2010.


Rockland Stop & Go

Edward Slafer owned and operated a gas station across the street from the present day station.  Edward built the new station and then sold it to John Monford. It was then sold to Robert Hansen, Al Rentz, and Michael Bjorkman. Today it is owned and operated by Tim  and Debra Higley.  (2010)


River Trail Addition platted and developed in 1994.


Gaylord Park

Gaylord Park was donated by Cecil Gaylord family. The park shelter was built in spring of 2001.  A ball field, dugouts, basketball court, soccer fields, batting cage, playground equipment and parking lot has all been added. The weekend before July 4 the town celebrates Rockland Progress Days. This includes ball games, food, music and fireworks.  Proceeds go to the Park Association for improvements.


Meadow Park estates platted in 1979 and developed in 2007

LaCrosse River Trail

Opened July 13, 1989. The bike trail is 21.5 mile trail acquired by the DNR after being abandoned by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad.  The LaCrosse River trail is connected with the 32 mile Elroy-Sparta Trail and with the 22.5 mile Great River Trail from Onalaska to Trempealeau.


Pictures and articles were gathered from the following resources.

  • Articles written by Carl Friske and Lillian Fleming.

  • Pictures from the Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin- LaCrosse

  • Pictures and articles from the Bangor Independent, Coulee News, LaCrosse Tribune and Monroe County.

  • Compiled in 2010 by Linda Young

bottom of page