West Salem is located about 10 miles northeast of La Crosse. We had not seen everything there is to see in La Crosse, but there seemed to be several buildings of interest in West Salem which we did not wish to pass by. Our first stop in the town was at the Tourist Center and Palmer-Lewis House, which is one of two octagonal historic homes in town.
This home was built by Monroe Palmer and his wife in 1856. Eight-sided homes were a fad at the time. The home has been expanded once and moved twice. It is currently being restored to reflect a mid-1900s farm house. The West Salem Historical Society is certainly to be commended- we saw more workers at this house and the other octagonal house than we saw tourists. Both homes are in need of restoration and members of the Historical Society are taking that seriously. We also found the tour guides to be quite friendly and very patient with John’s many questions.
Monroe Palmer and Horace Palmer, M.D. were brothers. Horace had his house (pictured above) moved once because of the railroad needing land in the village of Neshonoc where he lived. He used one section of the house for his medical office, that wing is quite large and there is a similar room on the second floor. Historians suspect that he may have used that part of the house also as a hospital. The second owner of the house, Mary Lottridge, was also a physician- she was the second woman in the United States to become a doctor. The stories of the people who lived in these homes are what I found so fascinating!
The other home which we visited was the homestead of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hamlin Garland, who lived from 1860 to 1940. His early success as an author made it possible to purchase the home for his aging parents in 1893. He later used it as his summer home for his family. Garland was also a carpenter- he remodeled the home many times. Some of the changes he made on the house were for the comfort of his servant. During the Victorian age it was customary for the servants to step down into their bedrooms- so they would always be mindful of their standing in the family. Hamlin corrected that in this house. Also, in the kitchen, he had the sink built low so the cook did not have to stand while washing dishes or preparing vegetables. There are many objects in the house which speak to who the author was as a person and what mattered to him, as Native American rugs on the floor as well as displays of musical instruments. Pictured below is the room where he did a lot of his writing. All total, he wrote 52 books- many years ago I read on of them, Main Travelled Roads. I am looking forward now to reading a few more of his books.