Sunday, January 6, 2013

An Avalanche in Wisconsin

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Have you ever looked at a map and noticed the name of a town that is just too interesting not to visit? That’s how it was with my younger sister and me years ago when we were heading home from a birding trip along the Mississippi.

Peggy was driving and I asked if she wanted the fastest way home or if she wanted to take some backroads. She said she didn’t have a deadline for being home, so I could pick some backroads for us to travel. Looking at the map between our current location and home, I saw a town called Avalanche.

The town of Avalanche was platted in 1854 by Cyrus F. Gillett. The name of the village was said to have been taken from the formation of the earth immediately to the east of the town which resembled a gigantic landslide or avalanche which was suddenly stopped in its destructive course.

On that first trip, Peggy and I took Avalanche Road out of town heading east. Both sides of the road were lined with woods, and suddenly a barred owl flew from one side of the road to the other, barely missing our windshield.

Peggy immediately stopped the car and we were able to get some good looks at the bird as it sat in a tree on the other side of the road. Avalanche Road is one of those roads that don’t have much traffic, so we probably startled the owl from his late afternoon nap.

Since that time, as Joann and I have traveled the backroads of Western Wisconsin, we have made multiple stops in Avalanche. One of the interesting buildings still standing is the Avalanche Lutheran Chapel.

The chapel hasn’t changed much over the years, but we always stop and take a few photos whenever we pass by.

The town also has an abandoned house near the church and we always wonder about the buildings left abandoned. What memories does the house hold of the families that once lived there?

And down the road a small ways is an old farm with many unused buildings. One of our favorite buildings there is an old tobacco barn.

This area of Wisconsin once had a thriving tobacco farming presence. Now many of the tobacco barns around there are slowly falling down.

Avalanche in its early days was a farming community with mills to grind the farmers’ grain, a one-room school, a general store, and a creamery to process the local milk.

The Avalanche history that I read was from 1884, so I don’t know how long the town thrived before the businesses closed and the town all but disappeared.

Sometimes, without realizing it, we drive right by towns that were once thriving communities. We are always fascinated by any information we can find about these towns. We are also sad that we will never get to see and photograph the old buildings that are now gone.

That’s what keeps us eager to spend all the time we can out on the backroads in as many states as our schedules will allow.

Happy Shunpiking!


  1. i lived in that old house in the sixties. i also attended the one room school house. there was eight rows of desks in the main room. whichever grade you were in is the row you sat in. i was in row one. i don't have many memoriers except fishing in the river with a christmas ornament hook.,finding a garden snake in the yard and scaring the heck out of ma when i showed it to her. we also go by there every once in awhile, just to look at the scenery.

    1. Thanks for the memories. We weren't aware of any one-room schools in the area. Is it still standing?