Past Events

*Saturday 10/14/17, 10:00am: "What's Up With the Matts House?", with guest Troy Rost.  Verona Senior Center.

Lately the most common question we get asked at the historical society is, "What's happening with that brick house on the corner downtown?"  There sure has been a lot of activity at the old Matts house this year, and our guest this month will be Troy Rost - who is at the helm!
    Some folks might remember just two years ago when the fate of this our city's oldest home hung in the balance, and most signs pointed towards it receiving a similar fate shared by three other prominent houses that once stood on the other corners of that main intersection.  Just a year or so before that you might recall getting a chuckle driving by and noticing a large sign next to it advertising "Free house if you can move it".
    But for all its recent years of uncertainty, there were as many decades in times past where this house enjoyed a prominent stature among Verona's downtown scene.  Our local histories state that "people came from miles around" to see this impressive double-brick structure when it debuted around 1848.  This was a time only eight years after the first white settlement in Verona (a simple hole dug into the side of a mound) - and for all the log and wood houses that were built by this time not one brick home had been constructed.  Much would happen in this house between that time and now - and we'll get you up to speed!
    Our meeting will start with a brief history on the house and the part it has played in Verona's history.  Our guest Troy Rost will then present a look at what he and his team have been doing since taking ownership from the city last year - and what their project will look like at the end.  Troy will share some surprises found beneath the many layers of drywall, veneer, and old layers of paint.  We will hear insight on the unique challenges of fixing up a historic structure into a sustainable business - which Troy is no stranger to.  We hope you'll join us to find out what's up with the Matts house!

*Friday 9/8/17, 12:30pm: "Goodbye, Gordon School". A presentation at the Verona Senior Center, followed by a field trip to the school - soon to be demolished.

The Gordon School building has sat at on the corner of highway M and Midtown Road in some form for over 150 years.  It taught generations of rural school children back in a day when Verona's countryside was divided up into over a dozen small, numbered school districts.

Families of shared district #11 would come to know this building well.  Their kids would walk in the snow from neighboring farms, in some cases being pulled in a sled by tractor when the snow was too high.  They would bring lunches that their teacher would warm up in the old stove, and enjoy recesses playing softball in the field next door.

The Gordon School is also home to one truly fantastic Verona story which occurred on a stormy September day in 1928.  While school was in session, a tornado formed to the West and headed towards the Gordon School - destroying nearby farms on the way.  As the original wooden school was torn open and collapsed, students inside were saved by the quick thinking teacher who had gathered them next to the piano for shelter.

The building was rebuilt of brick the following year in 1929.  Unfortunately, the budget left no room for supplies.  Area mothers solved that problem by selling squares on a fundraising quilt which - nearly 90 years later - will be on display during our meeting.

The great school district consolidation of 1964 would end the Gordon School's service.  It was then sold and has remained a private residence in the decades since.  Sadly, what the tornado started a bulldozer will finish as the building is demolished in the coming months to make way for the widening of Highway M.

*Saturday 8/19/17, 10:00am: "25 Years of Verona Area Community Theater", with guest Dee Baldock.  Verona Senior Center.

Twenty five years ago, three Verona women organized a small show tunes performance for a public audience in the step room of the newly built Verona Middle School (now Badger Ridge).  What started at that first performance of a handful of people would grow to an organization that today puts on 9 shows a year involving hundreds of our Verona friends and neighbors - and is slated to open up their new 2 million dollar building this fall.

Our guest this month will be Dee Baldock, who was a founder of Verona Area Community Theater back in 1992.  Dee had acted in plays in high school and would later move to Verona in 1976.  Having no community theater outlets in Verona at that time (many residents will remember that Verona was previously home to a performance group called "Verona Varieties"), Dee got involved in Oregon Community theater.  It was there she learned the behind-the-scenes workings of a community theater group, eventually leading to her teaming up with Jeannie Pitsch and Karen Rogness to start VACT.

Dee will share her personal stories and memories of how a small group can grow to a successful organization that enhances the lives of both young and old Verona residents.

     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 7/8/17, 10:00am: "Treasures on South Main", field trip with host Tom Griffith.  Start at Verona Senior Center.

If you have ever noticed the lovely 1909 Victorian just South of the bike trail on South Main Street, you probably also noticed the new "Carriage House" recently constructed next to it!  In addition to purchasing the former Blizard family Victorian in 2002, Owner Tom Griffith has spent thirty years collecting architectural pieces rescued from demolitions of Wisconsin homes, churches, and barns.  In 2016 he combined many of these pieces into the eye catching carriage house next to his Victorian.  This is your chance to tour them both!

The carriage house is a unique artistic creation that serves to preserve and display pieces of historic Wisconsin structures removed as they disappeared under the bulldozer.  Components of the carriage house include the wide doors from an 1835 Stoughton house, Gables from an 1840 Milwaukee mansion, exterior wood from an 1855 Rhinelander mill, and roof trusses from a historic barn in Verona.

Our meeting with start at the Verona Senior Center at 10:00am for short project updates.  We will then walk over to to Tom's house for a personal tour of the carriage house and Victorian home.  We are grateful to Tom for this chance to see them both up close!

     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 6/10/17, 10:00am: "Delma's Lustron Home", with guest Delma Basthemer.  Verona Senior Center.

     On Westlawn Avenue sits a unique piece of post-war American history - one of Verona's "Lustron" homes.  These homes began mass production in 1948 and promised to provide returning GIs and American families with a futuristic alternative to traditional housing.  Each home was ordered and arrived in roughly 3,300 pieces to be assembled on site by a team.  Modern features included an outer shell of enamel-coated steel panels, which would "defy weather, wear and time" and promised to provide all members of the family with more leisure time due to the reduced need for household maintenance (source:  Wikipedia).  Did they live up to this promise?  Let's ask Delma!

Henry Basthemer ordered a Lustron home 1949 - the same year he and Delma married.  Their 3,300 pieces arrived in a trailer on Westlawn Avenue in April 1950 and waited in the package (due to a labor strike) until June of that year.  In that same month the last Lustron home was made as the company shut down.  Delma has enjoyed and lived in her house for 66 years.

We will start our meeting at the Verona Senior Center by watching a short video on Lustron homes with Delma.  We will then carpool to Westlawn Avenue to see the home up close!  

     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 5/20/17, 10:00am: "Follow the Evidence!  Excavating Early Verona Farmsteads", with guest Paul Reckner.  Verona Senior Center.

     Over the last year, you may have noticed several big square tarps dotting the landscape along highway 69 as it heads south through Verona.  Maybe you've also seen some people digging around in the dirt and wondered what they're up to.  Several of our members were just too curious and pulled over to meet these folks...who turned out to be friendly archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society!

Join our guest, Wisconsin State Historical Society Archaeologist Paul Reckner, who has logged countless hours studying and reconstructing information related to early Native American and White farmstead settlements along the highway 69 corridor.  It may come as a surprise to learn the wealth of artifacts and evidence found in Verona dig sites related to many periods of human activity here since last glacier.

Paul's talk will focus on work he is currently doing to research and create a map of the original overland routes and roads from Verona through Paoli to Belleville - and determine how these routes shaped the area's first wave of farmstead settlement.  Will discovering these paths and comparing them to known excavation sites lead to a better understanding of how Verona and surrounding areas were settled?

     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 4/8/17, 10:00am: "Leaving a Mark on Verona Sports; Four Decades with Coach Randy Marks", with guest Randy Marks.  Verona Senior Center.

Our guest this month is a name that will be likely be recognized by any former Verona Indians and Wildcats who grew up chasing a finish line.  Starting in 1965, Randy Marks taught Chemistry and Science in Verona schools for 42 years.  He began coaching Boys Cross Country that first year and continued to do so for all but one year until 2016 - winning state in 1974, 1982, and 1991.

Coach Marks will discuss memorable moments and seasons from his tenure here as well as the many changes that occurred during this time.  One aspect that may surprise our younger Wildcats is that in 1965 there were still no official WIAA girls sports!  Coach marks will describe how girl's Cross Country in Verona started organically at first as several students banded together in 1969 to form Verona's first girls Cross Country running club - and how that evolved to the Verona Girls Cross Country team winning the WIAA state title three times in 1980, 1981, and 1984.

Additional references:

 Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 3/11/17, 10:00am: "Main Street Memories - a Round Table Discussion", with special guests.  Verona Senior Center.
Our Guest this month will be - You!  The Verona Area Historical society is hoping to tap in to our collective memories and learn as much about South Main Street as possible.  We would like to invite anyone from the public with memories of South Main Street starting from the Matts House and heading South to the Bike Trail (also known as the stretch from the Eagle's Nest to the Railroad Tracks if you've lived here long enough).

We will be leading a round table discussion and taking notes on what businesses were where, who lived in what house, and what memories you still have about that stretch of town looking back over the decades.  If you are interested or know any longtime residents to bring, please come and help us fill in the blanks for future generations.  

Historical and present pictures of buildings in this area will be shown to help jog memories.  It will be a fun morning of reminiscing!
     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 2/11/17, 10:00am: "The Batker Blacksmith Shop", with guest Kim Kemper.  Verona Senior Center.
"Share the road" might be more geared towards bicycles today, but it hasn't been too long since our Main Street was shared by both automobiles and the original source of horse power!  Even in the decade following WWII it was not uncommon to see both cars and horse carriages traveling around Verona, and some older residents still recall seeing horses being shoed right on main street at the Batker blacksmith shop (currently occupied by Plumbing and Glass).
Our guest Kim Kemper is the great granddaughter of George Batker, whose blacksmith shop served the needs of our city for many years - from horseshoes to welding and machinery repair.  Kim and members of the Batker family have done research on the shop, and will be presenting some of the stories and artifacts they have preserved.

     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 1/21/17, 10:00am: "Verona's Lifeline:  History of the Sugar River", with guest Bill Keen.  Verona Senior Center.
The Sugar River has brought life and opportunity to Verona since the time of the glaciers.  As the glaciers melted, our first Verona residents the Native Americans used the river for transportation, hunting grounds, and to sustain early agriculture.  Evidence of their many encampments have been found on its shores.  Early white settlers also made note of the potential of the river and the abundant resources in the lands surrounding it.  Just as it influenced and provided for early Verona, now a group of dedicated individuals returns the favor and watches over the river itself - respecting its historical and contemporary significance.

Bill Keen, member of the Upper Sugar River Watershed Association will be our guest and will discuss some history of the Sugar River and what is being done now to preserve and care for it.  The association's work involves studying and monitoring water quality and animal/plant life, special restoration projects, and community outreach and education. 
     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 12/17/16, 1:00pm: "Fundraiser - Meet the Author:  John Scharer", with guest John Scharer.  Sow's Ear, Verona.

Enjoy a coffee and pick up your copy of "Down at the Nest" to help support our historical society (all proceeds go towards our upcoming projects!) Author John Scharer will be there to sign copies (limited run, available for $20) and talk about his wonderful book. John has done a limited reprinting to help the historical society as a fundraiser.

Every small town has had its own collection of "characters" - and Verona was no different! Located at Verona's "Four Corners" from 1850 to 1970, the Eagles Nest was a central hub of our small town culture for over 100 years. During its time it served as a stagecoach stop, hotel, "chop shop" for Chicago gangsters, speakeasy, hangout for Frank Lloyd Wright, and eventually a supper club serving the best dishes around.

Lifelong Verona resident John Scharer grew up in the 'nest and recalls many of the colorful people and events from the 35 years his family owned and operated it. Enjoy looking back to when "everyone knew everyone", and hear about interesting personalities from prominent citizens to railroad hobos, and all the small town drama in between

*Saturday 11/12/16, 10:00am: "Hometown Homegrown Business Series:  The Story of Park Printing", with guest Debbie Bass.  Verona Senior Center.
     We continue our look at the history of longtime Verona area businesses with our guest Debbie Bass of Park Printing.  Debbie's parents Marge and Wib Dudley started the business in 1952 in Madison, moving to Verona in 1968.  Initially focused on creating financial advertising materials for local banks, the company's focus changed to becoming a self contained printing house, leading to relationships with big clients such as Nicolet Instruments (for whom they printed product manuals).
    Park Printing of Verona is an example of a small family owned business growing along with Verona, yet keeping close ties with four generations of the family that started it. Debbie and her sister both married brothers from the Bass family (Tim and John, respectively) - all four being eventually involved with the business. Currently Debbie's son Greg is president, and her grandson also works there.
    Join us in enjoying this story of what it takes to keep a family and business thriving through the generations in our favorite small town.
     Location:  Verona Senior Center (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)

*Saturday 10/8/16, 9:15am: "Mendota Indian Mound Tour", with guide Robert Birmingham.  Meet for carpool at the Verona Senior Center.
     Author and Archaeologist Robert Birmingham will provide a personal tour to VAHS of the amazing and unique effigy mounds present on the grounds of the Mendota Mental Health Institute.  Robert has authored several books about Wisconsin Indian mounds, and is an expert on the fascinating and lost tradition of mound building in Wisconsin. He is a former State Archaeologist of Wisconsin and is currently a professor at UW-Waukesha.
    The free tour will begin with a carpool from the Verona Senior Center at 9:15 and will take about two hours.  There will be many open seats for those who do not wish to drive.  We will caravan to the mounds, each located a short distance from each other.  There will not be much walking required as we will be parking next to each point of interest.  It will be an opportunity to witness these same land formations seen by the first white settlers in the 1800s - but this time with an expert who can illuminate the various mysteries of mound building that occurred in Wisconsin from 800 to 1200 years ago.  Send questions to
     Location:  Meet at the Verona Senior Center at 9:15AM (108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593.)  We will be carpooling together to meet Robert at the mounds.

Wednesday 9/14/16, 6:00pm:  Capturing Farm Toys!
     Revisit historic periods of Wisconsin farm machinery with the Verona Area Historical Society! Our guest for our September meeting will be Tom Brunner of Verona.  One of Tom's hobbies is studying the remaining samples of classic farm implements and machinery and creating accurate scale model representations.  Whether you grew up on a farm or are just curious how the technology has changed over time, bring the whole family and enjoy these fun and educational creations.
     Location:  Verona Senior Center. 108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593

Wednesday 8/17/16, 6:00pm:  "Verona's Forgotten Cemetery", with speakers Melissa Seymour and Jim Ferolie.
     In 2008, Verona Press writers Melissa Seymour and Jim Ferolie set out to write a piece about the small plot of unmarked graves on East Verona Avenue that was being encroached on all sides by development.  A solitary granite marker on that spot is all that still exists to remind passersby about the Dane County Hospital and Poor Farm which once dominated the East side of Verona.  Melissa and Jim's investigation unearthed many surprises and long forgotten stories of a time when many "unfortunate" souls lived and worked on these grounds...and ultimately what became of them. 
     Location:  Verona Public Library.

Wednesday 7/13/16, 6:00pm: "Local History Spotlight:  The Story of Carnes in Verona", with speaker Greg Cichon.
    Carnes has been a fixture of Verona manufacturing since 1951.  A local Verona success story, the company traces its roots back to a single brilliant idea conceived as a side project by a local chemical salesman (Wilbur R. Carnes) in the late 1940's.  This idea - a new method of removing metal debris from machine oil so it could be reused multiple times -  fueled the early momentum of this company which has since evolved and grown along with Verona.
    Come hear the interesting and unique story of Carnes' early days, what it was like starting a small-town manufacturing company in the 1950's,  and how they got where they are now.
     Location:  Verona Public Library.

*Saturday 6/11/16, 10:00am:  "Verona Cemetery History Walk", with speakers Art Cresson, Mark Hunstman, and others.
Come discover the stories of Verona's founding families, veterans, notable citizens, and ordinary folks who helped shape our city - and still rest here today.

Hear about the successes and struggles of pioneer life.  See the effect of civil war on Verona families.  Meet the town doctor and his wife who saved 1,000 lives during the Spanish flu epidemic, and would later introduce basketball and annual fireworks to Verona.  Learn about the symbolism and themes carved into the headstones; why do so many graves have fingers pointing?  Why is there one hollow metal headstone, and why did bootleggers like that style so much during prohibition?

Our guides on this walking tour will be:
  • Art Cresson - Former mayor of Verona and former Verona Cemetery Sexton:  Art will describe the cemetery's history, what it takes to keep it up and running, and interesting anecdotes from his time caring for it.
  • Dr. Mark Hunstman, Ph.D.:  Mark has a passion for researching and sharing historic towns, churches, and cemeteries.  He was inspired by witnessing colorful and dramatic funeral processions in New Orleans during his time there studying French.
  • Jesse Charles - Verona Area Historical Society:  Jesse researched Verona's founding families in order to assist the effort to save the Verona Matts House.  He is excited to share these stories as well as learn from attendees of the tour.
The tour is expected to take about 90 minutes.  Chairs will be placed around the Cemetery to facilitate sitting - we will be stopping many times to talk.

Location:  Verona Cemetery.

*Saturday 5/21/16, 10:00am:  "Wisconsin Arrowheads", with speaker Sondy Pope.
     Ever look for arrowheads as a kid?  Still think of that when you happen across a triangular rock?  Most of us know Sondy Pope as representative for Wisconsin's 80th district.  History buffs may be interested in her other hobby; that growing up, she and her family up were tenacious arrowhead hunters! They learned the tricks and techniques of this wonderful hobby and amassed several thousand arrowheads in the process.  Sondy will be joining us for coffee, showing off a portion of her collection, and discussing the study of arrowheads and the excitingly intricate art of finding them.
     Location:  Verona Senior Center. 108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593

*Saturday 4/16/16, 10:30am: "Spirits of Earth:  Effigy Mound Landscape of Madison and the Four Lakes", with speaker Robert Birmingham.
     Once numbering as many as 20,000, Wisconsin is down to it's last 2,000 or so Indian Mounds.  Maybe you've seen a few and have been curious about the wonderful story they tell.  Robert Birmingham has authored several books about Wisconsin Indian mounds, and is giving a talk on the fascinating and lost tradition of mound building in Wisconsin. Robert is a former State Archaeologist of Wisconsin and is currently a professor at UW-Waukesha.
     Location:  Verona Senior Center. 108 Paoli St, Verona, WI 53593

*Saturday, March 19th - 10:00am:  Epic Farm Campus Tour, following our monthly meeting.
    The tour will be a handicap-accessible indoor tour of the three buildings that make up this third Epic campus, which opened in 2013.  A lot of Verona history went into this campus in particular.  Most of it is built on the Stewart farm (founded by one of Verona's pioneer families), and Epic's facilities team met several times with Don Stewart (direct descendant) to learn about the history of the property - so it could be worked in to the buildings.  Many of his pictures and documents hang in the halls.  Recovered barn wood and foundation stones from Wisconsin farms were used in the buildings.  Perhaps the highlight is a pair of 1950's Farmall Model M tractors that have been restored and used as art in the Shed building (one in its entirety, and one displayed as a collage of parts).

*Saturday, January 2016:  The Oregon Pump House Restoration, with Randy Glysch.