Upper Coon Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church Records

Historical note

Originally there was only one congregation in Coon Valley and it was formally named The Norwegian Lutheran Congregation of Coon Valley. This congregation was incorporated July 30, 1854, although the group probably existed for a year or more before the actual incorporation. A worship service had been held in July 1853 at Ole Pedersen Gullord's home at which time four children were baptized and a wedding was performed by Pastor Nils Brandt. Pastor H.A. Stub served the parish from 1855-1861. His circuit included not only the three Coon Valley congregations, but Coon Prairie, Lewis Valley, La Crosse Valley, Halfway Creek, Bostwick Valley, West Prairie and Kickapoo.

The lower Coon Valley congregation was established in 1858 and incorporated in 1859 as a result of the resolution adopted at the congregational meeting of December 14, 1857. At this meeting it was decided to build a church in the middle of the valley. Shortly afterwards, in 1859, the people of the lower valley built their own church. Since the lower valley had its own church, the upper valley decided to build their own edifice on land purchased from Christopher Hansen in May 1859.

The first congregational minutes for the Upper Coon Valley congregation were kept by Pastor A.C. Preus in 1863. The new church was dedicated with appropriate ceremony on May 25, 1863. Starting in 1863, Pastor Preus was responsible for holding services at Coon Valley, Coon Prairie, West Prairie, Kickapoo, Fish Creek, Portland, and Brush Creek; Cannon Valley and Sparta were briefly served by Pastor Preus as well. In the summer of 1872, Pastor Preus left after nine years of dedicated service and returned to Norway. At the annual meeting of November 1873, the congregation decided to buy a 40-acre parsonage and call its own pastor. Pastor A. S. Meling from Stravanger, Norway, became the Valley's first resident pastor. This marks the end of the pioneer period.

After formal incorporation in February 1876, a new church structure was built. The church was designed by C. F. Ross of La Crosse and was constructed by Hoff & Pedersen. Members of the congregation cut stone and hauled lime, brick, and other materials to the construction site. The building was completed and dedicated on June 19, 1877.

A new constitution was accepted in 1887 during Pastor E. Jensen's tenure. Jensen succeeded Meling as pastor in 1882. The new constitution was a result of a controversy over predestination.

During the same meeting, a resolution passed to separate from the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Later, in June 1890, the congregation decided to affiliate with the United [Lutheran] Church. This organization was the result of a merger of the Augustana Synod, the Conference, and the Anti-Missouri Brotherhood.

Pastor Jensen was the center of controversy during the time he was pastor of the parish. He was involved in a libel suit and tried to gain a character reference from the Upper Coon Valley congregation. To do this he wrote a resolution which said "...Rev. E. Jensen is a trustworthy, truthful, honest, and upright gentleman whose word may be relied on in every case, and that he loves and does what is right towards friends and opponents." The congregation had refused to accept this in March 1892 for fear of getting legally entangled with possible monetary consequences. The pastor was upset and tried on several different occasions to have the resolution passed. Jensen began to write letters to the editors of the various Norwegian newspapers under assumed names. In these articles he praised himself and depicted some members of the congregation in a not very endearing manner.

The controversy grew and accusations on both sides increased. Finally a request was sent to Pastor G. Hoyme, the church chairman, to come to Coon Valley to hold a hearing on the matter. In the end, Pastor E. Jensen was asked to resign on January 11, 1893. Jensen resigned "as pastor for Upper Coon Valley congregation in order to get the free opportunity to arrange a more suitable division of the parish and to obtain more pastoral assistance." The resignation was accepted immediately. It has been suggested that Jensen though he could split the parish and continue on as pastor for the other three congregations (Fish Creek at that time belonged to the parish). But since they were small congregations and could not support a pastor alone, Jensen had to resign immediately from the other congregations as well.

Peace was restored to the congregation when Pastor Halvard Roalkvam came to the parish from Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1893. He tried unsuccessfully in 1905 and 1910 to have the parish call an assistant pastor to help relieve his work load. He left two months after his last plea for assistance in 1910 having received a letter of call from two congregations in Fillmore County, Minnesota. Pastor O. O. Sovde accepted the pastoral call and began serving the Upper Coon Valley congregation in March 1912. A new parsonage was constructed in Coon Valley and the pastor's salary was increased steadily every two to three years.

References: Holand, Hjalmer Rued. Coon Valley : an historical account of the Norwegian congregations in Coon Valley 1928; translated and reprinted 1976 One hundredth anniversary of the Westby-Coon Prairie Lutheran Church, 1851-1951