Surveyors’ Compass Was Used to Plat the City

Robert Mullen

Catalog Number: 2001.009.02

Anyone who owns property knows the value of having an accurate record of the boundaries of their land. Whether it is a small city lot or hundreds of acres, the legal description of the property is essential in assuring ownership and avoiding disputes with adjacent property owners.

The surveying of land in the U.S. is a result of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The ordinance required the government to survey U.S. territory into consistently measured parcels, a system strongly advocated by Thomas Jefferson. As the land surveys progressed, they produced a neatly divided grid across the nation. This grid is still very visible, both in our cities with streets separating blocks that are divided into lots, and in rural areas where large squares of agricultural fields can be seen from the air.

La Crosse County was first surveyed by the federal government in the late 1840s. The survey divided the county into Townships six miles square. The Townships were then divided into 36 square Sections. As the land was further divided up and sold, the surveyors’ skills continued to be necessary to insure fairness to both buyers and sellers.

The surveyors’ compass shown here was probably used to create boundaries in La Crosse County during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The compass, on its original tripod, was used by the local surveyors’ office when Henry Lueth was the La Crosse County Surveyor about 1920. The function of the compass was to determine the correct direction of a horizontal property line. Besides the compass, the surveyor also needed to use a 66-foot surveyors’ chain and a theodolite, an instrument to measure vertical angles.

This compass was quite old when Lueth was the County Surveyor, and was probably considered obsolete. It was made about 1870 by W. & L.E. Gurley, makers of technical instruments in Troy, New York. It sold for about $30.00, with an additional $5.00 for the tripod. Made of brass, the compass includes its wooden case, with room to store its two sights, a plumb bob, a level, and the swivel attachment for the tripod. The box has its original printed paper label inside the lid.

The compass was donated to the La Crosse county Historical Society by Lueth’s grandson Clinton in 2001. You can see this beautifully engineered instrument with its original case and paper label at the Riverside Museum in Riverside Park.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 14, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Gysbert Van Steenwyk's Portfolio

Hailey Hudzinski

Catalog Number: 1987.044.01

Gysbert Van Steenwyk was a notable figure in La Crosse during the 1800s. He was born in Utrecht, Holland, in 1814, and spent his childhood in the Netherlands, where he served as a volunteer in the army at age 16. He later served as an officer in the Netherlands National Guard from 1838 to 1849. He also attended the University of Utrecht, earning degrees in philosophy and philology.

Van Steenwyk moved to the U.S. in 1849 and settled in Milwaukee. He later moved to Newport, Wis., and then to Kilbourn City (now the Wisconsin Dells) before coming to La Crosse.

He became involved in both state and local politics after he settled in Wisconsin. Some of his most notable positions include representing representing Columbia County in the Assembly in 1859, serving as mayor of La Crosse from 1873 to 1874, and serving in the state Senate from 1879 to 1880, representing District 31, which included La Crosse County.

The portfolio pictured here belonged to Van Steenwyk during his time in state politics. The front of the portfolio boasts the words “Wisconsin Legislature,” printed in gold. It featured a lock and key. The inside of the portfolio is broken into sections for “Letters Answered,” Letters Unanswered” and “Notes and Addresses,” along with an open section in the front for paper. In this front section there are several pages of loose-lined paper, and one of these has the start of a letter scrawled across it.

Outside of politics, Van Steenwyk made a name for himself in banking and helped underwrite La Crosse’s growth from a frontier logging town to a modern city with diversified industries.

He founded the Batavian Bank in 1862, which was named after the Republic of Batavia (the name of the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Era). The Batavian Bank building, 319 Main St., was completed in 1888 and was home to the bank for nearly a century, during which time it was the oldest and largest financial institution in La Crosse. The Chicago-based architect, Spencer Beman, designed the limestone Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style building. Since its creation, the bank building underwent several renovations and name changes. It is now home to a number of local businesses.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 7, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Funke's Easter Sweets Candy Box

Bed Hudrilik

Catalog Number: 1986.033.01

Easter is known for its many traditions, including the Easter Bunny, painting and hiding eggs, and searching for candy baskets. But how did all of these traditions start?


It’s thought that the tradition of the Easter Bunny came to the United States with German immigrants as early as the 1700s. These immigrants practiced having their children make a nest for a large mythical hare named Osterhase so he could come and lay his colorful eggs. The tradition soon spread across America, but it was not just German immigrants who influenced the Easter holiday.

Eggs have long been associated with Christ and springtime as symbols of rebirth and resurrection, but they also were used by pre-Christian religions as symbols of new life. The popular egg-rolling competition is now associated with the moving of the rock from Jesus’ tomb.

Decorating eggs goes back to 13th-century Europe, when people would give up eggs during Lent. Eggs often would be decorated but not eaten until Easter morning to mark the end of Lenten season.

Candy is a relatively new Easter tradition. The chocolate egg originated in France and Germany during the 19th century. Today, Easter is the second biggest holiday for candy sales in the United States. Chocolate is king, including in La Crosse.

Funke Candy Co. was once the largest confectioner in La Crosse, and it was open from 1890 to 1933. It was located at 101 State St., which today is the site of The Charmant Hotel.

Funke produced 160 types of chocolates and more than 500 types of candies. The confectioner had a reputation for still hand dipping chocolate at a time when its competitors were beginning to use machinery instead.

Funke candy was sold across the country, and the treats also were available on most major railways at a time when passenger cars were a popular form of transportation.

During the candy heyday, Funke had about 220 employees. It had offices, a salesroom, a stockroom and a shipping area on the first floor. The second floor was home to the chocolate department, the creamery was on the third, and hard candies were made on the fourth floor. The company was doing so well that in 1908 that it added on to the back of the building for more space.

The Great Depression hit in the late 1920s, causing the demise of candy factories such as Funke, which closed its doors in 1933.

Funke made the Easter Sweets candy box that is pictured here. The purple box features some of the newer Easter traditions we’re all familiar with, including lilies, bunnies, chicks and colorful eggs.

This artifact was donated by Elfrieda Jahnel, who ran a photography business from her studio at 107 N. Fifth St. She was born in 1919, which means she would have been a young girl and early teen during the Funke candy era. It’s possible she may have received this candy box as a gift one Easter morning.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on March 31, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.