History Galesville Wisconsin

By Jay Syrmopoulos —

Located roughly 20 miles north of La Crosse in the Coulee Region of the Mississippi Valley, Galesville features beautiful rolling hills, towering cliffs, forests and spring-fed streams. In fact, in 2008, Galesville was awarded the prestigious Scenic Beauty Award from Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin.

The history of Galesville begins with a man named George Gale purchasing over 2,000 acres of land, which included the location of Galesville, his namesake city.

In January 1854, Gale organized the new county of Trempealeau after securing the right to water power on Beaver Creek. He then chose the location of Galesville as the county seat and obtained a charter for a university, Galesville College (renamed Gale College in the 1890s). In the summer of 1854, the first building was erected and a grist mill was built by AH Armstrong. Shortly after, Ryland Parker opened the location’s first hotel and grocery store. One of the first settlers to the new town was BF Heuston, who relocated from Trempealeau and built his cabin on the eventual site of the first county courthouse. 

Work on Galesville College was started in 1858, the preparatory department opened in the courthouse during the summer of 1859, and the collegiate department opened in the fall of 1861. Gale College was permanently closed in June 1939 due to dwindling enrollment. In modern times, the Old Main building of Gale College has been restored by the Old Main Historical & Community Arts Center, which the group rents out to hold events and fundraisers, while another of the buildings is being used as a kindergarten.

Trempealeau’s first county fair was held in the fall of 1859 in Galesville, and Galesville’s first newspaper, the Galesville Transcript, was established in 1860. This was a time of great prosperity, in which many houses were built.

Galesville was built around a town square with houses and businesses arranged in New England fashion. 

In modern times, one of the biggest local events is the Galesville Apple Affair, which draws thousands of people from across the region to Galesville’s downtown square on the first Saturday in October. Allyn Kaste, who owned Kaste’s Morningside Orchard, started this annual family tradition in 1983 to promote Wisconsin’s apple orchards. The centerpiece of the celebration is the baking of a 10-foot homemade apple pie. This giant pie takes 483 pounds of apples, 70 pounds of crust, 125 pounds of streusel, and 91 pounds of cinnamon-sugar mixture, weighing in at a whopping 789 pounds! When he first started the tradition, Kaste worked to build an oven that could hold the pie. He ended up with a 12-by-12-foot oven on wheels that can be rolled over the enormous dessert. 

“The pie is too heavy to move, so we had to move the oven,” Kaste told the La Crosse Tribune in 2009. “It’s not a world record, but it’s probably the biggest pie you will ever see.”

In addition to the massive apple pie, area orchards set up stands where visitors can purchase apples and apple treats from local growers. There are also many craft makers and artisans selling fine, handmade products in the parking lot across from the Square. The smell of hot dogs and bratwurst wafts through the air as the sound of live music from the big tent treats your ears to a wholly festive atmosphere.

Additionally, those looking to work off some of the calories from all the good food can enjoy the Apple Affair Bike Tour, which includes hundreds of bicyclists who spend most of the day touring the Galesville apple orchards and the surrounding area on bicycle. The scenery of this “Garden of Eden” is spectacular and the event is a perfect family affair. While the first Apple Affair Bike Tour attracted 42 bicyclists who rode the 28.7-mile loop from downtown Galesville through the orchards, the event has grown substantially in popularity over the years, sometimes with more than 200 bicyclists participating.