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Oregon Area Historical Society


2023 Events


Christmas at the Museum is coming!

Heather Young, OAHS Publicity Coordinator and Tuesday Crew

Recent Blog

The Wounded Vet Who Guided our Community
by Luke Heiar

I am sure you have seen the name Netherwood around town. Most notably an elementary school (Netherwood Knoll) and an east/west road on the north side of the village. And if you are like me, you probably assumed this was one of those generic names often laid upon the suburbs, like Wildwood or Timber Ridge. What you might be surprised to learn is that Netherwood is named after a man who not only lived an extraordinary life, but also contributed enough to our community that it’s a wonder they didn’t re-name the whole village after him.


Charles William (C.W.) Netherwood was born in Watervliet, NY in 1843. His parents, Joseph and Emma, moved to the US from England right after their marriage in 1842, without much to their name. Joseph learned the trade of wool manufacturing and became an expert in the booming textile industry, helping to start up new factories along the Hudson river. Meanwhile Charles received intermittent education until he was the ripe age of 10, after which he took a job in a factory.


Like many others at the time, Joseph wanted to take advantage of the new opportunities being created out west. He saved up enough to buy 80 acres of land in the southwest corner of the Town of Oregon in 1856. The property was located just south of where Hillcrest Ln currently meets Bellbrook Rd. There Charles worked driving cattle, a legit cowboy, while getting educated at a local school as well as at a seminary in Evansville. 


In April of 1861 the Civil War broke out. In August of 1862, at the age of 19, Charles enrolled as a private in the Wisconsin 23rd Volunteer Infantry. He and a regiment of about 1,000 young men traveled from Camp Randall through Ohio, Kentucky, & Tennessee, defending and fighting along the way. By winter, his regiment was so burnt out from disease and battle that only ¼ of the men could even hold a musket. 


In spring of 1863 Charles found himself in western Mississippi fighting to take over the last Confederate stronghold on the river: Vicksburg. On May 16th, During the pivotal battle of Champion Hill, Charles got hit in the head with a piece of iron tossed from an unusual Confederate shell (more on that later). This left him in a condition where he could hear perfectly fine, however, could not move a muscle in his body. Other soldiers assumed he was dead. Some came to pay their last respects and laid his arms in the crossed “burial” position. After about an hour and a half, he mustered up the strength to move his little finger. “Migod! Charley’s Alive!!” yelled one of his companions. There was not much time for recovery. The very next day he found himself in the Battle of Black River Bridge, not as a combatant, but in the front lines none-the-less.


By May 22nd, 6 days after he was knocked numb by shrapnel, Charles was fighting again in the final siege of Vicksburg. It was here that he not only took a bullet to the shoulder, but also a cannonball to the face. This time, he had to go to the hospital. The damage was severe enough that on June 4th, he was sent up to Memphis to have ½ of his lower jaw removed. In extreme pain and unable to eat solid food, he was sent home in September. 


Back at Camp Randall, the local surgeon thought he was in good enough shape and sent him south again, back to the front lines. Fortunately for Charles, the field surgeons thought differently and suggested he be discharged. Which he was, honorably, in November, 1863 with the rank of Corporal.


All of that makes for a great story and there is no doubt that Charles Netherwood earns a place in our history for risking his life and donating some teeth to preserve our union. What he did after his service is why we name roads and schools after him.


Charles was able to cover up his deformed jaw by growing his now iconic beard, however the bullet to the shoulder left his arm in poor shape. He attended the University of Wisconsin for a short time but found it hard to find work as a disabled vet. He tried to carry on his father’s tradition as a farmer, but that proved to be too laborious for his condition, so he worked a series of office jobs and even made brooms for a while.


He married his first wife, Eva Bedford in 1866 who sadly passed away a year later. The next year he married a fellow New York native and widow, Lucy Gilbert. Her previous husband was killed in one of the final battles of the Civil War. She brought with her a daughter, Addie.


Seeing potential in Oregon, Charley commissioned the construction of a 2-story building named Netherwood Hall at the corner of N. Main St & Jefferson in 1868; today a green space with a little walking path and a bronze horse statue.

It was during this time that Charley started to dedicate himself to public service. He became village treasurer and sat on the township’s board of education. In 1869, at the age of 26 he was hired as the local PostMaster, a job he held until 1893.


On July 4th, 1873, 5 years after its construction Netherwood Hall burned down. I speculate fireworks, but there is no evidence behind this. A new Hall was built in its place that same year.


In 1883, with a population of 581, the Village of Oregon became incorporated. Netherwood was elected Village President the following year. A political “unicorn”, Charles was a strong supporter of both education and business. During his 21 years as village president he had quite a few milestones:

  • 1891. Encouraged Badger Cycle Company to build a factory just south of where Janesville & Spring St meet (currently Badger Auto). While this was being constructed, they hit a natural spring. A few years later a pump was installed and running water was provided to much of downtown.
  • 1894. Organized the Village’s first Fire Department
  • 1895. Built the first high school
  • 1898. Had streetlights installed downtown
  • 1899. Had the pump house & our iconic water tower built next to the Badger Cycle building
  • 1901. Telephone systems added to the village
  • 1901-1903. Took a leave from President to move to Washington DC and serve as a clerk in the US Senate.
  • 1904. First band concerts held in Triangle Park. Still going on today.
  • 1906. Businesses were complaining about all of the horses tied up downtown, so Charles had the village purchase a strip of land just north of the business district and named it “Hitching Park” which is still there today, however, now designed for cars rather than horses. 
  • 1908. Led the way for the first library
  • 1911. Promoted the first automobile shop


Sure, Oregon would have ended up with most of these items eventually, but it always takes that adventurous individual at the top to make it happen, and C.W. Netherwood was he.


In 1898 Netherwood Hall burned down again. Not one to be discouraged by setbacks, Charles rebuilt and dubbed the building “The Phoenix”. This time his investment worked out and The Phoenix stood until 1988 when it was raised and turned into the green space you see today.


Netherwood was an active Republican. He started the career of Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette by encouraging him to run for Dane County District Attorney. Bob went on to become a US Senator, US Representative, Wisconsin Governor and founder of the Progressive Political Party. The La Follette family thanked Charles by having him escort Bob’s son, Philip, to his Gubernatorial inauguration in 1935.


By 1927, Charles was among the last living civil war veterans. A traveling historian and former Confederate soldier named James Thornby made his way to Oregon to interview him. After some initial, and expected, animosity, James declared that he has been “From the bottoms of {his} feet” a lifelong Republican, however, fighting for the south was the only viable option for him at that time. As their conversation went on, Charles recalled getting knocked out by a “peculiar” shell at Champion Hill in 1863. James knew exactly what he was talking about. 


“I made those shells and fired every shot at Champion’s Hill from the battery that day.” he said. 


“What! Then you fired the shot that caused me 64 years of pain.” Charlie replied.


“I fired it. I am sorry that you were wounded” Thornby admitted.


The two veterans carried on their conversation until the early morning. As it turns out, the Confederate army was low on ammo, so they were taking whatever they could find to load the cannons with. The shell that hit Charles was likely made from bits of locomotive parts.


A lifelong teetotaler and supporter of prohibition, Charles stayed in good health well into his later years. He celebrated his 85th birthday by hiking 12 miles to Madison. When asked if he was tired after his journey, he danced a jig. He made a similar trip on his 90th. When he hit 94 he was recognized as the oldest FreeMason in the entire state, offering 73 years of service to the organization.


Every small town needs that neatly dressed, friendly old man who sits on his porch and waves at the school children as they walk by, and that was Charlie’s final role in Oregon. Hearing loss removed Netherwood from much of his active public life, however he was still a well recognized & very well respected member of the community up until his final days. Charles William Netherwood died on July 4th, 1938 at the age of 95. He lived a life of service and inspirational resilience that deserves to be passed on for generations to admire. If you would like to learn more about Charles Netherwood, visit our local History Museum on Market St.

This Month
in History

100 Years Ago: November 1923

  • Jess Hall has just had his herd of 34 pure bred and high grade Brown Swiss cattle tested for tuberculosis and everyone was perfect and he how now has a clean herd.
  • At Cusick’s park Sunday afternoon Stoughton and Oregon will play football.  Enough said to draw a big crowd.  This is the game you want to see.  The game is called at 2:30. Be there to see the kick off.  Admission, adults 50 cents, children 25 cents.  A snappy game predicted.
  • The William Johnson Post of the American Legion will recognize armistice Day, Nov. 11 with a short memorial service in the high school gymnasium.  The speaker, Attorney Glen Stephens, a veteran of World War, comes to us very highly recommended.  The program will conclude with a minute of silent prayer at 11am.
  • A packed house greeted the Guild Tuesday evening when they presented the play “Old Peabody Pew” at the Presbyterian church.  The rendition of the play was enjoyed by all as was also the musical numbers on the program.  The members of the cast took their parts exceptionally well.
  • Miss Lucy DeJean and A. E. Relton drove down from Bayfield Saturday and spent over Sunday at the home of her other sister, Mrs. Percy Neath.

50 Years Ago: November 1973

  • Mr. And Mrs. Harry Dreher, 427 Jefferson St., were honored Sunday, November 4, in honor of their diamond wedding anniversary (60 Years).
  • Mr. And Mrs. Alvin Kapusta spent the weekend at their deer farm in Clark County. They are enjoying their new hobby and the pleasure of having fleet-footed animals now tame enough to eat from the hands of their owners.
  • Mr. And Mrs. Robert Curless  and Mark, and Mrs. Elizabeth Coombs attended the 90th birthday open house for Mrs. Mary Heisel at the Methodist Church at Valley Wisconsin.  Mrs. Heisel is a cousin of Mrs. Curless and Mrs. Coombs.
  • More than 500 band members, parents and friends attended “appreciation night” for those band members who were on tour during the summer of ’73.
  • Bill Roberts, son of Mrs. And Mrs. Lloyd Roberts, Brooklyn, has joined the staff of Madison City Planning Department.  In addition to his work with the planning department, he does free lance illustrations as well as the cover design for a national monthly magazine.
  • Budget approved, taxes to drop again: Village of Oregon taxpayers can rest assured that their property taxes will take a big drop again this year, in spite of the 10-mill decrease last year.  This calls for a village mill rate of .03821 as compared to .04738 last year.
  • David Gasner was initiated into the Beta Nu Chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi Fraternity on November 1, 1973 at Vandercook School of Music in Chicago.  This is an honorary college band fraternity. 
  • Lyman Anderson, who farms south of Oregon and is a supervisor of the Dane County Soil and Water Conservation District, has one of the finest wildlife areas in the county.  It is unique in that the open level country around it is nearly devoid of trees.  This area was established 16 years ago as a tribute to his grandfather, Arthur Sholts, who was a University of Wisconsin Regent.   The 25 acre area is planted to white pine, Norway pine and white spruce.  He has also planted hard maple and black walnut threes the last few years.  Multiflora rose has been planted throughout the area to make travel lanes for wildlife.

25 Years Ago: November 1998

  • Lindsey Dockus voted at Oregon High School’s mock election. According to the election coordinator about 300 students and faculty participated. Also in the picture left to right: Beth Ballweg, Allison Buehler and Dustin Buescher.
  • Scouts from Troop 50 installed bike racks and park benches in Jaycee and Kaiser Park under an Eagle Project. To reach the rank of Eagle a scout must plan, develop and give leadership to others in a project that benefits the community. Service projects typically take hours of planning and must clearly.

  • State Champs! 
    From left , Eric Nutt, Ben Olson, Chris Rago, Derek Puls and Eli Paster hold the hardware that they have wanted all their life, the Division 2 state soccer championship trophy. The Panthers were ranked number one all season and finished that way, something the quintet makes sure everyone sees as they all hold up one finger.
  • Plans moved ahead quickly to expand the Village of Oregon’s office, police and public works space. The village board approved entering into a $265,950 contract to draw the plans for a new police and municipal court building, expand the utilities building and remodel the village hall.  The project would be designed and built in three phases, with a joint police station and municipal court building being started in summer 1999. The completion was projected for May 2000. Phase II would be an addition to the Public Works Building starting in May 1999 with completion by February 2000. Phase III, the remodeling of the village hall, was scheduled to be bid in February with an anticipated completion of February 2001.
  • The proportion of land use, number of additional residents and the order in which properties were to be phased into the development plan were highlights of a special Plan Commission meeting to address Oregon’s Master Plan. The village had close to 58 percent residential use. In the revised Master Plan, the residential use was lowered to 41 percent, including predominantly (two-thirds) single-family housing. The plan projected that 4,500 additional people were expected to move into the area by the next 15 to 20 years. According to the Oregon School District Business Manager, that growth would translate into 1,500 new students. The school district would need a new site for another middle school. The one they had then was filled to capacity.

10 Years Ago: November 2013

  • Firefighters contain condo fire:  A fire Saturday night caused about $100,000 damage to a condo home on Prairie Grass.  Fire Fighters from six departments responded to the call around 6:12pm,  Oregon Fire captain Robin Powers told the Observer.  Powers said no one was home at the time the fire started and that family members returning to the home discovered the smoke and called emergency personnel.
  • This father does his best to keep his children dry as they brave the rain to trick or treat on Halloween.

  • Senior Goalie holds up the WIAA Division 2 state championship Saturday as he and his Panther teammates celebrate a 4-3 shootout win after a scoreless 100 minutes with Cedarburg at Time Warner Stadium at Uhlein Soccer Park.

  • Pump House Restoration making progress:  An effort to refurbish the historic water tower pump house in downtown Oregon is moving ahead thanks to a resident who’s spearheading the project.  Randy Glysch moved to Oregon in June and has been working with village officials and contacting landscaping businesses about donations for the first phase of what could ultimately become a restoration of both the water tower and the pump house.
  • Village police chief Doug Pettit says every police department has one:  that “go to” person who makes the agency run well.  In Oregon, that person is Ruti  Trace.    Earlier this month the Village Board unanimously approved Petit’s request to reclassify Trace from administrative assistant to confidential administrative services supervisor.  
  • The village has seen 45 new building permits this year through mid-October compared to just 26 in all of 2012.  The bulk of those new homes are in the Alpine Meadows and Bergamont subdivision. Alpine Meadows has three lots left, which Laurie  Zoerb with First Weber Realtors will be built on by next spring.  

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