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The house that is now The Roth House is an icon in the village of Soldiers Grove.  Built by one of the village’s  most distinguished and respected citizens, Atley Peterson, it is a symbol of both a proud past and a vibrant present.

Atley Peterson

Atley Peterson is often described as the person who did more to promote the early growth and general welfare of the Village of Soldiers Grove than any other man.  He was born in 1847 in Erdahl, Norway, and came to America with his family in 1852.  The family briefly lived in Vernon County, but moved to Crawford County in 1854, settling in the Pine Knob area near Soldiers Grove.  Mr. Peterson attended local schools and the Madison Business College before going into business in Soldiers Grove at the age of 19.  In 1869, he married Christina Fortney.

The founding of Soldiers Grove is generally believed to be between 1857 and 1858, the period of time in which a man named Joseph Brightman placed a dam across the Kickapoo River and built a sawmill.  As the town grew and was platted, his property, between Pine Street and the north bank of the Kickapoo, was referred to as “Block C.”  Mr. Peterson purchased the Joseph Brightman property and moved into the existing dwelling.  In 1869, he established the village’s first post office in this house, and it was also said that he maintained a small store there.  He later built a small building on the property to house the store.

In addition to being a sawmill and lumberyard owner, store owner, and part owner of the village’s grist mill, Mr. Peterson’s business career also included being a bank president and farmer.  In 1907, he won first prize for best tobacco grown in Wisconsin. He was co-owner of the Electric Light plant, which enabled Soldiers Grove to be the first village in the Kickapoo Valley to have electric lights (at $1.00 per month per residence). 

Atley Peterson

Christina Peterson

He also had a brilliant political career and an exemplary record of public service.

 Atley Peterson served as president or supervisor of the Village of Soldiers Grove almost continuously until his death.  He held the office of postmaster for 17 years, from 1869 to 1886.  His larger political career included a number of years as a member of the Crawford County Board, and most of those years he served as its chairman.  In 1879 he was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, where he served until 1882.  In 1886 he was elected Railroad Commissioner for the State of Wisconsin and served in this capacity from 1887 to 1891.  He served as Presidential Elector for Wisconsin in 1900, ran for the office of Wisconsin State Treasurer in 1902, and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1908. 

 Atley Peterson died in 1909.  Over 4,000 people attended his funeral, including a large number of state officials who came from Madison aboard a special train.  At his death, the State Legislature passed a resolution of respect and praise for his accomplishments. The paper described his passing as “a calamity for the community,” and praised his nobility.

Atley Peterson Family
The Immediate Family

The Peterson Family

Atley Peterson had two brothers who joined him in Soldiers Grove.  His older brother, Nels O. Peterson, came to the village in 1881 to engage in the mercantile business.  In 1885 he built the Grand Headquarters Hotel, operated it for eight years, and then entered the real estate and insurance businesses.  He also built the Opera House and a large dwelling on Pine Street.  Tolev Peterson operated a general store on Main Street until 1910, when he moved with his family to Montana.

Atley and Christina Peterson had ten children, six of whom lived.  The oldest son, Carl, was manager of the Bank of Soldiers Grove until his sudden death in 1905.  Dr. Nels Alfred (Fred) Peterson, born in 1876, attended St. Olaf College and Marquette Medical College.  He practiced medicine in Soldiers Grove from 1903 until his death in 1936, and was a well-beloved physician.

The Extended Peterson Family
The Extended Family

  Clarence (C.A.) Peterson also wanted to become a doctor, but when his older brother Carl died, he was called home at age 21 to run the Bank.  Four years later, when his father died, he also called upon to manage the Peterson Estate.  The Soldiers Grove Bank was the first bank to fail in the Great Depression; eventually all the small area banks, and many of the larger ones, suffered the same fate.  Clarence was taken to trial twice by disgruntled stockholders for mishandling of school funds.  The first trial, which found Clarence guilty, was appealed and found to be null and void.  The second trial absolved him of any guilt.  He left Soldiers Grove for a number of years to work in real estate in La Crosse, but was welcomed back in later years.  During World War II, he was Secretary of the Crawford County draft board.  He was born in 1885 and passed away in 1952.

Atley and Christina Peterson’s youngest son Alvin practiced law in Soldiers Grove and Stoughton, Wisconsin, where he lived at the time of his death.  The Peterson’s two daughters were Alma, the eldest, who married James Chapman, a university professor in Evanston, Illinois, and Helen, who married Samuel Groom of Boston, Massachusetts.

The House

Atley Peterson built this residence on Pine Street in 1896.  It is one of three stately Victorians in Soldiers Grove.  The others were the O.K. Himley mansion built in 1900, now The Old Oak Inn.  The other is the N. O. Peterson home, across Pine Street.

Like the Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien near the Mississippi River, the house is built on a slight elevation just above the flood plain, with the ground sloping away from the house in all directions.  On the spacious grounds around the house, the Petersons drilled an artesian well.

Atley Peterson Residence
Atley Peterson Residence

The wood for the home was likely milled at Atley Peterson’s sawmill.  The house was put together with wood screws by a craftsman brought from Finland.  It was fully electrified, powered by the nearby sawmill.

The main floor boasted large elegant rooms and there were rooms for each of the six children on the second floor.  The top floor housed the servants’ quarters. 

The house stayed in the Peterson family until 1946, when Clarence Peterson sold it to Archie and Ethel Maybee.  The Maybees put on a new roof and put in a new furnace, taking the house from coal and wood to stoker coal and then to oil.  In 1953 they sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Davenport, who owned it for a decade and then sold it to Lawrence Shedd in 1963.  The house then passed to Larry and Chris Steele, and to Andrew Knutson in 1998. 

The Roths bought the residence in 2007 and transformed it into a bed-and-breakfast that speaks to the elegance of the Victorian period.

The Roth House
102 Pine Street
Soldiers Grove, WI  54655