Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Actually, I’m no longer in Black River Falls, but a part of me resides there anyway. My recent visit there with my nieces, on our First Annual Carey Women Road Trip, culminated in a visit to BRF to try to find a bit of information about my mother’s family history. We arrived in BRF with little information and even less idea about how or what we might find. Joanna had as much information as she could find through Ancestry.com, and Debbie and I had both visited BRF on a family vacation when we were children (I was 10; she was 4), and Mary had been there once with her family some years later. Our memories and information were, at best, sketchy. But our interest and determination were considerably stronger.
At Joanna’s suggestion, we started out in search of the Historical Society, but, alas, it was “closed on Wednesdays.” Given that it was then Wednesday, we turned to Plan B: the library. A very nice lady in the Post Office pointed us in the right direction to the library, and off we went. I think we mostly expected to hunt down a book of local history that might mention the Homstads, or maybe have a picture of the grocery store my grandfather, Adolf Homstad, owned, or such as that. What we discovered was a genealogy room, staffed by the nicest, most helpful lady you could imagine. Her name is Mary, and she was only too pleased to help us. When I indicated that we were visitors, looking for information about my mother’s family, she simply asked “What name?” “Homstad,” I replied, and her eyes lit up as she said, “I’ll just get the file.”
Well, folks, what a treasure that file was! But even more than that, she told us about (my cousin) Gil Homstad and his wife, Alice, who still live in BRF. She even offered to phone them for us to see if we might be able to meet them. They are prominent members of the community, and from Mary’s description of Gil, I began to think he might just walk on water as well. It turned out she was right; both Gil and Alice are delightful and charming individuals. I’m so delighted to have met them. They’re family, after all! Actually, it took me a while to work out that I had met (or at least seen) Gil when he was a teenager and I was 10. At that time he was referred to as Larky (or Larkin, a family name). I gather he doesn’t like to be called Larky these days…
A bit later, after we’d visited the family graves, we headed off to the house I mentioned before. While we were there, taking photos and chatting with the new owner, guess who should drive up but Mary! She wanted to take our photo, and to pass on a message from Alice that she and Gil were keen for us to come for a visit. Just imagine the hospitality that led to her chasing us down after work to pass on the message. What a sweetie!
We did go to visit Gil and Alice, and what a lovely time that was. Gil cleared up the confusion about Mom’s childhood home, and even took us see it. Then, to our amazement, the couple who now own it invited us in to have a look around. It was awesome. Not the house, but the warmth of the people and the opportunity to go in and see where Mom grew up. The house was pretty special, too. Gorgeous original woodwork, and we were told that in the attic “Homstad 1911” was carved on a beam. In 1911 most of BRF was washed away in a flood, including Grandfather Adolf’s grocery store. We wonder if the family home was lost too, given that he built the present house in 1911, as well as a new store. Mom would have been two at the time.
I could, of course, go on and on about my family history, but I won’t. What I wanted to convey in this article is the joy and gratitude we all felt when faced with so many charming and helpful people in Black River Falls. If there is a Nicest Town in America Award, I’d like to nominate Black River Falls, Wisconsin. MM