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Viroqua, Wisconsin
Viroqua Downtown Historic District
Viroqua Downtown Historic District
Location of Viroqua in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Location of Viroqua in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Country United States
State Wisconsin
County Vernon
 • Total 4.36 sq mi (11.29 km2)
 • Land 4.36 sq mi (11.29 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
 • Total 4,362
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,010.33/sq mi (390.06/km2)
Time zone UTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 608
FIPS code 55-82925

Viroqua is the county seat of Vernon County, Wisconsin, United States. The population was 4,362 at the 2010 census. The city is in the town of Viroqua.


The Native American Ho-Chunk inhabited the area now known as Vernon County and the area of Viroqua. The Ho-Chunk, formerly known as the Winnebago, are a Siouan-speaking people who lived in the western Great Lakes region for thousands of years. The Ho-Chunk were removed westward beginning in the 1820s.

There was a sharp rivalry between Viroqua and Springville to be named the county seat of Vernon County. A deed for 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land was promised by pioneer Moses Decker, on condition that Viroqua be chosen as the county seat. The land constituted what became known as the County Addition to the city of Viroqua.

Decker was one of the early settlers in the area. He arrived in 1847 and laid out the village of Viroqua. He died in 1860. Earlier settlers arrived in 1844 and built lumber mills on the Kickapoo River. Farmers began arriving in 1846, some of whom were John Graham, T.J. Defreese and William C. McMichael.

The town was originally named “Farwell” after Leonard J. Farwell, second Governor of Wisconsin, but was renamed “Viroqua” in 1854. It is unclear why the name was changed, and the origins of the name are unclear. One story states that Viroqua was the name of the daughter of Black Hawk. She may have been a character from a novel or the name of a Mohawk Indian actress who performed in a theater on the East Coast or in Brantford, Canada.

In early 1851, the act authorizing the organization of Bad Axe, now Vernon County, was approved by Governor Nelson Dewey. Viroqua was awarded the county seat, pending a permanent location to be determined by a vote. In May 1852, residents voted in favor of Viroqua.

On June 28, 1865, Viroqua was hit by a deadly tornado that left 22 dead.


Viroqua is located at 43°33′23″N 90°53′15″W / 43.55639°N 90.88750°W / 43.55639; -90.88750 (43.556534, -90.887663). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.80 square miles (9.84 km2), all land. The city is in the Driftless Region, near the western end of the Ocooch Mountains.

Tobacco building
Northern Wisconsin Co-op Tobacco Pool Warehouse represents the first tobacco-grower co-operative in the nation.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 762
1890 1,270 66.7%
1900 1,950 53.5%
1910 2,059 5.6%
1920 2,574 25.0%
1930 2,792 8.5%
1940 3,549 27.1%
1950 3,795 6.9%
1960 3,926 3.5%
1970 3,739 −4.8%
1980 3,716 −0.6%
1990 3,922 5.5%
2000 4,335 10.5%
2010 4,362 0.6%
Est. 2019 4,402 0.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2014 Estimate

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 4,362 people, 2,029 households, and 1,059 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,147.9 inhabitants per square mile (443.2/km2). There were 2,208 housing units at an average density of 581.1 per square mile (224.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 97.1% White, 0.6% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.4% from other races, and 1.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.0% of the population.

There were 2,029 households, of which 25.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.0% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 47.8% were non-families. 43.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 23% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.86.

The median age in the city was 45 years. 21.6% of residents were under the age of 18; 6.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22.4% were from 25 to 44; 26.3% were from 45 to 64; and 23.6% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.1% male and 53.9% female.


Viroqua is an accredited Main Street America city. Its downtown is listed on the Wisconsin and National Register of Historic Places.

Viroqua was dubbed "The Town That Beat Walmart" by Smithsonian Magazine in 1992 because it fostered businesses that co-exist with the retail giant. The city and its nonprofit chamber of commerce, the Viroqua Chamber Main Street, actively promote small business development through several state and federal programs. One noteworthy program that has kept downtown storefronts occupied has been the Pop-Up Shop Initiative, which allow entrepreneurs to use a space downtown rent-free for the holiday season.


Viroqua is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14, U.S. Highway 61, Wisconsin Highway 27, Wisconsin Highway 56, and Wisconsin Highway 82.

Recently, the highways and major streets in Viroqua were redone. Highways 14, 61, and 27 had lanes added to them to become four lanes, except for the four block section of downtown. That was kept two lanes to allow for parallel parking on the side of the road.

Viroqua was on the new airways route between La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Rockford, Illinois, when it was established in June 1932. The beacon light had about 15 large 36-inch (910 mm) revolving beacons of 2,000,000 candle power when it was installed on the Mahlon Lepley farm, four miles (6 km) northeast of Viroqua.

Viroqua was formerly served by a Milwaukee Road branch line from Sparta via Leon, Melvina, Cashton and Westby.

Bus service

Commuter bus service towards La Crosse is provided seven times daily per direction by Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit.


Viroqua is serviced by the Viroqua Municipal Airport (Y51).


  • Viroqua High School
  • Viroqua Middle School
  • Viroqua Elementary School
  • Pleasant Ridge Waldorf School
  • English Lutheran School
  • Youth Initiative High School
  • Laurel High School
  • Better Futures High School
  • Western Technical College offers classes in Viroqua
  • Trillium Middle School

Notable people

  • Joseph D. Beck, U.S. Representative
  • J. Henry Bennett, legislator and lawyer
  • Cyrus M. Butt, legislator and lawyer
  • Henry Conner, legislator
  • Andrew H. Dahl, Wisconsin State Legislature
  • John Field, football player and coach, businessman
  • Frederick C. Finkle, geologist
  • Amos Fries, United States Army general
  • James Gillett, former Governor of California
  • Lawrence Grimsrud, legislator and lawyer
  • Frank Bateman Keefe, U.S. Representative
  • Meade Layne, early ufologist
  • Mark C. Lee, United States astronaut
  • Bernard Lewison, businessman and legislator
  • Craig Minowa, musician and environmental activist
  • Chris Mulkey, actor and musician, born in Viroqua
  • Oliver Munson, Wisconsin State Legislature
  • William Nelson, Wisconsin State Senator
  • Daniel B. Priest, lawyer and legislator
  • Brian Rude, Wisconsin State Legislature
  • Jeremiah McLain Rusk, governor of Wisconsin, Secretary of Agriculture
  • Lycurgus J. Rusk, Wisconsin legislator, soldier and lawyer
  • Rudy Silbaugh, Wisconsin State Legislature
  • Freddie Slack, American swing and boogie-woogie pianist and bandleader
  • August E. Smith, educator and legislator
  • Gerald L. K. Smith, founder of Share Our Wealth Movement, grew up in Viroqua
  • Jill Soltau, Former CEO of JCPenney
  • J. Henry Tate, Wisconsin legislator and businessman
  • Thorleif T. Peterson Wisconsin state legislator and farmer
  • Richard Tubb, personal physician to former President George W. Bush
  • Butch Vig, record producer and musician
  • William V. Weber, Michigan State Representative
  • Jerome H. Wheelock, Wisconsin legislator and educator

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