Trempealeau County’s early history reads like a literary epic—a series of encounters, often violent, among Dakotas and Ho-Chunks and explorers, fur traders, missionaries, and military men from France, Britain, and the young United States. With American rule came steamboats, speculators, and the systematic removal of Native Americans. After the organization of Trempealeau County in 1854, its history became farming, beginning at the county’s southern end in the prairies and valleys nearest the river towns.
Here, where Silver Creek gushes into the Beaver River, Arnold established a farm in 1857. A wealthy migrant from the Hudson River Valley, he became a Civil War hero and state legislator, but above all he played a key role in the county’s agricultural history. During the robust wheat-growing days of the 1860s, Arnold introduced mechanical harvesting equipment to the area and rented it to neighbors. He wrote articles on the latest farm techniques, helped found the local agricultural society, spearheaded a railroad to link the county’s farms into a wider market, and donated land for the county fair. When soil depletion, insect infestations, and competition from the Great Plains ravaged wheat growers in the late 1870s, Arnold encouraged local cooperatives and pushed for crop diversification, helping nudge Trempealeau County toward its early-twentieth-century rebirth as a dairy region.
Arnold’s original four-hundred-acre farm has shrunk, but his farmstead, set on a rise in gently rolling terrain, remains intact. Its most prominent structure is the vaguely Italianate two-story red brick house. A low hipped roof covers the central core, and a projecting three-story tower has a concave mansard roof. Several verandas once surrounded the first story, but today there are just two smaller porches, neither original. The farmstead’s other nineteenth-century structures include a stone icehouse veneered with soft brick, a V-shaped corncrib with a cantilevered roof, and a two-and-a-half-story barn. The barn’s rough stone basement, housing cattle stalls, was built into a steep bank and opened onto a pasture on the east side. The barn’s unusual mansard roof has flared eaves, which allow for a larger loft. Gabled dormers light the loft, but the large cupola that once crowned the roof is gone.