Olivet Beacon of Light Lutheran Church built their original bell tower in 1968. The bell, cast in 1893, was first used at the Lower French Island School, Dist. No. 6. which served that portion of the Island from the 1930's to 1950's. When the City of La Crosse took over the school in the early 1950's, the building was torn down. Olivet bought the bell in 1962 and on Nov. 17, 1968 was the dedication service for the bell tower that stood at the site until the summer of 2007. At that time, an expansion project required razing the original bell tower. Bell towers traditionally house a church’s bell that tolls every Sunday to remind people to come to church.
When Olivet refurbished the old bell in the summer of 2011 they found it to be in great condition. Members rang in the 2012 New Year with a refurbished bell hanging in a new bell tower at Olivet. The new tower is in the shape of a lighthouse “because it’s intended to be a replica of the front of the church, of our beacon of light.” The bell rings the old-fashioned way — someone on the end of the rope will give it a tug to set the bell tolling.
Other interesting historical facts about Olivet Beacon of Light Lutheran Church can be found on its webpage. In their early days in the 1940s, the 140 members operated their major fundraiser serving food at the county fair, located on what is now the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse campus. Under a big tent, members spent days at the fair serving such things as pancakes and sausage, soups and barbeques, and “everybody volunteered.” A fun fact is that in 1962 Olivet was simply known as “The Church on French Island.”
A big “Thank You!” to Pastor Luanne Sorenson and Office Coordinator Alice Gerken for permission to place this cache on Olivet’s property, and being interested to learn about the fun activity of geocaching!
A little French Island history…
The original settlers of French Island were Native Americans who used the island for hunting and camping. To cross the Black River, they “placed two canoes six feet apart and lashed small poles to the canoes to form a platform, and boards were laid atop these. Then a pony was led on and the Indians' horses were ferried across one at a time.”
A young man named Xavier Goyette then settled it in 1849. The French-Canadian from Montreal saw the Island across the Black River, and when he paddled over, there were already two others settled there. Charles Sears is known to be the first man settled on French Island in a log home still on the banks of French slough, but nothing is known about his ancestors or descendants. In 1852 Moses Jolivette arrived on the island and moved it toward becoming a community. In 1935 the oldest person on the Island was the widow of Jolivette and daughter of Goyette.
French Island is about 5 miles long and ½ to 2½ miles wide. Homemade boats and a ferry were the only means of crossing the Black River until the first bridge was built in about 1884. The first road, with all but vague reminders gone, was a path following French slough and French lake with houses facing the water.
French Island was a farming community and also a logging center with 3 saw mills. Descents of both Goyette and Jolivette still live on French Island and the La Crosse area. (http://www.uwgb.edu/wisfrench/library/history/island.htm)