Is Galesville the Garden of Eden?

By: Sarah Stokes Email
By: Sarah Stokes Email

It's Easter this weekend, but there's another Bible story that has taken hold in one Trempealeau county town, the Garden of Eden story.

In this Wandering Wisconsin, we head to Galesville, to look into the history behind its slogan.

This town, nestled at the bottom of a bluff, was certainly the apple of one minister's eye.

"Came just directly from Rev. Van Slyke," says Carolyn Spencer of Galesville.

150 years ago, that Reverend bit off a challenge that scholars would chew on and challenge.

"I think they've dissected it, and I don't think they agree with him at all," she adds.

After reading the bible a reported 25 times, he argued Trempealeau county was the likely home of the tree of life and the knowledge of good and evil.

"He decided this was really the Garden of Eden, it wasn't in Asia it was here and that's where we got the name the Garden of Eden," Spencer adds.

But what do Galesville and Genesis have in common? Carolyn Spencer, a retired school teacher gave us a lesson in Reverend Van Slyke's logic.

"He studied the topography of the land, the valleys and the hills and the cliffs and when he was on top of the 600 foot cliffs he looked down into the valley and he also had an idea of the flora and the fauna around here. He knew there were snakes, rattlesnakes and he recalled in the bible that genesis said something about the hanging flowers from the cliffs."

"There are the creeks coming into Lake Marinuka, Beaver Creek, French's Creek and there are other cricks around here. They all flow into the Black River and it flows into the Mississippi, so that's where he decided these were the rivers they talk about in the Bible."

Spencer says the nearby apple orchards with that famous fruit helped bolster the reverend's theory that he put on paper in 1886.

"He proceeded to put all his ideas in this book the Garden of Eden."

Despite the skeptics, the story stuck. But there are a couple of key players missing aren't there?

Sarah: Are there any Adam's and Eve's? Carolyn: My sister calls me Eve (laughs) I think there are Adams."

When you're standing in the heart of downtown Galesville, you can't help but notice the little red reminders of the Garden of Eden legend.

"It's heard all the time," says Spencer.

People in town are surrounded by the spiritual story, it's talked about in school: "learned about it in 3rd grade," says Kyle Walevodel.

It's on signs, it inspired business names and there's a statue of the reverend with the good book and the forbidden fruit, but what do the locals think?

"I think it's kinda science fiction now," Walevodel adds.
"It's certainly possible, why deny it," Lois Carhart said.
"It's a pretty place," says Louise Bheniewski.
"I think there are quite a few people who believe so," Carhart added.

The reverend went to his grave, believing his claim, leaving generations of people in Galesville to ponder the town's claim to fame.

Spencer adds, "as I reread that book I question it, but it's just kind of a fun thing to think about anyway."

On the last page of his book, he says "when all things shall properly be understood by the public, who will not want to come and see, yes come and see." Well you can come and see the bluffs, the streams, the lakes, the orchards and even Reverend Van Slyke anytime in Galesville.

Galesville celebrates the Garden of Eden legend every October during it's Apple Affair celebration.

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