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La Crosse in La Crosse County, Wisconsin — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

La Crosse: "A Choice Town"

 
 
La Crosse: "A Choice Town" Marker image. Click for full size.
By Ruth VanSteenwyk, October 3, 2019
1. La Crosse: "A Choice Town" Marker
Inscription.  
Human settlement is usually driven by the geography and resources of any particular region. The earliest people to occupy the La Crosse area were the Paleoindian big-game hunters, some 13,500 to 11,000 years ago. They and their descendants - the Woodland, Oneota, and Ho-Chunk peoples - were probably drawn to the wide, sandy plain because it was flood-resistant, provided proximity to the local river resources, and had pockets of fertile soil ideal for farming. The confluence of the Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse Rivers also offered an important network for transportation and communication.

Early European settlement was focused on the fur trade, with the rivers providing the critical means of transport from northern sources to markets on the eastern seaboard. Nathan Myrick established his well-known and important trading post at the corner of State and Front Streets in 1842, and by 1856 La Crosse was incorporated as a city. The arrival of the railroad in the late 1850s provided a much-needed link to eastern regions across the rough, Driftless terrain and increased population significantly. Following the Civil War, the community

La Crosse: "A Choice Town" Marker image. Click for full size.
By Ruth VanSteenwyk, October 3, 2019
2. La Crosse: "A Choice Town" Marker
continued to expand as logging, milling, and steamboat traffic flourished, taking advantage of the railroad and the natural north-south corridor of the Mississippi. Eventually, brewing became an important local industry, with brewers tapping into the pure artesian water wells located in the area.

The twentieth century found La Crosse attracting more industry and cultural institutions, and continuing as a major regional center. Farming endures to this day, mostly on the ridge tops, but also to a limited extent within the river plain. Logging, milling, and steamboat commerce are gone, but the range and beauty of La Crosse's natural resources have made the area a mecca for outdoor recreation. It remains "a choice town."

Photo caption
"Hauling-Black River," C.H. Nichols Lumber Company, M. Kelley, Photographer
Courtesy Murphy Library University of Wisconsin La Crosse

As fur trading waned along the Mississippi, the thick timberlands of Wisconsin drew the next generation of entrepreneurs to the area. Lumbermen were especially attracted to the seemingly endless supply of white pine, the perfect building material for westward expansion mid-century. The plentiful rivers provided suitable transportation to market as well: the Black River alone had nearly 40 sawmills along its banks and over 6 billion board feet of logs came

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down the river between 1855 and 1899.
Note the concentration of sawmills along the waterfronts in the map to your right.

Photo caption
Seth Eastman, "Winnebago [Ho-Chunk] Indians of Wisconsin," drawing for his wife Mary Eastman's The American Annual, 1855
Courtesy Murphy Library University of Wisconsin La Crosse

The Ho-Chunk, who are direct descendants of the Oneota and claim ancestral presence dating back to the Paleoindian period, settled on the La Crosse terrace. They left physical traces of their habitation in downtown, Red Cloud Park, on French Island, and near Valley View mall.

Early French explorers saw groups of Native people playing a game on the broad, flat land of La Crosse. This game, played with a ball and long sticks with woven leather baskets on one end, gave the early settlement and later the city its name - "La Crosse."

Photo caption
The War Eagle, a wooden hull packet boat built in 1854, caught fire and sank at the mouth of the La Crosse River in 1870
Courtsey Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse

The War Eagle was 225 feet long and weighed 296 tons. During an 1962 trip on the Tennessee River made on behalf of the Union Army, the boat was attacked and took a shot in one of her stacks.

At one point during the 1870s, twice as many

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steamboats were owned in La Crosse than in any other city north of St. Louis. Steamboat traffic was very heavy around La Crosse, as witnessed by the remains of several dozen sunken boats along this short stretch of the river.

Photo caption
Brewery Workers, G. Heileman Brewing Company, c. 1890
Courtesy Murphy Library, University of Wisconsin La Crosse

The local brewing industry, largely driven by the city's significant German population, helped La Crosse absorb the shock of the late 19th century lumber business decline. Brewing became so prosperous that in 1884, the city produced more beer than any other community in Wisconsin. Founded by Gottleib Heileman in 1858 as City Brewery, Heileman's survived Prohibition by producing "near bear" (less than .5 percent alcohol) and went on to become the nation's fourth largest brewery by the 1980s. Advertising for their most popular beer, Old Style, gave rise to the famous slogan, "Brewed in God's Country."

Photo inset
"Here is a town of 12,000 or 13,000 population, with electric lighted streets, and blocks of buildings which are stately enough and also architecturally fine enough to command respect in any city. It is a choice town, and we made satisfactory use of the hour allowed us, in roaming it over . . . "

- Mark Twain, describing his stop in La Crosse on a steamboat trip in 1883, from his Life on the Mississippi.
 
Erected by City of La Crosse Parks, Recreation & Forestry.
 
Location. 43° 48.732′ N, 91° 12.679′ W. Marker is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in La Crosse County. Marker is on Bliss Road. Located 1 mile west of the entrance to Grandad Bluff Park. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 3071 Bliss Road, La Crosse WI 54601, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Driftless Area of Wisconsin (a few steps from this marker); Quarrying the Bluffs of La Crosse (a few steps from this marker); History of Flagpole (within shouting distance of this marker); First Complete Service of Christian Divine Worship (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel (approx. 0.7 miles away); Myrick Park Mounds (approx. one mile away); Group of Indian Mounds (approx. one mile away); Losey Memorial (approx. 1.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in La Crosse.
 
Categories. Parks & Recreational AreasSettlements & Settlers

 

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Credits. This page was last revised on October 27, 2019. This page originally submitted on October 27, 2019, by Ruth VanSteenwyk of Aberdeen, South Dakota. This page has been viewed 55 times since then and 7 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on October 27, 2019, by Ruth VanSteenwyk of Aberdeen, South Dakota. • Mark Hilton was the editor who published this page.
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