This walking tour is designed for a leisurely stroll down one of the major residential streets on the north edge of the Cass/King National Register Historic District. With the following list of sixteen sites as your guide you will encounter buildings that were home to many of the most wealthy and influential residents of La Crosse from the 1890s through the first two decades of the 20th century. Starting at 13th Street and continuing east for four blocks to 17th Street, we will discuss the people and businesses that contributed to the vibrant economic and social life of La Crosse at the turn of the century.
Although this section of Main Street was home to several members of the pioneer Anglo-Saxon Protestant Yankee background, many of the families that built homes here were immigrants from central Europe, mainly the German states, and many were Roman Catholic. Most of the early wealth in La Crosse was related to lumber, law and finance. However, this post-pioneer neighborhood on Main Street from the 1300 to the 1700 block has turn of the century residents whose wealth was derived from manufacturing, brewing, milling, journalism, medicine and the merchandising of furniture, groceries, wine, liquor and clothing. These secondary business ventures were critical in the city’s transition from base industries dependent on lumbering in the late 19th century, to the industrial/commercial mix that provided La Crosse with a solid economic base for the 20th century.
A fascinating echo of this economic/social transition can be seen in the evolution of architectural styles during the same twenty-five year time period. Compare the high style Queen Anne Stephen Gantert House (1890) at the beginning of the tour at 13th and Main to the simplified, yet elegant early Prairie Style J. C. Hogan House (1910) at the end of the tour at 17th and Main. The powerful influence of the British Arts and Crafts movement in America in the early decades of the 20th century can be observed along Main Street in the transitional Queen Anne, American Foursquare and Prairie Style homes found on the tour. The countervailing Neo-Classical aesthetic can also be seen in this four-block section of Main Street. Well represented on this tour are important designs by the leading local architectural firms of the day including Stoltze and Schick, Bentley and Merman, and Parkinson and Dockendorff.
Choose a pleasant day, bring along these tour notes, and take time to observe the details and styles of the 100 year old architectural heritage that help to tell the story of the historic “Main Street Meander”.
A special thanks goes out to Les Crocker, Architectural Historian, for sharing his 1970s slides of some of the properties noted on this tour.