Goosetown Neighborhood

Written by Dr. Les Crocker

The area bounded by West Avenue, Sixteenth Street, State Street and La Crosse Street was called Goosetown. We don't know when the name was first used, and there is disagreement over the area covered as well as the origin of the name. Other areas of La Crosse had German, Swedish, or Norwegian enclaves, but Goosetown seems to have been a mix of people -- a true ethnic melting pot. There were Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Jews, Blacks and a variety of immigrants from central and Eastern Europe.

The name may have come from the large numbers of geese kept for butchering by the residents. Another version says the name came from the large flocks of wild geese that visited the nearby marsh where two breweries on La Crosse Street dumped their wastes. We know that geese were kept by many early residents. We also know that there were huge flocks of wild geese in the marsh. So, the neighborhood was doubly named Goosetown. Many Goosetown families also kept cows and it was up to the children to pasture the cows up at 'Goose Green' on the lower North Side and return them at night.

In 1884 there were few houses east of West Avenue. By 1900 much of the area had filled in as far east as 16th Street with these work-class homes. Most of the houses in Goosetown were stud frame construction. A 20 x 20 frame house could be built for about $300 which would be a year's wages for men making a dollar a day, the standard rate at the time. A porch cost another $10 to $20; a bay window was another $25.

Small houses generally had three rooms, a tiny bedroom, a kitchen and an all purpose room with space in the attic for children. Two men could easily build one in a week. Very few of these houses had running water and none of them had indoor toilets. Outhouses were common in the area into the 1940s.

Most of this neighborhood has been eaten up by development from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse plus multi-story rental units have replaced many typical Goosetown homes. La Crosse Street continues to be a main traffic thoroughfare in addition to the University vacating streets to vehicular traffic. Many of the houses on this tour were torn down in the summer of 2015 and replaced by large apartment buildings designed for students.

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