North La Crosse

Overview of North La Crosse

North La Crosse has a history that is in some significant ways different from that of downtown La Crosse. For both areas, geography has played a large role in the historical development of the commercial and residential districts. North La Crosse is separated from the southern part of the city by the La Crosse River and extensive wetlands area known as the La Crosse River Marsh. During the Lumber Era, logs coming downstream on the Black River were directed to the large sawmills along the east bank of the Black River in North La Crosse. From its earliest days, the base industry in North La Crosse was lumber milling. Also, steamboats had a difficult time advancing upriver on the Black River, so North La Crosse did not develop as a shipping/commercial center. The immigrant group most associated with work in the pineries and lumber mills were the Norwegians, who became the dominant ethnic group in North La Crosse and established early on a lumber camp, working class flavor to the community.

With the coming of the railroad in the late 1850s, North La Crosse became the site of much of the activity of the rail industry, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th century. The four major rail lines all had important operations in North La Crosse and employment in the rail industry was a major occupation for many on the north side. These railroad jobs and later employment opportunities in industry and manufacturing on the north side perpetuated a “blue collar” tradition in the commercial and residential areas. The socio-economic division between north and south La Crosse is still evident today. That difference is reflected in the architecture of North La Crosse.

Of the thirty buildings on the Walking Tour of North La Crosse the great majority are public, commercial or industrial buildings reflecting the unique history of the north side and a strong sense of community pride. The industrial buildings are associated with the railroads and with other early 20th century industries that developed after the Lumber Era. Several of the featured churches were founded by ethnic groups specifically associated with North La Crosse. The core commercial district along Caledonia Street has very few high-style buildings and many of the vernacular 19th and 20th century facades have been greatly altered. However, “Old Towne North” still retains a distinctive commercial flavor attractive to heritage tourists. There are a few examples of well preserved Victorian Era residences in North La Crosse but the majority of residences are vernacular interpretations of popular historic styles. There are two buildings in North La Crosse on the National Register of Historic Places and several La Crosse City Historic Landmarks, although several more buildings are eligible for both lists.

The architectural landmarks of North La Crosse are not highly concentrated in one area so you may want to use your car or bicycle as you explore the “Footsteps of North La Crosse.” Enjoy your tour! 

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