UWL Campus & Neighborhood

Written by Dr. Les Crocker

Begun as a state normal school in 1909, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse has had an enormous impact on the city of La Crosse and its residential neighborhoods. This tour examines selected campus buildings as well as an area that was once home to the Interstate Fairgrounds (now the Veterans Memorial Field area) and the area just to southeast of campus.

In 1908 the junction of State Street, Eighteenth Street and Campbell Avenue, as it was first known, was at the eastern edge of La Crosse. Eighteenth Street never existed at that point, instead the Green Bay & Western Railroad from the south crossed State street, went north just west of the old fairgrounds then along the edge of Oak Grove Cemetery and crossed the marsh to finally end at Grand Junction. To the west and north of the Normal School the Goosetown neighborhood grew with its mix of nationalities in working class houses. The land east and south of Campbell Avenue was changing from farms to houses as the city grew. On the south side of State Street, where the Interior Design Studio is today, a group of buildings that included a grocery store served the few residents, but most people went "downtown" to shop.

In 1909 the new La Crosse Normal School opened its doors basically in the middle of a prairie. For the first fifty years it had little impact on the area which remained residential. In the years following World War II the University increased its student population but was limited to Main Hall and Wittich Hall. In the mid 1950s the student population began to grow slowly and by the mid 1960s the flood of students required a rapid expansion of the University that reshaped the neighborhood.  As you traverse the campus, notice the repeated decorative use of red and cream between the older and newer structures, originally expressed with red brick and limestone, which mirrored many older buildings in the downtown commercial district.

The Goosetown neighborhood changed from single family residences to inexpensive student housing and finally the mass housing and surface parking lots that dominate today. Gradually the houses along State Street were taken over by University organizations, and today State street is a mix of single family residences and student housing from Nineteenth street to West Avenue.

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