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May is National Preservation Month! In this booklet, you will find 12 houses that are all listed in the National Register of Historic Places District of the 10th & Cass Street neighborhood. This means that together, the houses in this neighborhood have historical importance in the city of La Crosse and have been identified for historic preservation as a district, or a neighborhood. The information in this booklet and scavenger hunt focus largely on the people who built and lived in these homes. However, by learning about these families, we are also learning about the larger history of the La Crosse community. Hundreds of working-class La Crosse residents were responsible for supporting the wealth that built these homes. These were the residents that were employed at the companies and industries (e.g. sawmills, factories, construction firms, banks, etc.) owned by the residents who built the homes featured on this tour.
You will notice that these houses are typically named after the owner during the construction of the house, not necessarily the longest occupant. However, just because the houses are named after these individuals, that doesn't mean they are the only important people in the stories behind these homes.
Sometimes in studying history, we forget to look at all pieces of the story. For instance, we don't know much about the domestic staff that didn't only live in these houses, but took care of them so that they are still standing in such good condition today. Domestic staff throughout history can be given credit for these houses to be appreciated as historic landmarks in our community. While looking at these houses and their intricate architectural details, try to think about the gardeners who worked on the landscape around the houses, the valets who took care of the horses (and later cars), the maids who lived in small rooms on the top floors, and the larger La Crosse community who were all touched by the influence of the people who lived in these large houses in the 10th and Cass Street neighborhood.
Architectural For Beginners: The Basics
One way to think about architecture is that it is a form of art that reflects the people who lived in the home and the neighborhood. Architecture tells the story of class in our city—we can learn so much about our history just by looking at the decoration on homes and buildings throughout different neighborhoods. Each of the little architectural details were meant to display wealth and each neighborhood will reflect a different story. Today, we can understand this while also appreciating the beauty of La Crosse’s neighborhoods.
The 10th & Cass Street historic district is a good place to start learning about architecture. The houses in this neighborhood reflect a time in La Crosse was growing at an exponential rate. This scavenger hunt will teach elements of four different architectural styles.
Greek Revival was most popular in the East and South. It often features high style columns and porticos, influenced by the classical temples in Greece. It went out of style after the Civil War, so only the earliest La Crosse homes show this style.
Italianate style was also a revival brought to architecture in the 1800s, but was a revival of the Italian Renaissance. Many La Crosse homes were built in Italianate style. By the early 1900s, home owners thought this style was outdated and worked to give their homes updates in more modern styles of the time.
Prairie style was developed in the early 20th century, when architects were trying to look to the future and create new designs using new materials (such as concrete, glass, and steel), rather than reviving styles from the past. Frank Lloyd Wright and a team of Chicago architects are credited with developing Prairie style. The shapes and materials used in these homes are meant to echo the prairie and rock outcroppings of southern Wisconsin, where Wright grew up.
Queen Anne style was one of the most popular architecture styles between 1880 and 1900. This is the style that will pop up the most on this scavenger hunt. Queen Anne style was meant to be a revival of architecture built during Queen Anne’s reign in the early 1700s, but there are really few similarities.
The 10th & Cass Street neighborhood occupies the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk, who have stewarded this land since time immemorial.
In fact, the entire city of La Crosse occupies land that was once a prairie that was home to a band of Ho-Chunk for many years. Then in 1830, United States President Andrew Jackson signed a document called the Indian Removal Act. By doing this, President Jackson made it legal to forcibly and often violently remove Indigenous peoples who lived east of the Mississippi River on their ancestral lands, like the Ho-Chunk. This means that they were moved from their homes, where their ancestors had lived for many, many generations--and in most cases, for thousands of years. The U.S. Government decided that eastern land in the U.S. was too valuable to newly arriving immigrants, so the Indian Removal Act called to move Indigenous peoples to territory west of the Mississippi River, even though there were other inhabitants there, including other Indigenous groups and newly arriving immigrants
Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, the U.S. Government tried to remove local Ho-Chunk from La Crosse six times. To do this, U.S. Army troops were ordered to take Ho-Chunk families, force them onto steamboats, and take them to guarded reservations in Iowa, northern Minnesota, southwest Minnesota, South Dakota and finally to Nebraska. The historic steamboat landing where these removals took place is now Spence Park in downtown La Crosse (across the street from the Charmant, at the northwest corner of Front and State Streets).
However, many of La Crosse’s Ho-Chunk found their way back to their homeland and settled back here in the area. The federal and local governments moved on to new strategies to eradicate Indigenous peoples and cultures from the newly established United States of America. As of 2016, Wisconsin was home to over 8,000 members of the Ho-Chunk Nation, about 230 of whom live in La Crosse County.