Historic Buildings of La Crosse

Welcome to my new site!

It celebrates the first volume on La Crosse architecture, Places and Spaces and will be the location for information on subsequent volumes.  My hope is to continue  documenting the city with three volumes on houses and one on the commercial architecture in the future.

La Crosse has a wonderful variety of both commercial and residential buildings that span a century and a half of time.  If you know where to look, there are buildings all around us that date from before the Civil War.

I hope this site will also become a place for people to comment and share information on historic preservation and building restoration in the community.  I will also be posting upcoming talks, tours and presentations on La Crosse buildings.

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4 Comments

  • Herb Kubly
    February 18, 2013 - 8:54 am | Permalink

    Hi Les;

    Where did all the brick come from for the major buildings in LaCrosse?

    HK

    • lacr3454
      February 19, 2013 - 10:46 am | Permalink

      Bricks have given me problems. A good history of brickyards in the area has not yet been done.

      Lumber was so cheap that it was the preferred material, but in later years many of the houses got brick veneers, so it is very difficult to know if I’m looking at an original brick house or one that was veneered twenty years later. Sometimes I can tell, sometimes not, so I’m always concerned about my conclusions. The issue of bricks comes up a lot in the first volume on houses that I’m finishing up now.

      After stone, brick was the most substantial building material of the nineteenth century and was the most prestigious. The earliest known firing of clay into brick in La Crosse occurred in 1851, a remarkably early date. In the summer and fall of 1852 the first brick house in La Crosse county was built on Front street south of Main street It was 20 x 40 and served as house and store for Lake and Webster, liquor dealers. (Butterfield, p. 400). During the next two decades brick was increasingly common and by 1868 there was at least one brick yard producing over one million bricks a year. Besides George Markle’s early attempts in 1851, Valentine Weimar began a brick yard in La Crescent, Minnesota in 1856 and two years later moved it to La Crosse. In 1857 Gunkle and Bloomer began making brick in the State Road Coulee and a man named Egglehof began a brick business in the Mormon Coulee. The brickyard of Herman Keppel was begun in 1868 and produced a million bricks a year. The advantages of brick construction were emphasized by a series of disastrous fires which swept the frame buildings of the business district in 1857, 1862, 1864 and 1867.

      There was a long history of brick and stone buildings on the east coast. Those materials were associated with wealth and status. Wood was the most common and inexpensive building material in early La Crosse. That which is common and inexpensive is often considered crude. Early descriptions of the town frequently mention “rude shelters” of wood, be it log, timber or frame.

      As early as 1851 a brick burner came up from Praire du Chien and made a batch of bricks and then left town. There were several brick yards in the area, created where there was good clay at the foot of a coulee. There were major fires in La Crosse in the 1850′s and the town didn’t have a professional fire fighting crew for a long time. I talk about that in Places and Spaces. Finally the town mandated brick or stone in the downtown, although frame buildings still are scattered about today.

      Brick became more popular in the 1880′s but it always had a battle against the cheaper wooden buildings.

      Short answer is that we had at least five different brickyards in different places around La Crosse. For special buildings special bricks were brought in by rail. Although I don’t think that there are more than one or two houses that use the Milwaukee cream brick and they are from the early 20th century.

  • Jean B
    September 9, 2013 - 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Are there any pictures / Photos of the Old Hamilton School ( 8th and Johnson st ),it was torn down in 1961 ( Built in the 1880′s ) ?

    • lacr3454
      September 9, 2013 - 10:21 pm | Permalink

      Jean,
      I don’t have any but check with the public library archives and the Special Collections at Murphy library at the university. I’m sure they will fix you up.

      les

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