La Crosse is the largest city on the western edge of Wisconsin. It’s a great place to build a home and family, but few know why this unassuming Midwestern city has such a great climate for starting and growing businesses.
A Brief History of La Crosse
The first European visitors to La Crosse were French fur traders who traveled the Mississippi River in the late 17th century. It wasn’t until 1841 that the first settlement was set up near the junction of the Mississippi, La Crosse, and Black Rivers.
The name, shortened from “Prairie La Crosse”, came from a Native American game with sticks that resembled a French bishop’s crozier—the top of his staff, which is curled like a fiddlehead.
Permanent development throughout the 1840’s took place around settler Nathan Myrick’s trading post (what is now called Pettibone Park), including stores, a hotel and a post office. This opened it up for further settlement, thanks to the town’s promotion in eastern newspapers.
By 1855, La Crosse had grown to nearly 2,000 residents, and by 1856 it was incorporated. The rapid growth, and things like the determined completion of the La Crosse & Milwaukee Railroad would lay the groundwork for the business and growth ready climate that La Crosse fosters today.
Being almost at the juncture of three rivers, La Crosse sometimes gives visitors the image of Huckleberry Finn floating along the banks. The La Crosse River flows into the Mississippi just north of the downtown area, creating a reason for many local restaurants to add terrace dining to their establishment.
For those who equate the Mississippi River with the literature of Mark Twain, there is the La Crosse Queen. The 19th-century paddlewheel vessel serves a champagne brunch on Sundays, as well as drinks and dancing under the moonlight. Fans of the “Life on the Mississippi” writer will also recognize Grandad Bluff, as they float past the 500 foot bluff that rises up from the middle of the prairie.
Outdoor recreation at Riverside Park, near the Blue Bridges and across the river from Pettibone Park, is a part of life in La Crosse. The park is a venue for Riverfest, Fourth of July fireworks and Oktoberfest. The steamboats full of locals and tourists make stops along the river in the park, and those on foot use the numerous walking and running trails that wind throughout.