Wisconsin is Home to an Abandoned Town Most People Don’t Know

Wisconsin harbors its share of hidden treasures alongside forgotten relics. Among these is La Crosse, once a bustling river port and railroad nexus, now ensconced in the depths of the Mississippi River. In this narrative, I delve into the history of La Crosse, recount its descent into obscurity, and survey the vestiges that persist today.

The History of La Crosse

Established in 1841 by Nathan Myrick, a fur trader, La Crosse found its genesis on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, near the confluence of the La Crosse River. The town derived its name from the French word for lacrosse, a game favored by Native Americans in the vicinity. Soon, it magnetized settlers, drawn by the river’s potential for trade and transport. Steamboats made frequent stops, ferrying cargo and passengers from St. Louis, Chicago, and beyond.

La Crosse burgeoned into a railway hub, where multiple lines intersected, linking it to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Omaha. By 1880, its population had eclipsed 10,000, buoyed by a flourishing lumber industry, breweries, flour mills, and a mosaic of ethnic communities. It thrived as a bustling metropolis, teeming with cultural vibrancy.

How La Crosse Became a Ghost Town

Yet, La Crosse’s zenith was short-lived, eclipsed by a concatenation of factors:

  • Depletion of forests led to dwindling demand for lumber, denting the town’s prosperity.
  • Rivalry from other river ports and railroad centers with superior amenities.
  • Prohibition dealt a severe blow to breweries and saloons, pivotal to the town’s economy and social fabric.
  • The Great Depression ushered in widespread unemployment and migration.

By the 1930s, La Crosse’s population dwindled to fewer than 2,000. Another blow came in 1935 with the federal government’s announcement of constructing dams and locks along the Mississippi River for flood control. Among the casualties was La Crosse, slated to be inundated by the Pool 8 reservoir formed by Lock and Dam No. 8. Faced with relocation or compensation, most residents opted to abandon the town. By 1939, La Crosse lay submerged beneath the river’s waters.

What Remains of La Crosse Today

Today, La Crosse lies submerged, its remnants shrouded beneath the Mississippi’s currents. Only vestiges such as the railroad bridge, cemetery, and church steeple emerge sporadically during low water levels. The town’s submerged relics, from buildings to artifacts, endure in the river’s cold, dark embrace. Diving into La Crosse’s depths beckons adventurers and historians, though navigating its murky, swift currents presents challenges. Legal and ethical considerations, recognizing its historical and archaeological significance, mandate permits, guides, and reverence for its past.

La Crosse embodies a tale of rise, prosperity, and eventual submergence, offering a poignant glimpse into the ebb and flow of history. It beckons as a testament to memory, heritage, and curiosity—an enclave deserving of remembrance and respect.

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