Immerse yourself in more than a century of Wisconsin history at these historical sites
In an age of rapidly expanding modern development, historic buildings serve as portals to the past. To marvel at the craftsmanship that goes into constructing a historic building, its ornate trimmings oftentimes created by hand, and to imagine the lives of those who lived within the structures is to gain perspective on how much has changed between the past and the present—and how much remains the same.
Luckily for those living in the Western Upland region of Wisconsin, there are several remaining historic buildings throughout La Crosse, Eau Claire, and the surrounding towns that provide curious visitors with a window into what life was like more than a century ago. By no means a complete list, below are a handful of western Wisconsin’s oldest buildings that you can stop by today, along with a couple pages torn from their storied histories.
The Mons Anderson House
Located at 410 Cass St. in La Crosse, the Mons Anderson House stands alone in its unique combination of Italian villa and Gothic revival architectural styles. Completed in 1878, this home built of stones acquired from local quarries served as the family home of Mons Anderson, a Norwegian merchant who sold boots and clothing to the area’s lumberman. Anderson’s wealth was so great he acquired the nickname the Merchant Prince of La Crosse and even distributed his own currency. Therefore, it was no surprise when Anderson hired the area’s premier architect, William H.J. Nichols, to add opulent touches like a carved marble fireplace complete with hand-painted tiles laid to the vaulted ceilings, and a loggia, or Italian-style covered outdoor corridor, replete with multiple arches.
Back in 1864, only 16 years after Wisconsin became an American state, the Dells Mill was constructed in Augusta, about 20 miles southeast of Eau Claire. From 1867 to 1968, this five-story structure built of maple timbers functioned as a grist mill, milling wheat and grinding other grains until its machinery was retired and the building was converted into a museum. Currently, the Dells Mill, located on Augusta’s County Road V, enjoys its fame as one of the most photographed locations in the entire state, thanks in large part to its water wheel, added in 1968 for purely cosmetic reasons. Each Friday and Saturday, Dells Mill staff welcomes visitors for guided tours of the mill and its machinery, as well as to sample home-crafted baked goods, jams, and maple syrup for sale in the visitor center.
This stately, 15-room home built in La Crosse in 1858 once housed the family of Gideon Hixon, one of La Crosse’s wealthiest men whose business ventures included lumber, flour milling, and banking across Wisconsin, as well as in Minnesota and Missouri. When the Hixon family donated the property to the La Crosse County Historical Society in 1965, it remained fully intact with original furniture and décor reflecting both Victorian and American Arts & Crafts styles. Today’s visitors can see the Hixon House’s interiors restored to their century-old glory, including Gideon’s wife Ellen’s “Turkish nook,” decorated to reflect the bold designs and patterns of the Middle East. Save your visit to the Hixon House Museum—located at 429 7th St. N—for warmer weather, as the La Crosse County Historical Society closes the property for the winter, re-opening in May.
Anderson Log House
Architectural and construction buffs will appreciate a visit to the Anderson Log House, as the structure is likely the oldest example of Scandanavian kamnov, translating to “corner joint,” construction still standing in North America. Located today within the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire, the Anderson Log House was constructed as a true labor of love—the interior walls were built from trees chopped down near Big Elk Creek, its ceiling and exterior beams were trimmed and hewn by hand, and its floors were even carefully tongued and grooved, each plank fitting in with its neighbors like a puzzle piece. Visit this home, included with your admission to the Chippewa Valley Museum, during its open season running from mid-April through mid-October.
Joseph B. Funke Candy Company
If you visit the corner of State and Front streets in La Crosse today, you’ll find a charming brick building housing The Charmant Hotel. This boutique hotel’s name pays homage to the building’s storied history as the Joseph B. Funke Candy Company factory, in operation from 1898 to 1933. Meaning “charming” in French, charmant chocolates were among Funke’s many crowd-pleasing confections, which often came in elaborately hand-carved, keepsake wooden boxes. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, during Funke’s chocolate reign in the mid-1920s, the factory employed 250 workers, most of whom were women, who readied more than 8 million candy bars and 150 tons of bulk chocolate for sale across the nation. Today, guests to The Charmant receive complimentary chocolates upon check-in, a nod to the building’s sweet-toothed legacy.
The Palmer-Gullickson Octagon House
Located at 358 N. Leonard St. and Wisconsin Highway 16 in West Salem, less than 20 miles northeast of La Crosse, the Palmer-Gullickson home is perhaps one of Wisconsin’s strangest shaped houses. Built in 1859 by Dr. Horace Palmer of nearby Neshonoc, the house features an octagon-shaped frame as well as an attached barn that provided the doctor easy access to his horses, upon which he rode to treat patients at their homes. Curiously enough, Dr. Palmer sold the house in 1876 to Dr. Mary Lottridge, who holds the title for being the second female doctor in the United States. These days, the West Salem Historical Society offers tours of the property every weekday afternoon between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
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