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Guide to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Fire, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Fire, 1856-1932 La Crosse Series 001

Guide to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Fire, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Fire, 1856-1932

La Crosse Series 001

Summary Information

Common Council resolutions, petitions and reports with supporting documents relating to the Fire Department, 1856-1932. The materials are divided into two categories: petitions and fire department files. Petitions are citizen requests and include general petitions (1856; 1864, 1871-1875; 1888-1912), petitions for building permits (1857-1932) [building permits were required in the downtown fire districts], and petitions for gas/oil building permits (1900-1932). Fire department files include resolutions directly affecting fire fighting in La Crosse, the early Hook & Ladder Companies, and later the city operated Fire Department. These resolutions are subject categorized: buildings and construction (1868-1932), equipment (1862-1931), finance (1869-1898; 1908; 1922-1931), instructional reports (1870-1916), legal actions (1895), personnel (1866-1931) and miscellaneous materials. The series is arranged by type of materials in chronological order.
Collection Title
La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Fire, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Fire
Date of Materials
La Crosse (Wis.). Committee on Fire.
Call Number
La Crosse Series 001
2.8 cubic feet
Physical Description
7 archives boxes
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Fire, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Fire, La Crosse Series 001, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

Most of the original buildings in La Crosse’s business district were damaged or destroyed by fires in 1857, 1862, 1864, and 1867. The 1857 fire in the business district was fought by ordinary citizens using a bucket brigade system. This fire sparked an interest in fire control in La Crosse.

In 1857, fire zones were set by the La Crosse Common Council. Within these limits, buildings had to be approved for a building permit by the Common Council and had to be built of brick or stone. The limits included Front and Second Streets with cross streets between Jay and Vine Streets. As the business district grew, the limits were extended to include Third Street in 1864 and Fourth Street in 1869.

During the early years after the city’s incorporation, the city relied on volunteer fire companies for fire control. Pioneer Engine Company No. 1, formed in the late 1850s, was the first company formed in La Crosse. Another company that was formed was the Washington Engine Company No. 2, whose name changed to the Washington Hose Company No. 2. Many volunteer fire companies were organized to protect the different wards of the city.

The city officers that controlled the fire companies were a chief engineer and three assistant engineers. At first these officers were nominated by the companies and approved by the council. It was changed when the office of the fire marshall was formed. After that the Common Council chose all of the city officers governing the fire companies. In 1896, a regular paid fire department was established. In 1897, a police and fire commission was formed and the council lost some of their control over the fire department.

The city’s first waterworks was designed mainly for fire protection. Fifteen cisterns were built around the city just for this purpose. In 1876, the La Crosse Lumber Company installed a private waterworks, pump, hydrants, and fire department for use by the mill. The city council decided to follow the example set by the city of Winona and build a system of water mains in 1877. Also following Winona's example, they paid the La Crosse Lumber Company to supply and operate the pumps to fill the system of water mains. In 1878, the council bought a pump for Davidson Mill on the North Side to have them supply water for fire protection to that part of town. In 1880, the city erected its own pump house on lower King Street. The second pump house was erected in 1884.

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Scope and Contents

The two major kinds of Common Council resolutions and reports related to the Fire Department generated by the Committee on Fire are petitions (1856-1917) and Fire Department files (1862-1918). Common Council petitions, defined as petitions by the general public, are divided into three categories: general petitions, petitions for building permits and petitions to build gas and oil tanks. General petitions (1856; 1864; 1871-1875; 1888-1912) include volunteer groups petitioning the Common Council to form or dissolve fire companies. Often constitutions and officers for the companies are included. There are also petitions from groups of citizens requesting the council to correct an injustice or to take action on a request.

Petitions for building permits (1857-1917) include all citizen petitions to build, move, demolish or improve any building within the fire zones of the downtown business district. Citizens were required by law to receive the Council's permission to perform any of the listed acts. Petitions for building gas and oil tanks (1900; 1907; 1911-1917) are dated in the early 1900s. After the invention of the automobile, the demand for more gas and oil stations increased. Because of the fire hazard, the petitions to build then had to be approved by the Common Council.

The Fire Department files are the most numerous of the records. They have been broken down into many subject categories related to the fire department itself. Buildings and Construction (1868-1917) contains any resolutions related to the buildings or construction of fire department buildings. It includes major projects such as cisterns, wells, wagon houses, and fire houses and minor projects such as building repairs and renovations. Equipment (1862-1918) includes bills, reports, purchase and repair of equipment, new technology and anything else that was needed to run a fire department that was not part of construction. It contains utility information for fire department buildings, some information regarding bells, alarm systems and fire alarm boxes, and information regarding horses used in the department.

Finance (1869-1898; 1908) includes general requests for money, reports of budget expenditures for the entire department, yearly requisitions of funds, and bills. Financial items that are clearly bills for equipment only, or construction only, or salaries only are filed under their respective categories. Salaries are included (with names) in the financial requests from 1879 to 1896. Financial reports end in 1896. Instructional Reports (1870-1916) contains reports from the fire chief, requests from the Common Council to carry out or enforce ordinances and other matters and reports from the Fire Committee. It also contains the ordinance for the establishment of a full paid city fire department.

Legal Actions (1895) contains any documents relating to legal actions involving the Common Council and relating to the fire department. Personnel (1866-1906) deals with the names of employees, salaries and anything else to do with the persons who were employed by the fire department. Miscellaneous (1872-1918) includes communications with fire departments from other cities and papers from other La Crosse city departments.

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Arranged in two series:

Series 1: Petitions

Series 2: Fire Department Files

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 1991-1998

800 Main St.
La Crosse, Wisconsin, 54601
(608) 789-7136

Access to Materials

Materials in this collection are available for patron use.

Acquisitions Information

(Accession nos. 1982.011, 1996.004) Donated by Aubrey Kroner, City Clerk, Sept. 1982; additions were located in the City Clerk’s basement area of City Hall and came to the Archives as part of the Mayor’s Special Committee on Historic Records, Dec. 1996

Processing Information

Processed by Carrie Seib, May 1991; additions processed by Jaime Dechant and Anita Taylor Doering, April 1998.

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(La Crosse Series 022)
 La Crosse, Wisconsin, Reports of City Officers

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • La Crosse (Wis.). Committee on Fire.
  • La Crosse (Wis.). Common Council.


  • Fire departments--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Fire extinction--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Municipal government--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Public records--Wisconsin--La Crosse

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OCLC Number


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Collection Inventory

 (Series 1) Petitions 

Box Folder

General, 1856-1912 

1 1-3
Box Folder Box Box Folder

Building permits, 1857-1932 

1 4-10 2 3 1-2
Box Folder

Gas and oil permits, 1900-1932 

3 3-5

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 (Series 2) Fire Department Files 

Box Folder Box Folder

Buildings and construction, 1868-1932 

3 6 4 1-3

Equipment, 1862-1931 

4 4-9 5 1-6

Finance, 1869-1931 

5 7 6 1-7

Instructional reports, 1870-1916 

6 8-9 7 1-2
Box Folder

Legal actions, 1895 

7 3

Personnel, 1866-1931 

7 4-9

Miscellaneous, 1872-1932 

7 10

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