An Historic Look at Grandad Bluff

Posted by Anita on May 23, 2013

(written by Cate Putirskis, Archives Staff)

Joseph Hixon and his mother, Ellen Jane Pennell Hixon, did a lot and left a lot for the City of La Crosse. The most commonly known thing is how the Hixons helped save Grandad Bluff. Many people know Grandad Bluff as a beautiful public place to go hiking, place for family picnics, or just a great look-out over La Crosse. But, it wasn't always beautiful.


Back over one hundred years ago, in the early 20th century, Grandad Bluff was being quarried away for its stone (see the image above). La Crosse Stone Co. hauled away unmeasurable amounts of Grandad Bluff and used it for La Crosse road ways, foundations of local homes, and the foundation of the La Crosse Post Office. In the process of quarrying Grandad Bluff, they also cut down most of the trees. The lush, beautiful bluff that towered over the city of La Crosse was looking "burned over," as one local described it.

The people of La Crosse soon realized that if they keep quarrying Grandad Bluff, there would be no more Grandad Bluff. Citizens of La Crosse tried fighting the city, but the city didn't own the bluff. Grandad Bluff was privately owned my Mrs. Ellis B. Usher. They were at a dead end.

Joseph and Ellen Hixon heard all about the developing problem and decided to see what they could do to help. Mr. Hixon met with Mrs. Ellis B. Usher and agreed on a price of $15,000 for the deed to Grandad Bluff. Not long after they had the money. Mrs. Ellen Hixon donated $12,000 and the citizens of La Crosse came up with the remaining $3,000 plus and additional $2,000 to build a road to the top.

On December 9th, 1909, Mr. Hixon and Mrs. Usher made the exchange of the property papers. Mr. and Mrs. Hixon then held ownership of Grandad Bluff until it was donated to the City of La Crosse not long after. Because of the overwhelming help of the Hixons, the forest on the north base of the bluff is named after their family, "Hixon Forest." 

In the years to come, a road was designed and built by the very man who had settled on top of Grandad Bluff back in 1878, Mr. Henry Bliss.  The winding road going to the top of the bluff was named "Bliss Road" after him. Over one hundred years later, Grandad Bluff has had some set backs, but, it is still a great family site, and a wonderful part of history in La Crosse.