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Guide to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Wharves, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Wharves, 1860-1932 La Crosse Series 035

Guide to the La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Wharves, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Wharves, 1860-1932

La Crosse Series 035

Summary Information

Resolutions and reports from the Committee on Wharves to the Common Council, 1860-1932. The documents are categorized into subject subseries, mostly dealing with the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wisconsin, such as: general wharf/harbor issues (1873-1916); proposed barge river terminal (1914-1926); docks or public landings (1860-1907); dredge issues (1919-1932); ferry service (1874-1890); dams & dykes (1894; 1921-1922); the Inland Waterways Act and the position of the City of La Crosse as a result of its participation in the Upper Mississippi [River] Valley Conference in 1928; and the opposition to a proposed nine-foot channel project (1929-1932) which included building two dams in the Winneshiek Refuge, part of the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge, in Iowa. Other resolutions deal with other bodies of water; namely, the Black (1912-1927) and La Crosse (1883; 1891) rivers.
Collection Title
La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Wharves, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Wharves
Date of Materials
La Crosse (Wis.). Committee on Wharves.
Call Number
La Crosse Series 035
0.4 cubic feet
Physical Description
1 archives box
Language of Materials
La Crosse Public Library Archives

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Wharves, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Wharves, La Crosse Series 035, La Crosse Public Library Archives, La Crosse, WI

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Historical Note

The existence of the Mississippi, Black and La Crosse Rivers will forever affect the history and future of La Crosse in many ways, such as economic development, transportation issues, flooding concerns and damage, environmental changes, and quality of life.

Mississippi River Ferry Service

Until 1891 when a municipal bridge was built, vehicular and foot traffic to and from La Crescent, MN, and La Crosse, WI, had to rely on commercial ferry or skiff service, or use their own transportation to cross the Mississippi River. This was particularly problematic for farmers with large loads of produce or teams of oxen, cattle, or horses getting from Minnesota to the market in La Crosse. During the winter, an ice bridge across the frozen river was maintained, and interstate trade increased at these times.

In 1854, two public ferries began operation: the Wild Kate, run by horsepower, operated by William McSpadden, and the Honeoye, which came into the control of Thomas McRoberts. McRoberts was a western representative of the Kentucky Company, an organization which owned and promoted La Crescent, MN, as a rival to La Crosse, WI. In 1857 McRoberts was awarded an exclusive charter from the Minnesota legislature giving him the right of ferry operation in Minnesota anywhere along the Mississippi River from the southern edge of Winona County to the mouth of the Root River. Simultaneously, the Wisconsin legislature granted McRoberts a limited charter allowing him to operate from La Crosse to the Minnesota shore.(1)

McRoberts, who was operating a boat bearing his own name by 1858, was able to thwart his competition because of his monopoly on the Minnesota side of the river. He charged exorbitant fees, maintained irregular schedules, and citizens generally complained about poor service in the La Crosse newspapers. Competition from a rival boat, named the General Pope, was squelched by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1865, but in order to compete, McRoberts’ rates had dropped to 20 cents for a six-ox team and carrying passengers for free, in comparison to the $1.10 and $1.50 per team he had been charging in 1857.

Finally, in 1866 the Wisconsin legislature repealed McRoberts’ charter and gave the Common Council authority to issue ferry permits, which the Council did on a yearly basis. In 1869 when McRoberts obtained an injunction forbidding the operation of the Southern Minnesota Railroad transfer boat the Alex McGregor, the Common Council simply suspended McRoberts’ permit. McRoberts was thus forced to compromise.

The federal War Department, and later the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers controlled bridge building across the Mississippi. No bridge could be built across the wide expanse that would make the river unnavigable. A railroad bridge was completed in 1876, crossing over the river at North La Crosse. It wasn’t until 1891 the wagon bridge, financed by La Crosse voters and a city bond issue, was completed, thereby ending the era of ferry boats.

Black River Logging

The Black River played an important role in the history of La Crosse because of its proximity to the pineries of Northern Wisconsin. Logs were floated down the Black River and corralled at sawmills in Onalaska, North La Crosse, and La Crosse. From there, milled lumber was shipped via packet or steamboat north to St. Paul or south to St. Louis.(2) In the early pioneering days, small steamers could navigate the river; however, over time erosion from the logging caused a great deal of silt to build up and the river became unnavigable. Agricultural run-off, erosion, and lack of proper sewage treatment for La Crosse, Onalaska, and Black River Falls led to pollution problems throughout the southern part of the Black River. Dredging efforts began in the late 1930s, as well as the construction of a dam in Black River Falls partial funding coming from the “New Deal” programs.(3)

La Crosse River and River Valley [Marsh]

This river was called Chapa-ca-putay or Beaver Alder by the Dakota tribe, although the Winnebago inhabited this area.(4) The La Crosse River channel was redirected more than once to accommodate railroad lines. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad built a bridge in the marsh area just southwest of the Indian Hill area and just east of the present day Causeway. This caused flooding and property damage to North side. In 1891 the City Council directed the Board of Public Works to “change the channel of the La Crosse River west of the C.M. & St. P. Ry. Co.’s follow the original channel of said River as near as practicable....”(5) Residents still complained about the situation.(6)


(1) Sanford, Albert and H.J. Hirshheimer, A History of La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1841-1900 (La Crosse, WI : La Crosse County Historical Society), 1951: 151-152. (2) “Early History of Black River Outlined in Brief by City Attorney Fred Steele,” La Crosse Tribune 17 May 1936. (3) For information on a dredging project, see the La Crosse Tribune articles from 1938-1941 on a federal proposal to dredge the lower Black River to a nine-foot channel depth for navigation from Copeland Park to the mouth of the Black River (1.4 miles) and fill in the west Causeway [Blvd.] marsh area owned by the City in exchange for a municipal terminal facilities. (4) “La Crosse River Once Known by Indians as Chapa-ca-putay” La Crosse Tribune 1931 (?). (5) For a more complete history of the marsh and the La Crosse River, see Anthony Godfrey’s A Historical Analysis of the lower La Crosse River 1841-Present (La Crosse, WI : U.S. West Research), 1990. (6) Anderson, Wendell A., Papers, 1860-1917, Mss E, see subjects “Floods,” and “Railroads.” Property of La Crosse County Historical Society in the La Crosse Public Library Archives.

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Scope and Contents

Common Council resolutions and reports began to be organized by a numbering system in Dec. 1932. Before that time the resolutions were kept folded up in chronological order, roughly by subject or Council committee (such as Parks, Judiciary, Fire, Police, etc.).

This set of pre-1932 resolutions represents those labeled as Wharves, and date from 1860-1932. Some of the resolutions after about 1920 are stamped “Public Utilities,” but the archivist opted to keep these water related resolutions together.

The original order of these reports was not maintained. Rather, the resolutions were categorized by subject into subseries; therein, chronologically. Undated resolutions are filed at the front of each category.

Most resolutions deal with the Mississippi River and many are concerned with the economic aspects of transportation. The subseries here are: general issues, Barge terminal (proposed), 1914-1926; Docks/Wharves (specifically King St., 1870-1871; Main St., 1860-1870; the Public Landing (State St. with later became Spence Park), 1874-1907); Dredge, 1919-1932; Ferry service, 1874-1890; Mississippi River (specifically Dams & dykes, 1894; 1921-1922; Inland Waterways Act/Upper Mississippi River Valley Conference, 1928-1929; and the Proposed 9-foot channel project, 1929-1932 [opposition to two proposed dams in the Winneshiek Refuge, part of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge]).

Two other bodies of water dealt with in the resolutions are La Crosse River, 1883; 1891; and the Black River and the damaging effects of a dam, 1912-1927.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

La Crosse Public Library Archives 1999 January

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 no. 1996.004) Resolutions were located in the City Clerk’s basement area of City Hall; came to the Archives as part of the Mayor’s Special Committee on Historic Records, Dec. 1996

Processing Information

Processed by Anita Taylor Doering with assistance from Jaime Dechant, January 1999

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Related Materials

Related Materials

(La Crosse Series 020)
 La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Parks, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Parks
(La Crosse Series 024)
 La Crosse, Wisconsin, Committee on Bridges, Resolutions and Reports Relating to Bridges

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • La Crosse (Wis.). Common Council.


  • Docks--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Harbors--Wisconsin--La Crosse
  • Marine terminals--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

Box Folder

General issues, 1873-1916 

1 1

Barge terminal (proposed), 1914-1926 

1 2

Black River, 1912-1927 

1 3


Box Folder

King Street, 1870-1871 

1 4

Main Street, 1860-1870 

1 5

Public landing (Sate Street), 1874-1907 

Historical Note

Became Spence Park

1 6
Box Folder

Dredge, 1919-1932 

1 7

Ferry service, 1874-1890 

1 8

La Crosse River, 1883-1891 

1 9

Mississippi River 

Box Folder

Dams and dykes, 1894, 1921-1922 

1 10

Inland Waterways Act/Upper Mississippi River Valley Conference, 1928-1929 

1 11

Proposed 9-foot channel project, 1929-1932 

Historical Note

Winneshiek Refuge opposition

1 12