John Coady's Revolver and Badges

Emily Patwell

Catalog Number: 1926.020.05

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

This Smith & Wesson .32 caliber revolver with nickel plating and a wooden grip and these city marshal badges belonged to one of La Crosse's first settlers, police officers, and city marshals, Detective John Coady. He likely owned the revolver circa 1865, while he was serving as city marshal, considering the stamping on the barrel dating to 1865. The six-pointed star city marshal badge, dated April 4, 1862, is missing the "a" in Coady. Issued his first year as city marshal, this might have been done in error due to initial confusion over the spelling of Coady's name. An engraved emblem-shaped badge with the correct spelling accompanies the star badge and revolver.

An Irish immigrant born in Tipperary, Ireland on June 22, 1837, Coady first came to the United States around the age of 5 with his parents, Martin and Nancy Coady. His family settled first in Burlington, Vermont before moving to Fort Dearborn, Illinois, a settlement that would become part of modern day Chicago, Illinois. A farming family, the Coady clan caught wind of an area of fertile, unsettled farmland in western Wisconsin called Prairie de La Crosse in 1853, and began the perilous journey north to claim their stake. The oldest child at the age of 15, John was tasked with helping his father navigate the ox-team caravan to their new settlement. 

When they arrived, they were among the very first settlers in the area, and they made their first camp on the land that would become Oak Grove Cemetery. The parcel of land once called Prairie de La Crosse soon blossomed into the growing town and later city of La Crosse, Wisconsin as more settlers moved into the area. John soon married another settler, Bridget Daly, in 1857, and in 1858, he would become La Crosse's first night watchman. He worked his beat until 1859, when he took up various other jobs, and in 1862 he was elected as La Crosse's city marshal. He served as city marshal from 1862 to 1865 and from 1866 to 1869.

During the late 1800s, the lumber industry was experiencing an economic boom in the area, and John temporarily retired from the police force to take part in the C. L. Colman Lumber Company from 1869 to 1884. He rejoined the force on October 12, 1884 and took on the role of patrolman, quickly climbing back up the ranks in July 1886, when he was appointed to the position of detective. Detective Coady remained on the force until August 31, 1908, a little over a year since his 50th anniversary with his wife, Bridget. He remained in the area until his death on October 31, 1916, previously hailed as one of La Crosse's oldest living founding settlers.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on July 7, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Stollenwerk Sketches for Walt's Restaurant

Michelle Kelly

Catalog Number: 2018.024.01-04

These small watercolors were created by local artist Paul Stollenwerk as studies for a commission from Walt’s Restaurant for murals destined to hang above the restaurant’s historic bar.


He subsequently made a gift of them to Sam Fellows, owner of Doerflinger’s Department Store, in 1956.

The squat, white building that used to be Walt’s Restaurant sits across from the World’s Largest Six-Pack on Mississippi Street. You would be hard-pressed to find a longtime La Crosse resident who hasn’t heard of, or eaten at, Walt’s Restaurant.

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The story goes that the building was converted from three houses into a saloon and grocery store combination in 1875, making it one of the county’s oldest restaurants. It was bought by Walter Niggli in 1924, and he turned it into Walt’s Restaurant. It quickly became a local hotspot, drawing crowds and praise for their food.

Niggli sold the business in 1946, and it changed hands twice more, but owners kept the name and changed very little. There was a brief name change in 1982 when the building was purchased by the G. Heileman Brewing Co. The name was changed to Gottlieb’s Restaurant in homage to its the brewery’s founder. But it reverted to Walt’s in 1985.

Sadly, Walt’s closed in 1989.

Walt’s Restaurant was known for good food, good people and a good atmosphere. The hand-crafted cherry and mahogany bar was one of the finest in the city.

Besides the unique bar, the restaurant was decorated with large paintings based on these small watercolors. Since Walt’s decor was predominately Germanic, the artist embraced his German heritage.

Stollenwerk Studios at 120 Main St. was another local landmark. It was started by Paul Stollenwerk and his friend, Mrs. Argyle Scott, in 1927, and was advertised as a place “where you can obtain anything from imported brushes to books on art to wall-sized paintings.”

Stollenwerk was commissioned throughout the city for projects ranging from murals for the La Crosse County Historical Society to private commissions such as the ones done for Walt’s Restaurant.

The studies, and the murals, depict scenes with monks.

One scene shows a single monk-brewer. A second scene illustrates two monks eating and drinking, while the last depicts three monks making a toast.

Stollenwerk sketched a fourth watercolor where “Auf Wiedersehen,” German for “until we meet again,” is written on a banner. All four sketches invoke feelings of Germany and were well-received in Walt’s Restaurant.

Unfortunately, the old building has been slowly falling apart. While many people have fond memories of Walt’s Restaurant, the building is considered beyond repair.

Instead, City Brewery, which owns the building, did the next best thing. In 2015, the company moved and restored the old bar in its new corporate offices. Tagging along with the bar were Stollenwerk’s final oil on canvas paintings, which now hang safely in the City Brewery offices.


This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 30, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.

Ernie Howard's Bus Cap

 Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Copyright La Crosse County Historical Society

Emily Patwell

Catalog Number: 2012.011.01

The cap pictured here belonged to Ernie Howard, a bus driver in La Crosse between 1965 and 1977. His black-and-blue cap with a visor and a La Crosse Transit Co. badge will be familiar to readers who recall riding the bus in the 1970s.

Public transportation has been a critical part of the city’s infrastructure since the La Crosse Street Railway Co., the area’s first streetcar company, was established in 1879.

By 1885, it merged with another company into the La Crosse City Railway Co. Originally using horse-drawn carriages, they introduced their first electric trolleys in 1890. In 1913, the Wisconsin Light and Power Co. purchased the streetcar lines before changing its name to the Mississippi Valley Public Service Co. in 1926. When the fuel and rubber shortages of the World War II years ended, the company replaced the trolleys with buses.

In 1949, the company was sold and renamed the La Crosse Transit Co. The city purchased the company and renamed it the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility in 1975.

In addition to providing transportation, MTU buses have provided jobs for people like Ernie Howard.

A native and lifelong resident of the La Crosse area, Ernie Howard was born Ernest Lloyd Tracey to Lloyd Tracey and Anna Howard (née Mahlum) in 1926. After his parents divorced, Ernie went to live with his grandparents, Even and Andrine, in Holmen. He completed grade school, then moved back to La Crosse to live with his mother and stepfather, Everett W. Howard. Ernie graduated from Logan High School in 1944, and subsequently served in the U.S. Navy as a corpsman with the Seabees in Okinawa during WWII.

After the war, he legally changed his name to Ernest Leon Howard and married Elizabeth Rosina Pertzsch. They had a daughter, Sandra, and two sons, Sigurd and Douglas.

Ernie began working for the La Crosse Transit Co., and later the MTU, around 1965, and drove a bus for 12 years. His route, No. 3, served the city’s south-southeast section and included Aquinas High School, Central High School and St. Francis Hospital.

On Oct. 15, 1977, at age 51, he was suddenly struck with a rare auto-immune illness known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The neurological syndrome leads to pain, tingling, numbness, and in extreme cases, paralysis. While the precise causes of Guillain-Barré Syndrome are unknown, it often occurs after acute infections of influenza. Ernie’s wife reported that he had been sick with the flu the week before his collapse.

His manager, Percy Mahlum, often said that Ernie was a hard worker who rarely called in sick and kept his bus spotless, earning the nickname “Mr. Clean.” When Ernie had called in after contracting the flu, Mahlum knew that he must have been very sick.

Ernie Howard retired from bus driving, but he slowly recovered from total paralysis after being treated at Lutheran Hospital. He expressed his hope for full recovery when meeting his favorite country singer, Bill Anderson, after six weeks of hospitalization.

He remained disabled until his death in 2010. His bus driver’s cap was donated by his son, Douglas Howard, and is preserved in the La Crosse County Historical Society’s collection as a memento of the history of the city’s public transportation system.

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on June 23, 2018.

This object can be viewed in our online collections database by clicking here.