Catalog Number: 1987.044.01
Gysbert Van Steenwyk was a notable figure in La Crosse during the 1800s. He was born in Utrecht, Holland, in 1814, and spent his childhood in the Netherlands, where he served as a volunteer in the army at age 16. He later served as an officer in the Netherlands National Guard from 1838 to 1849. He also attended the University of Utrecht, earning degrees in philosophy and philology.
Van Steenwyk moved to the U.S. in 1849 and settled in Milwaukee. He later moved to Newport, Wis., and then to Kilbourn City (now the Wisconsin Dells) before coming to La Crosse.
He became involved in both state and local politics after he settled in Wisconsin. Some of his most notable positions include representing representing Columbia County in the Assembly in 1859, serving as mayor of La Crosse from 1873 to 1874, and serving in the state Senate from 1879 to 1880, representing District 31, which included La Crosse County.
The portfolio pictured here belonged to Van Steenwyk during his time in state politics. The front of the portfolio boasts the words “Wisconsin Legislature,” printed in gold. It featured a lock and key. The inside of the portfolio is broken into sections for “Letters Answered,” Letters Unanswered” and “Notes and Addresses,” along with an open section in the front for paper. In this front section there are several pages of loose-lined paper, and one of these has the start of a letter scrawled across it.
Outside of politics, Van Steenwyk made a name for himself in banking and helped underwrite La Crosse’s growth from a frontier logging town to a modern city with diversified industries.
He founded the Batavian Bank in 1862, which was named after the Republic of Batavia (the name of the Netherlands during the Napoleonic Era). The Batavian Bank building, 319 Main St., was completed in 1888 and was home to the bank for nearly a century, during which time it was the oldest and largest financial institution in La Crosse. The Chicago-based architect, Spencer Beman, designed the limestone Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style building. Since its creation, the bank building underwent several renovations and name changes. It is now home to a number of local businesses.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on April 7, 2018.