Do you ever wonder how such a deep sense of community came to be embedded in La Crosse? Many take this feeling for granted, but examples of La Crosse’s strong social capital can be found over 100 years ago.
Giles R. Montague planted his roots here in 1854, moving from Granby, Massachusetts. Considered one of the oldest residents of La Crosse, Mr. Montague was a prominent businessman who encouraged development in the community. His early businesses encompassed insurance, surveying, and real estate.
In 1894, he opened the La Crosse Cracker and Candy Company, where this wholesale biscuit tin was used to transport goods across the Midwest. Customers paid a small deposit on the tin, which was then returned to the company and reused.
After five short years Mr. Montague sold the factory to well-known Nabisco. Nabisco operated the La Crosse factory until 1904, when they announced they would be closing the plant and moving operations to the Twin Cities. The people of La Crosse were not impressed with Nabisco’s decision. Community members, feeling glum and hurt by the loss of jobs, rallied around Mr. Montague to purchase the company back. In 1905, he regained ownership of the factory and expanded operations.
Unfortunately, the factory burned to the ground only two years later. A resilient man, Mr. Montague closed his carriage business and moved the cracker and candy operations into that building. With strong community support the La Crosse Cracker and Candy Factory thrived until the 1930’s when the Great Depression caused the company to fold.
This biscuit tin is one of the objects that will be featured in the exhibition “[art]ifact, Where History Meets Art,” on display from Feb. 26 through April 16 at The Pump House Regional Art Center. It will be displayed alongside a new piece created by artist Ben Alberti as a response to the history of the La Crosse Cracker and Candy Factory. “[art]ifact” is a collaboration of the Pump House, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Public History Program, and the La Crosse County Historical Society.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.