Caroline C. Morris
Traveling from downtown La Crosse through the marsh to the former village of North La Crosse was an adventure in the early 1910s. Then as now, Rose Street was the main artery, but there was no bridge over the La Crosse River on the south end, and the road was not entirely paved until 1929. Despite these inconveniences, the most dangerous part might well have been the viaduct over the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railway Company tracks. The wooden structure was built in 1883 so pedestrians and wagons could safely cross the railroad tracks, but it was rotting by the 1910s. Alarmed by its condition, the state’s Railroad Commission condemned the viaduct in 1912, effectively closing the north-south artery and making life difficult for the residents of North La Crosse. In 1913, the Railroad Commission ordered the railroad and the City of La Crosse to split the cost of replacing it. Much haggling ensued between the two parties, but eventually they cooperated enough to build the viaduct pictured above.
The replacement viaduct was much sturdier – it lasted until 1979 when the present-day concrete bridge was built – but it came at a cost for some residents of Rose Street. The 1883 viaduct had had short, steep inclines on each side. The new viaduct had safer gradual inclines, but they extended a good deal beyond the footprint of the original inclines. Homes that once had unobstructed views across the street now had a road level with their second-story windows. Property owners filed lawsuits and held public meetings, but the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ultimately ruled against their claims in Henry v. City of La Crosse, et al (1917). The ruling disappointed the affected residents, but it did not surprise them. In the early twentieth century, railroads and “progress” had few formidable opponents.
This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.