Historic Structures

Dousman Hotel and Railroad Station, Prairie du Chien Wisconsin

Date added: December 8, 2017 Categories: Wisconsin Train Station Hotel

When its builder, The Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad, extended a line to Prairie du Chien's "Lower Town" in 1857, it marked the beginning of a prosperous relationship with steamboat, barge and packet companies that plied the river from St. Louis to St. Paul. In the mid-1860's, the railroad and river lines effected a major relocation of their activities north to Prairie du Chien's St. Feriole Island; the program included not only construction of railroads, shipping facilities, a warehouse and a grain elevator, but also construction of the Dousman Hotel.

The hotel was strategically located on tracts near the steamboat landings, in order to serve both rail and river passengers. By including a depot, waiting room and ticket office on the hotel's first floor, the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad ensured itself a steady clientele of travelers, as persons entering to make travel arrangements were thereby encouraged to patronize the establishment's well-appointed dining and sleeping accommodations. Not least among the Dousman's patrons were emigrants on their way to seek land in the trans-Mississippi West, principally Northern Iowa and Minnesota. They appear to have come to Prairie du Chien in such numbers that an "emigrant depot" was built nearby to augment the hotel's own waiting rooms. With the extension of rail lines north from Prairie du Chien and other river communities in the mid-1880's, the town's importance as a transshipment point declined. The Dousman Hotel, however, remained a popular establishment until after the turn of the century. Today it shares St. Feriole Island with other structural artifacts of Prairie du Chien's history, among them an American Fur Company warehouse and the Italianate-style mansion built for Jane Dousman, widow of Hercules Dousman.

Beginning in 1939-1940, the hotel was extensively modified for use as a meat packing plant. The first and second floors were gutted and rebuilt, and some third floor rooms in the main block were remodeled as well. In the rear wing, above the former dining hall, second and third floor walls, floors, and ceilings were removed to create a single large room two stories high. The third floor trusses, however, remain in place. The kitchen wing was removed, leaving the foundation which was incorporated into a large kill room that, along with an elevator shaft, fully occupies the re-entrant angle formed by the main block and east wing. On the south end of the kill room is a two-story, shed-roofed structure covered with corrugated metal. Wrapped around this feature, in an l-plan, is a concrete yard, originally sheltered with a roof on wooden posts, where livestock were kept prior to slaughter. Along the east side of this yard are long, low gable-roofed frame sheds, with horizontal tongue-and-groove siding, that contained livestock pens. East of the kill room, and connected to the latter by a short hyphen, is a concrete block structure that appears to post-date the meat packing, operations. On the main (west) facade of the hotel is a three-bay enclosed loading dock, of yellow and pink brick, concrete, and glazed tile.

In addition to these changes, the original cornice, cupola, and chimneys have been removed, and all original entrances bricked up. The front porch was removed, and a number of windows were either filled in, reshaped and fitted with glass block, or simply boarded up. Nearly all hardware, all lighting and other fixtures, staircases, interior shutters, and other furnishings have been removed. The original room arrangement is evident only on the third floor, and there only in the main block. In the east wing the room partitions, plus the ceiling of the second floor, were removed, creating a single large room two stories high. The first floor and basement were completely renovated as cold storage facilities.