Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adventures in Mississippi River Bluff Country

Last Saturday, October 15, my friends Brian, Bob and John came adventuring with me through that beautiful part of Minnesota known as Mississippi River Bluff Country.

Our journey took us south from the Twin Cities to the Minnesota river towns of Lake City, Winona and La Cresent, and the Wisconsin river city of La Crosse.

We joked it was a very Irish journey as we mainly visited cemeteries, churches and bars!

Above: John, Bob and Brian on the shores of Lake Pepin, a naturally occurring lake, and the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River. Located approximately 60 miles downstream from St. Paul, Lake Pepin has a surface area of about 40 square miles (100 km2) and an average depth of 18 feet (5.5 m).

Above: With my friend Brian by Lake Pepin.

Above: A beautiful view of Lake Pepin and the Mississippi bluffs on the Minnesota side of the river.

Above: First stop in Winona: the renowned Bloedow's Bakery!

Right: The impressive Catholic Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Winona, MN. Dedicated in 1855, the church is designed in Romanesque-style in the form of a Greek cross.

Above: John, Bob and Brain inside the decorative St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. Notes the website of the parish: "Faith-filled and dedicated Polish immigrants who settled in Winona in the middle 19th century planted the seeds for what would become the present Church of St. Stanislaus Kostka."

Above: The Merchants National Bank of Winona, an architectural gem!

Notes the Unified Vision website:

[Architects] Purcell and Elmslie's largest and most elaborate bank was the Merchants National Bank of Winona, which still functions as a bank. As in many of their banks, local agriculture is represented on the exterior by stylized grain motifs executed in glazed terra cotta, while murals of farm scenes adorn the inside walls. The iconography of American business and values continues in the elaborate glazed terra-cotta decoration over the entrance, featuring an American eagle. Piers, a somewhat classical architectural detail that signifies strength and solidity, are part of the facade, where they are capped with the organic ornament typical of progressive architecture.

Above right: Brian stands outside the decorative entrance of Winona's Merchants National Bank.

In the heyday of river-based commerce, Winona was quite a bustling place – and renowned for its whore houses! The modern day owners of the building pictured above cheekily acknowledge this by the placement of a picture of a woman and a red light in an upstairs window.

Above: At Winona's Woodlawn Cemetery, visiting the elaborate grave of Stephen Taylor (1757-1857), the only Revolutionary War Veteran buried in Minnesota.

Notes the Winona Daily News:

The Revolutionary War may not have reached Winona soil, but a small piece of its history is buried in it.

The grave of Stephen Taylor, a soldier who fought under George Washington in the war and later moved to Minnesota, is in Winona’s Woodlawn Cemetery. He is the only soldier from the war laid to rest in Minnesota.

Historical accounts dispute much of Taylor’s life. He may or may not have been a part of Ethan Allen’s famous 1775 raid on Fort Ticonderoga. It’s not clear when he was born. He may have lived to be 89. Or 100. All accounts agree that he was a volunteer in the Massachusetts army during the war, then came to Minnesota for the final years of his life.

Above: The view of Winona from Woodlawn Cemetery. That's St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the center of the picture.

My friend John grew up in Winona and so has strong connections to the area. In the photo above he points to the portrait of his father that hangs on the wall of the La Crescent American Legion Club.

Above and below: John in the La Crescent cemetery, where many of his family members are buried.

Above: Atop the river bluffs above La Crescent.

Above: The spectacular view of the Mississippi River from atop the bluffs above La Crescent, MN.

Above: The farmland on the top of the bluffs.

Above: Descending from the top of the bluffs, we called in to the Southwind Orchards store where Bob and John bought a huge pumpkin for Halloween for just $1.50!

Above: John stands beside the little church in Dakota, MN, built by his great grandfather E. B. Webster.

Above: La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Notes the Scenic Byways website:

LaCrosse celebrated its sesquicentennial in 2006, having been formally founded as a city in 1856. First settled in 1841 as a trading post by Nathan Myrick, the settlement soon attracted other merchants who served the increasing commerce on the Mississippi River.

Later the strategic location at the intersection of three rivers (Mississippi, Black, and La Crosse Rivers) made it an ideal location for sawmills to handle rafts of logs moving downstream from inland forests. Between 1846 and 1854, the population grew from thirteen residents to 745. Logging and steamship traffic of passengers and the goods of commerce were the nucleus that fueled other manufacturing and agricultural enterprises so that by the time the village was officially incorporated as a city it was a thriving center of commerce. Several buildings from this early era remain.

Above: The Cavalier in LaCrosse, WI. Originally a gay bar, it was no doubt one of the first of its kind in the area. Liberace apparently played here early in his career. It remains an "Inn of Distinction"!

Right: Inside the Cavalier Lounge. It was actually closed when we visited, but the guy working there was kind enough to let us in and have a look around. As you can see, it's been lovingly restored to its original 1950s look.

Left: The Casino Bar in La Crosse was also closed the day we visited, so we never got to experienced its renowned "lousy service"!

The bar is part of the John Walter Building (1878) and began as a tavern or "sample room." It was substantially remodeled after Prohibition (1933) and became the Casino Bar.

Above: La Crosse, WI, with the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman at left.

Notes the cathedral's website:

In 1959 Bishop John P. Treacy, the Fifth Bishop of La Crosse, announced the building of a new cathedral. The original building was razed and the new cathedral was constructed on the same spot. The new cathedral is a contemporary interpretation of the gothic architecture of the original cathedral church. At the time of its dedication on May 14, 1962, the new cathedral was given the title of Saint Joseph the Workman, in honor of the new feast of Saint Joseph established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 to be celebrated each year on May 1, which in many parts of the world had become a holiday for workers. Pope Pius XII was trying to “Christianize” what had become a yearly show of military strength in communist nations. Bishop Treacy intended to honor the working-class character of the La Crosse Diocese. On May 9, 1969, the Cathedral of Saint Joseph the Workman was consecrated by Bishop Frederick W. Freking at the conclusion of the year-long celebration of the centennial of the La Crosse Diocese.

Above: A view from the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, looking over to Wisconsin. That's Trempealeau Mountain at left and Brady's Bluff at right. I climbed Brady's Bluff with my friends Kathleen and Joey in October 2009. For images and commentary, click here.

Above: Back on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi we enjoyed dinner at the famous Hillside Fish House!

Left: Bob and John at the Hillside Fish House.

Notes the restaurant's website:

Around 1855 The Hillside Fish House, originally called the Marshland House, was built as a railroad junction hotel to accommodate the crews and passengers from the railroads that served the area. Local Indians brought fish (primarily walleye) and game to trade for kerosene and other necessities.

The Marshland House, owned by the Herrek family, fed the fresh game and fish to their guests. Over the years, the place gained a reputation for serving good food, particularly walleyed pike. Around 1900, the Marshland House was sold to the Losinski family, who changed the name to the Hillside Tavern. Various members of the Losinski family operated the Hillside until the early 1990's when it was purchased by Tony Grenier.

After a delicious meal at the Hillside Fish House, Brian, Bob, John and I drove back to the Twin Cities. Without doubt we had a wonderful day exploring Mississippi River Bluff Country. So much so that we vow to return for a weekend visit in December!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Wisconsin Adventure
Road Trip to St. Louis

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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