The area’s rich history is an integral part of Prairie du Chien’s many cultural attractions. St. Feriole Island was the city’s earliest hub of activity, serving as the center of the fur trade on the Upper Mississippi River. The island was also the site of the Battle of Prairie du Chien in 1814, Wisconsin’s only War of 1812 Battle. After the War, Fort Crawford was built as part of a chain of fortifications erected by the government to secure the U.S. frontier. Fort Crawford served as a backdrop for several important treaties negotiated between the U.S. government and the region’s numerous Indian Nations. A number of regionally significant historic sites are located on the Island. Today, much of the old city center has been redeveloped as parkland and is used for re-enactments, music events and other large gatherings.
Chief among St. Feriole Island’s sites is Villa Louis, an elegant Victorian country estate that was the home of three generations of the Dousman family. Hercules Dousman, a fur trader and entrepreneur, established the estate in the 1840s. His son, Louis, built the current residence in 1870 and established a trotting horse breeding farm. Following Louis’s death in 1886, the horses were sold and the property was named Villa Louis in his memory. Villa Louis was open to the public as a historic house museum in the mid-1930s and is today owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. It has recently undergone a meticulous restoration to recreate its 1890s appearance, when it was a showcase of British Arts and Crafts design and decoration. With more than 90 percent of its original furnishings, Villa Louis is one of the Midwest’s great house museums. It is open daily from early May through late October.
Other historic sites on St. Feriole Island include the Fur Trade Museum, housed in the 1850 Stone Brisbois Store, the 1837 Brisbois House and the Dousman House Hotel. With the Villa Louis, these four sites are designated National Historic Landmarks. Lawler Park is also located along the waterfront on the west side of the island and contains a series of interpretive markers highlighting the Island’s rich history. New to St. Feriole Island are an expansive community garden and the developing Mississippi River Sculpture Park. With pathways, a fire circle and several sculptures in place, the park will ultimately house more than two-dozen life-size bronze statues, depicting 10,000 years of cultural activity in and about Prairie du Chien.
Persistent problems with spring floods prompted the U.S. Army to relocate the 1816 log Fort Crawford, situated on the land where Villa Louis is now located, to higher ground. Under the direction of Colonel Zachary Taylor, later our 12th president, stone Fort Crawford took shape and was completed. This is the fort where Jefferson Davis served and where Sauk Chief Blackhawk surrendered, ending the last major War with American Indians to take place east of the Mississippi River. Portions of the old Fort Hospital have been reconstructed and are part of Fort Crawford Museum, a three building complex owned and operated by the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. Museum buildings contain more than 50 historic exhibits, with new artifacts and displays added each season, complemented by an active annual program of lectures, special tours, concerts and related activities. Fort Crawford Museum is open daily from May through October.
The six-screen Star Cinema offers evening and matinee shows featuring the latest tinsel-town releases, while Prairie Fun Land is a great attraction for youngsters. This entertainment center houses an action-packed water balloon game, go-kart racing, miniature golf, a golf driving range, bumper cars, arcade games and a NASCAR-style racing challenge for groups of 20–60.
Just across the river, in Marquette, Iowa, is the Lady Luck Casino, which invites guests to try their hand at numerous slot and video poker machines and table games. The casino also offers a marina, two restaurants, live entertainment in the Lone Wolf Bar and year-round tournaments and events.