About Onalaska

A Brief History

Great glaciers of the Ice Age bypassed Onalaska, forming the "driftless region" which left the majestic scenery and topography of Onalaska. The steep rocky bluffs, winding valleys, fertile river bottom and great Mississippi River Basin made the Onalaska area appealing for habitation. As early as 8,000 BC, Native Americans lived in small mobile family groups in the Onalaska area. Later, the Oneota culture was noted for their farming methods, as well as using the area for fishing, and hunting.

Onalaska was originally founded by Thomas G. Rowe from New York, who came here in 1851. It soon became a flourishing lumber town. The name "Onalaska" came from the poem, "The Pleasures of Hope," by Thomas Campbell, published in 1799. Rowe liked the line, "The wolf's long howl from Oonalaska's shore," and decided to use the name, only with one "o". Onalaska is built on a ridge overlooking Lake Onalaska and the Black River, the Mississippi River and the Minnesota bluffs three miles away.