Historic Preservation Efforts

Onalaska was founded in 1851 by Thomas G. Rowe from New York and John C. Laird and the original plat for the City of Onalaska was registered at the State’s Land Office in August 1851. By 1856 three steam sawmills were in operation and two more were under construction. A sash and blind factory, a brewery, a bakery, two blacksmith shops, a cooper shop and eight stores were doing business. By 1875 the population was listed as 680.  Because of the wealth of White Pine to the north and the ability to send the pine down the Mississippi River to lumber mills in Onalaska and La Crosse, Onalaska became a flourishing lumber town. Onalaska’s history is detailed in the book From Sawmills to Sunfish by John and Joan Dolbier.

The Onalaska Area Historical Society was formed in 1988 for the promotion and preservation of items having historical interest to the Onalaska area and the reinforcement and strengthening of awareness of our local heritage. The community created an Onalaska Historical Museum in 1989, which shares the same building as the La Crosse County Public Library in Onalaska and houses artifacts and documents related to Onalaska’s history.

In 1996, the City of Onalaska adopted a Historic Preservation Ordinance with the purpose and intent is to protect, enhance sites of special character or architectural or historic interest or value to the public. In 1997, the City of Onalaska established a Historic Preservation Commission to implement the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

The City of Onalaska was granted Certified Local Government Status for the Historic Preservation Program by the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 2001, which makes the City eligible for grant funding and recognition through the State Historical Society for Historic Preservation Efforts.

The City of Onalaska recently applied for a grant through the Wisconsin Historical Society to complete its vey first historical survey to determine which structures may be eligible for future local, state, and/or national designation, as well as potential districts within City limits that may be eligible based on architecture and local historical knowledge. The City has identified a total of 943 residential and commercial structures within City limits that have a construction date prior to 1964 as well as a number of sites with interesting historical backgrounds. The proposed historical survey would survey residential and commercial structures constructed prior to 1974. As part of the historical survey project, education and outreach with the community would occur.


Use the bottom links to view contact information for Onalaska's Historic Preservation Commission and recent meeting minutes.