The Prairie (sometimes misspelled as Prairie Du Chein) claims the title of the oldest town on the Upper Mississippi River, with roots back to the 1600s as an important trading rendezvous between French traders and Native Americans and trappers. Later British traders would replace the French as Great Britain took control over the area. After the Battle of Prairie Du Chien, during the War of 1812, the region came under the control of the United States.
The Americans built Fort Crawford on the site in 1816 and it played a strategic role in the Indian wars and was the site of the surrender of Chief Black Hawk in 1832. The settlement around the fort began its growth into a town during the 1830s. Among the men who laid out the original plats of the town was Alexander McGregor, who later founded the town that bears his name across the river.
Great River Road Scenic Byway - Links to Sections:
This early era of American settlement is recaptured in the annual Prairie Villa Rendezvous, one of the largest re-enactment events in the midwest. Profiled below are Villa Louis, Antique Shopping, Cabela's Outfitting Warehouse, Effigy Mounds National Park, Wyalusing State Park, and things to do and see in the area in 2008.
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Lawler Park, on St. Feriole Island, is a nice place for a picnic or a walk along the Mississppi.
Across the street is the Brisbois House (1836) one of several National Historic Register buildings maintained by the State Historical Society.
One of 10 way stations on the island's Walk of History, each with a marble etching highlighting an aspect of Prairie du Chien's past.
One of the popular things to see and do in Prairie Du Chien is Villa Louis, a popular tourist stop for history buffs.
Located on St. Feriole Island on the track of land settled by Hercules Dousman, the present structure dates back to 1870.
Dousman came to the area in 1827 as an employee of the American Fur Company. Wealth came his way and he built his estate on St. Feriole Island. Villa Louis is now preserved and maintained by the Wisconsin Historical Society who offer tours of the estate May through October.
Another popular tourist attraction is the Cannery Antique & Unique Gift Shop, located in the buildings of the former Prairie City Canning Company, which operated on the site from 1912 through 1947. Later the facility was used by the General Cigar Corporation.
Over 30,000 square feet of goods and merchandise on two floors. You may need to drop bread crumbs to avoid getting lost! The shop also has a fudge and coffee house.
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Just a few doors south of the Cannery is a quilt shop, Front Porch Quilts, that Joanne found had some nice patterns for sale at reasonable prices.
Tah-Dah! Finally a Thing to See & Do for long suffering spouses who have endured endless stops at quilt shops, antiques shops, and quaint shops of all kinds! They get their reward in the form of a visit to Cabela's, World's Foremost Outfitter of hunting, fishing, and outdoor gear.
Cabelas offers 40,000 square feet of fun - browsing and shopping for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, rv gear, and other outdoor stuff.
A "smallie" and a largemouth bass cruise by in the 8000 gallon aquarium. Cabela's is located at the north edge of town on State Highway 35.
Effigy Mounds National Monument
Although actually across the Mississippi River from Prairie Du Chien, on the Iowa side, we consider this National Park facility an important Prairie Du Chien Visitor Attraction. Over 200 prehistoric mounds are located within the park, the oldest of which date back 3000 years.
Another attraction of hiking Effigy Mounds are the terrific scenic vistas of the river valley. Here is a view from Fire Point in the spring.
And another view of the river and the Great River Road - Iowa side from the Eagle Rock scenic lookout.
More scenic views, hiking trails, camping, canoeing, and fishing are to be had at Wyalusing State Park, on the opposite side of the Wisconsin River from Prairie du Chien.
2012 Prairie Region Events and Festivals
April 21 - 29 : National Park Week (Effigy Mounds)
May 26-28 : Spring Arts & Crafts Festival (McGregor, IA)
June 14 - 17 : Annual Prairie Villa Rendezous
June 23 : LazyRiver Beer and Wine Festival (Marquette)
June 30 - October 27) : Hole in the Sock Gang 1880 Street Threatre (McGregor, Ia) Saturdays Only
July 27 - 28 : Prairie Dog Blues Festival
Sept. 8 - 9 : Annual Villa Louis Carriage Classic
Oct. 6 - 7 : Hawk Watch (Effigy Mounds National Monument)
Dec. 7 : Holiday Parade
Dec. 1 : Holiday Open House Effigy Mounds
Dec. 8 : Fort Crawford Trail of Trees and Open House
Dec. 26 - Jan. 1 Carp Fest (Dec. 31st "Droppin of the Carp")