Dousman Hotel

Fisher St. and River Rd., Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin


Dousman Hotel, Water Street at Fisher Street


Photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey

View photos at Library of Congress



The Dousman Hotel, built 1864-65, is associated with Prairie du Chien's role in post-Civil War transportation on the upper Mississippi. When its builder, The Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad, extended a line to Prairie du Chien's "Lower Town" in 1857, it marked the beginning of a prosperous relationship with steamboat, barge and packet companies that plied the river from St. Louis to St. Paul. In the mid-1860's, the railroad and river lines effected a major relocation of their activities north to Praire du Chien's St. Feriole Island; the program included not only construction of railroads, shipping facilities, a warehouse and a grain elevator, but also construction of the Dousman Hotel. ... The Dousman Hotel in its heyday exemplified the kind of establishments frequently built by railroads or private individuals to accommodate rail passengers in the late nineteenth century. These hotel/eating houses were commonly located near rail platforms or depots, and at transportation transfer points, as was the case in Prairie du Chien. The Dousman was of particular interest because it originally included depot and waiting room facilities, as well as sleeping and dining accommodations. However, substantial changes to the structure during this century have eliminated most of the features which embodied these functions. -- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS WI-291)

Brief History of the Dousman Hotel 

Written by J.R. Manning

The Dousman Hotel was first known as the Railway House and was renamed for Hercules Dousman later on. It was built in 1864 by the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad, of which Hercules Dousman was a principal investor. (The Milwaukee and Mississippi would eventually grow into the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, commonly known as The Milwaukee Road.) The Railway House was a stop for riverboat traffic but also had a railroad platform.

In the 20th Century, after the hotel lost its attraction as a lodging center, it became a slaughterhouse and meat packing plant. After the meat packing plant left in 1952, part of it saw continual use as a warehouse but the structure was mostly unused.

The Dousman Hotel, along with Villa Louis and several other NRHP historic sites in Prairie du Chien, is located on St. Feriole Island. The island is formed by the Mississippi River and a backwater channel. The entire city was located on St. Feriole Island, but repeated flooding caused businesses and homes to move across the backwater to the mainland. Today, the island is a park. The original street grid is extant, and traveling the streets is a bit eerie. There are several historic sites on the island, including the Dousman Hotel, Villa Louis, the Astor Fur Warehouse, Michael Brisbois House and Rolette House. The island was the location of the first Fort Crawford, on the site of Villa Louis.

The paperwork from the National Park Service (required for consideration of placing a property on the NRHP) had a brief history and description of the old hotel.

"The 1864-65 Dousman House was a three-story building of buff-colored brick, with a wide central pavilion under a wide central gable. Mid-Victorian in style, the building has a definite vertical accent in the raised basement, high stories, tall cupola and many big windows. All the windows and doors were outlined with half-circle moldings in brick and stone sills. The cornice line was accentuated by wide eaves supported by large brackets. A low entablature band in a contrasting color outlined the semi-circular trim of the windows and the peak of the wide gable.

"Large quoins lined the corners of the building and the sides of the central pavilion. The entrance porch stretched across the entire central block of the first story, with a door and staircase at both ends. The large square cupola had a flat roof with cross-gables and three tall, slender, round-topped openings on each side.

"The extant building today can barely be seen on some sides amid all the additions which surround it. The basic rectangular brick structure is there, but on many sides hidden by almost a dozen additions which sometimes reach above the second story. The corner quoins and the many tall, arched windows with brick trim (nearly all bricked over or covered with metal or vinyl) are the only decorative features visible. The roofline is basically the same, but the cupola is gone replaced by a wooden addition to the roof. Also gone are the heavy cornice, and entablature decorations as well as the front porch.

"The interior of the old hotel has been almost entirely gutted, although a few of the original 51 guest rooms may remain. The former first story and basement are now the concrete-lined slaughter house and cooler. One account described the rendering plant, built within the old hotel, as three stories, 32 by 32 feet. One rather graphic c. 1949 description of the extent of the remodeling of the building noted that the old hotel barroom and storeroom in the northwest basement was the boning room, and the grand old dining room space was part of a large cooler, chilling carloads of meat.

"Since the meatpacking firm left in 1952, the building has been empty or used for storage of equipment, and has just further deteriorated."

So the HABS photos demonstrate, but today, the hotel is owned by a local investor with plans to restore the hotel to its original grandeur. As you can see from the recent photos, restoration is underway.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966
Reference number
Areas of significance
Commerce; Exploration/Settlement; Architecture
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event; C - Design/Construction
Property type
Historic function
Periods of significance
1875-1899; 1850-1874
Significant year

Update Log 

  • April 12, 2014: New photos from J.R. Manning
  • October 17, 2013: New photo from kasal
  • May 13, 2012: Essay added by J.R. Manning