The commercial interests leading to the foundation, and subsequent development of a city, which must of necessity, receive the attention of the historian, is attended with many difficulties and uncertainties unknown to those who have never undertaken the collection of such matter. Especially is this true of a city dating back to so early a time as Prairie du Chien. Few of the early business men of the place are now living, and to the memory of the few surviving ones, years that have passed but as fleeting hours, and the reports given by these pioneers are often at antipodes in relation to vital points, such as names and dates of those who first embarked in business. Notwithstanding these obstacles, the task has been undertaken, and the result is here given as a matter of record, to be handed down to succeeding generations, that they may know who founded the business of a city whose proportions shall increase with the incoming years, and the magnitude of its commerce outstrip the most sanguine hopes of its projectors.
In this connection it will be the aim of the historian to give, as far as possible, the names of the first representatives in each line of business, together with a brief history of their business and then in conclusion, show the advancement made by a business directory of the city in 1883.
As the earliest trading at this point, has been spoken of at length, in former chapters, in connection with the French and Indian trading post, no special mention will be made of the city’s business until the American settlement commenced.
The first merchandising done at this point, was carried on by John S. Lockwood, who opened a general store in 1839, and continued till about 1844, when he moved the stock to Upper Town, and a few years later died. Samuel A. Clark was the next to embark in trade in the Lower Town. He commenced in 1840, and continued until 1862 and then moved his goods to Viroqua, Vernon county, where he built a fine store building, which a few years later, he sold to Mr. John Tate, who was still in trade there in 1884.
The first hardware dealer of the place was G. C. Cone, who finally moved to McGregor, where he died. Succeeding him in this line, came Oswald & Hopkins in 1856.
Frank Jackish run the pioneer meat market of this part of Prairie du Chien.
A bank was established in 1856, under the state banking laws, by a man from Milwaukee, who continued some few years. This bank was kept in a large three-story brick block erected by Allen Reed for that purpose. In 1883, this was utilized as a vinegar manufactory.
In 1857 the principal trade of the place was in the hands of the following:
T. L. Brower, wholesale and retail drug store.
Mr. Osborne, grocery stores.
H. Baldwin, ship store, which he kept in the railroad depot.
Samuel A. Clark, general store.
William Hawkins, groceries and provisions.
At this date there were eight hotels of various kinds, which changed hands many times and several of these were destroyed by fire, it is supposed to obtain the insurance, which was placed upon them.
In the winter of 1862-3, the long talked of removal of the depot, to a point up the river, near what was the “Main Village” of early date, was finally effected and with this change of railroad business, all other branches of trade commenced to center at Upper Town, many of the business men removing their goods from “Lower Town.”
“Lower Town” contains at this time (1884) but one store, which is operated by the pioneer, T. L. Brower.
Aside from the Vinegar works of A. H. Reitemeyer established in 1870, this constituted the business of this part of Prairie du Chien.
The C. M. & St. Paul have their roundhouse and repair shops here, also a passenger depot.
The earliest trading done here was carried on at what was then known as “Main Village,” on the island, near where the Milwaukee depot now stands. The building used was a solid, stone structure, which is still standing. This was headquarters for the Indian traders, among who were Dousman & Brisbois, agents for the American Fur Company.
In 1839, Edward Pelton opened up a general store.
In 1847, Thomas A. Savage and Martin Neinhardt engaged in trade; the former in a general stock, and the latter in exclusive grocery stock.
O. P. Martin embarked in the drug and grocery trade, at about the same time.
Gaillard & Famechon, began business in 1849, running a large general stock, then called and still known as the “French Store.” In 1855, they erected a spacious stone building on Bluff Street where Mr. Famechon is still (1884) doing business.
The first to engage in the hardware trade at this point was Mr. Frisbie, who sold to B. F. Fay, in 1857. Beach & Weber engaged in the same line in 1858.
The earliest dealer in furniture was Christopher Greeley, who commenced business in 1850, in a shop near the site of the present Commercial Hotel. This business is still (1884) carried on by his son Charles.
Horace Beach kept the pioneer agricultural store.
The first lumber dealers were I. P. P. Gentil & Dorr, who operated as early as 1856-7.
Shipley & Peas run the first livery stable, beginning about 1853.
The first to deal in clocks and jewelry was Mr. Giles, who was in trade here just before the war, and here commenced the foundation of the great fortune he has since amassed in Chicago, where he has long since been one of the noted business men.
The pioneer picture taker was Alpheus Wright, who located long before the art of taking photographs was known. About 1850 was the date of his commencing to take daguerreotypes. D. A. Douglass was the second artist, who settled here. He was farther advanced in his profession, and taught Mr. Wright the process of taking both photographs and ambrotypes. He located in 1856, and continued in the business till 1865. His gallery was situated on Church Street near where the city brewery was afterward built.
The first shoemaker in Prairie du Chien was a German named Sielgher, who commenced cobbling in 1842. In 1856, J. T. Christophe came from New York city and opened a shoe shop, and in 1860 added a stock of boots and shoes. He is still (in 1884) operating in this capacity.
The first restaurant in the place was run in connection with a boarding house, known as “Our House,” which stood near where the French store building now stands. It was kept by John Pion, who is a native of Prairie du Chien. He was born in 1821, on the site of the present Railway House, and died Dec. 1, 1882. He had served two years in the United States army 1846-7, in a campaign against the Indians of the northwest. At one time he was counted among the wealthiest men in Prairie du Chien; but one reverse added to another till all was finally swept from him. The last twenty-five years of his life he suffered much from inflammatory rheumatism, contracted while in the army. It is said Mr. Pion was a “born gentlemen,” and like most of the early French settlers, he was liberal and hospitable. His death added another to the long list of pioneers, who have been gathered to their fathers, leaving only a few of that generation who lived on this beautiful prairie, and whose chief business was “dance, sing and make merry.”
Mr. Pion was married in 1850, to Anna Brisbois, a niece of Col. Brisbois, by whom he had ten children John, Emma, Louis, Anna, Charles, Addie, Ella, Lotta, Johnny and Eddie.
History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin: Together with Sketches of Their Towns and Villages, Educational, Civil, Military, and Political History, Portraits of Prominent Persons, and Biographies of Representative Citizens ; History of Wisconsin : Embracing Accounts of the Pre-historic Races, and a Brief Account of Its Territorial and State Governments, Part 1. Crawford County (WI): Union Publishing Company, 1884.