North La Crosse has a history that is in some significant ways different from that of downtown La Crosse. For both areas, geography has played a large role in the historical development of the commercial and residential districts.
North La Crosse is separated from the southern part of the city by the La Crosse River and extensive wetlands area known as the La Crosse River Marsh. From its earliest days, the base industry in North La Crosse was lumber milling. Also, steamboats had a difficult time advancing upriver on the Black River, so North La Crosse did not develop as a shipping/commercial center. Norwegians became the dominant ethnic group and established a working class flavor to the community.
With the coming of the railroad in the late 1850s, North La Crosse became the site of much rail industry activity. The railroad jobs and later employment opportunities in industry and manufacturing perpetuated a “blue collar” tradition in the commercial and residential areas.
Look for the steeple of the historic Saint James church and you’ll find Old Towne North along Caledonia Street. North La Crosse’s architecture reflects the unique history of the north side. The industrial buildings are associated with the railroads and with other early 20th century industries that developed after the lumber era. Several churches were founded by ethnic groups specifically associated with North La Crosse. The core commercial district along Caledonia Street has very few high-style buildings and many of the vernacular 19th and 20th century facades have been greatly altered. However, “Old Towne North” still retains a distinctive commercial flavor attractive to heritage tourists.
Copeland Park, on La Crosse’s Northside, is home to an historic steam locomotive, the #4000, Milwaukee Road Caboose #0359, and the Grand Crossing Tower rail switching tower. A derailment destroyed the original tower and in 1928 it was rebuilt and used in La Crosse until 1991. Each year in July, volunteers host “Rail Fair” with tours and a flea market to fund preservation of this historic railroad display.
Source – Footsteps of La Crosse, North La Crosse Tour Overview