In 1857, four yeas after it's organization, the first of the Milwaukee & Mississippi Rail Road Company arrived in Prairie du Chien. Since the business center of the village was in Lower Town, the company constructed it's station and elevator in Lower Town, between Front Street & the Mississippi River.
By the early 1860's the rail road company's business had outgrown it's facilities. Reorganized as the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien Railway Company. The company's western terminus had dual locations; Prairie du Chien & McGregor , Iowa. The small station and elevator could not handle to volume of wheat coming in from the west, and when the river was low, the wheat could not be transferred from boats to the railroad cars. So a massive expansion at Prairie du Chien had begun.
The Railway Buildings were moved to old main village, with the gain elevators being built first followed by the freight house, platforms & facilities for ferry & steamboat landings. Once the needs for the freight business were fulfilled, the Railway Company then directed their efforts to accommodating the passengers.
Hercules L. Dousman, Director Of the Railway, acquired a piece of land not too far from the elevator and landing and donating it to the Railway Company. On part of the donated land the Railway Company built a passenger station. By this time the Railway Company had already begun laying track in Iowa for the McGregor Western Railroad. The officers knew the passengers would need a place to stay during their layover in Prairie du Chien, so they decided to build the hotel next to the passenger station on the rest of the land donated by Dousman.
Construction on the hotel began in the summer 1864. The hotel was appropriately named The Railway House when it opened to the public and was soon hailed as one of the most impressive hotels in the Midwest. Constructed of Milwaukee cream brick, the Railway House was built three stories tall with a full basement and topped by a cupola. The hotel was impressive and gave it's lodgers a fine view of the Mississippi River. Each one of it's fifty one rooms were individually heated by a stove, and a unique system of indoor toilets serviced each floor.
First managed by Colonel J.F. Williams gave the dinning room a fine reputations for the quality food and wine. Charles F. Haufschmidt followed Williams as manger and under his management around 1884 the hotel was renamed, The Dousman House. "Old Charlie" maintained to hotel's fine reputation. Always present in the dinning room Haufschmidt oversaw the preparation and serving of quail, pheasant, frog-legs, venison, partridge, Baltimore Oysters, and tender sausage made in-house.
Changes occurring in the early 20th century caused the hotel business to decline, forcing the closure of the Dousman House. After laying empty for several years, William Carroll purchased the hotel in 1937. Carroll had the building fitted for use as a packing plant and leased it to Armour Packing Company in 1939. Oscar Meyer Co. bought the building in 1946 and operated it as slaughter-packing plant until 1952.
Papers of H.L. Dousman
Annual Reports of Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien Railway Company
The Courier - 1864, 1865, 1952
Fred A. Schrader
Paper original writing:
Mary Antoine deJulio, July 1987