La Crosse Public Library

800 Main Street
La Crosse, WI 54601


Library History:
Library service to citizens of La Crosse had its beginnings in a subscription organization founded in 1868, called the Young Men's Library Association. Upon the death of former Civil War general and Wisconsin governor, Cadwallader Colden Washburn, a large bequest was given to the city to purchase land and construct a building to be called the La Crosse Public Library. Ground was broken in 1887 and in November 1888 the red brick library was dedicated and open to the public. At that time, the Young Men's Library Association dissolved and transferred its holdings to the new library at 8th and Main Streets.

Branch library service was extended to the city's north side in 1905 and to the south side in 1915. The existing North Branch Library building was opened in 1942 and the South Branch Library in 1952. In 1992, the two branch libraries were extensively remodeled and relandscaped. To reflect their neighborhood character, the names were changed to the North Community Library and the South Community Library.

In 1967, the present Main Library was built, thanks to a 4-to-1 bond referendum margin. The city also received a federal grant to provide space to accommodate service to surrounding areas. Known as the La Crosse Area Library Development, this later became the Winding Rivers Library System. The system services a seven-county area.

The Main Library dedicated the Swarthout Memorial addition in January 1980 which includes the La Crosse County Historical Society Museum. A major expansion and remodeling was completed in 1996 equipping the library for the 21st century.

A strong and long history of civic support, leadership, and generous contributions has made it possible for the library to meet its challenges. Those same resources will make it possible for the library to meet its second century of challenges.

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