Prairie du Chien was the name given to the nine-mile prairie located above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. In the 1770s, French-speaking people from the Illinois Country and Quebec began to settle on the prairie. While they farmed much of the prairie, they also established three small villages: the Main Village, the Village of St. Friole, and the Upper Village.
The Main Village was located on an island west of the prairie. Here, fur traders built their homes and warehouses. In the first quarter of the 19th century, almost all of the residents of Prairie du Chien made their living through the fur trade.
As more people came to settle at Prairie du Chien, the Main Village grew. Then in the 1860s, the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien Railroad moved their depot to the island and built a hotel. Steamboats began to dock at the island, grain elevators were erected, and a sawmill opened to produce lumber. In 1870, the Main Village was the economic center of Prairie du Chien.
In 1872, the City of Prairie du Chien was incorporated. The portion of the prairie, which was included in the new municipality, was divided into wards. The old Main Village was designated the 4th Ward. The commercial center of the city began to shift to Bluff Street.
More people began to build homes in the 4th Ward, and over time more than 250 homes stood upon the island. The 4th Ward became a close-knit community. Many of the families were related, and all were neighbors. With the Mississippi River surrounding the 4th Ward, many of its residents found an income from the river by fishing and clamming.
The Mississippi River had flooded periodically, sometimes forcing residents of the 4th Ward from their homes. Then in 1951 and 1952 record floods affected the 4th Ward. Thirteen years later, in the spring of 1965, the most drastic flood on the upper Mississippi River occurred, cresting at 25.3 feet, over nine feet above flood stage. Water of up to six feet covered the island. Four years later, the Mississippi River flooded again, cresting at 21.6 feet. The City made a request to the US Corps of Engineers to prepare a Flood Control Impact Statement.
In 1977, the Statement was issued, calling for an evacuation of the 4th Ward. All residents would be required to move off of the island. A home would either be moved and relocated to the mainland on a lot provided, or the home would be purchased and then demolished. The evacuation affected 160 structures and all the residents.
Today, relocation is complete. The Main Village-4th Ward has been renamed St. Feriole Island and has become a park with historic sites, recreational opportunities, and a garden. But each summer, the former residents of the 4th Ward hold a reunion in their old neighborhood. They recall the happiness and friendships of living in the 4th Ward. They still are neighbors, though they live scattered throughout the City of Prairie du Chien. w (11-2018 MEA)