About the Prairie du Chien Historical Society
In the 1980s a small group of people began to discuss the formation of a historical society to preserve and interpret the rich and varied history of Prairie du Chien. While there was the interest in the formation of an organization, the question always was where to have a museum to display objects and present programs. The community had always supported the Villa Louis and the Museum of Medical Progress, but neither interpreted the history of Prairie du Chien. Then in 1994 the State Medical Society of Wisconsin offered an opportunity.
Since 1956 the State Medical Society of Wisconsin had owned and preserved the Fort Crawford Hospital. The Foundation of the Society finished the restoration of the Hospital, constructed a visitors' center, and erected a new building to house exhibits on the history of medicine in Wisconsin. In 1960, they opened these structures as the Museum of Medical Progress. In the early 1990s, the Medical Society refurbished the Fort Crawford Hospital. But in a reassessment, the Society decided that the buildings and collections would be better served if owned by another institution. The Medical Society offered the museum and the collections to the City of Prairie du Chien. The City declined the offer, but James Bittner as Mayor of the City saw this as an opportunity to finally have a local history museum. Passionate about Prairie du Chien’s history, Bittner and other members of the community contacted the Medical Society. They told the Society that a new organization was being formed that would accept the Medical Museum and its collections.
The Prairie du Chien Historical Society was formed and incorporated in March 1996. The following month, the State Medical Society of Wisconsin gifted the Museum property, buildings, and collections to the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. Accompanying this gift was an endowment and financial support for three years.
Since then the Prairie du Chien Historical Society has owned and operated the Fort Crawford Museum. A Board of Trustees governs the Society and Fort Crawford Museum. The trustees are elected by the membership to three-year terms. The Society has several standing committees: collections, education, building, finance, and personnel. Membership is open to anyone, and the annual membership dinner meeting is held in November. Besides owning and operating the Fort Crawford Museum, the Prairie du Chien Historical Society offers programs throughout the year. The programs focus on aspects of Prairie du Chien’s history and include events for adults and children. The Historical Society published a quarterly newsletter and has reprinted two books, one on the history of Prairie du Chien and the other on the history of Fort Crawford.
The purpose of the Prairie du Chien Historical Society is the operation, maintenance, and perpetuation of a museum to preserve, collect, interpret, and inform and educate the public about the history of the City of Prairie du Chien and the surrounding area.