History: Later Development at the Fort

By the time of the Civil War, Prairie du Chien had already largely transformed from its frontier days as a trading and military outpost into a regional rail hub. The first train had arrived in April 1857 on the newly completed Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad. With grains crossing east over the river from Iowa and Minnesota and immigrants travelling west, business accelerated through the 1860s, fueled in part by heightened wartime demand.

As activity at Fort Crawford diminished following the Civil War, the United States offered the fort for sale. John Lawler, the local railroad agent, purchased it in 1868. He took up residence in the house once reserved for the fort commander. Meanwhile, residents and businessmen in Prairie du Chien commandeered bricks and stones from the old barracks to reuse in new construction elsewhere in the growing town and countryside.

As the fort barracks were reduced to ruins, John Lawler made plans to redevelop the site of the fort, donating land for the construction of a school. In 1872, the St. Mary's Institute, a Catholic boarding school for young women, was built where Fort Crawford had stood. Lawler also offered the former Swift Army Hospital to the Society of Jesus to house Sacred Heart College, later Campion High School. St. Mary's and Campion persisted into the twentieth century, and exhibits at the Fort Crawford Museum preserve their story.

St. Mary's Academy is shown in this early 20th century postcard. The buildings still stand near the museum.