La Crosse Club History
After a hard day’s working in the late 19th century La Crosse at Cargill and Van, National Bank of La Crosse, the Gund Brewery, or La Crosse Plow Co., a fellow needed a place to relax. They were in search of a place to play some cards, talk over the day’s events, and maybe go over a business deal. For a group of La Crosse businessmen in the 1880s, the place to get together was not one of the 27 hotels in town or the 99 saloons; it was one of the eight cigar shops in the city where they could gather under a cloud of blue smoke to play chess or checkers, or just talk.
W.R. Putnam, who operated a “gents furnishing goods” business in 1880 at 128 Main St., was a member of a group he described as young and old bachelors, and a few widowers, whom he said “vibrated” during their free time from the Spence Drug Store to the cigar store of Max Weix. This group could be found vibrating between the stores on most evenings and Sunday afternoons. This group’s routine usually began at the Spence store, where they would fill the house with smoke, and then move on to the store of Max Weix, where they would repeat the program.
Time for a Change
On a cold winter afternoon in 1881, things were are about to change for the group of men. As Putnam could remember, the usual crowd had gathered. Just as the air was filling with smoke, Weix startled the lads with the news that he was about to lock up the shop. “Boys, I am sorry to be obliged to turn you out, but I’ve got an engagement for the afternoon.” As Putnam told the story, “many dissenting grunts were heard.” Most enterprising of all was Ellis Usher, proprietor of The Morning Chronicle, who said “If the fellows in this town had any snap in them, they would soon have comfortable club rooms in which to spend their spare moments.”
Smith said he had a lease on Sanctum Hall in the La Crosse Opera Company building that had been erected in 1867 at the southwest corner of Fourth and Main streets by the notorious former editor of The La Crosse Democrat, Marcus “Brick” Pomeroy. When Smith said he wouldn’t turn over the Pomeroy Sanctum and adjoining rooms to the club, the men began talking about the cost of fitting the rooms with billiard tables and other furnishings. When Bunn Webb estimated it might be as much as $1,000, Putnam immediately pledged $100. “I will be one of ten men to guarantee that one thousand dollars,'” he announced. This seemed to strike the boys favorably, and although they took the proposition jokingly, it was enough to incite immediate action.
The La Crosse Club was Born
That action resulted in the La Crosse Club, a social organization that has been home to the La Crosse leaders and businessmen for more than 100 years. For women, it’s been a much shorter time — since 1985. The La Crosse Club was organized in 1881 and offered a refuge from the demands of business and family. For nearly all its history, this reserve of men was, as The La Crosse Chronicle’s 1906 headline called it, “a comfortable loafing place.”