La Crosse Local

La Crosse Legends: The Hatchery’s Journey from Fish to Fancy


The Hatchery – Riverside Park | photo: Zastrow & Zastrow Photography

Hey, La Crosse history buffs—and anyone who loves a good “before and after” story—this one’s for you! If a time machine dropped you at The Hatchery at Riverside Park a hundred years ago, you’d be swapping visions of chandeliers and cocktails for fish tanks and river mud. This place isn’t just about weddings and classy drinks (though those are awesome); this building’s got a backstory that’ll knock your socks off.  Ready for the wild transformation?

the hatchery
The Hatchery at Riverside Park | photo: Zastrow & Zastrow Photography

🐟 Chapter 1: All About the Bass (1925)

Let’s rewind to over a century ago! Back then, The Hatchery wasn’t hosting fancy weddings or cooking up salmon dinners. Driven by concerns about declining fish quality, conservationists and fishermen had successfully lobbied the federal government to fund this project. Construction finished in 1925, and soon the building was filled with the smell of river water and rows of fish tanks. C.F. Culler, district supervisor of the Bureau of Fisheries, was so impressed that he reportedly called it the best-equipped hatchery in the nation. Imagine seeing this state-of-the-art facility – a far cry from today’s champagne and chandeliers!

🏛️ Chapter 2: From Fish to the Future (1980s)

The Hatchery’s story was far from over! Its importance in fish conservation earned it the prestigious National Historic Landmark status in September of 1981. This sparked an exciting idea: to transform the building into a river center showcasing La Crosse’s history and the role of the Mississippi River in its development.


🤝 Chapter 3: A Community-Driven Museum (1990s – 2019)

By the 1990s, the La Crosse County Historical Society stepped up, taking over management with the support of a grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation. This marked a new chapter for the museum, with a focus on educating visitors about the river’s influence on the city and the rich history of the region. The partnership with the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center added another layer of depth, bringing the stories of the area’s Native American peoples to life.

The museum continued to evolve over the years, including updates in 2004 to enhance the visitor experience. However, changing priorities for the Hatchery building ultimately led to the museum’s closure in 2019.

✨ Chapter 4: The Glow Up (2020s)

After years of sitting underused, our beloved Hatchery got its Cinderella moment. A major restoration project brought back its original beauty while turning it into The Hatchery Riverside Hotel & Event Venue.  Owners Tiffany Smith and Marty Walleser agreed to a 20-year lease with the City of La Crosse to rehabilitate the building and open The Hatchery. We’re talking elegant event spaces, a luxurious boutique hotel, and a lounge with views that will make you swoon.

So, What’s Inside This La Crosse Gem?

the hatchery
The Hatchery at Riverside Park | photo: Zastrow & Zastrow Photography
  • Picture-Perfect Events: Brides, take note! The Hatchery is THE spot for a wedding with Mississippi River vibes. They’ve also got space for conferences, parties, and anything that calls for a touch of class.
  • Boutique Hotel with a Twist: Stay in a piece of  La Crosse history! Their six hotel rooms blend vintage charm with all the modern amenities. Snag a room to impress those visiting relatives, a romantic getaway or a snazzy staycation.
  • Riverside Lounge: No room key required to enjoy the lounge! Grab a drink and appetizers with a side of scenic Riverside beauty.
  • Outdoor Oasis (Coming Soon!): Get ready for a one-of-a-kind patio space perfect for sipping cocktails and watching the sunset over the river.

the hatchery

La Crosse, the next time you’re in Riverside Park, take a moment to really appreciate The Hatchery and think about all the crazy stuff those walls have seen!  From fish tanks to monkey cages to today’s swanky scene, it’s the ultimate La Crosse comeback story.

Calling All La Crosse Storytellers! Did you see the monkeys at The Hatchery? Know someone who worked there back in the fish days? Hit the comments and spill the tea!

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