River to Valley Initiatives, Inc.
601 South Beaumont Road
John Lawler, a prominent local businessman who made his mark in trade from Prairie du Chien, donated this site, once part of the second Fort Crawford, to Catholic nuns for a girl’s school in 1870. St. Mary’s Academy educated young women for almost a century before it closed in 1968. Wyalusing Academy, operated as a private institution dedicated to helping students who have had difficulty in traditional schools to learn life and job skills.
The second Fort Crawford was built of stone on higher ground that occupied the site where Wyalusing Commons stands. In 1832 a Sauk warrior named Black Hawk surrendered to Colonel Zachary Taylor at the fort ending the four month Black Hawk War. The fort was abandoned and troops were removed in 1856, but the fort was used again during the Civil War for recruiting and for an overflow hospital. Some immigrant families lived there until they could find or build other housing.
About the same time, John Lawler bought much of Fort Crawford and donated a block of the land to Catholic nuns for St. Mary’s Academy. St. Mary’s became a respected school until the late 1960s. Lawler was also instrumental in building the first high school in 1875 and is credited with being the founder of Sacred Heart College in the 1880s. Sacred Heart became the famed Campion College and Campion Jesuit High School, which closed in 1975. Lawler made his money transferring railroad cars and passengers across the river by ferry. In 1874 he launched the pontoon railroad bridge that operated until 1961, which was dismantled in the early 1960s. Lawler Park was named after John Lawler, Prairie du Chien’s greatest philanthropist.
- St. Mary’s Institute opens in Prairie du Chien.
- On the occasion of the institute’s 25th anniversary, the school changes its name to St. Mary’s Academy
- St. Mary’s Alumnae Association, the nucleus of the present association, is organized.
- The first college curriculum goes into effect at St. Mary’s Academy in Prairie du Chien. On October 28, St. Mary’s Academy became St. Mary’s College, chartered by the state of Wisconsin to grant degrees. It is the first four-year Catholic college for women in Wisconsin. Three young women make up the first graduation class of St. Mary’s College.
- St. Mary’s College in Prairie du Chien is recognized by the North Central Association of College s as an approved college.
- Archbishop Messmer of Milwaukee requests that St. Mary’s College move to Milwaukee in order to make Catholic education available to a wider group of students and also to provide for its students the advantages of a metropolitan center.