Prairie du Chien’s recorded history was ushered on June 17, 1673, when Marquette and Jolliet came down the Wisconsin River and were the first Europeans to see the Mississippi River. Traditionally, the name of Prairie du Chien came from the French for Prairie of the Dog, an early Fox chief who lived on the prairie.
In April 1857 the railroad came to Prairie du Chien and determined the economic and social life of the community for a century. That summer a young John Lawler came as the station agent. The lower portion of town grew as a boomtown around the depot just west of Fort Crawford Museum in the area south of the fort. The upper side of town grew along Main Street north of the fort.
In 1864 the depot was moved to St. Feriole Island: the center of the town shifted and the lower town began a decline from which it never recovered. The railroad built a hotel on the Upper Mississippi known as the Railroad House, and later renamed Dousman House. The city was incorporated in 1872, and in 1873 a disastrous fire took the Kane Hotel and the Traner Carriage Factory. The Kane was built in 1855 as the Phoenix and was the anchor of the upper part of town.