Historic Structures

Building Description Dousman Hotel and Railroad Station, Prairie du Chien Wisconsin

The hotel, three stories on a full basement, was built with an L-shaped plan, consisting of a nine-bay main block fronting Water Street and the river, and a ten-bay rear wing fronting on Fisher Street. At the east end of the wing, on the south side, was a two-story kitchen wing. At the south end of the main block, on the east side, was a small two-and-a-half story pavilion, with a one story section attached to the east wall.

The walls are laid up 1n a yellow brick, called "Milwaukee" brick, probably because it was made in that city, with stretcher bond on the exterior. The main block features a five-bay central entrance frontispiece that is very slightly advanced beyond the main wall plane, and is surmounted by a shallow gable. All corners of the building are quolned with slightly corbeled courses of yellow brick.

The exterior walls are load-bearing; interior walls are framed with studs to which nailed lath and plaster was then applied. The first floor appears to have been supported by square, probably brick, piers in the basement. The second floor was probably supported by transverse floor beams inserted into pockets in the outer walls. The third floor is carried on a system of modified queen-post trusses, reinforced with vertical iron tie rods, which are enclosed within room partitions. These trusses are hung from very large king-post trusses in the attic, which also support the single-rafter system of the shallow hipped roof. The king-post trusses are fashioned from 12 x 12's with mortise-and-tenon joints and vertical iron tie rods. The vertical rods of each queen-post truss extend through the bottom chord of the respective king-post truss, and are bolted in place. The diagonal member of each queen-post truss is in turn held in place beneath the bottom chord of the king-post truss with diagonal rods bolted at each end. The ends of the king-post trusses are inserted into pockets near the top of the exterior walls. In the angle formed by the main block and rear wing, there is but a single king-post truss, which is situated or a diagonal running northeast-southwest. Rafters and attic floor joists appear to be butted into the walls, as there is no plate. The rafters are nailed in place, and at the top are simply butted and nailed against a plank serving as the ridge pole.

Originally there was a one-story wooden porch extending the full width of the frontispiece. The extremely shallow hipped roof had a broad, molded cornice with widely-spaced ornamental brackets. Like the frontispiece, it was divided into five bays, with the end bays marking the entrances. These end bays were distinguished by tall round arches flanked by narrow five-light sidelights. The porch posts, on low pedestals, had a slight batter and recessed panels on each face. Stair and porch railings lacked spindles, and instead displayed long, lozenge-shaped "cut-outs." Square posts at the bottom of each stair railing featured bulbous finials. The entire porch appears to have been gaily painted, and at times was furnished with striped awnings hung across the three central bays.

On the north side of the building, at the second bay from the west end, was a short flight of wooden steps to a door leading into a parlor.

The only available information for the basement floor plan is that included in a manuscript by Fred Schrader, a former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific employee. Schrader believed there to have been a saloon located in the northwest corner of the building. He also mentioned a "special room" in the basement in which the hotel roasted its own coffee, but provided no specific location.

The first floor of the main block originally served as a railway passenger depot. It was divided into three general areas, the largest, at the center, being a waiting room and ticket office. At the south end was a men's card room and saloon, while a women's parlor was located on the north end. The main staircase was located against the parlor wall, accessible from the waiting room. Approximately two-thirds of the first floor of the wing fronting on Fisher Street was occupied by a large dining room. The easternmost third was partitioned into four small rooms, plus a staircase, according to the "Plan of Depot Buildings..." of c. 1870. A Sanborn fire insurance map of 1905 locates the kitchen in this area, but shows only a single wall setting off the kitchen from the dining room. A Sanborn map of 1912, however, indicates that the kitchen was located in the two story pavilion off the south side of the wing. It is likely that several rooms were devoted to food preparation and service, as Mrs. Rudy Opat who worked at the hotel from 1893-1899, recalls both a "dish room" and a "pastry room" being associated with the kitchen activities.

The second and third floors were used for hotel accommodations, and contained over fifty rooms. The rooms, of varying sizes, were located to each side of central hallways which opened into a large square space at the re-entrant angle between the main block and wing.

Fred Schrader provided the following description of sanitation facilities in a typescript dated 1957: There was a "battery of old-fashioned toilets which lined the hallway on each floor. Each deck of toilets were off-set like a stairway and the waste from each section dropped down, an open shaft into a huge funnel-shaped pit in the basement. The rain water from the main roof was directed into this funnel-shaped pit, to wash away the sewage into the river. These toilets necessitated the hiring of chamber-maids who took care of all chambers from each room."