Old La Crosse Fire Station No. 5 climbs ladder to State Register of Historic Places

Fire Station No 5 2
Fire Station No. 5 and its crew in 1925. (La Crosse Public Library Archives photo)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — La Crosse Fire Station No. 5 has another claim to fame, in addition to being the last station in the city to use horse brigades: It’s now listed on the State Register of Historic Places.
The Wisconsin Historical Society, which bestowed the distinction on the station last month, cements the building’s heritage as the last surviving firehouse in the city, although it’s no longer used as a fire station.
The two-story brick structure was built in 1895, according to La Crosse Public Library Archives. Two large doors served as the entry to the large apparatus bay room, where firefighting equipment was housed.
The second story originally contained a club room, offices and a dormitory. A rear addition contained stables for the horses and a hayloft.
Fire Station No. 5 was built just as La Crosse was transitioning from volunteer fire companies to a professional, paid, city-run fire department, according to the historical society. When the station opened, it had a refurbished 4,000-pound hose wagon (carrying 1,300 feet of 2½-inch hose), a 2,600-pound ladder truck with a 35-foot extension ladder, four horses and eight men with yearly salaries ranging from $600 for hose and truckmen to $800 for Captain D. E. Desmond, the society reports.
As the 20th century began, fire departments nationwide began to switch from horse-drawn equipment to gasoline-powered machinery.
Fire Station No. 5 was the last firehouse in La Crosse to use horse brigades, and Fire Chief Fred McGlachlin resorted to a bit of trickery to surprise the station crew with their power shift, according to the library archives.
In April 1926, he arranged to send them out on a false alarm. When they returned to the station with their two-horse fire apparatus, a new Pierce-Arrow gasoline-powered hose car was parked in front of the firehouse, according to the archives.
Station No. 5 served its surrounding neighborhood for four more decades, until it was decommissioned in 1967. The city now has four firehouses.
No. 5 was converted to a senior citizen community center and remained in public use until the city put it up for sale in 2019.
The State Register is Wisconsin’s official list of state properties determined to be significant to Wisconsin’s heritage. The State Historic Preservation Office at the Wisconsin Historical Society administers the state and national registers in the Badger State.

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