Prairie du Chien was originally built on Saint Feriole Island, which is separated from the mainland by a small backwater channel. This is where the industry that supported the city in the 1800s was located, so rail access was installed in 1890. After repeated floods and fires, the city was relocated to the mainland on the Wisconsin side, which was higher and far less prone to flood. Industry remained on the island, gradually closing down or moving to the mainland until well past World War II. Follow all the action at St. Feriole Island Park through their new blogspot. Click on the logo and enjoy one of Prairie du Chien's finest attractions. The Park is run by the St. Feriole Island Park, Inc., a tax-exempt, non-profit organization formed in 2002.
Use of Island For Events

Please submit a completed request form a minimum of six (6) weeks prior to the scheduled date of your event. Requests must be acted upon by the City Council and additional permit applications may be required. It is recommended that a representative of your organization be present at the City Council meeting to provide additional information and answer questions. You may contact the City Administrator for the time and date of the meeting.

It is the sponsoring organization’s responsibility to obtain all necessary permits associated with the event (including food and beverage sales). These permits must be obtained and filed with the City Administrator. In addition, the sponsoring organization will provide trash receptacles and toilet facilities where needed, and clean up the site within seven (7) days of the event.

The sponsoring group must make arrangements with the City Street Department to pick up street barricades from the City garage, to install them at the designated intersections, to dismantle them at the end of the event, and to return them to the City garage. If you require picnic tables for the event, contact the Director of Parks and Recreation. The sponsoring organization is responsible for moving and returning the tables.

The sponsoring organization must carry its own liability insurance. The sponsoring group must hold harmless the City of Prairie du Chien and the committees. A copy of proof of liability insurance is required before approval of the event. If you plan to hold your event on property owned by private land owners, the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, the Crawford County Historical Society, or the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, separate permission for the use of these lands must be sought from the other property owners.

Where are Water and Bathrooms located on the Island? CLICK HERE

St. Feriole Island Reservation Form
April 11-12: Villa Louis Behind the Scenes, Pre-season tour will give visitors a glimpse into the life of a historic house museum and will highlight the care and keeping of a unique object from the Dousman collection. Tours 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. include visits to the nooks and crannies of this restored mansion. Villa Louis Historic Site - 608-326-2721.
May 3: Prairie du Chien Half Marathon & 5K Race, Race begins at 7:30 a.m., St. Feriole Island, Prairie du Chien, open to runners and walkers, medals awarded,, 608-412-0156.
May 4: Twilight of the Living Statues, An early evening full of mystique and tales of historical figures who are a part of Prairie du Chien’s lure. Performed by community actors & singers, BYO own lawn chairs, donations accepted, event held at the Mississippi River Sculpture Park, St. Feriole Island, Prairie du Chien, 563-880-9190, (rain date is Saturday, May 10).
May 11: Mother's Day Apprecation, Half-priced admission for Mom. Victorian treats served in the Villa Louis kitchen and period games on the west lawn. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Villa Louis Historic Site - 608-326-2721. 
May 25: Marquette & Joliet's Voyage of Discovery Mississippi River Cruise2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, this two-hour cruise features a local historian highlighting the history of the area including the explorations of Marquette and Joliet. Departs at 2 p.m., St. Feriole Island river front
June 12-15: Annual Prairie Villa Rendezvous, Fur Trading era environment recreating life as it was in 1840's when Prairie du Chien was the hub of the fur trading, largest re-enactment in the Midwest, open to the public, free admission, St. Feriole Island along the Mississippi River. Thursday is a set-up day for vendors, the public is welcomed to watch. Jaycee Buffalo Burger Stands serving real buffalo. For participant registration information: email or mail request to: Big River Long Rifles, PO Box 184, Prairie du Chien, WI 53821. 
June 13-15: Flea Market with over 200 vendors, for vendor registration write: Prairie du Chien Jaycees, PO Box 341, Prairie du Chien, WI 53821. Or call 608-326-2280 and leave your name and complete mailing address for registration to be mailed.
St. Feriole Island Special Event User Forms/Requirements

* St. Feriole Island Park User Form-required for Parks & Recreation Director (fee is contingent on a per block/shelter usage)
* Special Event Planning Worksheet-required for Police Department
* Application for Merchants License- required for each individual Merchant only if selling food or merchandise ($35 fee)
* Entertainment Permit-required if you are charging admission for a performance.($50)
* Temporary Beer License- only applies to bonafide club or association that sells beer/wine coolers.($10)
* Flea Market License- this “blanket” approval applies to groups/organizations that have individuals that are selling secondhand merchandise. ($165)
* Discussion with Island Users (Villa Louis, Dillman, Ball Field Members, etc) on event specifics.
* Prior approval with Department Heads, City Administrator, Park Board and Council
The Mississippi rose rapidly in early April and some residents of the city, built on islands and low-lying prairie, began evacuating on the 9th. Over the next two weeks, sandbagging commenced, shelters were set up, and highways closed, but all in vain. Residents eventually exchanged cars for boats and watched sheds, garages and other small buildings float away. On the 24th, the river crested at 25.4 feet, the highest level ever recorded in the city.

Moving a Neighborhood Out of Harm’s Way
Empty streets, sidewalks and shade trees are all that remain of the old neighborhood on St. Feriole Island.

by William J. Burke (Big River Magazine - December 1997)

The Flood of 1965 overtopped the 1997 and 1993 floods by about four feet in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. In April 1965, St. Feriole Island was completely flooded, as were homes and businesses along the mainland shoreline of the city east of the island. Over 1,100 people from a 17-block area — about a fifth of the city — were evacuated from 250 homes and 25 businesses. Public utilities and transportation facilities were severely damaged, with about two million dollars in costs. A public meeting in January 1966 with the Army Corps of Engineers launched the search for a solution.This island was flooded several times between 1965 and 1975. The city adopted a flood plain ordinance in 1971 which regulated development in flood prone areas, including all of St. Feriole Island.Many people, weary of flood damage, wanted the Army Corps of Engineers to build dikes and flood walls to protect island residents and businesses. Instead the Corps began its first “non-structural” flood-control project. In other words, it removed the neighborhood from the island — a more permanent and far less expensive solution.The project was authorized by Congress in March 1974. The Flood Damage Reduction Project acquired 121 properties between February 1978 and September 1984.(At about this same time another nearby Wisconsin city, Soldiers Grove, initiated a non-structural solution to reduce flood damage from the Kickapoo River. This effort began in 1979 after a serious flood in 1978. Most of the downtown was simply rebuilt on higher ground.)

The City’s Birthplace

Prairie du Chien had its beginnings on this island. It was the first location of Fort Crawford, which was involved in the War of 1812, and is the home of the historic Villa Louis mansion, the origin of which goes back to Joseph “King” Rolette and Hercules Dousman, who made fortunes in fur trading and land dealings. The mansion already had some “natural” flood protection since it had been built on a large Indian mound. Through the years a variety of industrial and commercial operations developed on the island. The four-story Dousman Hotel thrived in the heydays of the railroad and served a variety of other uses, including a stint as an Oscar Mayer packing plant in the 1930s and 1940s. The building is now classified as an historic structure and is being restored.Logging, trucking, barge terminal, sand pit, a radio station and clamming businesses also used the island at the time of relocation. Many are still there.

Strong Feelings

Empty streets, sidewalks and shade trees are all that remain of the old neighborhood on St. Feriole Island. Despite the floods, many were not ready to move from the island. Ted and Marge Shecklern, lifetime residents of Prairie du Chien, speak admiringly about the “river rats” who lived on the Island.“It was sad to see these people moved off,” they agree.They provide moving testimony about the way life used to be on the island and the strong ties among those who lived there. Ted’s mom, Zella, was relocated. Ted says one important reason for the relocation was that the island was served by septic systems, which didn’t work well when flooded.Now that the area is mostly cleared, they would like to see it used for a four-unit ball field complex and other active recreational uses.Bill Howe, a long-time river conservationist and editor of the Prairie du Chien Courier-Press, covered much of this project for the newspaper. He believes it is a credit to the community that the city never had a closed meeting regarding the project. Howe points out that a common slogan for island residents at the time was, “We like it here.” He says that living on the island was more than possessing a home, “It was a way of life.”Once governmental officials initiated the project, the task of carrying out the relocation rested on the shoulders of Dale Klemme, who was employed by the city. Only one property had to be condemned, according to Klemme. He says that roughly half the residents opposed the relocation, and the other half went along with it.“There were emotional highs and lows for both the residents and myself,” Klemme recalled.Klemme believes that time is softening some of the hard feelings, but he understands the lingering emotions of families uprooted by this project. He thinks that the project has probably already paid for itself, considering the floods of 1993 and 1997.

The Future

In 1979, Mayor Fred Huebsch appointed a “Committee for the Re-Use of St. Feriole Island.” With the help of Madison’s Environmental Awareness Center, this committee and the citizens of Prairie du Chien produced a Re-Use Plan, which is part of the city’s Master Plan. Current mayor, Karl Steiner, sees the island as a place for family-oriented activities, including an historical feature commemorating the last residents who called this island home. An annual rendezvous on the island commemorates its more distant heritage, from the early fur trading era.The traumatic and emotional effects on relocated residents and businesses should never be minimized or forgotten. These human impacts also become part of the heritage of a community. Perhaps this heritage will be commemorated by family reunions and festivals centered around those who lived on or had ancestors who lived on the island.The Mississippi Valley has probably not seen the last of such non-structural approaches to flood plain management. The imprint of almost 200 years of flood plain development is not easily undone. The Prairie du Chien project has helped lead the way to reinventing history and the environment along the Mississippi. 
Milwaukee Journal - April 23rd 1965


“Born and Raised on the River” - Weathering the Floods at Villa Louis and Stonefield (Wisconsin Historical Society, 2002)

Fourth Ward Reunion returns to St. Feriole Island this Saturday (Prairie du Chien Courier-Press, 2013)

The Mississippi Flood of 1965 (Big River Magazine, March 1994)

Prairie du Chien (Images of America Series) by Mary Elise Antoine

Remembering Prairie du Chien’s Fourth Ward - The river shaped life on St. Feriole Island (Big River Magazine, 2007)

Remember the Fourth Ward Facebook Page

The spring Mississippi River flood of 1965 stands as the flood of record for nearly half of the river's length (from about 100 miles north of Minneapolis, MN to Hannibal, MO). At the time, the crests of that April exceeded previous records by several feet at many river guage sites. To this day, those record crests still out distance the 2nd highest crest by a foot or more at many of those same sites. The flood caused $225 million in damage to public and private properties, with $173 million of that occurring along the main stem of the Mississippi River. Emergency actions and evacuations, based on National Weather Service forecasts, prevented approximately $300 million in additional damage. Several factors contributed to this record flood:
* An early freeze in the fall of 1964 which lowered the frost depth deeper than usual.
* Significant snowfall in March across the region (300% above normal in east and east central Minnesota).
* Below normal temperatures for the last half of March and start of April, preventing the gradual melting and runoff of the snowpack.
* Heavy rainfalls in early to mid April, falling upon the snowpack and frozen grounds. With nowhere to go due to the frozen ground, the rain and melted snow quickly found their way into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. This runoff would create the record flood. 
ABOVE LEFT - Flooding impacts St. Feriole Island again in 1969
ABOVE RIGHT - Photo courtesy of a wonderful book on the history of Prairie du Chien by Mary Antoine
BELOW - Home movie footage taken by Griffith Williams of flooding in the 1960s in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and Marquette, Iowa.
June 15: Father's Day Mississippi River Cruise, Visit active Bald Eagle nests on this two-hour cruise departing at 11 a.m., Mississippi Explorer Cruises, St. Feriole Island river front, 1-877-647-7397.
June 27: Twilight Tour, Enjoy the Villa Louis at twilight. Open house tours will take you through the elegantly restored home of the Dousman family. Light refreshments and piano music from the restored 1879 Steinway Centennial D Grand are part of this special evening event. Snacks and two drink tickets are included. This program is for ages 21+ only. Program runs from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. Villa Louis Historic Site, St. Feriole Island, 608-326-2721.
July 6: Mississippi River Cruise – “Life on the River-Shanty Boats”, This two-hour cruise features a local “river rat” highlighting life on the Mississippi River, departs at 2 p.m., Mississippi Explorer Cruises, St. Feriole Island river front, 1-877-647-7397.
July 12: Chamber of Commerce Fireworks, At dusk, 608-326-8555
July 25: Twilight Tour, Enjoy the Villa Louis at twilight. Open house tours will take you through the elegantly restored home of the Dousman family. Light refreshments and piano music from the restored 1879 Steinway Centennial D Grand are part of this special evening event. Snacks and two drink tickets are included. This program is for ages 21+ only. Program runs from 5:30- 7:30 p.m. Villa Louis Historic Site, 608-326-2721.
​July 25-26: Prairie Dog Blues FestivalThe Prairie Dog Blues Festival is held every year on historic St. Feriole Island, right on the Mississippi River and nestled between jagged cliffs and green hills untouched by the Ice Age! Once you get that cold drink in your hand, great tunes in your ear and good, friendly people all around, you’ll realize your at one of the most beautiful venues anywhere. You’ll soon be calling yourself a Prairie Dogger! Blues and Roots music from Chicago Blues to West Coast Jump, hard-driving Mississippi Hill Country Blues, New Orleans horns and Texas Boogie, Zydeco, Gospel, Blues Rock – We’ve got it all!Two stages in a park-like setting, international, national and regional blues bands performing. Camping on site. Event shuttle runs to motels in town. Food and beverage stands, vendors with hand-made products, 608-326-0085