Castle La Crosse

By Clay Riness  

While there are a good many beautiful, old, enormous houses on Cass Street in La Crosse, the one that makes almost everyone do a double take is what has long been referred to as the “Castle on Cass.” Historically speaking, the mansion was designed in 1891 for lumber baron Nymphus B. Holway by Schick and Stolze of La Crosse. The three-story house was originally built as a Queen Anne frame house, but just one year later stone facing was added, which gives it the stunning Richardsonian Romanesque qualities we see today. N. B. Holway died before the house was complete, but his widow, Jessie Holway, lived in the home until her death, when it was bequeathed to the church.

The current owners, innkeeper Billy Bergeron and Brandon Rigger, have converted the exquisite home into Castle La Crosse, a unique bed-and-breakfast. The two of them relocated from Houston, Texas, to do so. Rigger, who has a culinary degree, is the resident chef. 

“The church used it for various things,” explains Bergeron. “There were three different bishops that lived in the master bedroom upstairs, at different times. There were nuns that lived here in the 1960s and 70s. There were classrooms for teaching.”

In 1976, the house was purchased by the Carlisle family, and later sold to Grant and Jane Wood who were responsible for most of the electrical and plumbing improvements. Following them, John and Kerrie Moore owned the property. If the various churches that used the house are counted as one, this makes Bergeron and Rigger the sixth of its owners.

“Historically speaking, the most important thing about this house is that it never declined,” says Bergeron. “It was maintained through all the ownerships. The woodwork was never painted. We still have all of the original stained-glass windows.”

Rigger adds, “And the rooms have all the original doors, fireplaces (a total of eight) and mantles, carvings, trim and so on.” 

The main floor features, among other things, a music room with a grand piano and a library. Gourmet breakfast is served buffet-style in the mansion’s largest room, the 31-foot-long dining room. All guest rooms are on the second floor. Bergeron and Rigger live on the third floor apart from guests.

The two have upgraded the kitchen, understandably so, to accommodate Rigger’s culinary work. They are also adding a small gift shop which will offer products by local artists.

And so, the latest chapter in the history of the Castle on Cass is being written. So far, it’s looking awfully good, says Bergeron. From the moment they opened the doors, guests began booking rooms. “It was locals at first, people who wanted to see the inside of the house,” he says. “And then it just went boom from there. In just the first four months (at the time of this writing), we’ve accommodated over 200 guests from around the world.” 

And, it’s good for La Crosse, too. “We’re very proud of the fact that we’re getting calls and notes from businesses thanking us for sending them a lot of business, that we’ve brought a lot to La Crosse,” says Bergeron. “We only serve our guests breakfast, so they’re booking lunch and dinner elsewhere, and they’re shopping downtown and discovering the region. La Crosse has a tremendous amount to offer … the festivals, the bluffs, there’s always something going on.”

In sum, maybe you’ve always wanted to enjoy a stay at a castle? You can ditch the hassles of airfare and making a trip across the pond, not to mention the expense that comes with such folly. Instead, you might consider taking in a piece of La Crosse history still in the making and visit one of the most breathtaking places you’ll ever experience … the Castle on Cass.

Castle La Crosse, located at 1419 Cass St. in La Crosse, offers five spacious bedrooms, each with a private bath. Prices vary. For more information, contact Castle La Crosse at (844) 726-5808 (toll free) or stay@castlelacrossebnb.com. You can also visit the website at www.castlelacrossebnb.com.