'Hiawatha' Could Find New Home Outside Riverside Park

The Christ Episcopal Church is at 111 N. Ninth St. in La Crosse.

On June 23, 1850, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck celebrated Communion on Grandad Bluff and, supposedly, that same Sunday baptized the first child of European descent born in "Prairie La Crosse," to "Mr. and Mrs. Scoots M. Miller," according to "Historic Churches of La Crosse, Wis." by Genevieve Koenig. That ceremony gave rise to the Christ Episcopal Church, the oldest continually operating church in La Crosse.

Christ Church, as it also was called, formally organized in 1857 and met in homes on Grandad Bluff in 1860. It was the only congregation in Wisconsin to offer Communion every week until it settled in 1863 at its current site at Ninth and Main streets, according to La Crosse Public Library archives.

The first church in La Crosse, it boasted the city's first pipe organ and the first boys choir in the state. That wood-framed building gave way in 1899 to the more ornate Christ Church that still stands at 111 N. Ninth St., "built with the speculation it could become the new Cathedral of the emerging Diocese of Eau Claire," church history states.

Again, from library archives: "The architectural survey describes the structure as being constructed from gray and red sandstone quarried from Grandad Bluff, Romanesque in style with a Venetian Renaissance interior. The church was completed with a gothic cruciform shape with counter balancing buttresses, a 108-foot tower, and two impressive leaded stained glass windows. A window, depicting a figure of Christ, was designed by the Tiffany Glass Decorating Co. of New York in 1898."

Another window, "The Beatitudes," was donated by Alice Green Hixon after the death of her husband, Frank Hixon, in 1931. Frank and Joseph Hixon, sons of prominent La Crosse lumber baron Gideon Hixon, were co-signers for a bank loan taken out by the congregation to complete the church; several members of the Hixon family generously contributed in the early 1900s through "pew-rents," Tribune files show.

The building in 1985 was added to the National Register of Historic Places and has been faithfully maintained and renovated over the decades through donations, the church's former senior warden Carla Marcou said. "If you were to imagine what a church should look like and feel like, this would be it," Marcou said. "Walk in and it gives you peace — You feel God's presence, you just feel it."

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