Holmen is another small town that has evolved into a bedroom community for La Crosse.
Arriving in Town
State Highway 35 skirts the south and western edge of town. To get into Holmen proper, stay on Business 35, aka Holmen Drive (aka County Highway HD). To get to the business district, follow County DH (Gaarder Rd.) at the stoplight and turn left on Main Street.
You can pick up brochures at the Village Hall (421 S. Main St.) or library (see below).
Settlers began filing into the area around 1850, with the Jenks family perhaps being the first to call Holmen home, before it was Holmen. The area was initially called Frederickstown in honor of the village blacksmith, Frederick Anderson, then the name Cricken (Norwegian for creek) caught on. The origin of the town’s name is a bit of a mystery, but there are two theories: 1) in 1851, a surveyor passed through whose name was Holmen and who went on to win election as a State Senator in Indiana; the postmaster may have suggested naming the town after him; or 2) the name has a Norwegian origin based on the word Holm, which means something like a projection of low, level, rich land extending into the water. (Or it might mean island. The town once had a large pond in the middle of town created by backup water from a dammed creek. There was an island in the middle of that pond that was a favorite recreation site. All you Norwegian speakers out there, let me know.) The second one is more likely.
Holmen was never a thriving industrial center, but it had its share of goings-on: the Casberg Mill opened in 1876, grinding corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat into flour. Holmen also had a factory that made the pins that held log rafts together, a sorghum mill, and an ice harvesting operation. Most of the early settlers were Norwegian and many of the customs they brought with them were practiced by generations of Holmen residents. One of those was a Norwegian Christmas tradition called jule bakking. To participate, one had to dress up in a funny, tacky costume and don a mask, then gather with a big group of friends in similar attire. Once assembled, all would head to the neighbors’ houses to see if they could guess who’s who. Once identities are revealed, everyone celebrates with food like lefse, lutefisk, rosettes, and grog. This custom seems to have died out in recent years; I think it should be revived.
The Holmen Historical Center is in the Village Hall (421 S. Main St.) and includes a window display with a few old pictures, plus a display cabinet full of Native American arrowheads.
Entertainment and Events
The Holmen Farmers Market (Festival Foods, 600 N. Holmen Dr.; 608.526.3339) is on Wednesday afternoons from June through October.
Holmen’s major festival is called Kornfest (mid-August; 800.873.1901/608.526.4444) where you can eat all the corn-on-the-cob you desire, then enjoy the swap meet, parade and music.
Sports and Recreation
Just outside of town, Holland Sand Prairie (McHugh Rd.; 608.784.3606) preserves 61 acres of native sand prairie and natural dunes which you can hike around.
Halfway Creek Bike Trail is a 3.4 mile paved multi-use path that connects to the Great River Trail via a mile stretch on a county road. If you didn’t bring a bicycle with you, River Trail Cycles (Holmen Square, 500 N. Holmen Drive; 608.526.4678), can set you up with a rental. They are also good folks to ask about bike routes through nearby country roads.
The public swimming pool is the Holmen Area Aquatic Center (315 Anderson St.; 608.526.6092; open from early June–late August).
When you walk in the door of the Holmen Locker and Meat Market (412 N. Main St.; 608.526.3112) be prepared to be knocked off your feet with the scent of smoked meats. This place is a traditional butcher shop fused with a boutique grocer: fresh and smoked meats, plus local artisanal food items like jams, flour, and Wisconsin cheese. They also have a good selection of regional beer and wine and host wine tastings twice a week (W,F evenings). You can find bargains here for a picnic lunch, but many of the specialty food items, while good quality, might bust your budget.
Whispering Pines Campground (N8905 US Highway 53N; 800.526.4958/608.526.4956; open mid-April–mid-Oct.) has several overnight sites in a field with no shade (at least for a few years until the saplings mature), plus a few overnight sites among the seasonal campers in an older section of the campground that is more pleasant.
Budget and up
The Prairie Inn & Suites (3913 Circle Dr.; 888.841.3480/608.781.4490; WiFi) is located at the intersection of County OT and Highway 53 in a new Prairie Style-inspired building. The 38 rooms are spacious and look great; each is equipped with a microwave, fridge, and cable TV.
The local newspaper is the weekly Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life (608.786.1950).
Post Office: 1111 Linden Dr.; 608.526.4055.
Holmen Area Library: 103 State St.; 608.526.4198; WiFi.
Getting To and Around Holmen
The Onalaska/Holmen/West Salem Public Transit (OHWSPT; 608.784.0000; operates daily 6:30a–7p) operates a van service that is only available by reservation. The fare is $3/adult within the service area; a ride to the airport will cost $6.
Heading upriver? Check out Brice Prairie.
Heading downriver? Check out Onalaska.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011
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