Unlike most other towns along the Mississippi River, Stoddard did not start its life as a river town but rather became one in the 1930s thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers. The original town was built next to a narrow slough and did not have a riverboat landing, so it grew later than its neighbors.
Europeans began moving into the area in the 1850s, but they settled primarily in the country, growing grain and tobacco. Henry White, who arrived in 1867 from New England, is credited as the village’s founder. The village site was located next to a narrow slough and did not have direct access to the Mississippi River, so the village had no river trade. Instead, it grew into a modest commercial center to meet the needs of area farmers, with businesses like a blacksmith and general stores. The village experienced some modest growth when a school was completed in 1885 and with the arrival of the railroad.
When the village was platted in 1886 it was named Stoddard, probably in honor of Colonel Thomas Stoddard, the first mayor of La Crosse. Mills sprang up in the 1890s. One of these made boom plugs, the pins that were used to secure wood rafts floating downriver. Logs were floated down the Black River to North La Crosse at an astonishing rate in the late 19th century, but, the story goes, the logs ran out before the boom plugs. Stoddard residents also worked at a tobacco warehouse and at factories that made pickles, cigars, and kraut. Otto Wodzynski, a rural mail carrier and Stoddard resident, had the distinction of owning the first horseless carriage in Vernon County, so that’s gotta count for something.
Stoddard incorporated in 1903 when it had 329 residents; the population didn’t grow until the 1960s when Stoddard evolved into a bedroom community for La Crosse. The completion of Lock and Dam 8 in 1937 raised the level of the Mississippi River high enough to give Stoddard its first reliable access to the main channel.
Stoddard River Park (Forest Lane) is a small riverside park that would be a pleasant spot for a picnic.
Doug Sinniger has received accolades for his work as a taxidermist, winning several international competitions. You can view samples of his work at the Riverland Taxidermy Studio (103 N. Main St.; 608.457.2998). There is always something on display but usually not much for sale; what’s on display changes because most of the works are for customers. When I dropped in, I saw a brown bear, a few fish, and some small mammals in the front, plus a few big African beasts in the back. He doesn’t mind if you stop in and look around.
Getting on the River
Water’s Edge (201 N. Pearl St.; 608.457.2126) rents a pontoon boat, a 14-foot fishing boat, a 16-foot fishing boat, plus rowboats and paddleboats. If you reach town in your own boat, they also have transient slips at their marina.
Entertainment and Events
The village celebration is called Stoddard Fun Days (July) and usually includes a fishing tournament for the kids, food, and games.
Car fans and ice cream cravers find common ground at Hood Scoops Ice Cream Shop (201 N. Main St.); the former auto shop now serves scoops of delicious frozen dairy treats instead of routine oil changes.
Water’s Edge (201 N. Pearl St.; 608.457.2126) has 38 sites, as the name suggests, next to the river in a quiet, shaded setting.
Water’s Edge (201 N. Pearl St.; 608.457.2126) has eight units that exude 1940s charm right down to the the appliances; kitchenettes have a microwave and fridge but no oven and are spacious enough to include a separate sitting room.
The 11 rooms at the Safe Landing Motel (329 N. Main St.; 608.457.2122; WiFi) are nothing fancy and small-ish, but they are clean and well-kept and equipped with a fridge; a microwave can be requested.
Water’s Edge (201 N. Pearl St.; 608.457.2126; WiFi) has three cabins with kitchenettes and a cute cottage for rent that can sleep up to eight and comes with cable TV, washer and dryer, and gas grill.
The Sunset Lodge Vacation Rental (N1316 State Highway 35; 608.457.2378; WiFi) is a three-bedroom, three-bath A-frame house south of Stoddard that is loaded with amenities: full kitchen, cable TV, gas grill, washer and dryer, and a nice view of the river.
Post Office: 115 N. Main St.; 608.457.2577.
Heading upriver? Check out La Crosse.
Heading downriver? Check out Genoa.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2011
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