It was the trees, the bluffs, the river and the arts that drew Brandon Rigger and Billy Bergeron to La Crosse.
Oh, yeah, and then there’s that castle on Cass Street.
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They think of their new bed and breakfast at 1419 Cass St. as the Downton Abbey of La Crosse. It is grand on a scale not often much today. It is elaborate, peaceful and quiet.
And it is exactly what they were looking for when they decided to leave the hustle and bustle of Houston, Texas.
That big, crowded city had begun to take its toll on the two men. Time to move back to the Midwest, they agreed, and after seeing the castle advertised online, they figured it was worth a look-see.
Just one look, as the song says, and it was love at first walk-through.
What’s not to love? There are nine types of woods in the castle and all are polished with the patina of old wood lovingly cared for through the
decades. The castle was commissioned in 1891 by Nymphus B. Holway, a lumber baron who was eager to show off his good fortune and abundance of resources in his splashy castle on Cass Street. The tenants who came after him, including a convent full of nuns, treated the house with respect.
And, luckily, no one was foolish enough to slap paint over any of the Birdseye maple.
“We both have a love of old homes,” Bergeron said. “And I love architecture. We both do.”
Bergeron calls it a great American castle because it was built by Americans with American products. No fancy archways or Greek statues shipped by boat — what was built into the castle came from the land where it was built.
Though both men love the grand scale of the house, they wanted it to be cozy for their guests. That means comfortable, modern furnishings mixed with antiques. Nobody wants to sit on a rickety, uncomfortable antique while on vacation, Bergeron said, so they made sure to add in comfort around every
corner. Even the corners outside the castle suit them just fine, Bergeron said. Because the castle is located in the Historic District, there are other fine houses for visitors to view on short walks through the neighborhood.
Back inside, visitors are greeted by an inglenook that provides plenty of seating for those who want to just sit and look at the woodwork.
Don’t forget to look up. The ceiling is filled with ornate wood moldings, too.
Though the castle sits on a busy thoroughfare, the thick walls ensure peace and quiet once you step inside the massive front doors. Rigger said they foster that peace by doing without televisions.
“We wanted the house to be a retreat.”
Though each room is decorated according to its layout and purpose, there is one common theme throughout the main floor — travel. Both Rigger and Bergeron love to travel and so do their guests, said Bergeron.
“We love to hear the stories from our guests of where they’ve been.”
So they include plenty of mementos and reading materials for anyone curious about other
places. And Bergeron hopes the castle and the beauty of the Coulee Region makes them curious about La Crosse.
“La Crosse has a tremendous amount to do — the river, the bluffs, the festivals.”
And now Castle La Crosse.
“It doesn’t have the creepy old house feel,” Bergeron said, which he has felt in other large, old homes. “It instantly became home.”
And, now, for a night or two, it becomes home to others who are passing through.
“We think it will be a draw for La Crosse,” Bergeron said. “We’re getting people here to see what we’ve discovered. We want to share with them what we’ve found.”
“It really is a hidden gem,” Rigger said.