Early La Crosse: The Land of the Hillview Greenhouses

By Cole Nelson, La Crosse Public Library Archives Intern
Photos courtesy of La Crosse Public Library Archives  

In the early 1900s, La Crosse was a growing city, much smaller than it is now but rapidly expanding through housing additions. The land that would become the home of Hillview Greenhouses on North 24th Street was owned by Jason C. Easton, a prominent railroad owner who helped make La Crosse a headquarters for the Southern Minnesota railroad division. On this land to the east of what was then the city of La Crosse, Easton built the Hill View Stock Farm, where he bred horses.

Circa 1900. Entrance to J. C. Easton’s Hill View Farm, facing north. It was bordered to the west by Lake Park (now Myrick Park) and to the south by the old Interstate Fairgrounds (now the site of UW-La Crosse’s Memorial Field Sports Complex). J. C. Easton began building the farm in 1885, but died in 1901, after which his son planted and sold the land.

Hill View Stock Farm was bordered on two sides by Myrick Park, then called Lake Park, and the old Interstate Fairgrounds, which is now the site of Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex at UW-La Crosse. Jason Easton’s son Lucian F. Easton, who was the first president of the Board of Park Commissioners and eventually helped start the citywide comprehensive park system, had his father’s farm surveyed and platted in 1908. That land became the Hill View Place Addition of La Crosse, currently bordered by Myrick Park to the west, La Crosse Street to the south, Losey Boulevard to the east and the La Crosse River Marsh to the north.

In 1912, William G. Haebich purchased four lots in the Hill View Place Addition. A La Crosse Tribune article describes an improvement made on one of these lots. That improvement is likely to be the first greenhouse of what would later become officially known as Hillview Greenhouses. Haebich, an evangelical preacher in Germany before coming to the U.S., preached at Salzer Memorial Methodist Church and worked as a foreman at the Salzer Seed Company in La Crosse, a large firm that shipped seeds worldwide. In 1913, another La Crosse Tribune article notes that a fire caused $500 worth of damage to “the greenhouses on Twenty-fourth street, owned by Haebich,” destroying the heating plant at the facility.

1915 was an active year for Haebich and his greenhouses. William F. Baumann, a clerk and office manager at Salzer Seed Company, became an investor in the now-incorporated Hillview Greenhouses. In the same year, significant improvements were made to the greenhouses, nearly tripling the value of the land. The final state of the greenhouses on North 24th Street was likely achieved by these improvements. Haebich also petitioned for streetcar service to be extended from 18th Street to 25th Street through the winter.

J. C. Easton spent a great deal of time at the Hill View Farm, involved in horse breeding and growing 3,000 varieties of grapes.

In 1918, Haebich, serving as president of Hillview Greenhouses, Inc., filed a petition for bankruptcy with the clerk of the United States District Court in La Crosse. Shortly thereafter, A.W. Zeratsky, a local businessman who established two companies in La Crosse before moving to Madison in 1935, invested in the land. Known to be active in the Salzer Memorial Methodist Church during his time in La Crosse, Zeratsky possibly knew of Haebich and his troubles through that association. Haebich remained president and manager of Hillview Greenhouses until 1923, when he started Haebich Seeds.

Haebich sold the land to Abraham and Edward Pittenger, who managed the company until 1926. The land was then sold to David C. and Lillie J. Jones.

An eastward looking view of the Hill View Farm. The city had not yet spread to the bluffs at this time.
An eastward looking view of the Hill View Farm. The city had not yet spread to the bluffs at this time.

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