St. Germain dit Gauthier-Coorough House being restored

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Two workers for Artisan Restoration of Kasota, Minn. work on the St. Germain dit Gauthier-Coorough House. (Photo by Ted Pennekamp)

This photo shows the house circa 1900 soon after it was moved to its present location. (Photo courtesy of Prairie du Chien Historical Society)

By Ted Pennekamp


For about the past two and a half weeks restoration work has been underway on a house of historical significance on St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien.

Artisan Restoration of Kasota, Minn., has been conducting the work on behalf of the Prairie du Chien Historical Society, said Mary Antoine, president of the historical society and former curator at Villa Louis.

Antoine said the work began on June 22 to restore what is known as the St. Germain dit Gauthier-Coorough House, which is part of Prairie du Chien’s history.

Other contractors include Wadsworth Construction of Waukon, Iowa, Wagner Electric of Wauzeka, Mezera Heating and Air Conditioning of Prairie du Chien and Rock Church Construction of Livingston, Wis. 

“Many local families are descendants of the people who lived in the log house for over 150 years,” said Antoine. “The families include St. Germain, Gauthier/Gokey, Brunet, Cherrier, LaPointe, Gremore, Coorough, Schoefeld, Wilharber and Nugent.”

At one time, French-Canadian houses like the St. Germain dit Gauthier-Coorough House, stretched along the Mississippi River and Frenchtown Road in Prairie du Chien. Now, all but a handful have been demolished. One of the survivors is the small log house at the corner of Fifth and Bolvin streets.

The house was built during the time of the Wisconsin Territory, prior to 1848. For the first several years of its existence, it belonged to Québécois immigrants. It originally belonged to Jean Baptiste Caron. Later, it was bought by Guillaume St. Germain. He and his wife, who has been named as either Madeline or Magdelaine, moved into it.

Three generations of the St. Germain dit Gauthier family occupied the house and property until 1890 when it was sold to Nina Dousman McBride.

McBride rented it out to Charles Gremore. Gremore bought the house in about 1900 and moved it to its present location.

The property was purchased by Mary Nugent in 1901. She married George Coorough. An addition was added in 1916. The Coorough family lived in the house until the 1980s when ownership was transferred to the city of Prairie du Chien. 

In 2017, the city gave the house to the Prairie du Chien Historical Society. The house was added to the State Register of Historic Places in 2017 and to the National Register of Historic Places the following year.

In addition to the contractors, Antoine said some members of the JWalkers youth group of Holy Family Parish of Prairie du Chien offered to do volunteer “mission” work at the house. They removed concrete chinking and pulled lots of nails and staples from the logs. 

The work is being done in order to get the house back to the way it looked in 1835. It was constructed about 1830 to 1835.

The house is located in the former Main Village of Prairie du Chien. It was constructed of hewn logs set horizontally and joined at the corners by dovetails. Within its structural details are several elements consistent with a method of French-Canadian construction called piece sur piece a que d’aronde: the length of the house is a multiple of 13 feet, the hewn logs are on average five inches wide, and Roman numerals are present on most timbers in the house.

The house was one of three homes that were not demolished or relocated as part of the relocation overseen by the Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development when the residents of the Fourth Ward were relocated in the 1980s.

The house has stood vacant for many years. When it is restored, the house will be open to the public.

Prairie du Chien has the greatest number of surviving French-Canadian piece sur piece houses in Wisconsin and the Upper Mississippi River. The restoration will provide an additional historic site in Prairie du Chien. It will offer school groups and visitors an opportunity to learn about and experience the French-Canadian culture and heritage of Wisconsin. Special programs will be held on the lawn adjacent to the house with costumed interpreters.

In addition to the house being open to the public for specific hours with an interpreter present, the house will also be available to rent for weddings and private personal occasions.

“Donations are very much needed to fund the restoration,” said Mary Antoine. “The Historical Society has not done a fundraising campaign because of COVID-19.  The board feels money is tight for everyone. But if anyone wishes to donate, the Historical Society will be most appreciative. All donations are tax deductible.”

The Prairie du Chien Historical Society can be reached at PO Box 298, Prairie du Chien, WI, 53821; or at (608) 326-6960, or

The Historical Society has received grants from the Madison Gas and Electric Foundation and the Fuldner Heritage Fund. There have been monetary donations from several individuals as well as donations of supplies and material from businesses such as Doug Enke of Town and Country Sanitation, Blair Dillman, Artie and Debbie Johnson of Johnson’s One Stop,  Tractor Supply, Spahn and Rose, and Kraemer Company Quarry.

The restoration effort has received support from the Prairie du Chien Tourism Council, the city of Prairie du Chien, People’s State Bank and the JWalkers of Holy Family Parish.

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