Monday, January 29, 2024

Hudson, Wisconsin - History of a Storybook Town


Every town and village has its history, it's humble beginnings. Thousands upon thousands of romantic novels have been crafted around the growth and communities of such towns. Let me tell you about one of them that I have a special interest in.

Hudson, Wisconsin is a town of around 15,000 people nestled in the bluffs along the idyllic St. Croix and Willow rivers as part of Wisconsin's most western boundary. The St. Croix is a tributary that winds down from the north country and joins the Mississippi only a few of miles south of town. The town is the county seat of St. Croix County. Sounds pretty, doesn't it? It is.

Looking across the St. Croix river at Minnesota from Wisconsin at Interstate Park, Wisconsin

Hudson was merely a dot in the wilderness in 1840 when two French fur traders, the brothers-in-law Louis Massey and Peter Bouchea, paddled into the mouth of the Willow River, saw the land's position and bounty, and settled there. They named the place simply Willow River. But only a few years later, another settler by the name of Joel Foster didn't think it was enough to describe the beautiful views afforded the settlement, and he renamed it Buena Vista which does mean "beautiful view". Another Wisconsin town would come to claim that name, however, in commemoration of the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican-American war. 

The name would come to rest as Hudson in 1852, when the town's first mayor, A.D. Gray, who hailed originally from New York, claimed that the St. Croix's views so reminded him of the Hudson River back home, he re-designated the town as Hudson, and so it has remained.

Hudson's Humble Beginnings, photo credit unknown

By this time, lumber was becoming a booming industry in the new state, and Hudson's sawmill become a hub of activity where logs were floated down from the big northern pineries and sent on their way to the Mississippi and beyond. Then came the railroads and greater growth and, well, that's history, folks. 

Downtown Hudson in the 1920s, photo credit unknown

Hudson lays claim to having birthed professionals from politicians to football players, but one of the bits of history I found interesting was that it was considered in 1914-1915 to be the boxing capitol of the northwest. At that time, the population of Hudson was a mere 2800 or so souls, yet as many as 15,000 people might descend upon the small town on a Saturday night to watch the matches. They could do that too, because Hudson was also one of the only towns to have it's own toll bridge, making it quickly accessible to the Twin Cities  in Minnesota (Minneapolis & St. Paul).

Postcard of Hudson's Interstate Toll Bridge, 1913-1951

Why my interest in Hudson?

Quaint and beautiful Hudson, Wisconsin is the setting of my just-released novel Polly (Apron Strings, Book One). I spend a lot of time choosing the settings for my stories, and for this one I even took an informal poll among my Facebook friends and family. So I thought it would be fun to take a look into this story setting, since Polly takes place in 1920 during an era of change for small towns everywhere.

Polly hoped to see her small city grow, but it was closer to the middle of the 20th century before the population of this small city really began to shift. It's become the tourist destination Polly envisioned, especially known for some fabulous restaurants. Therefore, it seemed to me to be the perfect setting for a girl who'd been wounded in love to get a fresh start--and since Hudson was not far by train to the Minnesota Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, she could be connected to the changing culture and moods of the nation.

Alas, I am not the only writer to find Hudson to be an interesting story location. There are other stories set there, and at least two Hallmark movies were filmed in modern-day Hudson. If you are still nurturing your Christmas spirit (or just never tire of holiday Hallmark movies) check them out. You can find "A Christmas Wish in Hudson" written by Lisa Hepner and "Christmas Lovers Anonymous" by Lexi Giovagnoli, Lisa Hepner, and Elizabeth Snoderly streaming online.

The St. Croix River at Hudson Today (photo: Wikimedia by Alexius Horatius)

Downtown Hudson Today (photo by 123dieinafire at English Wikipedia)

Hudson has been known for other things over the years, including the brewery caves I mention in Polly, it's riverboating, Food Walk tour, museums, and historic Octagon House and it's B&Bs including one in a Victorian mansion like Polly's. 

If you enjoy exploring the history of older homes, I'll tell you about those in my post next month.

In the meantime, I hope you get a taste of Hudson here, and in the pages of Polly, Apron Strings, Book One, available now! Also, be sure and preview Nellie, Apron Springs book two (1930s), releasing in mid-February. Each book in the series takes on the next decade, as Mrs. Canfield's Cookery Book changes hands to a new heroine.

Until next time,

Naomi Musch

WWI is over, and Polly's had her heart crushed. Ross is home from war, but life changed him on that battlefield. Now competing neighbors with seemingly opposing goals, can a simple cookbook offer them a connection?

Polly, Apron Strings Series, Book One ~ A Vintage 1920s Romance


  1. Thank you for posting today and Happy New Year to you and your family. I love traveling from my desk chair with these blog entries!

    1. Thanks for the always-encouragement, Connie! You and I travel much alike. :)