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Histories:  Trempealeau County Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 13:

Railroads of Trempealeau Co.

-As transcribed from pages 261 - 267


Four railroads operate in Trempealeau County:  the Chicago & Northwestern Railway, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, the Green Bay & Western Railroad and the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway.  A fifth, the Ettrick & Northern Railroad, is in the process of construction.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy crosses the southwestern part of the county, through the towns of Trempealeau and Caledonia.  It has a station on the river front at Trempealeau and nearly parallels the Mississippi.

The Chicago & Northwestern also crosses the southwestern part of the county, through the towns of Trempealeau and Caledonia.  It has a station at Trempealeau about half a mile back from the river front.  Unlike the Burlington, it does not follow the river between Trempealeau and Winona, but extends back to the bluffs and runs along their foot.  A branch line also reaches from Trempealeau to Galesville.  By an agreement made a number of years ago the Green Bay uses the Northwestern tracks from La Crosse to Marshland.

The Green Bay & Western follows the valley of the Trempealeau River through the central part of the county, crossing the townships of Dodge, Arcadia, Burnside, Lincoln and Preston.  Its stations in this county are at Dodge, Arcadia, Independence, Whitehall and Blair.

The Mondovi branch of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha follows the course of the Buffalo River in the northern part of the county, crossing the townships of Albion, Unity and Sumner.  Its stations in this county are at Eleva, Strum and Osseo.

The Ettrick & Northern is being projected from Ettrick to Blair, a distance of twelve miles.  It has been proposed to extend the road fifty miles to Onalaska, thus making connections with La Crosse.

The project which resulted in the building of the first railroad in Trempealeau County had its beginning March 6, 1857 (Chapter 280, Private Laws of 1857), when the Wisconsin legislature granted a charter to a company called the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott Railroad Company (also known as the La Crosse, Trempealeau, Lake Pepin & Prescott Railroad Company), to locate and build a line along the east bank of the Mississippi from La Crosse to Prescott, Wis., by way of Trempealeau and Fountain City.  The first board of directors consisted of P. V. Wise, O. T. Maxon, T. B. Wilson, David Noggle, Charles McClure, Edmond Bishop, Henry D. Huff, Samuel D. Hastings, George Batchelder, George Gale and D. D. Cameron.  With the financial crisis of that year interest in the project was allowed to lag.

But a year later the project was revived with much fervor.  Winona at that time bid fair to be an important railroad point, as the eastern terminus of the Transit Railroad (now succeeded by the Chicago & Northwestern) and the Minnesota & Pacific (now succeeded by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul).  La Crosse also had aspirations toward becoming a railroad center, that city being the western terminal of the La Crosse & Milwaukee (now succeeded by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul), over which through connection with the east had been established by the opening of the road Oct. 14, 1858.

Winona and La Crosse were bitter rivals.  No one believed that more than one railroad would ever cross the Mississippi in this region.  The Winona people believed that if they could bridge the river at that city, and connect with the Milwaukee & La Crosse at some point east of La Crosse, Winona would be a great center for the eastern and northern connections, and that La Crosse would be left at the blind end of a little used stub.

In the winter of 1858-59 three well known Winona men started out to look for a practical route from Winona to a point east of La Crosse on the recently built Milwaukee & La Crosse.  At that time the people of Winona knew but little about the interior of Trempealeau County.  The three men cut their way through the swamps from Altoona, now Bluff Siding, to the Trempealeau River, at what is now Marshland.  Continuing southeast from that point they were overtaken by darkness and camped all night in a tract of timber, suffering severely from the cold and lack of warm food.  The next morning, after eating frozen bread and meat for breakfast, they proceeded on their way, and in half an hour came out on a prairie covered with fenced fields and good farm houses.  They had spent the arctic night in what they had supposed was a wild country, when in reality they were in the midst of a settled community of comfort and plenty.  Continuing on their way the prospectors completed a tentative route and returned to Winona.  In the spring the people of Winona, having somewhat modified their ambitions, decided to include La Crosse in their plans and made a preliminary survey of a route which is practically the present line of the Northwestern.  But even with this change of heart on the part of the Winonans, the people of La Crosse did not look favorably on the project, and threatened, if possible, to prevent the granting of a charter by the Wisconsin legislature.

Facing this opposition, the Winona people enlisted the aid of prominent Trempealeau County citizens, determined to reorganize under the old La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott charter.  Possession of the old charter was obtained and a reorganization perfected with eleven directors, five of whom were from Trempealeau.  Galesville had endeavored to be included in the route, and had prepared a line from Marshland over the prairie to that village, thus cutting Trempealeau off entirely.  But their plans did not succeed.  Thomas Simpson was elected president; A. W. Webster, vice-president; J. H. Newland, secretary, and Thomas E. Bennett, treasurer.  The company with the aid of N. F. Hilbert as chief engineer, who was to be paid whenever the company could secure any money, started at once to survey the line, obtain the right of way and perfect other plans, in order to secure vested rights before the legislature could convene and revoke the charter.

Gradually the opposition of the La Crosse people died away.  The charter was amended April 4, 1864.  In time a majority of the stock was acquired by D. N. Barney & Co. and was by them sold to the Chicago & Northwestern, Oct. 31, 1867.  Late in 1870 the road was completed from Winona to Winona Junction, originally called Trempealeau Junction, near La Crosse, a distance of 29 miles.  Through railroad connection was thus established between Trempealeau County and the East.  A few days after the completion of the road to a point opposite Winona, the bridge to that city was completed, Dec. 29, 1870.  At that time Winona had railroad connections to the westward with Janesville and to the northwest with Weaver.  Aug. 15, 1871, railroad communication was established between Winona and St. Paul, thus connecting Trempealeau County with the Northwest.  The La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott Railroad was consolidated with the Chicago & Northwestern June 6, 1877.

The Galesville branch of the Chicago & Northwestern, extending from Trempealeau to Galesville, was put in operation in the summer of 1883.  In 1882 a number of public spirited citizens approached the Chicago & Northwestern officials on the subject and were told that if the people of Galesville would secure a right-of-way and grade the roadbed the railroad would lay the ties and rail and put the branch in operation.  Preparations were accordingly made, the Galesville-Mississippi Railroad Company was organized March 1, 1882, a subscription was taken, and the town voted bonds of $12,000.  The company consisted of:  President, A. A. Arnold; vice-president, Isaac Clark; treasurer, A. H. Kneeland; secretary, G. Y. Freeman; H. Birchard, Geo. H. Smith and David Kennedy.  The light in which some of the farmers regarded railroads even as late as the eighties is seen in the communications in the newspapers of the time, in which the noise and odor of the railroad were prophesied as great evils, and the prediction made that the road would take all the business away from the village.  But those in favor of the proposition persisted in their efforts, and at great personal sacrifice completed their labors.  The grading was in charge of Isaac Clark and David Kennedy and was nearly completed when winter set in.  The faith of the promoters was more than justified, for Galesville at once became an important business and trading center.

The Green Bay & Western Railroad has been one of the principal factors in the development of central Trempealeau County.  The company was organized Feb. 7, 1866, and chartered as the Green Bay & Lake Pepin Railway Company, with Wabasha as its objective western terminal.  Four miles were graded in 1869 and 30 miles in 1870.  Track laying was commenced int he fall of 1871, and completed 39 miles from green Bay to New London, Dec. 20, 1871.  Four days later the first passengers were carried by special train.  During the summer of 1872, 110 miles between New London and Merrillan Junction in Jackson County were graded and the tracks laid.  The whole work was completed at 5 o'clock on the afternoon of Dec. 24, 1872.  During the summer and fall of 1873 the tracks were graded and iron laid from Merrillan Junction to Marshland, where connections were made with the old La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott Railroad, now the Madison division of the Chicago & Northwestern.  The first passenger service between Green Bay and Winona was inaugurated Dec. 18, 1873.  The first train ran on regular schedule Jan. 1, 1874.  Sept. 5, 1873, the name was changed to the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad.  At that time it was believed that the road would be consolidated with the Winona & St. Peter, John I. Blair being the large stockholder in both roads.  But the Chicago & Northwestern absorbed the Winona & St. Peter, and the Green Bay was left to its own devices.  The struggle was a severe one.  Running through 209 miles of a new and sparsely settled country, the receipts were not sufficient to maintain it.  Early in 1878 it went into the hands of a receiver.  June 20, 1881, it was sold at a foreclosure sale and reorganized as the Green Bay, Winona & St. Paul Railway Company.  June 10, 1896, it was again sold under foreclosure and the name changed to the Green Bay & Western Railroad Company.  In 1891 a spur track was completed from Marshland to East Winona, and the Winona terminal was established at the Burlington station instead of at the Northwestern station.

Of the selection of the route through Whitehall, Stephen Richmond has said:  "Arcadia was offered and had within reach an opportunity such as comes to few localities indeed when the Green Bay Railroad was projecting its line across the state and pointing to the Trempealeau Valley in the winter of 1872.  The line of the road had early been definitely decided upon from Green Bay to Merrillan, where a junctional point was to be made.  Black River Falls was practically inaccessible because of the difficulty of crossing Black River at that point.  Had this not been so the road no doubt would have been built to that city and thence down the Black River Valley to Melrose, and thence across country to Trempealeau Village, or down the Black River to La Crosse.  The complete history of the location of the Green Bay line would be an interesting story.  It may never be written.  The parties behind the road were poor and the question of cost of right of way and construction were pressing matters in fixing its location from the junction point at Merrillan, and were largely the elements which were most influential.  Trempealeau Valley offered a great saving in these elements.  The valley to Blair was an easy proposition and solved itself in offering cheap right of way and inexpensive construction in the river bottoms, but at Blair the conditions differed in the turn in the course of the valley from southwesterly to an abrupt northwesterly, and then a westerly course, adding at least seven miles to the length of the line over a southwesterly course from Blair to Arcadia; but this shorter course necessitated an added expense in construction, to cross the Preston ridge, or hills, between the head of Welch Cooley, in Preston, and Newcomb Valley in Arcadia.  The extra cost in construction was estimated or fixed at $75,000, and the town of Preston and Arcadia were asked to bond for such sum, Preston for $25,000 and Arcadia for $50,000.  Men in these towns clearly saw in such construction the advantage to local business interests and supported the proposition, so that each town voted bonds.  So far wisdom has manifested, but thereafter a want to prudence followed in delivering the bonds without a clearly and definitely fixed obligation on the part of the road to build directly southwest from Blair to Arcadia Village (Old Arcadia).  However, the bonds were delivered unconditionally, and without a binding obligation to construct the road as it had been previously located, between Blair and Arcadia Village and hence Arcadia lost and forfeited its first great opportunity, for the road was afterward constructed in the valley from Blair by way of Whitehall and Independence to Arcadia, and thence to Marshland.  One cannot fail to see the loss of territory which otherwise would have been tributary to Arcadia and the large market opportunity and trade cut off, and to which she believed herself entitled for the bonds delivered.  With the road built as originally planned the village would have remained at the old and early location on the tableland, where every advantage would have been given by nature for good streets, easily obtained drainage and desireability, which no one can say would not have made the town an important city long ago, with a population of many thousands."

The Chicago, Burlington & Northern, which on June 1, 1899, became the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, built its line through Trempealeau County in 1886.  In March of that year Alexander A. Arnold of Galesville, D. D. Chappell of Caledonia, and Andrew R. Carhart of Trempealeau were appointed a commission to appraise and condemn necessary land that had not been already secured for the right of way.  Track laying was completed through Trempealeau County and to a point opposite Winona, April 24, 1886.  The first train from St. Paul to Prairie du Chien was sent over the line Aug. 9, 1886.  July 4, 1891, the drawbridge at Winona was completed, thus giving Trempealeau County three railroad connections with that city.

The Mondovi line of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Company was built through the northern part of the county in the late eighties, reaching Osseo June 20, 1887, and Eleva late in 1889.  The Fairchild & Mississippi Railway Company was organized in 1886 to build and operate a line of railroad from Fairchild, Wis., to some point on the line of the Burlington & Northern Railroad in Buffalo County, with a branch line from Fairchild to some point on the line of the Wisconsin Central Railroad in Clark or Marathon County.

Articles of incorporation were executed March 27, 1886, and filed in the office of secretary of State, and patent issued March 29, 1886.  On May 7, 1887, a resolution was adopted at stockholders' meeting of the company, changing the name to the Sault Ste. Marie & Southwestern Railway Company, which resolution was filed in the office of secretary of state on July 16, 1887.

On April 1, 1891, the line was acquired by the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railway Company by acquisition of the outstanding stock, and was operated by that company from that date, and on June 3, 1893, was conveyed to it.  As already stated, the road reached Osseo, 14.21 miles from Fairchild, on June 20, 1887.  After a little delay it was pushed westward.  At Strum, then called Tilden, a switch was constructed in the fall of 1889.  Eleva, 12.89 miles from Osseo, was reached late in 1889, the opening being celebrated by an excursion Dec. 13, 1889.  The depot was complete in February, 1890.  A little later work was started on the line toward Mondovi, 9.65 miles away, and was soon completed.  The depot at Strum was put up in the fall of 1892 and the first station agent started work in 1893.

The Ettrick & Northern Railroad Company had its inception in the minds of H. F. Claussen, banker; M. P. Pederson, former sheriff, agriculturist and well contractor, and John Raichle, road contractor.  These gentlemen interviewed former Senator John C. Gaveney of Arcadia and interested him in the proposition of furnishing railroad facilities for the vast region tributary to Ettrick.  In this region there were 170 square miles, occupied by some of the richest farms in western Wisconsin, absolutely without railroad facilities.  The nearest shipping points were Galesville, Blair, West Salem and Sparta.  Money and time spent in reaching these points greatly increased the cost of producing and marketing products of the farms in the Ettrick region.

One solution of the problem was the extension of the Northwestern from Galesville, but that proposition not receiving favorable response from the Northwestern officials, a unique plan was conceived of building a railroad as a co-operative effort of the farmer to be served, and with all costs of promotion absolutely eliminated.

Accordingly, subscriptions were solicited, and on June 5, 1915, a company incorporated with John C. Gaveney, president; M. P. Pederson, vice-president; H. F. Claussen, secretary and treasurer; T. A. Whalen, A. G. Hagestad, A. J. Ekern, Ed. Quammen, Fred Fillner and Peter Corcoran as the incorporators.  A route was selected from Ettrick to Blair, where connection will be made with the Green Bay & Western.

The contract for constructing the line was let to Ed. J. Matchett and John Raichle.  Work was started in the fall of 1916 at Blair.  At the present writing, in the fall of 1917, the road is graded to within a mile of Ettrick, the "cut," a remarkable feat of excavating through one of the main hills of the "ridge," is nearly done, all the bridges are completed, the ties and rails are at Blair, and track laying has commenced at that village.  The town of Ettrick has voted bonds of $75,000, the railroad has issued its own bonds of $50,000, and over 400 farmers in the territory to be served have subscribed to the stock.  While there is every indication that the road itself will prove a profitable investment, its principal object is the development of the country, and the improvement of the market facilities in the region in which its stockholders live.  The traffic manager, L. J. Trexler, has already arranged rates with all the leading railroads of the country.


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