Steam & Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin
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W6L67 Dewey Decimal Classification Featuring more than 75 period photographs, historic maps, and drawings, Steam and Cinders preserves the legacy of early Wisconsin railroading for railroad buffs and armchair historians alike. Axel currently lives in the village of Maple Bluff with his wife and has two grown children. Chapter 3 - Railroads and the Creation of Wisconsin Territory. Chapter 6 - Milwaukee to Waukesha: Picking the Route. While the outlining of these financial machinations may not make for the most riveting reading, to omit them would be like bridging a gorge without a trestle.
Due to such diligent research, the reader is over pages into the book before the first iron horse heaves its way out of Milwaukee to Waukesha, but is treated to gushing newspaper accounts, contractors' personal letters, period maps and advertising ballyhoo all the way to points west.
Particularly telling are the meandering paths some of the early lines traveled, veering to favor one hamlet where perhaps a city father donated land while snubbing another. Indeed, in light of the recent hubbub over commuter rail, it's quite a contrast to learn of how hungry early settlers were for these lifelines to prosperity, with farmers even putting up their mortgages in trade for railroad stocks.
One wishes Lorenzsonn had spent more pages fleshing out these more human sides of the story. Most of the principal players are given only light sketches, and the larger rail rogues such as Milwaukee's Byron Kilbourn are spared extended analysis. Disappointingly, the chronology gets truncated at the onset of the Civil War, right before the number of Wisconsin railroads multiplied, along with their political power. However, the book already runs more than pages, and the line needed to be drawn somewhere no pun intended.
David Michael Miller, production design artist. I picked this one up in Monterrey when I was visiting and read it in a day and a half. Construction peaked in and railroad transportation began a decline after World War I. After World War II, highways took over as the most important American transportation system and railroad companies shrank their operations considerably, along with a reduction in the miles of track.
After the formal establishment of the Wisconsin territory in , most people expected the territorial legislature to immediately give a charter for a rail line and several businessmen and speculators developed plans for railroad companies. One of the most important efforts was in Milwaukee. Byron Kilbourn the founder of Milwaukee and others were advocating a Milwaukee to the Mississippi River line running through the lead region. No rail lines were given charters until the late s due to economic problems and political infighting between rail line promoters and companies building stage lines and plank roads.
In , Kilbourn and his supporters finally received a charter for a rail line from Milwaukee to Waukesha. By the time of statehood in , there were nine rail charters approved and Kilbourn had received another charter to extend his line to the Mississippi. However, money was still tight and it would be a struggle to raise the capital needed to actually build track.
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Its initial funding came almost entirely from the City of Milwaukee, which saw the link between Milwaukee and the Mississippi River as a boon to its economic success. The company estimated that they could complete the first section by June of Construction on the rail line began in October of Just the fact that this line had reached the point of construction was a major success since other roads given charters were unable to obtain enough funding to begin planning.
It was probably due to the political shrewdness of Byron Kilbourn and his Milwaukee connections that his line was the first to get to this stage. And, the challenges of building this line at this time cannot be emphasized enough. Meanwhile, Kilbourn and others were also engaged in selling stock for moving the rail line west from Waukesha, a task that was easier after construction on the line actually started. Five miles of track Milwaukee to Wauwatosa were completed by November of and when the track was completed 10 miles to Elm Grove by December 17, , the charter allowed for operations to begin and for the rail line to actually begin charging for freight and fares.
The line was built through modern-day Brookfield and, by February of , Waukesha was in sight. Waiting for the rails in Waukesha were two large stone buildings, a two-story depot, and a large car barn where cars were to be built.
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When the tracks reached Waukesha, four passenger cars were waiting. In April, a freight train was added to this schedule. Although still financially precarious, the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad started to plan for westward expansion. By July , the rail line extended seven miles southwest out of Waukesha to modern-day Genesee Depot.
A rift between principals in the company threatened the rail line and affected contracts for further construction. In January of , the board of directors removed him as president of the company. Kilbourn tried to take over the board by manipulating stockholders, but ultimately failed. The professionalization of the company continued with the employment of a certified civil engineer, Edward H.
Steam and Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin
Brodhead, whose task it was to supervise the continuation of the line to Madison. During the summer of , the rail line was approaching Whitewater. The link to Palmyra from Eagle came in August, and then the line reached Whitewater in September of A great celebration was held in Whitewater with about people coming from Milwaukee to join a crowd that the Milwaukee Sentinel estimated was between two and three thousand people. Why the line came to Whitewater is a valid question as it was certainly not on a direct route west.
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General literature does not explain how the route was devised, but it is probable that this first line wanted to serve the heavily wheat-producing areas of Walworth and Rock counties without straying too far from the westerly course to Madison and the Mississippi. Did the community lure the road? According to the Early Annals of Whitewater , meetings were held in the fall of regarding the purchase of stock in this line by local people.
The Early Annals reported that in the spring of , the directors of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad began soliciting area farmers to purchase stock in the line. All were excited, even the old fogies. Freight records show the importance of the railroad for the Whitewater economy.
Out of Milwaukee, the freight trains carried retail goods, lumber, wood products, coal, stoves, brick, and livestock. Going east, the trains carried wheat to the Milwaukee markets, as well as other agricultural products like corn, oats, barley, potatoes, hogs, wool, lead, and shot. Farmers had another profitable venture with the railroad, selling wood for the engines. Whitewater grew significantly during this period, fueled by trade no doubt fostered by the railroad. The Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad continued to move west, then north to Madison.
The line was built out of Whitewater to Milton, and then the company was paid to build a spur line to Janesville. The line then moved north, reaching Stoughton in January of , and by May of , the tracks came to Madison.