Pages 104-116 From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
This chapter was transcribed by Greg Lafavor and proofed by Kitty Lafavor.
Greg writes: "Many railroads were involved in the Winona area. They got started around 1858, which is when the state entered the Union. My great grandfather Connery worked on the railroad as did my grandfather LaFavor. My Dad spent 30+ years on the Milwaukee Road. I worked on the railroad while I was in high school and my little brother still works for the Burlington Northern. I remember traveling cross country to the east coast when we still had steam engines."
Before the ratification of the treaty by which the Sioux surrendered their lands for settlement, a party of three, headed by Robert Pike, was dispatched from Minnesota City to ascertain whether a practicable route for a railroad to Traverse des Sioux, on the Minnesota river, existed. Early in July, 1852, Mr. Pike made a favorable report, and urged the adoption of some plan for building the road, but he was then accounted an enthusiast, and his scheme dismissed as visionary and impracticable. Early in 1854, however, the project was revived, and, after several ineffectual attempts at organization, a charter was obtained from the legislature March 4, 1854, by Orrin Smith, Henry D. Huff, Abram M. Fridley, Lorenzo D. Smith, John L. Balcombe, Alexander Ramsey, W. A. Gorman, Henry H. Sibley, J. Travis Rosser, Andrew G. Chatfield, Henry McKenty, O.M. Lord, Samuel Humbertson, Martin McLeod, Benjamin Thompson, William H. Newton, James Hanna, G. Addison Brown and Robert Helm, under the name and style of the Transit Railroad Company, authorizing them to construct a railroad from Winona westward to the Minnesota river. In March, 1855, an amended charter was obtained from the legislature, and the incorporators met at St. Paul on the 25th of January, 1856, accepted the charter, and gave official notice thereof to the secretary of the territory. On the 12th of May the sum of $240,000 had been subscribed to the capitol stock of the company, the subscribers being the following named persons: L. D. Smith, H. D. Huff, Wm. Ashley Jones, Charles H. Berry, M. Wheeler Sargent, H. H. Johnson, E. H. Johnson, H. J. Hilbert, E. S. Smith, David Olmstead, M. K. Drew, A. P. Foster, Wm. H. Stevens, John Evans, Chas. Hamilton, O. S. Holbrook, Orrin Smith, John C. Laird, Wm. H. Laird, M. J. Laird, J. H. Jacoby, Royal B. Evans and L. H. Springer. All these, with the exception of Orrin Smith and L. H. Springer, were residents of Winona. The first officers of the company were H. H. Johnson, president; Wm. Ashley Jones, vice-president; H. J. Hilbert, secretary and engineer; H. D. Huff, treasurer.
The organization of the company was only the prelude to a prolonged and bitter contest with parties interested in other localities, and more particularly with the owners and promoters of the townsite of La Crescent. After various vicissitudes, among them the defeat in 1854 of H. D. Huff for the legislature by Clark W. Thompson on this issue, the conflict finally resulted in a victory for Winona and the Transit railroad. On the 3d of March, 1857, Congress passed an act by which the munificent gift of 1,200,000 acres of public lands was conferred upon the state for the benefit of the Transit road. An extra session of the legislature was at once called to consider this and other grants of lands, and on the 22d day of May, 1857, an omnibus bill was passed confirming the grants, and amending the charter of the Transit road so as to authorize it to construct and operate a railroad from Winona via St. Peter to the Big Sioux river. In February, 1858, what is known as the five-million loan amendment to the constitution was adopted by the first state legislature, and was ratified by a vote of the people April 15, 1858. By the terms of this amendment state bonds were to be issued and delivered to the various railroad companies at the rate of $100,000 for every ten miles graded and bridged ready for the iron, the state taking a first mortgage upon the road-bed so graded, together with the lands and franchises of the company, as security for the loan. The Transit company at once filed their acceptance of the terms of the amendment, and proceeded to let the contract for the grading and construction of seventy-five miles of the line as surveyed west of Winona. In the letting of this first contract, as well as in the location of the line out of Winona, there was a most determined effort on the part of a few men to divert the road from Winona, and so build it as to eventually make La Crescent the eastern terminus. Selah Chamberlain, of Ohio, afterward the builder of several roads in the state, and the largest holder of the state bonds issued under the five-million loan amendment, was a bidder for the contract. It was understood that if he secured it work would be begun at or near Lewiston, and that the matter of the eastern terminus would remain unsettled, with a strong probability that the road would be diverted down the ridge back of Winona to La Crescent. DeGraff & Co., also bidders for the contract, were favored by most of the directors, who were desirous of beginning the work of construction at Winona, and thus at the outset fixing the terminus and settling that question forever. This company was composed of Col. Andrew De Graff, B. F. Barnard, Hernando Fuller and William DeGraff, Col. DeGraff being the head and sole manager of the concern. The contest waxed hot, but on the 8th day of June, 1858, the board of directors, after protracted discussion, awarded the contract to DeGraff & Co. Previous to this time there had been much strife between the various town proprietors as to whether the road should leave the city be way of lower town and the Sugar Loaf valley, or from upper town via the Rollingstone valley. The history of this feature of the matter more properly belongs to that of the city of Winona, and will not be further discussed here. The upper town interest won the victory, and on the 9th day of June, 1858, ground was broken at or near the present machine-shops, the event being duly celebrated by the delighted people.
DeGraff & Co. were strictly loyal to Winona, although tempting offers were made them to carry out the plans of the La Crescent men, and the work of grading the road went rapidly forward during the following summer and winter, until fifty miles of grading and bridging had been completed, inspected and accepted by the state authorities, and $500,000 of state bonds delivered to the company. Then came the financial crisis of 1858-9. These bonds were denounced as illegal and fraudulent. They became almost valueless in the market, and all work came to a standstill. DeGraff & Company were unable to pay their men for work and supplies, and much hardship resulted. Upon default in the terms of the mortgage given by the Transit company to secure the loan made by the state, a foreclosure was had, and on June 23, 1860, the road franchises, and other grants, including lands, were sold to the state for the nominal sum of one thousand dollars. March 8, 1861, the legislature granted and transferred all claims upon the property to Orville Clark, Abraham Wing, John W. Kirk, Robert Higham, W. H. Smith, Nelson P. Stewart and B. W. Perkins, and constituted them a corporation under the name of the Winona, St. Peter & Missouri River Railroad Company, upon condition that the road be fully equipped and trains running to Rochester and Owatonna at certain fixed times. No attempt having been made to comply with these conditions, the legislature, on March 10, 1862, made a similar grant to William Lamb, S. S. L'Homedieu, John W. Kirk, Herman Gebhart and H. C. Stimson, under the name and style of the Winona & Saint Peter Railroad Company, free and clear of all claims and liens upon the property, and upon much more lenient conditions. Work was at once resumed by the new owners, and on December 9, 1862, a passenger train was run by Col. DeGraff from Winona to Stockton and back, the day being marked by another enthusiastic celebration. December 10, 1862, the first carload of wheat was shipped to Winona by L. Raymond and purchased by Asa Forsyth. From this time the work of construction proceeded rapidly. In 1864 the trains reached Rochester, a distance of fifty miles from Winona. In 1865 the road was completed sixty-six miles to Kasson; in 1866, ninety miles to Owatonna; in 1868, one hundred and six miles to Waseca; in 1870, one hundred and thirty-nine miles to Mankato and St. Peter; in 1871, one hundred and sixty-five miles to New Ulm; in 1872 two hundred and eighty-four miles of track were completed west of Winona, and the grading extended three hundred and thirty-one miles to Lake Kampeska in Dakota Territory. In 1879 another line, diverging from the old track at Tracy, in Lyon county, was begun and pushed with such energy that in two years trains were running to Old Fort Pierre, on the Missouri river, connecting with daily stages for the Black Hills. The entire property, save the land grant, had, however, in November, 1867, passed into the hands of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company and become a part of that great system, although still retaining its name and corporate existence. The lands thus separated from the general ownership of the company and its franchises became the property of A. H. Barney and a company of New York capitalists, and are still so owned, excepting those since sold to settlers. A branch from Eyota to Chatfield was opened for business December 8, 1878; from Eyota to Plainview October 22, 1878; from Rochester to Zumbrota November 2, 1878; from Sleepy Eye to Redwood Falls August 4, 1878; from Huron to Ordway November 20, 1881; from Watertown to Clark Centre June 18, 1882; from Volga to Castlewood September 29, 1882; from Clark Centre to Redfield October 22, 1882; from Ordway to Columbia October 22, 1882, making a grand total of 863 miles of this road now directly tributary to Winona.
The following named men, prominent in the railroad history of the West, have been connected with the Winona and St Peter company: S. S. Merrell, now general manager of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad, was general manager of the Winona and St. Peter railroad from February to May, 1865. Dwight W. Keyes, now assistant general freight agent of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad, came with Mr. Merrell to the Winona & St. Peter company as auditor, and was left in charge of the road in May, 1865. John Newell, now general manager of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad, was at that time superintendent and chief engineer. H. C. Atkins, now assistant general superintendent of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad, was superintendent of the Winona & St. Peter railroad during the years 1866 and 1867, being succeeded by J. H. Stewart, now superintendent of the Marietta and Cincinnati railroad. Gen. J. W. Sprague, late general superintendent of the western division of the Northern Pacific railroad, at the same time becoming general manager of the Winona & St. Peter railroad. April 20, 1874, J. H. Stewart was succeeded by Sherburn Sanborn as superintendent, a position which he still occupies.
The magnificent iron bridge across the Mississippi river used by this road was built during the winter of 1871-2. The draw-span of this bridge is said to be one of the longest in the world (363 feet). It takes the place of a combination wood and iron draw-span built in the winter of 1870-1, which fell on the 27th day of May, 1871, and was entirely removed. This bridge forms a connection with the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott railroad, of which mention will be made hereafter. The bridge was constructed for the company by the American Bridge Company, of Chicago; the piling was done by Frank A. Johnston, and the stonework by Jones & Butler, of Winona. The shops of this company are located at the west end of the city, are large and fully equipped for the business of keeping the road-bed and rolling stock of the road in the best condition. They have been fully described among the institutions of the city of Winona.
St. Paul & Chicago Railway. ~ The corporate name of this company in the original charter, dated May 22, 1857, was the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company. By an act of the legislature approved March 2, 1867, the directors were authorized to change the name of the company or that of any of the branches of the road provided for in their charter. Accordingly, on the 19th day of March the board of directors gave the name of "The St. Paul & Chicago Railway" to that part of their line to extend from St. Paul to Winona and thence to the Iowa line. Work was begun upon this line at or near St. Paul in 1865, but nothing was done in Winona county until 1870, when the road was built from Minnesota City to Weaver and put in operation by the Northwestern Railroad Company. In 1871 the roadbed was completed between St. Peter Junction and St. Paul, and in December of that year was sold to the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company, who immediately took possession, and began operating the road in connection with their line from Chicago and Milwaukee to La Crosse, making connection over the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott road and the bridge at Winona when completed. In 1872, however, the road was extended from St. Peter Junction to La Crescent, on the west side of the Mississippi river, and thereafter all freight trains used this route, being ferried across the Mississippi to La Crosse. Passenger trains, however, continued to run over the Winona bridge and the La Crosse, Trempealeau & Prescott road until 1875, when the magnificent iron bridge between La Crescent and North La Crosse was completed and brought into use for all traffic over the Milwaukee & St. Paul line. As a bonus for the construction of this line the city of Winona, on the 21st day of April, 1870, voted and thereafter issued $100,000 of its bonds, to be delivered upon the fulfillment of certain conditions by the company. The bonds having been prematurely to the construction company, suit was brought by the city, in which, after protracted litigation, it was finally determined that the prescribed conditions had not been fulfilled, and that the city have damages equal to the amount of the bonds, with interest, which sum has been paid.
The La Crosse, Trempealeau and Prescott Railroad. ~ After the passage of the bill by congress, March 3, 1857, providing for certain land grants to aid in the construction of railroads in Minnesota, and among them the Transit railroad, with its eastern terminus at Winona, the next important project was to connect Winona and the Transit railroad with the railroads in Wisconsin and Illinois, and through them with the railroad system of the United States. It was also proposed by means of this connection to cut off La Crosse, Winona's most formidable rival, from the benefits of northern and western connections, as it was thought that but one road would ever cross the Mississippi river in this section of the country. It was therefore resolved to keep the matter of this "cut off", or eastern connection, in the hands of Winona men. In the winter of 1858-9, in the midst of the pinching hard times brought on by the financial crisis of that time, Capt. Sam Whiting, Thomas Simpson and M. K. Drew started out one severely cold day to look out a practicable route for a railroad east from Winona to a point of intersection with the proposed line of the Milwaukee and La Crosse railroad. They cut their way from Altoona, now Bluff Siding, through the swamps, and camped the first night in heavy timber. The next morning, after eating frozen bread and meat for breakfast, they proceeded with their work, in about half-an-hour came out upon a prairie covered with fenced fields and farm-houses. They had spent a night in the snow, which Capt. Whiting said was equal to any of his arctic experiences, within half a mile of a substantial and comfortable farm-house. The people of Winona had been so occupied with their own great prospects and those of the country west of them, that they had no knowledge of this well-settled country just east of them. The following spring Z. H. Lake and Thomas Simpson were again sent over the proposed route, and instructed to go to La Crosse to see if that city would not unite with Winona in building this connection, the extreme hard times having somewhat modified the ambitions and claims of Winona. A preliminary survey of the route was made by these gentlemen, which coincides almost exactly with the line as afterward built. They met with a very cool reception at La Crosse, being informed that city would have nothing to do with the project, and that they would prevent if possible the granting of a charter by the Wisconsin legislature. Subsequent investigation, however, developed the fact that several years before a charter had been granted by the legislature of Wisconsin to some parties to build a railroad from a point at or near La Crosse to Point Douglas, opposite Hastings, to be called the La Crosse, Trempealeau, Lake Pepin & Prescott railroad, and that this old charter had been kept alive. Possession of it was obtained, the company reorganized, and Timothy Kirk, Thomas E. Bennett, M. K. Drew, William Mitchell, Thomas Wilson, Thomas Simpson, A. W. Webster, and five men from Trempealeau, were elected directors. Thomas Simpson was elected president; A. W. Webster, vice-president; J. H. Newland, secretary, and Thomas E. Bennett, treasurer. The company began at once to locate the line, obtain right of way, etc., in order to secure vested rights before the Wisconsin legislature could convene and repeal the charter. But no money was to be had. N. F. Hilbert was employed as chief engineer, to be paid whenever the company became able to pay. Others were employed upon similar terms. To board the force, a subscription in provisions and supplies was taken up among the citizens of Winona. Upon this subscription being read at a large meeting of all interested, the following items appeared together: "P. W. Gaines & Co., ½ bbl. whiskey. Robert Clapperton, 1 loaf bread."
Wm. Lamb, who had been appointed superintendent of construction, rose and interrupted the reading with the remark that there was altogether too much bread for that quantity of whiskey.
The company succeeded in holding their charter, and work was kept up until an agreement was made with parties interested in the Chicago & Northwestern company to complete it and make it a part of that great system, which was done in 1870. The road is still owned and operated by that company, but under the original charter and organization.
Green Bay, Lake Pepin & Minnesota Railroad. ~ In February 1873, a proposition was made by the officers of the above-named road to extend its line from Merrillan, Wisconsin, to Winona, provided the city would grant them a bonus of $100,000. As the line would form a valuable connection with the lake system of navigation, and also furnish the city directly with many of the products of the Wisconsin forests, a very decided disposition to accept this proposition was manifested by the citizens of Winona. A series of public gatherings terminated in a large meeting of citizens, at which it was determined by a general expression to accept the proposition, President Ketchum, of the railroad company, being present at the meeting. A committee of eight leading citizens was selected and instructed to proceed to St. Paul and procure from the legislature then in session authority for the city to take the necessary steps in granting the required aid. This committee accordingly went to St. Paul and had the proper bill introduced for the purpose, but only one day remaining of the session it fail to pass for lack of time. The committee returned, and the company, learning of the failure to secure legislation, modified their proposition and suggested that the citizens should secure them the sum named by subscription or otherwise. Another meeting of citizens was held, and a committee appointed to wait upon and confer with the city council upon the matter in hand. As the result of such conference the city council, on March 14, 1873, adopted the following resolutions:
"Be it resolved, by the city council of the city of Winona, that fifty thousand dollars, or so much thereof as may be practicable, shall be raised for the purpose of securing the terminus of the Green Bay & Lake Pepin railroad at the city of Winona, under and pursuant to the recommendations of the committee appointed by the city council to confer upon said matter, on March 12, 1873.
"And it is further resolved, that the city of Winona hereby pledges its faith to repay to each and every person, his heirs or assigns, all sums of money which said person or persons shall advance for that purpose, with interest on the sums so advanced not to exceed the rate of ten per cent per annum; provided always, that the obligation so made and taken shall in no event bind the city to such repayment unless the proper legal authority for such repayment be obtained.
"Resolved, That the recorder be authorized and is hereby required to have prepared, and to issue and deliver under his hand as recorder and the seal of said city, to each person advancing money for the above purpose, a certificate for all sums so advanced by each person respectively, bearing interest as aforesaid.
"Resolved, That as soon as practicable proper legislation authorizing and legalizing the present action of the city council, so far as such legislation may be necessary. Or any other needed legislation, shall be obtained."
Upon the basis of this action on the part of the city council a canvassing committee was set at work, and the sum of $35,000 subscribed by the citizens for the purpose set forth above. The railroad company, upon being notified of the result, finally accepted the situation, and proceeded during the summer and fall of 1873 to build the road as proposed. An act of the legislature authorizing the city to make good its agreement with the subscribers, but unwisely providing for making up the amount to $50,000 for the company, was approved February 5, 1874, the act providing, however, that the question should be submitted to the people at a general or special election upon five days' notice of publication. A special election was accordingly called for and held on February 23, 1874, which resulted in a defeat of the proposed bonds, largely on account of the provision for making up the sum to be paid the company to $50,000, the vote standing 275 for to 785 against it. The citizens were justified in this vote for the reason that it was sought to make the city liable for $15,000 more than the amount of the subscription, a provision in the bill insisted on by the representatives of the company, but for which the subscribers, almost without exception, were in no way chargeable. Chagrined and disappointed at this result, and there being grave doubt of their legal liability, the subscribers refused to pay their subscriptions; but suits were instituted by the company in the United States circuit court against them, and a test case being carried to a final decision it was held that the subscribers were liable, and the several amounts were according paid over, each subscriber receiving, according to the original agreement, stock in the company to the amount of his subscription, which stock was not and never has become of any considerable value.
There still being a widespread feeling that the subscribers to the bonus had suffered an injustice, another act of the legislature was obtained March 6, 1876, providing for a special election in April of that year to determine whether the city would indemnify the subscribers by an issue of its bonds in the amount of the subscriptions actually paid, the city to take the stock originally issued to the subscribers. Accordingly an election was called and held on April 3, but although every moral, if not legal, obligation rested upon the city to indemnify its public-spirited citizens for the money paid by them to secure a railroad connection of conceded value to the town, the proposition again failed to carry, the vote being 737 for to 1004 against the bonds, and here the matter rests. The road has since practically passed into the hands of John I. Blair, of New Jersey, and its name has been changed to the Green Bay, Winona & St. Paul Railroad Company.
Winona and Southwestern Railroad. ~ In February, 1856, the legislature of the territory incorporated the Winona & La Crosse Railroad Company, with authority to build and operate a railroad from Winona to a point opposite La Crosse, Wisconsin. February 9, 1872, the state legislature passed an act reviving this old charter and amending it so as to incorporate the Winona & Southwestern Railroad Company, composed of the following named persons, viz: William Windom, Thomas Simpson, Wm. H. Yale, J. C. Easton, John Robson, William Mitchell, H. W. Lamberton, M. G. Norton, E. S. Youmans, R. D. Cone, Thomas Wilson, M. K. Drew, E. D. Williams, Geo. P. Wilson, Thomas Abbott and Ignatius O'Ferral, and authorizing the building, equipment and operation of a railroad from Winona to the Iowa line east of range 14 and west of the 5th principal meridian, and also granting the right to extend the line, by the most feasible route, from Winona to St. Paul and Minneapolis, the road to be completed and equipped within four years from the date of the act.
At a meeting of the incorporators held at Winona April 16, 1872, William Mitchell was elected president; E. D. Williams, vice president; Thomas Simpson, secretary, and M. G. Norton, treasurer. William Mitchell, John Robson and H. W. Lamberton were made an executive committee and E. S. Youmans, Ignatius O'Ferral and M. G. Morton were appointed commissioners to receive subscriptions to the stock of the company, to collect five per centum thereon for the expenses of a survey and for the purchase of necessary maps, profiles, etc., for the use of the company. Stock to the amount of $67,500 was subscribed. At the same session of the legislature an act was passed authorizing the city of Winona and the towns and villages on the proposed line of the road to vote a five per cent tax in aid of the road. Under this authority the city of Winona, on April 9, 1872, at a special election voted bonds to aid in the construction of the road to the amount of $150,000. Several of the towns in Winona and Fillmore counties, and the village of Chatfield, voted liberal bonuses to the road. Two or more surveys were made under the direction of N. F. Hilbert, one by way of Saratoga and Fremont, the other by way of the Money Creek Valley. For a time there was every prospect that the road would be built. It would have furnished an invaluable outlet for the lumber and other products of the Winona manufactories, and would have been a potent element in the growth of the city. The several financial crisis of 1873, however, and the subsequent hard times, brought delays and embarrassments which prevented the building of the road, and it still remains one of the "glorious possibilities." In 1875 it was voted by the company to accept the proposition of certain Iowa parties to build a narrow-gauge road from Hesper, Iowa, to Houston, Minnesota, provided the company would build a similar road from Winona to Houston. Money was raised and a preliminary survey made, but nothing further came of the project. The charter was extended by the legislature of 1873, and by reason of the surveys and other work done thereunder is considered to be still alive. Both the line to the southwest and the one from Winona to St. Paul are still feasible, and would be valuable to the builders as well as to Winona and the territory through which they would pass.