Chapter XIV, 2 September 1909 -- Thorp Courier, Clark County, Wisconsin

Written by R. J. MacBride and transcribed by Crystal Wendt.






"There is scarcely a want, wish, or aspiration of

The human heart, which railroads do not in some

Measure, help to gratify."


Mr. Justice Paine, 26 Wis. Sup. Ct. R. 220.

The years 1868 found Clark county without a mile of railroad within its borders.

Some years previous a survey for a line had been made through the eastern part of the county, in the neighborhood of what was then called Maple Work’s Corners.

It was known as the "air line" survey and great hopes were entertained that the road would be built. It was claimed that the road was to be an air line, as near as may be, from Chicago to St. Paul. Nothing however came of the project.

In 1868 the legislature by Chapter 210 of the Private and Local laws for that year incorporated the La Crosse, Black River Falls and Neillsville R. R. Co. with a capital of $100,000.00, with authority to increase it to one million dollars. The route of the road was from La Crosse up the valley of Black River, via Black River Falls, to Neillsville and from thence to a point on Lake Superior, as the company many might elect.

The incorporations living in Clark county were Chauncey Blakeslee, James O’Neill, James Hewett, O. S. Woods and Geo. W. King.

Those residing in Jackson county were Dudley J. Spaulding, William T. Price, W. B. Porter, J. B. G. Baxter, E. L Brockway and J. N. Wells.

The La Crosse incorporators were G. C. Hixon, C. C. Washburn, W. W. Crosby, S. L. Nevins, John Servis, Ruel Weston, Ole McMillan, Abner Gile, G. Van Stenwyck, Theodore Rodolf, S. S. Burton, and T. B. Edwards.

Again in 1870 by Chapter 505 of the Private and Local laws of that year, the Winona, Trempealeau Valley, Black River Falls and Neillsville railroad company, was incorporated. Chauncey Blakeslee, Benj. F. French, L. R. Stafford and John S. Dore represented Clark county among the incorporators, and Mark Bump, D J. Spaulding, J. B. Cater, Gunder Anderson, Birclard Oelson, Henry Lake, S. A. Sheldon, James Gaveny and Noah D. Comstock were the incorporators from Jackson and Trempealeau counties. The line of the proposed road was to begin at the some convenient point on the Minnesota line at or near Winona, in Minnesota, thence easterly through Arcadia, and town 21, range 7 in Trempealeau county, thence along the Trempealeau river, through town 21, range 6 in Jackson county to Black River Falls, thence to Neillsville.

In 1871 by Chapt. 331 of the Laws of 1871 the Neillsville & Humbird Railroad Company was incorporated to build a line entirely in Clark county from Neillsville to Humbird.

The incorporators and moving spirits in this enterprise were George W. King, Daniel Gates, James Hewett, James O’Neill, E. D. Carter, Richard Dewhurst, Geo. O. Adams, O. S. Woods and Chauncey Blakeslee.

All of these proposed railroads were simply paper railroads. No surveys were made on either of the lines, and no attempt was ever made to make them "going" concerns.

The first line of railway in Clark county was built through a portion of the town of Mentor in the year 1869 by the West Wisconsin Railway Co. This name was afterward changed to the Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis Railway Co., and still later to the name of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway Co. which name it still bears.

The old West Wisconsin in Railway was originally incorporated as the Tomah & Lake St. Croix railroad, the name being afterward changed to the West Wisconsin Railway Co.

Its southern and eastern terminus when first conducted was at Tomah, in Monroe county, and not at Elroy in Juneau county as at present.

The old railway left the present line at or near Warrens Mills and went direct to Tomah. In November, 1872, the West Wisconsin company removed its rolling stock from the line of road between Warrens Mils and Tomah, and tore up the rails and ties on that part of their line. This action involved subsequent litigation, and the supreme court of the state of Wisconsin decided that the railway company had not right to abandon the old line, but the matter was afterward settled and compromised by the company and the Tomah authorities.

The number of miles constructed by the West Wisconsin Railway company through Clark county in 1869 was only about three miles, all running through the southwest corner of the town of Mentor. This was the first railroad in operation in the county, and the station at Humbird was the first railway stat on. It was named for Jacob Humbird who with D. A. Baldwin, finances and built the West Wisconsin road.

Their line of road was built in 1869 from Black River Falls to Augusta. From Augusta to Menomonie Junction in 1870, and from Menomonie Junction to St. Paul in 18?1.

The station at Humbird was opened from business January 1st, 1870, and the first station agent there, as well as the first agent there, was well as the first agent in the county, was Fred W. Whitcomb. Mr. Whitcomb remained in the employment of the West Wisconsin road and its successors for about thirty-eight years, serving as agent at various stations, among others Cumberland, Ashland, and Neillsville. He is now living at Neillsville, being retired on account of the age limit, that railway companies establish for their employees.

Shortly after the building of the West Wisconsin road, the Green Bay and Lake Pepin railroad, now the Green Bay and Western, constructed their line from the east passing through Hatfield (then called Black River) to Merrillan, and beyond. Only two or three miles of the road is in Clark county and there is, and never was any railroad station, on their line in this county.

In the early seventies -- 72 and 73, the Wisconsin Central, built their line through the eastern part of Clark county, through the towns of Sherman, Unity, Colby, and Mayville to the north line of the county and beyond. Afterward they built a line of railway from Abbotsford west to Chippewa Falls under the name of the Wisconsin & Minnesota R. R., and still later a line from a point on the main line near Marshfield to Loyal and Greenwood. More recently they constructed a line of road running from Owen, via Ladysmith, to Duluth, Minn. This line was opened for business in 1908.

In the year 1909 all of the Wisconsin Central Railway lines were leased for the term of ninety-nine years to the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Sainte Marie Railway Company, more briefly and familiarly known as the "Soo Line," a part of the Canadian Pacific system.

Years ago in the 80’s, George Hiles organized what was known as the Milwaukee, Dexterville & Northern R. R., extending from Dexterville via Newton and Lindsay to Lynn. The entire length of that line was 22.42 miles, of which 5.43 miles is in Clark county. This road was sold to the Chicago, Mil. & St. P. Ry. Co. on June 1st, 1890. Since acquiring it the Milwaukee company have extended the line through the towns of Lynn and York to Romadke, a distance of 5. 21 miles.

The Fairchild & Northesatern R. R. Co. commenced building their line of road through Clark county in the year 1882. The main line of railway extends from Fairchild in Eau Claire county, via Tioga, Greenwood and Bright, to Owen on the "Soo Line."

The work of constructing the line was had in various years.

In 1909 the new town of Willard was established on the road at the north east corner on the NE of the SE of Sec. 15, Town 26, R. 3 West.

This road has 35 miles of track in Clark county, and although is officers and offices are elsewhere, it is practically a Clark county railway.

It runs through a fine farming country, through the western, central and northern part of the county. The credit for building it, is justly due to N. C. Foster of Fairchild, Wis., who through his energy and public spirit, financed and constructed it, without a dollar of public aid, and without an acre of land grant.

In the year 1878 the Black River Railroad Company was organized, to build a line of railway from Merrillan in Jackson county to Neillsville, the incorporators wee Daniel Gates, James Hewett, N. H. Withee, J. L. Gates, F. D. Lindsay and others.

The road was surveyed and staked out by Charles Breed, a surveyor, then residing in Clark county. The incorporators put in considerable of their private means in this enterprise and the town of Pine Valley and Hewett issued their corporate bonds in aid of the road. The former town bonding itself for $10,000 and the later for $1,000. The towns of Grant and Weston also voted bonds in aid of the road but these last named bonds were never earned by the railroad company, nor issued by the towns of Grant or Weston.

In 1880, the Black River Railroad Company, entered into a contract with the Chicago, St. Paul, Minn. & Omaha Company, by the terms of which the Black River Co. was to grad and tie the line and furnish the right-of-way, and the Omaha Co. was to furnish the rails, iron the road and perpetually operate it. In other words the Black River Co. gave their road to the Omaha Co. for the purpose of obtaining railway facilities for Neillsville. The agreement was carried out in good faith by both, parties, and on the 4th day of July, 1881, the road was formally opened for business, from Merrillan to a point on the west side of Black River, about one mile from Neillsville.

Afterwards in 1887 the Omaha company built the railroad bridge across Black River and extended the line into the city of Neillsville.

The opening of the road to a point near Neillsville in 1881 was the occasion for great rejoicing by the Neillsville people, and the surrounding county. The first train to come over the road was a special train of nice coaches, in charge of Perry Sharpe, conductor, carrying 324 invited guests from all parts of the state including Milwaukee, Madison, La Crosse, Sparta, Black River Falls, and many other points.

With the guests, was a military company from La Crosse, called the La Crosse Light Guards, and also their band.

On the arrival of the train the invited guests were met by the citizens of Neillsville, with their military company known as the Sherman Guards under command of Capt. J. W. Ferguson. A speech of welcome was made by Capt. Geo. A. Austin, on behalf of the citizens of Neillsville, which was responded to by Judge J. M. Morrow of Sparta, on behalf of the visitors.

The procession was then formed, the two military companies leading the way, the visitors in carriages, and proceeded to the grounds in Neillsville, where the regular exercises were had. The train address of the day was made by Prof. John M. Olin, of Madison. It was only two days before, that President Garfield was assassinated, by Charles J. Guiteau, and Prof. Olin who was a personal friend of President Garfield, alluded to it in a very touching manner, and voiced the hope of all the people that the President would recover from his wounds. He quoted the famous dispatched penned by Garfield sixteen years before, on learning of the death of President Lincoln --"God reigns, and the Government at Washington still lives."

The feature of the occasion was the dinner given in the open air, in a field don 5th street. East of the residence of James Hewett temporary dining tables, twenty in number, were erected, shaded with boughs, and each presided over by one of the ladies of Neillsville. A magnificent dinner was served to nearly a thousand people.

After dinner toasts were had and responses were made by Hon. Robt. M. Bashford afterward justice of the supreme court of Wisconsin, by John M. Olin, and Geo. B. Buroughs of Madison, Hon. Ira B. Bradford, speaker of the assembly, E. L. Brockway, of Black River Falls, Judge L. A. Doolittle, of Eau Claire, Isaac L. Usher and Judge Cyrus K. Lord, of La Crosse, F. N. Hendricks, of Eau Claire, Judge Morrow, of Sparta and by various citizens of Neillsville.

Letter of congratulations were received and read from U. S. Senator Angus Cameron, of La Crosse, Judge R. Bunn, U. S. Judge, and Hon. E. W. Keyes, of Madison, Hans B. Warner, Secretary of State, Judge A. W. Newman, of Trempealeau, and from a score of others.

Among the letters was a characteristic one from Geo. W. Peck, who afterwards became twice Governor of Wisconsin. The letter deserves publication, and permanent preservation. It was addressed to the chairman of the committee on arrangements, and is given here entire:

Milwaukee, July, 1, 1881.

Dear Sir: -- Your invitation to be present at the opening of your railroad from the outside world, to your beautiful little Neillsville is received, and I regret that a previous engagement will prevent my being present. I regret my absence, as much on your account, as on my own, because all railroads I have helped to open, have been successful, and have made money, while some that have been opened without giving me an invitation to be present and break a bottle of pop over the cow-catcher, have been miserable failures, and have been dividends of over fifty per cent. But I have taken a bloody oath, and railroad builders might as well know it now as ever, not to open any railroads on the 4th of July so you fellows will have to stub around there at home and get it open the best way you can.

Railroads are an excellent thing for the country and we cannot have too many of them, but they have nearly been the ruination of me.

Years ago when I got a pass on a railroad, I managed to ride enough to get even, but old age and the cares of business, have made me stay at home so much that passes are souring on my hands, and I have to change the brine on them every little while. I tried to keep up with the C. M. & S. and the Northwestern by riding on their lines nights and Sundays, but the last two years they have added hundreds of mile to their line without my knowledge or consent, so now I have given up the unequal task, and content myself, when they have a meeting of directors here , with presenting my unused passes, and demanding that they pay me a dividend on them, which they are glad to do, if I will keep away.

Will Mac, I will congratulate the citizens of Neillsville, and the Clark county, in having at last secured railroad connection, and will express the hope that manufactories will grow up around you, by which you can utilize your hardwood timber as well as your pine, and that you may all become even richer then you now are, and if I get to heave first, I will reserve a whole section of seats, and mark them "taken by the Clark county delegation," and I will stand over them with a club, till you fellows come along on your hand car."

Your truly,

Geo. W. Peck.

As is generally the case the women bore the brunt of the hard work necessary to be performed in order to make such a celebration a success. It is due to them to here give the names of the twenty ladies, each of whom had the charge of one of the large dining table, viz:

Mrs. Chauncey Blakeslee, Mrs. Geo J. Hart, Mrs. David Mason, Mrs. R. J. MacBride, Mrs. O. P. Wells, Mrs. S. C. Boardman, Mrs. R. Dewhurst, Mrs. F. A. Lee, Mrs. D. R. Brown, Mrs. W. S. Colburn, Mrs. J. W. Tolford, Mrs. James Hewett, Mrs. W. C. Crandall, Mrs. R. M. Campbell, Mrs. L. Wecks, Mrs. J. W. Ferguson, Mrs. O .G. Tripp, Mrs. Wm. Campbell, and Mrs. A. B. Ring.

In 1891 the Omaha R’y Company constructed its line of road from the city of Neillsville to the city of Marshfield a distance of 23 miles.

The Abbotsford & Northeastern from Abbotsford to Athens in Marathon county has but a trifle of mileage in Clark county.

There are over 1509 miles of railway in daily operation for the convenience of passengers and freight, in Clark county, and one or more lines of railway passes through every town in the county, except the towns of Longwood, Reseburg, Worden, Mead, Levis, Washburn and Sherwood.

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