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Athens Northeast Railroad engine and crew taken in 1905.  Shown are A. H. Baker (center) and his crew.

The land where Abbotsford now stands, before becoming part of the United States, was at one time claimed by Spain, France and England. In 1837, the Indian title was relinquished and it came under the territory of Wisconsin and in 1848, became part of the state of Wisconsin. It was a dense forest of pine, hemlock, hardwood and swamp. There was a market for the pine, but the hardwood and hemlock were burned as the land was cleared.

Instrumental in the founding of Abbotsford was the Wis. Central Railroad Company, formed Feb. 4, 1871 and headquartered at the National Hotel in Menasha. The Wisconsin Central was a consolidation of three companies, the Winnebago and Lake Superior, The Portage and Superior and Portage, Stevens Point and Superior Railroads.

The first settlers arrived in Abbotsford in 1873, although the Chippewa and Potawatomi Indians were already living in the area. Abbotsford and the surrounding area, unlike many localities which were settled by people of one nationality, was settled by people of many nationalities.

The contract to cut timber and clear the land for the village site was taken by S.A. Cook, Edwin H. Abbott, president of the Wisconsin Central, made the first survey. The railroad was finished in October of 1873 and the first train was run into the village.

The year 1879 started a period of drastic change and improvement for the Central. A line chartered under the name of the Wisconsin and Minnesota Railroad Company was incorporated by Wisconsin Central interests and completed by the end of 1880 between Abbotsford and Chippewa Falls. Utilizing the Chippewa Falls and Western to Eau Claire and Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis beyond, entry was made into the Twin Cities in December 1880.

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Freight depot, depot and beanery

In 1881, a depot along with the Beanery, was built, including an eating place with 136 seats and also 21 sleeping rooms. The first railroad built through Abbotsford was a line from Stevens Point to Ashland, which served most of the towns along the way.

The track east of Abbotsford, which was called the Abbotsford Northeastern or ANE, was built in 1889. The original plan was to build the line from Abbotsford to Merrill but it was only built as far as Goodrich.

About 1900, more improvements and advancements were undertaken by the Wisconsin Central. Divisions were enlarged with the consequent closing of many former division points. Stevens Point and Waukesha were two towns that lost their status while Abbotsford, Fond du Lac and St. Paul became main division points on the road.

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Wisconsin Central Roundhouse and shop

The roundhouse turntable and coal shoots were built. In the days before 1880, railroad engines burned wood and large piles of wood, known as woodup stations, were placed at designated places along the tracks.

The roundhouse was a large building used for the repair of engines and the turntable, as the name suggests, was used for turning engines so they could proceed in the opposite direction. The roundhouse and turntable were located near the main track just south of the old Abbotsford Village limits. The Coal Chute, a structure 80 feet high, was located on a spur south of where Holtz’s Feed Mill is now located. Cars loaded with coal were pulled to the top and unloaded in a coal bin so the engine on the track under the bin could load up with coal.

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Coal chute of Wisconsin Central

A large water tank was also constructed in the area of the roundhouse in 1900. Owing to the fact that the location of the tank was on low land, which resulted in poor water pressure, it was moved in 1963 to its present location.

In 1903, a pipeline was laid from the Eau Pleine River to Abbotsford along what is now Highway 29. There was a pumping station on the Chris farm, and although the Wisconsin Central had two wells in Abbotsford, which later supplied the village with water for a few years, the wells were unable to supply the railroad with enough water. The pipeline was dug up during World War I from the river to the village limits.

The original rails used by the railroad company were made of iron, but in 1886, the iron rails were replaced by steel. Wages received by railroad men in those days were small, with conductors paid an average of $75 a month and engineers, $90. Section hands were paid $1 per day.

As the railroad was progressing, so was the area increasing with residents. Application for incorporation of the village of Abbotsford was made June 13, 1894. A census, the first taken in the area, was compiled by A. F. Richards and showed a population of 362. The charter election was held on July 7, 1894 with the vote 59 in favor of incorporation and one against. R. C. Tenant was elected the first president and George W. Rogers, clerk.

About that time, a village hall was built just north of the present grade school. In 1904, it was moved to where the present city hall now stands. It was a distinctive landmark until the structure was razed in 1958 to make way for the present city hall.

Soo Line on the Eau Pleine River located east of Abbotsford on the Clarence Chris farm.  Water used to supply the railroad engines.

For about 10 years, 1899 to 1909, the division in Abbotsford was handling 12 passenger trains daily. Besides the regular freight trains, there were extra trains assembled here every day.

New City Hall

Everything appeared fine. Rumors had it the Central was to consolidate into something bigger and better. Nothing materialized into anything more than a route of interchange traffic.

But on April 1, 1909, the Wisconsin Central, valued at $52 million, was sold to the St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie, also known as the Soo Line Railroad Co.

This proved to be a setback for the village. The division pulled out and the area faced a mild depression. The value of much property decreased and many homes were almost given away.

This depression only lasted a few years, or until the residents realized the agricultural potential in the area. As the settlers turned to farming, the area began to develop into one of the most successful dairy sections in the entire country.

In the early days, the only way to transport milk to market was with horses, so cheese factories were built four or five miles apart. When it was possible to haul the milk by truck most of the small country factories quit business, although a few are still operating at the present time.

The first milk plant established in the area about 1900, was known as Wiggins Creamery. A few years later, Harry Olson operated a cheese factory in the building where the Abbotsford Dry Cleaners is presently located. More Factories originated and the area was rapidly growing.

At first, all houses were constructed of log.

Roter’s operated a store along with Elofson’s business, were two of the earliest commercial establishments in the area. Roter’s Miller was located southeast of the village and began operating about 1880, was a key factor in the growth of the area, supplying most material to the then frame homes.

Stations between Dorchester and Worchester were Medford, Charlestown, Chelsea, Dedham, Walden, all were named for towns in Massachusetts. Later Abbotsford was named for Edwin H. Abbot, who was president of the railroad at one time.

The old village hall, a landmark in the area for many years, was torn down in 1958 and the present city hall built on the same location. The old hall, built about 1893, just north of the present grad school, was moved in 1904 to where the new building now stands. The library, fire department, city offices and equipment and a large recreation room with kitchen facilities are housed in the present city hall.

Abbotsford has a peculiar location in that it is on the border of two counties, Clark and Marathon, and is composed of land annexed from four townships, including Colby and Mayville in Clark County, and Hull and Holton in Marathon County.

Abbotsford was incorporated as a city in 1965, with Steve Bezak elected the first mayor, a position he still holds. The present population is 1550.

Old Water Tower

There have been a number of additions to the original site of Abbotsford, including Hughes, Owen, O. F. Blanchard, First and Second, Culver, Roter, Woock, Barker, first and second, Swanson, Swanson West, Tennant, Radtke, F. F. Damon, Mrs. Nina Anderson, Karsten, Faith, Abby Heights and Christenson.

Soo Line depot which still stands today in Abbotsford


Snowstorm on March 18, 1917.  Trains stuck on tracks north of Abbotsford.

Early method of filling coal tender.

The streets of 1887 and perhaps earlier, were Main, Second and County Line Street; and cross streets; the section line street (that of the school house and sawmill), the one intersecting Main Street and the wide trestle sidewalk from the first depot to Main Street (platted but not carried through to the county line); and the street on which their house still stands. These streets, of course, continued to be the midtown streets.

The early town site included a marsh, extending from near the last named cross street to the Swanson and Johnson farm, and between Main Street and the County Line Streets and houses had not begun to be extended into it until the 1890’s. The north third of Main Street was a trail through the marsh until about 1890, and Second Street ended at the marsh until about that time. In using shortcuts through the marsh, hopping from one large swamp grass tuft to another was in order, calling for special care in times of extra wetness.

Forests continued to be close to the town’s borders, especially to the north, east and south, through the 1890’s.

In the early fall, there were disastrous fires along the line of the Wisconsin Central; set, in most cases, by sparks from locomotives. Abbotsford was in serious danger for some weeks, especially for several days when the air was so heavy with smoke that eyes and breath were affected. The men and boys of the town and surrounding country were kept busy fighting fires.

On Feb. 15, 1887, the engine house and locomotive, belonging to the Wisconsin Central, were destroyed by fire at Abbotsford, Wednesday morning. The cause of the fire was not determined.

Abbotsford has an elevation of about 1,400 feet, and has been described by some, in the early days, as the high swamp. Before the timber was removed, puddles of water seemed to be everywhere. Girls of those days tell how they would wear rubber boots or high tops, walk through the woods to the railroad track, removed the boots, take a hand car and visit their neighbors or the next town. Older men tell how they, as boys, skated and coasted with their sleds where a creek was located at the present site of the Abbotsford Hardware Store, and on down over Division Street, where Abbotsford Dry Cleaning establishment now stands.

Loads of hay and wood being hauled in by farmers often tipped over right in front of the hardware store. Later this was remedied by hauling in loads of rock and stones. The businessmen would often work a half day filling in soft spots in the road, west of town and in the hollow, so the farmers could get to town, as they wanted them to come to Abbotsford instead of going elsewhere.

People used to travel to Colby and Dorchester on the road one mile west, as Highway 13 was not always in traveling condition. Settlers tell how they carried their wife and children over Krause Creek north of town.

Source: Abbotsford Centennial Book – 1973, pg. 15-23



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