Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

21 October, 2006

Madrail Part 3 - Passenger Rail in Madison

(To Part 2.)

Above is a map of the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad from 1857. I know it's not a great scan but you can get a sense of the state of rail in the southern part of Wisconsin at the time. If it were a better image, you could see that the lakes around Madison don't have the names they have today. Instead they are labeled First Lake, Second Lake, etc.

The late 1850s were a time of great rail expansion. Of note here is the Watertown & Madison railroad which sought to connect the two cities. (Watertown is about 40 miles east of Madison.) This line never came to fruition with only a 12 mile stretch to neighboring Sun Prairie ever having been built. Through fits and starts, the Madison & Portage line was eventually built. In 1852, Bryon Kilbourn (former president of the Milwaukee & Waukesha) charted the La Crosse & Milwaukee. L&M prepared a route from Madison to Portage City in the 1850s but, despite having leveled the ground, track was never laid. A second attempt in 1861 by the Sugar River Valley Railroad also failed. The Madison & Portage was eventually chartered in 1870 and the line was completed on the route graded by the L&M.

The Milwaukee & Mississippi became the Milwaukee & Prairie du Chien in the 1860s and was acquired by the Milwaukee & St. Paul in 1867. The M&StP bought a line to Chicago in December of 1872 and became the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul or, more commonly, the Milwaukee Road.

(Photo by Bill Middleton.)

The above picture was taken in June 1951 by Bill Middleton from the south shore of Lake Monona. It's the Milwaukee Road's train 118, the Varsity. It has been a long time since a passenger train was spotted here in Madison but, as you can see, it used to be a daily occurrence. The photo and those to follow are from the Second Quarter 1996 issue of The Milwaukee Railroader which is the publication of the Milwaukee Road Historical Association. And since I found this wonderful resource, the following will concentrate on the Milwaukee Road.

There is a country ton of history between the creation of the Milwaukee Road in 1872 and the present that is impossible for me to summarize here. For further reading, I highly recommend Railroads of Southern & Southwestern Wisconsin: Development to Decline by Daniel J. Lanz. The information from the aforementioned issue of The Milwaukee Railroader focuses on Madison in the 1950s and what I want to do here is show some photos and point out some highlights. Let's start with a map.

To begin, you can see the Chicago & Northwestern passenger depot on Blair Street near where what is now John Nolen Drive ends. (I believe it was still Lake Shore Drive at this time.) Here is an aerial view of that intersection from 1957.

(Photo by Robert T. McCoy, collection of Nate Molldrem.)

The C&NW depot is at the far right with its huge curved canopy covering the platform. While the Milwaukee Road's operations were southwest of here on the other side of the Capitol, they did have an "East Madison" depot on Wilson Street at Franklin. (Wilson is the street running from the crazy intersection up and to the left.) Honestly, I am not sure which building it is.

Also notice on the map the section by Williamson and Ingersoll where it is noted that both Milwaukee Road and C&NW operated in the streets. Here's a photo of just that.

(Photo by John Gruber.)

The train is heading east up the isthmus on Wilson Street and that's the intersection at Baldwin in the background. Going back to the map, you'll see that the Milwaukee Road's operations were centered west of the Capitol on West Washington. You can see the main passenger depot marked. It was declared a city landmark in 1975, a few years after Milwaukee Road passenger service ended. Just across the red line is a structure that looks like a quarter of a circle – that's the roundhouse. Here's a photo of the area looking south showing the railyard as it was in 1972.

(Photo by Robert T. McCoy, collection of Nate Molldrem.)

West Wash is marked as is Park Street. Ogg Hall is at the bottom. The passenger terminal isn't marked but the roundhouse is. Just go left across the tracks from it and that's the depot. This is another view but from the opposite side, above Lake Monona. It dates from 1957.

(Credits same as above.)

The roundhouse has the white façade and is on the left side of the tracks that fun up & down the middle of the picture. The depot is on the right side directly across the tracks. Notice how Proudfit Street, the white lines in the lower left portion of the photo, end at West Washington. It looks like a DMZ across the street.

Here are a couple shots of the depot.

(Photos by William D. Middleton.)

1923: Madison Division of Milwaukee Road formed, including Prairie du Chien and Mineral Point divisions.

1928: 24 Nov. – Eleven Milwaukee Road football specials from Minneapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee carrying 3,655 passengers converge on Madison for Wisconsin-Minnesota football game.

1935: 29 May - Hiawatha enters Chicago-Minneapolis service. Rockford-Madison gas-electric run replaced by steam-train whose equipment was also used to establish new Madison-Portage train connecting with Hiawatha.

1940: Dec. – Madison Division wins 1940 Fire Prevention trophy.

1945: 24 March – J.A. MacDonald, superintendent of the Madison Division, dies at age 74 after serving in various capacities on the Milwaukee Road and its predecessors since 1891.

1949: 31 Dec. – Madison Division receives the Fire Prevention top rank for the 5th time.

1951: Jan. – Trains 3, 20, and 118 discontinued west of Madison.

1952: Sept. – Madison-Portage night round-trip local passenger train discontinued.

1953: 17 Jan. – Madison-Portage Hiawatha connecting trains 700-701 discontinued.

1957: 18 Feb. – The last Madison-Milwaukee passenger trains are discontinued.1960: 5 Jan. – The Sioux makes its last trip west of Madison to and from Canton, South Dakota.

1965: Sept. – Chicago & Northwestern Chicago-Madison locals 507 and 508/510 are discontinued, leaving the Milwaukee Road as the only passenger carrier in Madison.

1968: 22 July – the Varsity, trains 117 and 118, reduced to Friday/Saturday/Sunday-only operation.

1971: 30 April – The Sioux and the Varsity makes their final trips prior to next day's startup of Amtrak.

Although Milwaukee Road/Amtrak ran football specials from Milwaukee to Madison until 1976, passenger rail service to Madison ended for all intents and purposes on 30 April 1971.

(To Part 4.)
|| Palmer, 5:19 PM


A carefully-documented and visually helpful look at the Milwaukee Road in Madison. Thanks.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:37 AM  
You're welcome.
Blogger Palmer, at 5:36 PM  
@madisonrailroads on Instagram is a nice compliment to this site.
Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:05 AM  
Neat! Thanks for the heads-up on that site. Some nice photos there.
Blogger Palmer, at 9:21 AM  

Post a Comment