Evansville, WI Railroad History courtesy of Evansville Mayor Steve DiSalvo from an address delivered May 8, 1999
By July 27, 1863 trains were through to Evansville. The day express left Evansville at 8:20 a.m. and arrived back from Chicago at 4:25 p.m.
In 1864, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company consolidated with the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company, owners of the Beloit and Madison line.
The new transportation route meant many changes in the way farmers and merchants marketed and received their goods. Shipments of grain and livestock to Chicago markets increased the income of local farmers and decreased the produce lost in shipment over muddy and sometimes impassable dirt roads.
Local merchants purchased goods in the Chicago markets and shipped them to Evansville for distribution to their customers. No longer did they need to rely on wagon loads of material. The rail cars offered a safer mode of delivery. Hotels, liveries, warehouses and lumber yards prospered near the railroad depot.
Railroad transportation improved steadily and in the 1870's Evansville was one of the main stops on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. A local newspaper reporter counted twenty-six trains in twenty-four hours in 1875.
By 1879 there were so many trains scheduled to meet in Evansville that the railroad company had to install a side track, east of the depot. The route was well traveled and Evansville was the half-way point between the depots at Baraboo, WI and Harvard, Il.
The railroad brought many visitors
to Evansville over the years. President Rutherford B. Hays made a whistle
stop appearance at the Evansville depot in
Surrounded by warehouses. lumber yards and factories, the depot was the center of transportation activities In 1882, the Evansville depot caught fire. Fierce winds and bitter cold hindered the work of the firemen and though they spent long hours trying to control the blaze, the depot was a total loss.
The railroad built a new coal shed along the Janesville cut-off. The new shed was the site associated with Evansville's first ghost story. on May 31, 1887, James A Flowers, a railroad employee was thrown from a coal car he was riding into the shed. he was crushed beneath the wheels of the car and killed.
On still nights through the winter
of 1887, the railroad men said they could see the ghost of Flowers moving
through the coal yard with a lantern. The spirit
By the early 1900's there were 13 north bound and 14 south bound passenger and freight trains arriving at the Evansville depot each week day. Evansville was a stop on the Chicago & Northwestern 400 line. The 400 signified the 400 miles and 400 minutes between Chicago and Minneapolis.
Due to the increasing number of trains through Evansville business and political leaders began to agitate for a new depot. The railroad promised a new depot by 1911 but it wasn't started until 1912.
The new building was constructed of brick on railroad land directly north of the 1883 depot. The new structure was 90 feet in length and 24 feet wide.There was a waiting room on the north end of the building, a baggage room, smoking room and ticket booth. The old depot became the storage area for freight.
Truck transportation meant that farmers could transport livestock and grains directly from their farms and use of rail transportation began to decline. Railroads complained that trucks were unregulated but the popularity of trucks for shipping continued to increase. Major manufacturers, included Baker Mfg. which relied on the railroads to bring in pig iron and coal.
After World War 11, with the development of the interstate highway system, demand for rail service declined dramatically and the railroads began to abandon services and eventually railroad tracks.
In 1977 the Chicago & Northwester Railway abandoned the line from Beloit to Evansville. Although there were protests from manufacturers in Footville and other locations, the company was allowed to stop rail service on that line. This meant rail service to Evansville from Chicago traveled the route established in the 1880's through Chicago.
Today there is only one customer for rail service in Evansville. The Nelson Young Lumber Co, continues to receive goods by rail. The railroad company has abandoned the line from Evansville to Madison.
As with any decision there is controversy. Some would like to see the tracks turned into a bike route, similar to the Sugar River Trail. Others would like to see the rails maintained, so that there could be a return of passenger or freight service along the route to Madison. We are at a point where Evansville's 135 years of railroad service may be only a memory in a few years.
Submitted by Kim Tschudy
Southern Wisconsin Railcar Group.