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Cartwright, Carol Lohry; Shaffer, Scott; Waller, Randal / City on the Rock River : chapters in Janesville's history
(1998)

6. Transportation,   pp. 118-128


Page 119

6.
Transportation
Carol Lohry Cartwright
uring its history, Janesville has been served by many forms of transportation linking it
to other parts of Wisconsin and beyond. In part, these transportation links have helped
the community grow and prosper by providing a means to move people and goods in and
out of the community in an efficient manner.
The Rock River provided the area's first transportation link, as Janesville's earliest residents
traveled its course looking for places to form settlements. But the river never became an
important inland waterway because new communities along the river erected low bridges and
dams that inhibited river traffic. Other early settlers to Janesville traveled overland along
crude roads that were once Indian trails or military roads. After the area was settled, stage
lines along these pioneer roads provided the first mass transportation link between Janesville
and other communities in the region.
It was the railroads that helped to put Janesville on the map. Perhaps due to the town's
favorable location, rail lines were developed early. One of the first lines, the Rock River
Valley Union Railroad, was eventually acquired by the company that became the Chicago &
Northwestern Railroad, making the Rock River Valley Union the oldest link of this important
rail line. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the city was served by horse-drawn, then
electric streetcars. Janesville also became one of the few communities in Wisconsin to be served
by an electric interurban rail line in the early twentieth century.
Today, the automobile is the primary form of transportation in Wisconsin, and Janesville is
served by many good highways including the federal interstate highway system, state
highways, and county roads. The community has an excellent bus system and maintains its
local streets in good condition. There is also air service near Janesville, provided at the small
Rock County Airport located just south of the city.
Rail Lines
During the 1850s, railroad promoters, working with small communities eager to be on a railroad
line, established numerous railroad companies in Wisconsin. Most either failed from
mismanagement or lack of funding or became a casualty of the financial panic of 1857. By the
1860s, the financially stable lines forged ahead, and by 1865, three railroad lines were
preeminent in the state: The Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company, the Milwaukee and
Prairie du Chien Railway Company, and the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Company. In
1866, the Milwaukee and St. Paul acquired the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien. By 1868,
Wisconsin had 1,030 miles of railroad tracks, almost all of it in the southern third of the state.
(Wyatt 1986: Transportation, 5-1-5-2)
Consolidation of smaller railroad companies into large corporate railroads occurred largely
between 1860 and 1900. By the turn of the century, three railroad companies that would last
well into the twentieth century dominated Wisconsin: The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
(Milwaukee Road); the Chicago & Northwestern; and the Minneapolis, St. Paul, & Sault Ste.
Marie (Soo Line). The big money behind these larger railroads spurred construction of lines in
the state; by 1873, railroad mileage doubled, then doubled again between 1875 and 1890. By
1900, there were 6,500 railroad miles in Wisconsin. This expansion brought prosperity to many
communities, along with a near death sentence to those the railroad missed. (Wyatt 1986:
Transportation, 6-1)
Transportation
119


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