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Goc, Michael J. / From past to present : the history of Adams County
(1999)

Railroads in Adams County,   pp. 82-109 PDF (20.7 MB)


Page 82

Railroads in 
Adams County 
On The "Air Line" 
"Nothing is more conspicuous in the development of a 
country than the building of railroads...nothing in the way of 
products or resources begins to count until the railroads come 
along.... then new towns spring up almost in a night, rich farms 
are developed, factories are put in operation and the wilderness 
becomes a garden of wealth." 
(J.E. Jones, Kilbourn Events, 1910) 
A dams was the last county in Wis- 
consin to have a railroad within its 
borders, but the history of railroading 
here is almost as old as the history of railroading in 
the entire state. It begins in 1856, with settlement 
underway in Adams County, and one of 
Wisconsin's first railroads, the La Crosse and 
Milwaukee, laying track across the state 
After reaching Portage, work on the "La 
Crosse Road" halted while engineers looked for an 
opportune place to cross the Wisconsin River and 
management searched for a way the all but broke 
railroad could finance it. The President of the La 
Crosse and Milwaukee was Byron Kilbourn, one of 
the founders of Milwaukee and a genuine American 
"robber baron." 
He was an avid perpetrator of the farm mort- 
gage scheme, whereby farmers in the area where a 
railroad was proposed would finance construction 
by buying railroad stock. Since cash money was 
short, the farmers had to mortgage their land to buy 
stock. Acting as broker, the railroad would then sell 
the mortgage notes to eastern financiers and use the 
cash to acquire right-of-way, lay track, purchase 
equipment and pay a good salary to executives like 
Byron Kilbourn. Interest on the mortgages, plus 
earnings for the farmers, would be paid by divi- 
dends from the railroad when it started operating. If 
and when the railroad earned a profit, as it would 
no doubt, so would the farmers--at least according 
to the sales pitch. 
Stock salesmen fanned out from Portage into 
Sauk, Columbia, Juneau and Adams counties, 
where the settlers would have agreed with J.E. 
Jones had they heard him say that, "Nothing is 
more conspicuous in the development of a country 
than the building of railroads..." 
In Sauk County, the stock salesmen told 
82 
Above: Walking 
the tracks shortly 
after the Adams 
depot was 
completed in 
1911 was a 
pastime county 
people awaited 
for over sixty 
years. 


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