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

6. Transportation,   pp. 118-128

Page 120

By 1916, railroad construction reached a peak in Wisconsin. Although railroads remained an
important transportation link until after World War II, they gradually declined after World
War I. Since the 1950s railroads have been surpassed in importance by the federal and state
highway system, and many railroad resources have decayed, been demolished, or been sold by
the railroad companies. Ironically, some small railroad companies today have found success
by reviving the old railroad routes for freight hauling. (Wyatt 1986: Transportation, 6-2)
Janesville was one of the first Wisconsin communities to become involved in railroad
construction. In 1848, the state legislature chartered the Madison & Beloit Railroad Company
and, in 1850, gave the company authority to build lines from Janesville to Fond du Lac and as
far west as the Mississippi River. The company changed its name to the Rock River Valley
Union Railroad Company and made ambitious plans but laid few miles of track. During this
era, many communities became debt-ridden trying to finance the numerous railroad companies
that sprang up. Fortunately, Janesville did not invest heavily in these early ventures. (Way
In 1851, the Illinois Legislature chartered the Illinois & Wisconsin Railroad Company to build
lines from Illinois into Wisconsin. That same year, ground was broken in Fond du Lac for the
Rock River Valley Union's line to Janesville that would link with the Illinois & Wisconsin
Railroad line. In 1855, the Wisconsin Legislature authorized the consolidation of the Illinois
& Wisconsin with the Rock River Valley Union under the name Chicago, St. Paul, & Fond du
Lac Railroad Company. By 1856, the link from Fond du Lac to Janesville was completed;
connections were made to Oshkosh by 1857, and to Green Bay by 1862. Eventually, the Rock
River Valley Union Railroad united with other small lines in southern Wisconsin and northern
Illinois to form the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, established in 1864. (Way 1926:223-
224; Brown 1908544-552)
The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad traces its roots to Wisconsin's territorial
legislature, which authorized several railroads to build westward from Milwaukee. Most of
these efforts failed to lay any track, but the Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad finally
reached Waukesha by 1851. The railroad quickly moved on, reaching Milton by 1852,
Stoughton by 1853, Madison by 1854, and Prairie du Chien by 1856. In 1852, the Southern
Wisconsin Railroad Company was chartered to build track to the Mississippi River. But when
the Milwaukee & Mississippi completed its river line first, the Southern Wisconsin built a line
from Milton to Janesville instead, then completed the line to Monroe before being acquired by
the Milwaukee & Mississippi. By 1860, the Milwaukee & Mississippi was a part of the
Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad. (Way 1926:224-226)
The Southern Wisconsin Railroad (Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul) built the first depot in
Janesville on the northeast side of the city. In 1857, the line built a roundhouse on the west side
of the Rock River (203 S. Pearl St., partially extant). The first depot for the Rock River Valley
Union Railroad (Chicago & Northwestern) was located on the south side of Janesville. Soon
the two lines joined forces to construct a combined depot (not extant) at the "Five Points," where
Center Avenue, West Court Street, and West Milwaukee Street meet just west of downtown.
This depot burned on July 19, 1872. The two lines then moved to the North Academy Street area
and constructed frame depots on each side of the tracks (not extant). ("Depot Suffers
Roundhouse Blow," RCHS files; Brown 1908:591; "Railroads Played Major Role in Building
City into Thriving Center" 1935:13)

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