Winonas Train History

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorUniversity, Bachelor's February 2002

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Out of all the towns in Minnesota, Winona was a city that was able to develop pretty well. The town became very prosperous not only because of it being along the Mississippi, but because it's rail connections. It connected Chicago and the Southeast to the St. Paul and the Northwest. Many different companies worked together to make Winona a central Junction connecting these lands.

In May of 1875, the legislature of Minnesota divided the grant that was given to them by congress to build a rail system. Two of the grant roads included Winona as a terminal point (History of Winona County, 461). One of the rails would connect Winona to St. Paul and head north, and the other would branch out to St. Peter and head west. At this time when plans were made, Winona was still nothing more than a pioneer river settlement. The company that started construction was DeGraff & company.

The first job this company worked on was the railway that would go up to St. Paul and end at a point on the Minnesota River. The company though had a few disputes on making Winona the main junction to branch off from the Mississippi. There were many talks of having the town site of La Crescent as the main junction between the two rivers. Even thought they had tempting offers proposed by the people of La Crescent, the company remained loyal to the people of Winona. The second railway the company worked on would go out west towards St. Peter and end up near the Big Sioux River. With this railway, instead of there being a dispute of what town the railway should start at, there was a dispute on which way it should go out of Winona. Some argued that it should leave the city by way of lower town and the Sugar Loaf valley, while others argued that it should leave from the upper part of town through Rollingstone valley. In the end the upper town interest won the victory (History of Winona County, 465). Once these railways were completely built, it allowed for the transportation of passengers and goods via the Mississippi to Winona and then travel by rail to St. Paul and further north or travel to St. Peter and further West.

With railway systems extending northwest from Winona, it was just a matter of connecting them to the southeastern rails that branch out from Chicago. In 1867, DeGraff and company sold their rights to the Chicago & North-Western Railway company. A bridge was built in Winona that connected the railways across the Mississippi to the eastern railways. At the time the bridge was built the draw, 363 feet was said to be the longest in the world (History of Winona County, 467). Unfortunately the bridge collapsed under the weight of a work-train loaded with stone, but it was rebuilt and put back into operation in just over a half year. Now the railways that previously ended in the town of La Crosse were conjoined with the north and northwest rail systems of Minnesota.

In 1857 another rail project went under way by another company. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company began work on a project that would make another rail system that would extend starting from Winona, heading by route of the Mississippi to St. Paul. What is currently known as the Winona Junction is the point at which this new rail system branched off. Jumping ahead of schedule the first passenger train was dispatched in 1871 with the bridge in Hastings not having yet been completed. At this point the passengers were ferried across and they continued on to St. Paul. The full completion of this rail system was a big step forward for business. The rail way mostly transported freight trains sending goods between St. Paul and Chicago.

In 1879 the Chicago Great Western Railroad company began work on a southern project that would branch off to the southwest from Winona. This railway would head south to the Iowa rail lines and connect St. Paul to Kansas. Because of financial problems, the railway was not completed until 1891. The company was then bought out by the Winona terminal company who finally finished the railway. Once completed, the railway that connected St. Paul with a direct route to Kansas was known as the "Corn Route" (History of Winona County, 476). It allowed for direct exchanges of goods between the two cities without having to travel so far to the east through Chicago first.

Winona had many great benefits from the construction of these railways. Because it was a central junction of where all these railways met up, many rail companies were formed in Winona which brought many jobs to the town. It was just a complete chain reaction from there on. Since there was a need for people to be there for the railway companies other business needed to be formed to accommodate the rail workers lives. Also because of the wealth of railways, many factories were formed that shipped goods straight out of Winona. With all the connections branching out every which way, it was easy to ship goods to all the major cities. The town of Winona just grew and grew from there and became the prosperous town that it is today. With all the great rail systems that branched off in every direction, it's a wonder that the town did not grow any bigger than it is.