Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

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Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby ~Hylife~ » Sat Nov 17, 2007 5:38 pm

I have checked everywhere I could think of on the internet and I couldn't find any lists or anything of where I could find abandoned railroads in Wisconsin.

I discovered a portion of abandoned railroad in Estabrook park here in Milwaukee, Wi. while geocaching (visit geocaching.com for more details). I thought that it was pretty amazing. The geocaches were arcived, and I wanted to replace them myself. But since we travel a lot, I thought it would be cool to bring geocachers to the abandoned sites all over the state. But I don't know how to find out where these sites are.

Currently, the only spots I know of right now are the one in Estabrook park, a segment we discovered while caching in Appleton, and we also bet we could find some along the Gandy Dancer trail in NW Wi, as that's a Rail to Trail system.

Any and all information is welcomed and greatly appreciated in this matter. Thanks for your time and help!! :)
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Postby scharnhorst » Sat Nov 17, 2007 5:42 pm

check out this page there is 1 lising for an abandoned Railroad in Wisconsin maybe outher people here can help make this page grow by adding more railroads to the link below??

http://abandonedrailroads.homestead.com/
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Postby ~Hylife~ » Sat Nov 17, 2007 5:47 pm

Yeah, I should rephrase what I said. I found websites like and including that one, but they have next to no, if any, content.. :(
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Postby RussNelson » Sat Nov 17, 2007 11:38 pm

I only know of five books in this genre:
o Mountain Railroads of New York State (covering the Adirondacks and Catskills). Now being published in four volumes, the first three of which were Railroads of the Adirondacks.
o Abandoned Railroads of New England.
o and in the Colorado Railroad Museum's research library, I found a book showing the routes of Colorado railroads. I noted the location of one near Rocky Flats, went looking for it, and gosh, there it was! Ahhhhh, I see that they sell it, and it's called Ghost Railroads of Colorado.
o And they also sell a Ghost Railroads of Kentucky.
o also Ghost Railroads of Nebraska.

Unfortunately, none of these cover Wisconsin. Why not do the research and write the book!
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Postby ~Hylife~ » Sun Nov 18, 2007 11:00 pm

Maybe I should..lol.

First I need to know where I can go to research though!! :P
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Postby RussNelson » Mon Nov 19, 2007 2:17 pm

Well, the vast majority of railroads will be found on the 190x 15' USGS topo maps from a century ago. If you can find a complete set in your local library, then you are golden. That's NOT very likely however. Christopher Marshall had to go to many libraries, and got help from a lot of people to build his collection of historic maps at http://historical.maptech.com/ Unfortunately, it doesn't cover Wisconsin.

You can buy black-and-white photocopies of the historic maps from the USGS. Unfortunately ... they're black-and-white. However, for your purposes, that's sufficient. They might have color photocopies available at this point. I haven't had to buy any of the maps since about 1990. Turns out that a friend's grandfather had purchased a complete set of the maps for our area.

There's also the county clerk's office, which may have maps of railroads. That means a visit to each county. They don't call it reSEARCH for nothing!

And your state undoubtedly granted charters to railroads, giving them permision to cross roads &etc. So there will at least be a paper record in your state's capital.
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby bhojak » Mon Oct 18, 2010 8:11 pm

I was born and raised on the near north side of Milwaukee, and know of this spur very well. This spur in Estabrook Park was part of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad, and connected with the track on which ran all of the high speed C&NW passenger trains that ran between Milwaukee and Minneapolis. This line was double-tracked, and ran alongside the Milwaukee river on the opposite bank from where I lived all the way to the C&NW station in downtown Milwaukee at the lakefront. As a boy, I remember seeing the yellow engines and passenger cars from across the river.

This particular spur had a bridge that crossed the Milwaukee river to service several industries near Capitol Drive. Of course, everything is now gone: the tracks in the park, the bridge, and even the rails on which the passenger trains rode.

Another line from the area where I grew up that is also gone was the Milwaukee Road's old "Beer Line", which was also double-tracked (very unusual for an industrial spur track) and also ran alongside the Milwaukee river on the opposite side from the C&NW tracks. This spur had a five-track yard at the corner of Humboldt Avenue and North Avenue (look it up on Mapquest). It served many industries in the area, including the old Schlitz brewery (hence the nickname). This yard favored Fairbanks-Morse H10(12)-44 diesels to move cars to the Richards Street yard for further sorting. Everything from this line is also gone.
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby scharnhorst » Tue Oct 19, 2010 1:18 pm

I don't know if this would be of any help but any ways try the SPV Railroad atlas you'll want "Great Lakes West" volume they cover all railroads past and current only with in the states of Michigan, Wisconson, and Illinois. no photos just maps showing where the Railroads went and has a list of all the railroads in the back of the book.
no matter the weather or the country I'll still be trackside!
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby Scoring Guy » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:57 am

May I suggest that you go on ebay and bid on a "turn of the century" Wisconsin RR map (in the large format , about 20" by 20", which will show and name all of the RR lines of that year, , , and then compare that to the latest WDOT RR map which is also on line.

If you are willing to travel, check out the Lake States railroad library in Baraboo, they have a massive collection of Official Guides going back well into the 19th century.
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby Detroit » Thu Dec 26, 2013 6:57 pm

~Hylife~ wrote:I have checked everywhere I could think of on the internet and I couldn't find any lists or anything of where I could find abandoned railroads in Wisconsin.

I discovered a portion of abandoned railroad in Estabrook park here in Milwaukee, Wi. while geocaching (visit geocaching.com for more details). I thought that it was pretty amazing. The geocaches were arcived, and I wanted to replace them myself. But since we travel a lot, I thought it would be cool to bring geocachers to the abandoned sites all over the state. But I don't know how to find out where these sites are.

Currently, the only spots I know of right now are the one in Estabrook park, a segment we discovered while caching in Appleton, and we also bet we could find some along the Gandy Dancer trail in NW Wi, as that's a Rail to Trail system.

Any and all information is welcomed and greatly appreciated in this matter. Thanks for your time and help!! :)

The responses to this thread really did not cover all that much as far as Estabrook Park is concerned...

Estabrook Park is the first park that was acquired by the Milwaukee County park system eons ago. It was purchased from the Milwaukee Cement Company after it ceased operation in 1916, although the firm was still in existence up to 1946, selling off what was left of its original 350+ acres on both sides of the Milwaukee River between the Capitol Drive and Port Washington Road bridges--about 1 1/2 miles apart. For around thirty years, starting in 1876, that cement company in Milwaukee ran the largest such cement plant in the entire US, producing natural high-grade hydraulic cement from the Devonian dolomite quarried at what is now Estabrook Park and directly across the river north of where WTMJ is located today.

The CNW built a three-track N-S spur leading into Mill #1 of the cement company east of the Milwaukee River, and later built a trestle bridge across the river to connect to Mill #2. The CNW was granted rights for an easement for an E-W ROW to interchange with the Milwaukee Road Beer Line (at around 11th Street and Congress) from Mill #2, about 1/2 mile north of Capitol Drive, then known as Lake Street. These two maps show what was present there in 1901 and 1934.
1901 map
1934 map

The cement company altered the flow of the Milwaukee River by building a dam and quarrying a new channel east of the original and then letting the river flow through it. The original river bed was used to dump massive amounts of slurry waste, creating a bend in the river at that point. Most of the lagoons formed in the quarrying process are now filled in except for three or so small lagoons. The biggest lagoon, called Cement Lake or the Blue Hole, some 15 acres (about three city blocks in area) was eventually filled with polluted landfill starting with filling in the northern part back in the Mayor Hoan era, which was later totally filled in and capped around 1975 and part of it is used as a UW-M student parking lot today. MATC also own 32 acres north of the parking lot. Because the deed for Estabrook Park specified that its western boundary was the center line of the original river bed, Estabrook Park reclaimed some of the land west of the present Milwaukee River, thereby curtailing some filling of the dump site at the Blue Hole.
1931 Milwaukee Journal article

Back during 1955, 30 million gallons of water was emptied out of the Blue Hole, hoping to stock the lagoons in other Milwaukee County parks. However the 5000 fish that were seined were too stunted to be of any use and were dumped into the polluted Milwaukee River (and very likely died as a direct result).
1955 Milwaukee Journal article

The grandson of the owner of the cement company helped in writing a historical account of the cement company back in 1949. The original owner lived just north of Mill #1, in a house now reserved for the superintendent of Estabrook Park.

The Milwaukee Public Library has several historical photos and drawings from that era, such as this one. Browse their website for others.

BTW, the quarry site near the waterfalls contains fossil specimens of trilobites and other such paleo-creatures. I, myself, as an eight-year-old attending free day camps at Estabrook was advised to bring a hammer and chip away for fossils there--one of the best fossil-hunting locations in Wisconsin--back during 1951. Also back then, I crossed the trestle connecting the two cement mills.
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby Detroit » Wed Feb 19, 2014 8:25 pm

A Sanborn insurance map for Milwaukee in 1910 shows the railroad tracks leading into and out of Mill #2 of the Milwaukee Cement Company, right at about the time it closed down its operations. The dolomite on the east side of the Milwaukee River at Mill #1 was likely mostly depleted at that time.

Whether its dolomite was depleted or not did not much matter because the recent invention of a new process for producing a much better type of cement--Portland cement--made the further sale and quarrying of hydraulic cement uneconomical anyway...
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Re: Abandoned Railroads of Wisconsin

Postby Detroit » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:50 am

The UWM library altered some of its map URLs recently... [Some bureaucrat likely wanted to change things for change's sake.]

The CNW built a three-track N-S spur leading into Mill #1 of the cement company east of the Milwaukee River, and later built a trestle bridge across the river to connect to Mill #2. The CNW was granted rights for an easement for an E-W ROW to interchange with the Milwaukee Road Beer Line (at around 11th Street and Congress) from Mill #2, about 1/2 mile north of Capitol Drive, then known as Lake Street. These two maps show what was present there in 1901 and 1934.
1901 map
1934 map
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