From WC to Soo to Canadian National, Stevens Point’s Railroads Turns 150
Creation: Part one of a four part series
By Lucas Jagodzinski
PORTAGE COUNTY – Most would argue that lumber or paper were the most responsible for the growth and development of Stevens Point. While these arguments are certainly viable, there is another industry that could make a successful claim. Railroads and the industry that came with them have had a considerable impact on Stevens Point over the years and continue to provide a sizable impact on the local economy to this day.
Stevens Point’s largest industry in the 1850’s was undoubtedly the lumber industry. Lumber would be cut from the expansive forests north of the city and transported via the Wisconsin River down to Stevens Point. While the river provided a viable option for transport, it was also very dangerous and not very efficient. In response, citizens sought a new mode of transportation and found one in the emerging railroad industry. As early as 1858, talks began on what it would take to bring a railroad company to Stevens Point. With a population of around 1,800 people, the city expanded its push for a railroad in the 1860’s. $500,000 in stock and bonds for the railroad were sold before a single train ever came to town.
In 1871, the Wisconsin Central Railroad began construction of a 10-stall roundhouse in Stevens Point. The company completed construction of the roundhouse in 1872. The first steam engine arrived in Stevens Point on Nov. 15, 1871. Crowds gathered to see the engine amidst the promise of faster travel and cheaper transportation rates for freight and passengers. Train travel promised to cut travel times to a quarter of what was previously possible. The Wisconsin Central Railroad or WC began to create new routes branching out of Stevens Point. A route from Stevens Point west to Ashland was completed in 1877 and another route from Stevens Point south to Portage was completed in 1876.