First train arrived in Elroy 150 years ago

Contributed by the Elroy Museum

On Aug. 5, 1872, the first train arrived in Elroy. To celebrate this historic event in Elroy’s history, the Elroy Museum will feature a number of displays from the early days of the railroad. Come visit the Elroy Museum on Elroy’s Main Street any Saturday or Sunday from 1–4 p.m. throughout the summer until Labor Day.

This staged photo of the roundhouse was taken about 1900 and was used on post cards and billboards promoting Elroy. 

The sleepy community of Elroy was a slow-growing farming town when progress hit them with a big bang; the railroad was coming to town! Rumors of the railroad coming to Elroy had been around for four or five years when in 1869 the railroad line was agreed upon, placing Elroy at the center of the line between Chicago and Minneapolis. 

The railroad history of Elroy started when the Chicago and Northwestern Railway (C&NW) reached Elroy from Reedsburg on Aug. 5, 1872, the West Wisconsin Railway reached Elroy from the north in December 1872, and the Winona and St. Peter Railway was built from the west, and by Jan. 5, 1873, through service from Chicago to St. Paul had been established. Elroy was growing in leaps and bounds. By 1872, the population doubled to 300, most of whom were in some way associated with the railroad. Many of these laborers were Irish, and many of them stayed in the Elroy area after the railroad was built. By 1874, the population was 600, and a real boom town was born. In 1905, the population peaked at 2,011, making it the largest city in Juneau County.

Picture Elroy in 1885 with the following stores:

The depot was built in 1872–73. The lower level of the depot
contained the ticket office and the “Beanery” restaurant. Upstairs provided sleeping quarters for the railroad crews.

• Seven saloons

• Eight general stores

• One fancy-goods store

• Four hotels

• One barbershop

• One livery stable

• Two blacksmith shops

• One farm machinery shop 

• One furniture store/undertaker

• Two meat markets

• One warehouse

• One doctor, one dentist, one lawyer

• Two shoemakers

• Six churches

• Two milliners

• Five dressmakers

• One painter

• One laundry

• One opera house

• One grist mill

Elroy remained a busy railroad hub for 80 years, often a political stop for Presidents (Hoover, Truman, Nixon), but after World War II rail, traffic declined due to other rail lines being built and the interstate system taking much of the shipping of commerce.

The Omaha Railroad roundhouse in Elroy had stalls for 22 engines.
The round house and machine shop serviced trains from Chicago to Minneapolis for over 75 years. Note the 12 sets of tracks that allowed switching of trains. Up to 30 trains a day passed through Elroy during the peak years.

On July 23, 1963, the C&NW discontinued its passenger service through Elroy. The rail line west of Elroy to Sparta was abandoned in 1964, and freight continued to decline through Elroy in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, on March 24, 1987, the last freight train was unloaded in Elroy, and on the following day, the train left Elroy with the empty cars as the church bells tolled the 6 p.m. hour, thus ending 115 years of railroading in Elroy.

To remind us of the many years of railroading in Elroy, the Elroy-Sparta Bike Trail was built in 1967, the 400 Bike Trail from Reedsburg to Elroy opened in the 1990s, and the Omaha Trail from Camp Douglas to Elroy was opened in 1992. These trails were built on the old rail lines connecting these communities. The Elroy Depot constructed in 1872–73 still stands and today serves as the Elroy Area Fire Department building.

Comments are closed.

  • It’s not too late to enter Rails-to-Trails races

    September 29th, 2022

    The Rails-to-Trails Marathon in Norwalk will be this Sunday, Oct. 2, and you may still enter. 

    Ontario to host Trunk-or-Treat on Halloween

    September 29th, 2022

    The Ontario Community Club will host its third annual Trunk-or-Treat event from 4–7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, in conjunction with Ontario’s trick-or-treat hours. 

    Resident banned from Wilton Village Hall

    September 29th, 2022

    Wilton resident Becky Hahn no longer is allowed to enter the village hall “to avoid further conflict,” according to a recent letter Tomah attorney Penny Precour sent to Hahn on behalf of the village board.  

    Vehicle rear-ends Amish buggy in rural Hillsboro

    September 22nd, 2022

    A vehicle rear-ended an Amish buggy Sept. 16 on Highway 33 near Township Road in rural Hillsboro, according to the Vernon Sheriff’s Office.

    Monroe County WIC to issue benefits

    September 22nd, 2022

    The Monroe County Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will issue benefits and offer nutrition education in October. 

  • Royall High School homecoming set for next week

    September 22nd, 2022

    Royall will host its homecoming from Sept. 26 to Oct. 1 and will include the following events:

    Two hurt in motorcycle/deer collision near Ontario

    September 15th, 2022

    Two were injured Sept. 8 when their motorcycle collided with a deer on County Highway ZZ, west of 23rd Court, in the town of Forest, rural Ontario. 

    Friends of Wildcat to host series of events this fall

    September 15th, 2022

    The Friends of Wildcat Mountain State Park will offer the following events in September and October. 

    KVR announces last chance to register for Dam Challenge Triathlon fundraiser

    September 15th, 2022

    The Kickapoo Valley Reserve will hold its 20th Annual Dam Challenge Triathlon on Saturday, Oct. 1. Participants, volunteers, and spectators are encouraged to attend and help celebrate 20 years of this fundraiser.

    Pendant found in Wilton

    September 12th, 2022

    Sid Sincher recently found a pendant while metal detecting in Wilton. To claim the item, email [email protected] 

    Photo gallery: Merriment at Kendall Fest

    September 9th, 2022

  • [Advertisement.]
  • Archives