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C. & N. W. Sussex Depot & Railway History

by Mike Reilly,  4/28/03, updated 08/15/2015

   To the right -> you see the historical marker fixed to the railroad train station that will one day become the  museum showplace for the Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc.

   The railroad name, commonly associated with its' construction, was often called the Northwestern (a nickname), but actually it was the Milwaukee, Sparta & North Western Railway Company. 

   The parent company of the Milwaukee, Sparta & North Western Railway Company was the Chicago & North Western Railway Co. shortened to the C. & N. W. or  North Western or Northwestern.


    "The Chicago & North Western Railway was formed from the collapse of the Chicago, St. Paul & Fond du Lac Railroad on June 2, 1859. The "Northwestern", as the road came to be known, expanded as far west as Wyoming and south towards St. Louis. In addition to freight service, the railroad made history by operating a streamliner from Chicago to Minneapolis covering four hundred miles in four hundred minutes. The famous train led to competition from other railroads and sparked a revival of fast passenger trains in the era before World War II." Source: and "The North Western - A History of the Chicago & North Western Railway System", by H. Roger Grant, Northern Illinois University Press, DeKalb, 1996, ISBN 0-87580-214-1

    Note: the official name of the railroad is "North Western", not "Northwestern" as is often times used. Visit the Chicago & North Western Historical Society

    The following is a chronological history of the C. & N. W. in the Sussex-Lisbon area. The intent of this railway trunk was to provide a more direct route from Milwaukee (actually West Allis) to Sparta, then to the St. Paul / Minneapolis area. All entries are attributed to The Waukesha Freeman unless otherwise noted.

1909/Feb 13 - The Chicago & Northwestern begins laying a double track system to provide increased safety and efficiency. ( source: The Stevens Point Journal. Author's note: the double track wasn't laid in the Lisbon area until mid-March, 1912.)

1909/Sept 10 - An Austrian laborer named P. Muldabon was found dead by his companions at the Mapleton (Wis.) construction camp of the Northwestern railroad six miles from here (Oconomowoc) shot through the body. Muldabon was a single man, twenty-five years of age. Night Watchman Mike Lubiwitch is missing. Coroner Hill was sent for immediately, and Deputy Sheriff Palmer has started a search for the night watchman. (Author's note: This entry provides a little railroad building intrigue, and shows the progress away from the Sussex area.)

1909/Oct 7 - From Hartland: Representatives....have been buying up the right of way at Merton the past week. The railroad will pass about a quarter of a mile north of the St. Paul's company right of way and it is said that a depot will be erected on the Dr. Rice farm. 

1909/Dec 2 - From Hartland: The Northwestern Railroad company is making successful progress in this vicinity on their new line from Milwaukee to Sparta. They have bought up the greater part of their right of way through the towns of Merton and Lisbon. In the town of Merton we understand they have secured all but two parcels of land, the Kilbourn estate of 18 acres at North lake and the Louis Worth farm in Merton... The company will probably start condemnation proceedings to secure the tracts in question. (Author's note: This article goes on to say that the company has dealt very generously with the people, paying them a higher price than the property would bring if placed on the market. So why did so many people go through the condemnation process?

1909/ Dec 9 - The Milwaukee, Sparta & North Western Railway Company files in the  State of Wisconsin, Circuit Court - Waukesha County  an application for condemnation of certain lands (in 100' widths) along its' proposed route. Local citizens involved in the proceedings are: Julius A. Th. Raebel; Michael, Mary , and Michael H. Pendergast; William J. and Mary Robinson; Mary E. Boone; David R. and Mary E. Tempero; A. J. Frame; Serena J. Topping; Nellie R. Lemon; Frank Phrel; and John Simrow. (Author's note: John Simrow was actually John Semrow, my maternal great-grandfather, who lived in the Town of Menomonee. He immigrated to America in 1887 and was one who didn't welcome this railway development taking away his farm land.)

1909/Dec 23 - Judge Lueck has appointed D. H. Moses, Waukesha; E. J. Lins, Eagle; and Matthew Salentine, New Berlin, commissioners in the matter of condemnation proceedings of the Milwaukee, Sparta & North Western Railway Company for certain lands in Merton and Lisbon (and Menomonee) desired as right of way. The first meeting of the commissioners will be held today.

1910/Feb 17 - Chicago, Union Pacific & North Western line advertising in The Waukesha Freeman "Low Colonist Rates to Pacific Coast".

c. 1910

1910 - The 1910 Federal Census, Wisconsin, Waukesha County, Lisbon Township lists the following individuals as working for the NWRR (Note - some identified as railroad workers may not have indicated the NWRR as their employer. These people were in the process or building the new railway: Weaver, S (?), teamster for NWRR (age 48, born abt 1862, wife Sarina ?, age 47, son Harry, age 22, married to Gertrude, age 24, and son Clarence, age 10 - Source 1910 Federal Census, Wisconsin, Waukesha County, Lisbon Township. Related to Sussex Weavers ?)

Note the following NWRR employees boarded at a Sussex hotel run/operated by Fuller Hurdinger (?), age 32, with daughter Ellanor, age 10: Seus (?), Arny or Army, 23, Superintendent NWRR; Irving, Thomas, 30, Civil engineer NWRR; Whitehouse, Myson, 29, Civil engineer NWRR; Ralely (?), Harry J., 26,  Civil engineer NWRR; Davis, Fredrick E. (?), 22,  Civil engineer NWRR

1910/Aug 25 - The road leading from what has been called "Whiskey Corners" to Templeton will be closed through the order of the Railway commission of Wisconsin. This was determined the present week at a conference of railway officials, the Town Board of Lisbon and George Champeny, the owner of the abutting farm. The road will be closed to a point west of the railroad right of way. Mr. Champeny received $2,250 for about two acres of land lying directly south of of the highway and the Railroad Co. agrees to build a road on the land purchased and construct a road on same turning north at a point west of the tracks to the present highway. (Author's note - Mr. Champeny rec'd $2,250 in compensation, part of which was to reimburse him for moving part of his farm buildings.)

Taking down Government Hill, c 1910-11, making of high track along old Hwy 74 east of Templeton; today (late 1970's) this gravel pit is the Dale Dawson Lannon Stone Products

Source: Recollections from the Past: Sussex, Wisconsin, Presented by Farmers & Merchants Bank, August 4, 1972

Source: Recollections from the Past: Sussex, Wisconsin, Presented by Farmers & Merchants Bank, August 4, 1972

1910/Sept 29 -  Lisbon: The Northwestern railway is progressing rapidly in the work through this section.  

1910/ Oct 13 -  Editorial comment by H. M. Youmans, Editor and Publisher - "Perhaps it may be concluded rightfully, that as a direct result of the business and political sermons of Theodore Roosevelt, the North-Western railroad has seen a great light. Anyway the North-Western announces that there will no longer be any deception practiced by that road, the public will be taken into the road's confidence on every matter concerning the public weal. And what matters connected with the operation of a railroad are not of concern to the public. Few, it is believed, yet until recently, the p. be d. spirit among  railroad officials has been pronounced."

Photo courtesy: Marie Finnegan, granddaughter Joe Hartwig, operator of steam shovel above.

1910/ Nov 3 - Henry Winkleman, of St. Cloud, Minn., as employee on the new Northwestern road at North Lake, has been ill from typhoid fever, at the Tenney home the past four weeks and is now on the road to recovery. 

Source: Recollections from the Past: Sussex, Wisconsin, Presented by Farmers & Merchants Bank, August 4, 1972

1910/ Nov 24 - A number of teams have been at work the past week excavating for the new underground driveway which the Northwestern road is building under their tracks near Mapleton.
1911/ Apr 6 - Lisbon: Laborers began work again on the Northwestern railway, and from Meno. Falls: Apr 27, 1911, grading has resumed all along the route. Merton: May 25, 1911 - the Northwestern opened a gravel pit on the Pope farm, the Kern company to work it with a steam shovel. Sussex: June 22, 1911 - the North Western is progressing rapidly. 

Building of Northwestern over Bug Line; photo taken from Waukesha Ave. In the immediate foreground is the one track Milwaukee, Meno Falls & Western Railroad; the Wisconsin Central Railroad tracks can be seen in the distance before the framed buildings.  (The set of farm buildings in the distance is the Powrie farm, later to become the Katzfey home/farm is Quad Tech in 1990's. The Kayser farm was burned down by the Sussex Fire Dept about 1975.  Fred H. Keller collection. Sussex Sun July 18, 2000

1911/ July 22 - In order to give the bridge crew ample time to put the bridges over the Soo line, the "bug" line and highway , north of Templeton, the Northwestern track laying outfit was sent to Clyman and another outfit sent here. The Northwestern ballasting trains are busy taking the gravel from their big pit in twenty-four hill and hauling it east, some as far as West Allis. They run about 150 cars a per day and each car carries twenty-two yards of gravel. John Marsh is putting the finishing touches to the road-bed this week and will soon be moving away. It is nearly a year and a half since he came in our midst.


1911/ Aug 10 - The N. W. R. R. has one track across our town and expects to meet North Lake about the middle of next week. They have laid a three-inch water main from the Templeton Lime & Stone Company's plant to their watering tanks on twenty-four hill. These tanks are supplying the engines that are working at the gravel pit. There are two places in the village where the citizens of Templeton can tap this line in case of fire. Something of this kind has long been needed and perhaps now steps will be taken for a permanent water system.


1911/ Aug 17 - The North Western has put up its' fence posts up to the single track, which looks if they do not intend to lay the second track for some time. There are about a dozen teams grading at the new depot site. The well drilling outfit recovered their lost drill Monday and will proceed with the work. 

1911/ Aug 20 - Lisbon, July 17. - The Chicago, Northwestern & Sparta R. R. has the new steel on one track laid as far as the St. Paul tracks at Templeton, where they are waiting for John Marsh's camp, No. 8, to finish up the grade west of there, which will be accomplished this week, after working night and day for over two weeks. 

<---Drilling the well.

Maloney & Donaldson, a grading concern, have camped on the farm known to old settlers as the (William) Jaquest farm. This place was purchased from *Reuben Pope, along with Mrs. E. (Elizabeth) Salter's eighty, by the Northwestern Ry. for the gravel that underlies them. Maloney & Donaldson have the stripping work to do and have twenty men and twenty teams removing the surface dirt, which is all the way from six inches to six or eight feet in depth.. Edgar Brown with his big engine is also on the job. (Author's notes: On the 1891 plat map, William Jaquest owned the NE 40 acres of Section 17 NE Quarter and the NW 40 acres of Section 18 NW Quarter. Present day site of Genesee Aggregate's Plainview Rd. operation, the now flooded quarries. Elizabeth Salter owned NE & SE 40 acres parcels of Section 18 NW Quarter. Reuben Pope was perhaps a son of Albert Pope who owned the NW 40 acres of Section 18 NE Quarter. Albert also owned another 120 acres just south of the Salter holding but probably didn't factor into the gravel pit.)

1911/ Aug 24 - The Northwestern has erected a large watering tank at their Bark River gravel pit which holds about 48,000 gallons. 

1911/ Aug 31 - Two locomotives collided at the N. W.  Ry gravel pit on No. 24 hill one day last week and damage amount to about $300.

Source: Recollections from the Past: Sussex, Wisconsin, Presented by Farmers & Merchants Bank, August 4, 1972

1911/ Sept 7 - The N. W. railway is busy taking gravel from the Bark river pit. With this and the big pit on the twenty-four hill Lisbon is doing a large gravel business these days. -  Ed Brown having given up the excavating job. Maloney & Donaldson have brought in a new engine of their own, and are still doing business. They are putting up more stable room and intend to build a warm bunk house as they will winter there this year, for they have at least another year's work ahead.  - Sept 5 - Otto A. Gunderson of Clintonville, Wisconsin, a crane man on one of John Marshe's steam shovels on 24 hill was instantly killed Friday morning about 2 o'clock. He had been on the job only a few days and was working night shift. No one knows just how it happened, but in some manner, a certain bolt that locks the shovel when it is moved ahead, was not put in its place or fell out and Gunderson was under the shovel when the engineer started ahead with the trucks and as he did so the shovel descended, striking its victim on the head which caused his death. - The contractors on the Schlicher bridge are having all they bargained for and some more. They find that it is nearly ten feet below the water to solid bottom and a lot of logs are in the roadway that are not laid in any system which makes it difficult to remove them. From Merton - Trains are now running daily over the new line of the Northwestern Ry. (Note - Ed Brown was likely the son of a Lisbon Brown family. The Schlicher bridge referred to was to the east of today's Lake Five Rd. crossing. It can be easily viewed from Plainview Rd. just west of the Bark River. )

***1911/ Sept 14 - Carpenters have arrived to build the depot and the section houses.  - The new depot is to be a regulation size No. 2 depot and work will commence this weekend on its foundation. It is to be 20 x 72 feet with twelve-foot approaches on either side. Later stock yards will be built and another well drilled for use of the yards.  - A house is under construction (Still standing? Yes, just south of the former depot site across Sussex Creek.) on the C. & N. W. depot ground for use of the section foreman and a well is being drilled close to it. - The Northwestern has the foundation for the new watering tank. The well is being steadily deepened and is now down nearly 400 feet. 

    According to Fred Keller (Sussex Sun, Tues. Oct 10, 1978, p20), the railroad commissioned Guy Peterson of Madison to drill the well. After going down 500 ft he lost his drill bit. He engaged Fred Stier, a local blacksmith, a make a contraption to retrieve the bit, but weeks of trying different ploys nothing was successful. Finally a decision was made to dig a new well and abandon the 500 ft hole. The new well went down 800 ft to a water source, and took over one year to complete. 

    A pump house was built over the well, and a Fairbanks-Morse single cylinder engine was attached to a gear driven pump. The engine had a six foot fly wheel. The water tower about 20 ft high was built west of the pump house with an underground connection to a high swing arm next to the tracks so steam engines could take on needed water.

    Only one problem. The water from the 800 ft well was unfit for the steam engines. It was too hard! The calcium built up on the inside of the boilers and didn't do the engines any good. It was decided to use the water from a nearby (Sussex) creek, soft water. A dam was built and an underground suction pipe hooked up to the pump. This arrangement allowed the water tower to be filled with creek water (Note: the creek's source is one or more springs located on or near the west side of Leid's Maple Ave. nursery.)

    Steam engines coming up the grade from Butler (Junction) often lost all their water and made a stop at Sussex to replenish their supply. John Hutchinson was hired to keep the tower full. If trains missed the Sussex tower they could still fill up at a second tower at Bark Pit (later Lutz gravel pit, today's Genesee

    A common occurrence at the Sussex water stop, the swing arm would freeze in an ajar position. The next passing train, if it swayed too much, would hit the arm, sheering off the whole water faucet outlet and ground pipe. With no check valve on the water tower, the entire contents of the tank would spew out onto the tracks. Many times the water froze into solid masses that required the section crew (Frank Clarey and George Medhurst) to wield axes chopping up the ice.

    The water tower and pump house were used for about 15 years then torn down prior to 1930.. All that stands today are the concrete and limestone foundation of both structures. 

1911/ Sept 21 - John Marsch (Marsh?) expects to finish off his stripping job this week which will give the C. & N. W. company a gravel pit a 1/4 mile long, 50 feet high and stripped 120 feet back. 

A 1911 post card of railroad building from Templeton. c1911----->

1911/ Sept 28 - The "Bug" hit a man near the Northwestern gravel pit on Pope farm killing him. Employee of the steam shovel crew loading gravel on NW Ry cars. He (Dennis Gilleskie) of Pennsylvania, had several dollars on him and a month's salary due him.

The contractor on the Schlicher bridge resumed work.

1911/ Oct 5 - The Northwestern depot is under construction and is so far advanced as to be ready for the shingles. The watering tank is almost completed and the big well is now over 650 feet deep where they have again lost the drill. There are two section crews out of here, one from the Merton town line to hill No. 24, the other from there to Butler. Frank Clarey is foreman of the west end crew and Albert Dettman directs work on the east end.  All the local section men have quit the Soo line and are now working on the new N. W. line owing to better pay.


1911/ Oct 12 - Merton: the foundation of the new NW depot (Merton's depot near Lake Keesus) is laid in the Fieldhack farm. (Author's note - this depot was already closed prior to 1947 due to reduced usage. According to the 1930 Merton plat map, John Fieldhack owned 140 acres at the southwest corner of today's Plainview  and Center Oak Rds. in the Town of Merton Section 13. The railway ran through the middle of his holdings and the depot was probably located to the far western edge. Lake Keesus had several parks/resorts that attracted vacationers for a number of years. Center Oak Rd. is the north-south dividing line between Lisbon and Merton but today, much of Lisbon's land to the west of Center Oak Rd. has been annexed by the Village of Merton.)

1911/ Oct 19 - the N. W. road was turned over to the operating department on Monday. Train service was commenced on the belt line but not yet through here but it is reported that there is to be service soon - not later than January 1, 1912 ...

1911/ Oct 26 - Directors of N. W. Ry. passed through here last Saturday about 8 am. It was the largest fully equipped passenger train to go over the new line.

1911/ Dec 14 - The new Northwestern train service began to run on schedule time Monday.

1912/ Jan 13 - Madison - The record of new railway mileage added during 1911 in the United States includes...Chicago & Northwestern, 161.7 miles, from West Allis to Sparta... Source - The Stevens Point Journal

1912/ Dec 5 - Lisbon: On Tuesday of last week at about 8 p.m. occurred a rear end collision between two (C. & N. W.) freight trains at Herman Abel's crossing (present day Hwy 164). An east bound train had stopped and as no brakeman was sent back to warn an approaching train, a second one came around the curve and while the engineer put on the brakes, his train was going too fast to stop before the rear engine plowed through the caboose of the forward train. The stove set fire to the wreckage and three cars were burned, the caboose, a cars of slabs, and one of merchandise. 

1912 - Dec 12 - On Saturday of last week the new automatic signal system was put into operation on the Northwestern railway. This system consists of large towers over the main line at intervals of about every mile or oftener if curves or yards are to be encountered. When a train passes an a tower an arm lowers and stays down until the train passes the next tower, when it raises to a 45 degree angle until the train passes the next tower, when it raises to a perpendicular position. At night colored lights show and two trains are not supposed to be between the same two towers. This will prevent all rear end collisions.  

1912/ Dec 19 - Because of the automatic signal system on the C. & N. W. road, two of the three operators at the depot have been transferred. Albert Kling is at Butler Junction tower, and Royal J. Main is at South Beaver Dam. (Note - No mention is given so far as to who remained or was the first operator/station agent.)

1912/Dec 26 - the following poem (?) appeared:

How Bob Drove to the Train

In the little burg of Sussex

One day in bright December

The peace and quiet was destroyed

In a way we'll long remember.

The ev'ning train had just rolled in

To our new Northwestern station;

The conductor was calling all-a-board,

Then paused in hesitation.

For over the hill from the south

Came a farmer as if stark mad,

Slashing his horses with fury---

Oh! the thought of it make me sad.

Worse than an Indian's war cry

Or than college football yell---

The way he bellowed and thundered

These words utterly fail to tell.

Worse than any wild joy rider

With whiskey on fire in his brain;

He stood up and yelled like Satan,

"Hey! Hold that train! Hold that train."

 (Anyone know who Bob was?)

1913/June 26 - "On Monday at the Northwestern crossing near the depot, Fred Meyers came near being run over by an east bound fast freight train. He was driving to town with his milk and a west bound train was pulling into the yards and while watching this train he crossed the north track without looking for a train from the other direction and had his horses not moved of their own accord he would have been on the track when the train crossed. As it was the buggy cleared the crossing by less than four feet ahead of the engine. This should be a warning." 

 (Author's notes: " Who was Fred Meyers? Fred Meier (note spelling) owned a 40 acre farm (1914 Lisbon Township plat map) on the northeast corner of Maple Ave. and Good Hope Rd. He was probably bringing his milk to the Lisbon Cooperative Creamery (the former Champeny Creamery Co.).  The article also tells us that more than a single track existed at the original site ("a west bound train was pulling into the yards and while watching this train he crossed the north track". May 13, 2003 - author notes that former Fred Meier homestead is being torn down for a new subdivision.).

1914/ May 14 - Elmer Bowes had two fingers badly crushed last week, while unloading rails on the Northwestern railway.

1916/ Dec 28 - Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Morgan have moved here from Glenn Oak, Wis. Mr. Morgan is the new North Western railway agent. (H. J. should have read R. J.)

<--Right: Sussex depot c. 1916 looking east.

Depot history 1909 - 1919 , 1920 - 1975, 1976 - 2001, 2001 - Present, Miscellaneous Photos

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