Friday, May 16, 2014

The Railroad

The Railroad

     Early travel in Minnesota was mainly done by waterways or across country on foot, occasionally on horseback. The with stout footwear and a canoe could go anywhere in the vast countryside.
     The first signs of the railroad went to St. Paul. Passengers and freight along with mail waited out the winter until ice went out of the river and spring navigation could begin. Winona needed a railroad to bring people and supplies into the southern part of Minnesota. The result, was the Winona and St. Peter's Railroad which pushed back the frontier until in 1872, it reached the high land near Sleepy Eye Lake.
     The Minnesota River had been called the St. Peter by early explorers, The Winona and St. Peter Railroad was later called the Chicago Northwestern.
     Railroad construction was done typically in small sections, sometimes by a number of contractors. This was known as a time of non-automation era. Things were done by hard labor, man power. By the blood and sweat of man.
     Leroy Davis once wrote, "The tools which made the railway cuts and grades were the pick, shovel, and spade, the walking plow, the two-wheeled scraper drawn by one horse, the wagon with dump planks, and the wheel barrow. Most of the grading was let to a contractor who then contracted with others to do short sections. The only startling thing in machinery was the pile driver used to drive big timbers down to solid ground for bridges over sloughs."
     By May 1872, the railroad tracks are almost complete heading towards Sleepy Eye Lake. The grading is nearly ready for iron now, the only drawback is the bottom through town. The Railroad employed 500 workers by this point on the road. A crew of 500 was alot of people to take care of.
     The little settlement was growing up in the vicinity of the Lake of Sleepy Eye. It would have been difficult for the settlement to take care of the crew of 500. However, the railroad had its own system for housing and feeding their employees.
     The railroad had a two-story frame building on a flatcar to accommodate the construction crews. The upper portion provided sleeping quarters and the lower floor was a dining area. Their "hotel" traveled right along with them.
     In the month of July the railroad had a picnic out by the shores of the Sleepy Eye Lake to celebrate the completion of the rails. Some of the workmen on the railroad enjoyed Sleepy Eye Lake well enough to bring their families here and establish their homes permanently here.
     By October 1872 the Depot building was finished. In 1882, a roundhouse and machine shops were added to the Depot train community, thus making Sleep Eye a busy rail town. In January, 1887 the Sleepy Eye Depot was burned down by a fire. By June of 1887 a new Depot (where todays Depot Antiques is located) was under roof, and painted by mid-July. It was not until 1902 that the present brick Depot was built (Depot Museum/Sleepy Eye Historical Society).


  1. This is awesome since Im a train man!!!

  2. This is awesome since Im a train man!!!