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.
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.
Minnesota River had been called the St. Peter by early explorers, The Winona
and St. Peter Railroad was later called the Chicago Northwestern.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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).