Chicago Northwestern Railroad

Date in History: 1856

There was a lot of excitement in Fort Atkinson in 1856. The Chicago-St. Paul-Fond du Lac Railroad Company had built a line from Chicago to Janesville and another one from Fond du Lac to Watertown. All that was left was to link Janesville and Watertown – a rail line that would run right through Fort Atkinson. Bonds were issued and families mortgaged land to buy stock. But the Panic of 1857 struck, banks failed, the railroad company went bankrupt and Fort Atkinson was in danger of becoming a sleepy little backwater.

Enter Fort Atkinson resident Lucien Caswell. In 1859 Caswell attended a meeting of stockholders on Wall St. in New York City trying to salvage something out of the disaster. Thanks in part to Caswell’s efforts, a new company was formed called the Chicago Northwestern and the railroad was completed later that year with the two lines meeting one mile south of Jefferson.

This historic document aired on the radio as an Historic Minute on 08/11/2003.

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