Railroads and Our Ancestors

Railroads were a more obviously important part of our ancestors’ lives than they are our own. On a few blog postings, I have referred to them and here I’ll try to pull that together with a few additions.

In the decades like the 1870s and 80s when the USA was trying to attract immigrants, railroads even offered special reduced fares to the folks who set foot in places like New York or Philadelphia. Elias and Kari Borresen may have traveled by train to Chicago or Milwaukee in 1869, and from there to La Crosse, Wisconsin, which had a line after 1858.

Four years later, Elias and Kari bought land in Fitch Coulee from the West Wisconsin Railway Company. Clara has details on page 28 of Homestead. I have since learned that this railway company was first incorporated as the Tomah and Lake St. Croix Railroad Company in 1863, the name was changed in 1867, and it was acquired in 1878 by the Chicago, St. Paul and Minneapolis Railway Company. This last one was consolidated with the North Wisconsin Railway Company in 1880 to form the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway Company. (I assume you got all that straight!)

By the mid-1870s when both the Borresons and Estensons were settled in Fitch Coulee, the railroad had come to Trempealeau County and provided a more efficient way for farmers and others to move produce. For our ancestors and the Pigeon Falls community, the depot at Whitehall must have been the contact point with the Green Bay and Minnesota Railroad that had laid tracks generally following the Trempealeau River on toward the Mississippi.

C B & Q certificate

Only recently did I discover that Elias’ brother Bernt had settled in La Crosse and, according to a La Crosse City Directory, in 1895 he was an employee of the C B & N Railway Company, that is, the Chicago, Burlington & Northern. This key part of the Burlington system was on the route northwest to St. Paul and was also called the “Upper Mississippi Scenic Line.” In 1899, the year Emil and Gina were married, the C B & N was purchased by the larger Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

That’s all I have, but I find it noteworthy that Bernt departed from the occupational pattern by working for the railroad in a generation when other relatives engaged in farming.

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One Response to Railroads and Our Ancestors

  1. Pam Schaller Chapman says:

    Hello – I’m on old friend of Elaine and Louise from Norwood Park IL. Another old friend (Margaret Peran) and I (Pam Schaller Chapman) would like to get in touch with them. Could you please pass the message on? Thanks.

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