Marshfield, March 1905: Derailed
How a rivalry between turn-of-the-century businessmen impeded Marshfield’s attempts to become a major railroad division point
By Kris Leonhardt
At the turn of the century, the Wisconsin Central Railroad was busy making many changes. The railroad, while preparing improvements for future advancement, was immersed in enlarging divisions and adjusting division points to reconstruct the train service in the expanding central Wisconsin service area.
Stevens Point and Waukesha would lose their status as major points while Abbotsford, Fond du Lac, and St. Paul would become active division headquarters.
In Abbotsford workers were busy constructing car shops; a roundhouse; coal shoots; and, more importantly, a large water tank.
As the water tank was raised, it quickly became a symbol of disappointment to Marshfield residents traveling through the town. Not long before this time, Marshfield businessmen and residents alike were clamoring in anticipation when railway managers desired to make Marshfield their new division point. However, when an adequate water supply could not be accessed, the railroad looked further up the line to Abbotsford.
Marshfield would struggle for years to arrange a means for providing water until W.H. Upham offered to sell his privately-owned power company to the city. The city council acted swiftly, knowing the improvements the plant could bring in supplying the city with power and water.
W.D. Connor, Upham’s rival in business, politics, and personality, soon hired lawyers and brought about an injunction, stating that the city council needed to bring a referendum to residents before taking action. The matter was taken to court with Connor ending up victorious, but the city fought back.
While the city battled all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Wisconsin Central was again busy making plans. In beginning to build a new line in March of 1905 that would extend from Ladysmith through Owen to Spencer, Marshfield would again have a chance to become a major access point to any of Wisconsin Central’s lines north of Stevens Point, but first the city had to prove access to an ample supply of water.
With the injunction restraining the council from exercising ownership of the company, repairs and improvements could not be made, and the city leaders sat with their hands tied.
A little more than a year later, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in the favor of the city of Marshfield, giving the council legal authority to bring water and electrical service to the city. The injunction was dissolved, and Marshfield would become one of the most progressive municipalities in the state, providing water and electric services to city residents.