Marshfield, June 1907: Turning up the heat
With the project for a new rail depot continually delayed, the old depot mysteriously burns down
By Kris Leonhardt
You can almost visualize the headlines now: “Marshfield to have largest and finest on lines between Chicago and St. Paul” or “New stately depot to welcome travelers to Marshfield.” As plans for a new depot servicing the Wisconsin Central Railway were announced, the city was abuzz with anticipation.
Over the past year, businessmen had been lobbying as Marshfield residents became increasingly annoyed with passenger and freight trains alike continuing to block Central Avenue.
Following the drafting of a petition assembled by local business owners, the railroad announced in mid-June of 1906 that it was drafting plans for a state-of-the-art stone and brick facility to replace the dilapidated wooden structure that stood off Central Avenue.
Under the new plans, the current depot would we relocated east by several blocks and used as a freight warehouse. The new depot would be constructed east of the current location, and the platform extended to both the east and the west. The new arrangement would clear Central Avenue for both passenger and freight service for trains traveling in either direction.
It appeared to be an easy fix for a continued issue. However, to complete the project, the city would be forced to vacate the property it currently used at Maple Street, which had formerly been part of the railroad’s right of way. This would force the city to close Maple Street at that location.
Objection to the closing of the street soon arose, yet the railroad still needed space to make improvements. By December of that year, the project was at a standstill. Railroad officials began avoiding any discussion on the project, and Marshfield residents grew impatient.
When work began on a new Union station — a collaboration between the Northwestern Railroad and the Wisconsin Central — the city had nearly abandoned all hope.
When alarm bells rang out at 5 o’clock on a Sunday morning the following June, it took residents by surprise. By the time emergency workers arrived at the depot, the eastern half of the building’s roof had already been consumed by flames. With passenger train No. 1 arriving soon, their concern was soon directed to the tracks and keeping them from being warped by the heat of the fire.
When the flames were extinguished and all danger to the visiting train diminished, the situation was assessed. In addition to the wood structure being destroyed, all of the freight in the warehouse had been lost along with any baggage stored there, but what had caused the fire so early in the day?
It was later discovered that a fire in an adjacent lot had somehow been transferred to the vulnerable structure. How did this transfer occur? Had an impatient resident tried to “light a fire” under railroad officials to speed up the postponed depot project? After all, it had been exactly a year since the announcement.
No matter the cause, work on a stone and brick structure would begin two months later, and Marshfield would finally acquire its modern depot. The structure still stands today, though it was moved to a new site adjacent to its original location. It is now home to Royal Tokyo Restaurant.