Jackson, MN to Wessington Springs, SD

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Map submitted by Joseph Loop.

The Southern Minnesota Railroad, an affiliate of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, built a line that reached from Jackson, MN, to Pipestone, MN, in 1879. In 1880 the Milwaukee Road continued the line and reached Madison, SD. In ensuing years the line was extended further to Woonsocket, and finally to Wessington Springs, SD.

Towns on the line:

  • Jackson, MN
  • Lakefield, MN
  • Okabena, MN
  • Miloma, MN (where the line crossed the Omaha's, St. Paul - Sioux City Mainline. Miloma got its name from the first syllables of each Railroad, Milwaukee Road - Omaha. The two Railroads also shared a depot there.)
  • Kinbrae, MN
  • Fulda, MN
  • Wirock, MN
  • Iona, MN
  • Chandler, MN
  • Edgerton, MN
  • Hatfield, MN
  • Pipestone, MN
  • Airlie, MN
  • Flandreau, SD
  • Egan, SD (where there was a wye to Sioux Falls, SD. Built in 1881, eventually Abandoned to Dell Rapids)
  • Coleman, SD
  • Wentworth, SD (the line is not abandoned between Wentworth and Madison)
  • Madison, SD
  • Junius, SD
  • Winfred, SD
  • Howard, SD
  • Vilas, SD
  • Roswell, SD
  • Fedora, SD
  • Artesian, SD
  • Woonsocket, SD
  • Lane, SD
  • Wessington Springs, SD

A rough timeline of the route:

                               South Dakota                        |      Minnesota
      Wessington Springs   Woonsocket   Madison   Wentworth   Egan   Pipestone   Jackson
=========================================================================================
1879                                                                   |--- SMRR ---|
1880                                       |------ CMStP&P ------------|------------|
1881                            |-CMStP&P--|----------------------------------------|
1903           |--- CMStP&P ----|---------------------------------------------------|
1972           |----------------|..........|----------------------------------------|
1979           |................|          |--------------------|...................|
1980                                       |-----------|........|
????                                       |...........|

|.....| = Abandonment

Thanks to Adam Jelinski for contributing information about this route.

The bankrupt Milwaukee abandoned the line between Jackson and Madison, SD for unknown reasons. The line to Madison was profitable (as we most of Milwaukee's corn lines) and supported train speeds of 25 mph at the time the tracks were torn out. The line traversed some of the best crop land in the upper Midwest. but, apparently the receiver for the Milwaukee Road felt the line west from Jackson did not fit the consolidation and reorganization plans of the bankrupt company and the line was ripped out. The bridge over I90 just west of Jackson is still there. The ROW in Lakefield is clearly visible as you drive through town on MN-86. The line between Albert Lea and Jackson supports two trains a day for ICE/CP as of 2014.

Patrick Dempsey
Chaska, MN
6/3/2014

____________________

I spent a month with my father during the early stages of the scrapping of the line from Madison to Woonsocket during the summer of 1973. This was originally intended to be a "train" job by the scrap company CMC, in which a locomotive is used with a winch car to take up the rail behind it and load it directly into gondolas. As I recall, the locomotive hired was too big for the lines coming into Madison so the job was changed to a hydra-lift job (in which trucks are used to remove the rail). My summer on a locomotive turned out to be one in which I was behind a push cart on the South Dakota prairies. (I did get to see lots of pheasants, though.)

R.W. Frye
Gravette, AR
6/27/2014

____________________

I have a vague recollection that Black Bridge, just west of Jackson, needed replacement. I don't know if that was one of the reasons for the abandonment. The grain shippers from Jackson east paid to have the rail upgraded. This would have been in the 1970's.

Bob Winzenburg
Mankato, MN
10/17/2014

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I bet you are correct that the Black Bridge was simply too cost prohibitive to repair as the company was in the throes of massive abandonments in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The Milwaukee only spent money on mainline infrastructure such as the swing bridge at Hastings over the Mississippi that was replaced with a modern lift bridge. The sad part about the Southern Minnesota is that it was a profitable branch line even during the depths of the Milwaukee bankruptcy. The Milwaukee had abandoned the Minnesota Midland in the 1950s from Wabasha to Faribault and the Wells Road from Farmington to Mankato to Wells in the late 1970s. The CGW from Faribault to Mankato was barely profitable and the Rock Island in extreme northern Iowa was out of service with the Rock shutdown in 1980. The CNW was looking to abandon the line that became the DME during the same time. These left the Southern Minnesota as the main shipping artery along the southern tier. It's just that that Milwaukee had reduced this line to branch status because it likely would still be in use today if the Milwaukee had not abandoned the line west of Jackson.

patrick dempsey
chaska, MN
6/7/2016

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Patrick Dempsey: Do you know why the railroad would have been selling land back in 1894? Friend's grandpa bought land that was just named a century farm. Would be interesting to have an idea of why that property was available. This is in Alpha, MN, Jackson County.

Liz Wheeler
Fairmont, MN
7/20/2016

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Liz,

Just a guess from the history pages but railroads were often granted more land than was needed to build a line so they could then sell that land to help fund construction. This was most famously done in the late 1860s and through the 1870s, but may apply to your situation as well. At least I would start there in your search.

R.W. Frye
Gravette, AR
7/21/2016

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Liz

I think RW is right. I believe the Southern Minnesota RR received land grants from the State through which they would build the line. The excess land they could then sell individually. This is most likely how your friend's grandfather got the land. Interesting that this was in 1894 because land grants usually expired after about 15 years if the road didn't sell the land granted to them. So, I wonder if your friend's grandfather got the land cheaply as by 1894 the SMRR land grant was probably nearing expiration.

If I recall correctly, the railroads would also ask the towns to raise bonds for constructing the line to their town. The Southern Minnesota curiously turned northwest-ward west of Jackson toward Fulda. I believe this occurred because Worthington voted down bonds, but Fulda voted in favor. So, the road went northwest from Jackson following the money to Fulda!

patrick dempsey
CARVER, MN
7/21/2016

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