The Chicago & Northwestern Depot

209 Washington St Wausau

Big Bull Falls Becomes Downtown Wausau/The Chicago & Northwestern Depot
Marathon County Historical Society
Written By Marathon County Historical Society

Marathon County Historical Society- home of the Yawkey House Museum & The Woodson History Center.

Wausau Gets Railway Connections

In 1874, train service came to Wausau for the first time. The railroads that were quickly built over the 1870s and 1880s connected what had been relatively isolated communities to the wider world--certainly more effectively than the early roads and waterways that had previously served that purpose. And getting a railway connection was essential for growing cities like Wausau to continue growing.

Over the course of the 1870s, two major train services had laid down rails through Wausau. The Chicago, Minneapolis & St Paul (CM&SP) ran north from Stevens Point, while the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railway (MLS&W) came north eastern from Marshfield to enter Wausau from the west side.

The Chicago and Northwestern Railway

In 1880, the Chicago and Northwestern (C&NW) Railway purchased the line from the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railway (MLS&W), and began running trains through Wausau.

At first, the C&NW railway continued to use the depot they inherited from the MLS&W line, which ran into Wausau from the lower "flats" along the river (the area west of River Drive today). But it was inefficient, because getting trains into downtown Wausau meant traveling uphill. Even with some work to regrade the slope, it was still not the best place for a train connection into Wausau, and so C&NW made arrangements for a new depot.

The new depot was designed by the Chicago architect, G.A. Johnson, and was completed in 1899. Its new location on Clarke Island was better suited for easily bringing passengers and cargo through Wausau's downtown, and it was used as one of Wausau's two major train stations for the next half century. (The other depot being the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul depot on Grant Street).

By the post-WWII era, trains were becoming less popular as a means of travel in American society (as automobiles became a widespread part of the culture and society). The C&NW depot stopped being used for train travel in the 1950s, although it served as the depot for the city bus service until 1966. And over the last half century, it has been home to a number of businesses, from a restaurant to law firm.

Although the building has not been used as a depot since the 1960s, it became an important symbol for Wausau after Employers Mutual of Wisconsin (later Wausau Insurance) ran an ad in 1953. The ad featured Wausau's night sky and a mixed representation of the two depots (architecturally the drawing was closer to the CM&SP depot on Grant Street, but it was the location of the C&NW depot on Clarke Island). The insurance giant adopted the depot as its logo, following its successful ad campaign, giving the depot a long-lasting association with this city.

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Big Bull Falls Becomes Downtown Wausau

The Chicago & Northwestern Depot

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