Local Railroad History

The history of Southwestern Wisconsin is a very rich story of early settling and strong people carving a living out of the wilderness.

Early settlers discovered lead in the 1830's and attempted to make their fortune by mining lead from the Mineral Point area and then transporting it south to Illinois for sale. Unfortunately, few if any navigable roads existed that would allow a significant amount of lead to be moved to market. When railroads became technologically viable in the 1830's and 1840's, great interest existed for bringing a railroad to Mineral Point. Railroad building, however, was a risky and expensive business. Local interest continued to grow, nonetheless.

The Mineral Point Railroad (MPRR) was finally formed in 1851, with the goal of connecting Mineral Point with the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) at Warren, Illinois. The ICRR was a prosperous and growing railroad system that was helping to make Chicago the large industrial center that it would eventually become. Thus, a connection with the ICRR would allow Mineral Point lead to reach all major markets and would also allow modern goods to come into Mineral Point.

Construction of the MPRR, including the Mineral Point depot, began in 1856. The railroad opened for operation between Mineral Point and Warren in 1857. During the 1860's, a branch line was built between Calamine and Platteville. This branchline was owned by the Platteville and Calamine RR (P&C RR), which was affiliated with the MPRR.

As the 1870's came to a close, many smaller railroads were being merged to form large RR systems. The Mineral Point RR, sensing this trend, investigated a merger with either the Illinois Central RR or the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul RR (CM&St. P RR). Ultimately, the CM&St.P RR bought the MPRR (which by that time had merged with the P&C RR) in 1880. Shortly thereafter, the CM&St.P RR build a line from Monroe to Gratiot, to avoid having to ship traffic in and out of Mineral Point through the Illinois Central at Warren. The line from Gratiot to Warren was abandoned in 1922.

From 1880 until the 1920's, the CM&St.P did very strong business in Mineral Point. During this time, the value of zinc mining came to be recognized in Southwestern Wisconsin. The presence of the railroad allowed the Mineral Point Zinc Company to prosper in Mineral Point. Eventually, the zinc plant (later owned by the New Jersey Zinc Company), became one of the largest zinc facilities in the United States.

The success of zinc mining in the area led to creation of a second railroad connecting Mineral Point: the Mineral Point & Northern RR. The purpose of this line was to bring zinc from Highland and Linden to the zinc plant in Mineral Point. The MP&N was a colorful, if modest, railroad whose employees furthered the entrepreneurial spirit in the area.

During the late 1920's, however, the success of zinc manufacturing in Mineral Point declined rapidly. By 1929, the former huge plant there had closed and was dismantled. With the loss of the zinc plant, the MP&N RR saw its fortunes also rapidly deteriorate. The MP&N RR was abandoned in 1930.

The other RR in Mineral Point saw similar decline in its business. After 1930, railroad traffic continuously decreased until the line was transferred to short line operators in 1980. Although the shortline operations kept RR service operating sporadically for a time, all the best intentions could not overcome the fact that railroading was no longer profitable in and around Mineral Point. The rails were taken up in 1984 and the depot sat vacant until restoration began in 2000.