Antigo Train Depot Station, Antigo Wisconsin
The original design of this depot separated the passenger station from the baggage area by placing them in two buildings. The other non-passenger related activities of the depot, such as the express store room and office, were also efficiently separated from the passenger activities. The two waiting rooms, with their own bathrooms, were designed to make waiting more comfortable for women and children, who could be close to, but not right next to men who might be smoking or engaged in other less refined activities. The centrally located ticket office, with its large bay window serving outside customers, is also and efficient and attractive feature of the depot design. Division headquarters offices were located on the second floor of the depot, accessed via staircases that did not intrude into passenger or express and baggage areas of the building.
The railroad dominated transportation history in Wisconsin during the last half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century. This large depot, built at the height of the railroad era in the state, represents the railroad company's commitment to the Antigo area and the community's importance as a stop along their line.
During the 1850s, railroad promoters, working with small communities eager to be on a railroad line, established numerous railroad companies in Wisconsin. Most were either failures from mismanagement or lack of funding, or became a casualty of the financial panic of 1857. But, even though the efforts to build railroads in Wisconsin in the 1850s were often too much too soon, by the 1860s, the financially stable lines forged ahead, and by 1865, three railroad lines were preeminent in the state: The Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company, the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien Railway Company, and the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company. In 1866, the Milwaukee and St. Paul acquired the Milwaukee and Prairie du Chien. In 1868, Wisconsin had 1,030 miles of railroad, but almost all of it was in the southern third of the state.
Between 1860 and 1900, smaller railroad companies were swallowed up by larger and more fiscally sound operators. By the turn of the century, three railroad companies that would last well into the twentieth century dominated Wisconsin: The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway (the Milwaukee Road), the Chicago and Northwestern, and the Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Sault Ste. Marie (Soo Line). The big money behind these larger railroads spurred on more construction of lines in the state, and by 1873, railroad mileage doubled, then doubled again between 1875 and 1890. By 1900, there were 6,500 railroad miles in Wisconsin.
The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad (C&NW) came through Antigo in their quest to serve the lucrative timber and mining lands of northeastern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The C & NW technically began serving Wisconsin when the Rock River Valley Railroad, a company that was developing out of Janesville, Wisconsin, broke ground for their new line in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1851. This line was reorganized in 1855 and absorbed by the C & NW in 1859. This acquisition was the first step the C & NW took to establish a route to Green Bay through Fond du Lac and other cities in eastern Wisconsin. The C & NW was a successful passenger carrier, but the real profits for the company were probably realized from the timber and iron ore of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula.
Wisconsin's Cultural Resource Management Plan concludes that this nineteenth century expansion of railroad lines brought prosperity to many communities, along with a near death sentence to those that the railroad by-passed. By 1916, railroad construction reached a peak in Wisconsin, and although railroads remained an important transportation link until after World War II, they gradually declined after World War I. From the 1950s to the present time, railroads have been surpassed in their importance by the state's highway system and many railroad resources have decayed, been demolished, or been sold by the railroad companies. Ironically, today, some small railroad companies have revived some of the old railroad routes for freight hauling and minimal passenger traffic.
The coming of railroad service to the Antigo area began in 1856, when thousands of acres of public lands were given to the state to aid in the construction of railroad lines. The first railroad line to make use of this aid was the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad which completed a line from Fond du Lac, north to the state line with Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In making this connection, the C & NW obtained 86,215 acres of valuable timber and agricultural lands in Wisconsin, including land in the Antigo area.
While the Chicago and Northwestern line was the dominant line in this area, two other railroad lines also came through Antigo. In 1881, the first railroad line to come into Antigo was the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western Railroad. The line was originally surveyed to by-pass Antigo, but prominent citizens negotiated with the company to bring the line directly into the community. They were successful, and because this line was later acquired by the C & NW in 1893, the city became connected to the most important railroad line in eastern Wisconsin. In 1907, the Wisconsin and Northern Railroad came through eastern Langlade County to serve the lumber companies in the area. It was eventually acquired by the Soo Line.
In 1883, the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western Railroad constructed an engine house in Antigo. In 1893, the C & NW took over the facility, moved it to a new location and built a much larger roundhouse for their train operations. This roundhouse was expanded in 1905 due to the increased importance of Antigo along the line. Also included at the roundhouse were a yard office, weighmaster's office, machine shops, a depot, freight depot, and other adjunct facilities.
In the fall of 1906, the C & NW announced that a new depot would be built in Antigo and that the division headquarters for this area of the railroad would be moved from Kaukauna to Antigo. The depot plans were drawn in 1906 and the depot was opened in the fall of 1907. With this new building, not only did the community receive a modern depot, the city became a center for C & NW activities in northeastern Wisconsin. In fact, at the peak of railroad activity in the area, the C & NW employed around 500 workers. The completion of the new depot and railroad office building was a cause of celebration in the community, as the new building was a showplace that represented the booming economy of the area in the early twentieth century.
Antigo remained a center of C & NW railroad activities in northeastern Wisconsin for almost 50 years. But, in 1954, the company reorganized their divisions and announced that the division headquarters at Antigo would be closed. The railroad did, though, continue to supervise train crews out of the Antigo Depot offices, and the roundhouse and shops remained open and operating.
According to city directories, the C & NW continued to maintain a trainmaster's office, a roadmaster's office, and an auditor at the Antigo Depot until the early 1980s. But, the decline of railroad transportation after World War II took its toll on Antigo and eventually passenger service ended in the 1970s. All operations at the depot ended around 1984, and the depot was vacated around that time. Also, the railroad tracks and right of way were abandoned during this decade and railroad tracks removed. In Antigo, much of the old railroad right-of-way has been built on with new housing. The large open space on the trackside of the depot is all that remains of a once significant industry in the community.