Train Depot

Since 1974, the Whitewater Historical Society’s local history museum has been located in the 1890-91 Whitewater Passenger Depot.  The depot is a local Whitewater Landmark and is also listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  The Whitewater Passenger Depot is a fine example of a small town railroad depot built in 1890-91 with details from the High Victorian Gothic style and the Richardsonian Romanesque style.  It was the work of a master architect, J. T. W. Jennings, who, at that time, was working for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad and who would have a career as the University of Wisconsin architect and as a private architect in Madison.  

Whitewater’s railroad link was the result of the earliest rail line construction in the state.  After the formal establishment of the Wisconsin territory in 1836, most people expected the territorial legislature to immediately give a charter for a rail line and several businessmen and speculators developed plans for railroad companies.  One of the most important efforts was in Milwaukee.  Byron Kilbourn (the founder of Milwaukee) and others were advocating a Milwaukee to the Mississippi River line running through the lead region.  No rail lines were given charters until the late 1840s due to economic problems and political infighting between rail line promoters and companies building stage lines and plank roads.  In 1847, Kilbourn and his supporters finally received a charter for a rail line from Milwaukee to Waukesha. By the time of statehood in 1848, there were nine rail charters approved and Kilbourn had received another charter to extend his line to the Mississippi. However, money was still tight and it would be a struggle to raise the capital needed to actually build track.

During the summer of 1852, the rail line was approaching Whitewater.  The link to Palmyra from Eagle came in August, and then the line reached Whitewater in September of 1852.  A great celebration was held in Whitewater with about 300 people coming from Milwaukee to join a crowd that the Milwaukee Sentinel estimated was between two and three thousand people.   Why the line came to Whitewater is a valid question as it was certainly not on a direct route west.  General literature does not explain how the route was devised, but it is probable that this first line wanted to serve the heavily wheat-producing areas of Walworth and Rock counties without straying too far from the westerly course to Madison and the Mississippi. Freight records show the importance of the railroad for the Whitewater economy.  Out of Milwaukee, the freight trains carried retail goods, lumber, wood products, coal, stoves, brick, and livestock.  Going east, the trains carried wheat to the Milwaukee markets, as well as other agricultural products like corn, oats, barley, potatoes, hogs, wool, lead, and shot.  Farmers had another profitable venture with the railroad, selling wood for the engines.  Whitewater grew significantly during this period, fueled by trade no doubt fostered by the railroad. 

  In Whitewater, the legacy of the Milwaukee Road was long gone by 1985.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Whitewater Passenger Depot was mostly being used as a feed store, although telegraph service continued during this time from the old ticket office.  Then, after much lobbying, the city of Whitewater acquired the Whitewater depot in 1973 in order to lease it to the Whitewater Historical Society for a museum that opened in July of 1974.  The old freight house remained until the 1990s, when it was demolished for improved parking facilities. 

While we did not catch any audio or video, one personal experience that stands out is from Bryan.  While upstairs, it looked like their were feet in the bathroom like someone was in there and he thought it was one of the other members.  Upon checking into that member, they were standing behind him and no one else was up there with him as the rest of the team was in the basement at the time.