Historic Structures

Medford Soo Line Railroad Depot, Medford Wisconsin

Date added: February 1, 2019 Categories: Wisconsin Train Station

The Medford Centennial Book states that more than any other factor, "...The Wisconsin Central Railroad had the greatest influence on the why and wherefore of Medford's uptown and downtown locations... it seeded the mushroom which spread into a hamlet and later a city." As the first rail line into northern Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Central deserves special attention. Incorporated in 1871, WC's first division of railroad to penetrate the northern frontier was a 65-mile stretch from Menasha to Stevens Point. Under the financial leadership of eastern capitalist Gardner Colby, the company acquired more than 837,000 acres under a federal land grant. In exchange for "free" land, WC's obligation was to be the first company to link the shore of Lake Superior with the southern part of the State. Most historians agree that the WC was organized for the purpose of acquiring the wilderness lands, because the railroad promoters sold the land to lumbermen as soon as they had acquired it. The lands north of Stevens Point were often referred to as "The Pinery" and were sparsely settled in the early 1870's. Thus, construction of the Wisconsin Central through the north country generally preceded settlement by Europeans. Like many northern Wisconsin towns, Medford owes its origins to the Wisconsin Central Railroad.

The WC began laying rails northwest of Stevens Point in early 1872, completing its line as far as Colby in September of that year. At the same time, crews cleared a path north to the Black River. The first train passed through what now is Medford in July, and the first depot was erected in September of 1873. W.B. Jeffers, the first depot agent, and two other persons were the sole permanent residents of Medford in the winter of 1873. The name "Medford" was selected to recognize the home town in Massachusetts of one of the railroad's investors. In the Spring of 1874, the Wisconsin Central built a 7-room guest house for prospective German and Swiss buyers of railroad farm lands. This "immigrant house" located near what is now Main and Lincoln Streets in Medford may have been the only instance of the railroad company giving free shelter to prospective land buyers. Wisconsin Central donated a 316' x 500' land parcel just east of the depot to Taylor County for the site of the Taylor County Courthouse.

Timber and agriculture became the primary attractions for early Medford. By 1875, Taylor County's first sawmill shipped 1,500,000 board feet of lumber, requiring 291 freight cars from the Medford depot. In June, 1877, Wisconsin Central completed its line from Stevens Point through Medford to Ashland on the south shore of Lake Superior. By 1880, Medford's population had grown to 2,311.

Medford experienced a destructive fire on May 28, 1885, which started in the log Fredericks Hotel near the depot and spread to many pine frame buildings along the Black River. The town had no fire fighting equipment and only one brick building. The Wisconsin Central station agent telegraphed for help. WC crews in Stevens Point, 71 miles from Medford, loaded fire engines onto freight cars to forward to Medford, but the fire had been burning for 9 hours before they arrived. The engineer had raced the train so hard from Stevens Point that the locomotive's right front wheel "melted off as the train arrived at Division Street." By the time the fire was extinguished, the Company Store and Music Hall were the only buildings left standing in what was downtown Medford. The little depot had been one of the first buildings destroyed by the fire. From 1885 until 1911, Medford had to make do with only a boxcar placed on its former depot site.

The Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway acquired control of the Wisconsin Central Railroad in 1908, and integrated its operation with the Soo Line under a lease agreement on January 1, 1909. This continued into the 1960's, when the old WC corporation was merged into Soo Line and passed from existence. The present Wisconsin Central Ltd. which owns the rail line to Medford is a new entity with no direct ties to the original Wisconsin Central Railroad Company.

On November 29, 1911, the Soo Line was ordered by the Wisconsin Railroad Commission to: "...provide a station building at Medford which shall be reasonably adequate for passenger and freight traffic at the station...July 1, 1912 is deemed as reasonable date not later than which said station will be open."

Soo Line representatives Potter and Erbens met with the Medford Common Council in August, 1912, to present plans for enlarging their present depot. While the Council pushed for a new brick structure, the Soo delegation offered a wood addition or nothing. The Council voted to accept a wood depot.

"Additions will be built on the north end of the present depot and of the same width. The south 30' will be the men's waiting room. The office will remain where it is, but 6 feet will be taken for a washroom. North of the office will be a 16 x 17 foot ladies' waiting room. Next to this will be a warm room and at the north end will be a 42 x 17 foot freight room."

This depot was to measure 17 x 60 feet overall, and construction was to cost $4,567.00. However, on October 10, 1912, at 7:30 p.m., an explosion at the depot engulfed the entire building in flames. T.A. Burger had been inspecting a barrel of gasoline on the east platform near the north end of the depot, when the "gaseous liquid spilled out" and quickly spread into the depot, across the floor to the stove, ignited and exploded. Several days later, two freight cars and a passenger car were once again placed on the depot site for temporary use as a station.

Soo Line documents date the present 24 x 109 foot depot as having been built in November, 1913, from "house plans" used earlier in the construction of the depot at Park Falls, 60 miles north of Medford on the Ashland line. A work order dated May, 1927, directs the depot to be painted yellow.

Throughout most of the 20th Century, the railroad consisted of three tracks passing the depot site. These were from east to west (1) the mainline track, (2) a 2,800-foot passing track extending north from a turn-out located opposite the depot agent's bay windows, and (3) a blind siding taking off from the passing track and extending north to the shore of the mill pond. A team track took off from the mainline north of Perkins Street, passed close along the rear entries of the stores lining the west side of Main Street, passed just to the east of the depot and rejoined the mainline north of Broadway. This track had permitted boxcar delivery of goods directly into merchants' basement store rooms.

West of the tracks and extending north from Division Street to the south shore of the mill pond was the yard of the Medford Lumber Company which operated a large saw and planing mill on the site. The company also operated a narrow-gauge logging railway that terminated in the Medford yard and tapped large pine stands around Perkinstown, 18 miles northwest of Medford in western Taylor County. This logging railway paralleled the Soo Line track to a point north of Allman Street, and then veered northwest toward Perkinstown. Parts of its right of way still are used as trails and forest access roads. The mill closed on August 5, 1926.

Passenger train service to Medford continued until i960, consisting of a mail car and one or two coaches which ran north to Ashland in the evening and south in the early morning. The Soo Line maintained a freight agent in the depot until 1985 to service the accounts of Hurd Millwork Company, Weathershield, and four feed and fertilizer dealers. Maintenance of way gangs stored track materials in the depot for a time, but the building was vacant, unused and unheated after 1985. Through freight service north of Medford ended in 1987 when traffic was re-routed via Tomahawk, leaving Medford at the end of a branchline. In 1990, the track was removed from Allman Street in Medford to Prentice, including all sidings in downtown Medford, leaving only the former mainline track.

The Soo Line Railroad owned the building from the date of its construction until March 8, 1990, when the land and building were sold to the City of Medford to be used for a downtown redevelopment project. On February 4, 1992, the Medford Common Council approved the sale of the depot to Laurence J DeMark of Medford, who proposed to restore it with historical accuracy for use as a restaurant and retail establishment. DeMark also agreed to provide space for an information counter for the newly created "Pine Line Trail" being developed on former railroad right of way by the joint Rail Trail Commission of Price and Taylor Counties.