Cannon Valley Trail has a background at least as colorful and full of intrigue as a contemporary soap opera. This story is told in The Chicago Great Western in Minnesota which was published in 1984 based on information made available by the Minnesota Historical Society and several County Historical Societies. The book begins with the origin of The Minnesota Central which was envisioned as a vital transportation link between Red Wing and grain growing areas to the west. The railroad was incorporated in 1857 to build a rail line from Red Wing in the direction of the Great Bend of the Missouri River. Lacking implementation, another enterprise, The Cannon River Slack Water Navigation Company, in 1865 proposed construction of a waterway to Mankato using both the Cannon and LeSueur Rivers plus an intervening series of lakes west of Faribault. An estimate of costs however was sufficient reason to scrap the plan. Construction by the Milwaukee Road during the 1870's between the Twin Cities and Chicago through Northfield and Faribault had effectively cut off Red Wing as a major grain terminal. This inspired several efforts by Red Wing city officials and business leaders to convince the Milwaukee Road management to build a branch line between Cannon Falls and Red Wing. Such a line, while important to Red Wing, was of little use to the Milwaukee Road since they already had all available business in this area.
1881 under the direction of president, A. B. Stickney, the Minnesota
Central became active. He
announced the intention of the railroad to complete a line between Red
Wing and Waterville in 1882 and to Mankato in 1883.
Milwaukee Road reaction was its own announcement of a competing
parallel route over the entire distance.
Often such a threat would be enough to discourage a new venture
because the resources of a large railroad could render the competing line
unprofitable forcing it out of business.
Treating the announcement as only a threat, the Minnesota Central
proceeded with the Red Wing to Mankato line.
The level of activity picked up rapidly with
both companies courting community leaders along the route for the
most favorable location for business and construction.
Surveyors for the two companies began work east of Northfield and
battle lines were quickly drawn. Local sentiment favored the Minnesota Central, but this did
little to discourage Milwaukee Road intimidation efforts.
The battle raged throughout the summer of 1882 and was centered in
the area of Northfield and Faribault.
By fall the lines were at Cannon Falls moving eastward with little
conflict possible because the routes were separated by the Cannon River.
The Minnesota Central appeared to have fewer problems along the
southern side of the river where the right of way now is occupied by
Cannon Valley Trail.
contest flared anew in downtown Red Wing regarding the rights of both
lines to Levee Street. The
Milwaukee Road claimed all rights but both the City Council and ultimately
the courts decided that the Minnesota Central could also be located on
Levee Street. The Cannon
Valley Line, as the Minnesota Central came to be known locally, was open
for passenger business in January of 1883.
By August of the same year it was reorganized under the name of the
Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific. But
in 1884 Chicago Great Western
Railroad under A.B. Stickrey, established stock control over the
Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific without changing its name to the Great
Western until 1909. Local
residents remember a train wreck during this period
in the area of the Vasa Township Road "double crossing”. The load
of freight upset by the wreck, said to be granite for tombstones still can
be observed on the hillside adjoining the Cannon River.
Chicago Great Western was taken over by the Chicago and
Northwestern 1968 but the line was gradually disappearing long before.
The last run between Cannon Falls and Red Wing occurred in 1976.
The line officially abandoned in 1982 with rail removal following
in the fall of 1983.
Welch Trail Wreck 1912 Photo by Roy Meyer