Northern Pacific Railroad first lines to connect Morrison to the Twin Cities

(Editor’s Note: A series of stories about history in Morrison County will be shared by the Morrison County Historical Society for printing in the Record. Following is a letter written in 1936 answering questions about the Northern Pacific Railway Company in Morrison County. We hope you enjoy reading about the history of the county.)

November 16, 1936
Mr. Val E. Kasparek,

Your letter of Oct. 28 to Mr. Ruth has been referred to us for reply. We have gone through our records here and are happy to supply such dates and facts as seem pertinent to railroad history in Morrison County.

In 1862, the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, the first railroad in Minnesota, began construction of the line which eventually was to give Morrison County its railroad connection with the Twin Cities and form a part of the Northern Pacific transcontinental system.

The St. Paul and Pacific completed its line from St. Paul to St. Anthony (now Minneapolis) in July 1862, and began running trains shortly thereafter. It extended its line from the Twin Cities to Elk River in 1864 and from there westward to Sauk Rapids in 1867.

A further extension of the line from Sauk Rapids through Morrison County to Brainerd was undertaken in 1871 but the company failed to complete this, went into bankruptcy and forfeited its charter March 1, 1877. The Western Railroad of Minnesota, a Northern Pacific subsidiary, then took up the charter May 2, 1877, and completed the road to Brainerd in October 1877.

As rail line was completed through Morrison County, this photo was taken in 1897 of the first engine of its kind at the-then “East Side Depot” in Little Falls.

At Brainerd, this railroad connected with the mainline of the Northern Pacific which extended from Duluth as far west as Bismarck. As soon as the line to Brainerd was completed, Northern Pacific trains from the Twin Cities which had previously been obliged to operate westward via Duluth, began running through Little Falls westward via Brainerd. The new routing saved ten hours between St. Paul and Bismarck, North Dakota. A further shortening of the Northern Pacific main line occurred (sic) when construction of the Little Falls-Staples cutoff was begun in April, 1889, and was completed in September of that year. This cutoff shortened the transcontinental line by 26 miles.

Work on the Little Falls and Dakota branch started in the summer of 1881, the company being known as the Little Falls and Dakota Railroad Company. Track laying began in June, 1882, and was completed to Morris, Oct. 27, 1882. Operation of trains began on Nov. 1, 1882. The Little Falls and Dakota Railroad Company was organized by local men and was capitalized by county bond issues of the immediate counties. Ortonville is said to have been the objective of this line but the road was never extended west of Morris.

Names of some Northern Pacific stations in Morrison County originated as follows: Randall, for John H. Randall, an official of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad; Darling, for W. L. Darling, chief engineer of the Northern Pacific, at the time of construction; Cushing, for Caleb Cushing of Massachusetts who was a prominent figure in the early lumber industry in the Upper Mississippi Valley; Royalton, for Royalton in Vermont, birthplace of Frederic Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railway while the transcontinental main line was nearing completion; Gregory, for J. Gregory Smith, president of the Northern Pacific from 1866 to 1872 and at one time governor of Vermont.

Plans for the present Little Falls depot were drafted in 1899 and the building of the station began shortly thereafter.

Building of the Camp Ripley branch line was begun in April, 1930, and was completed July 13, 1931, to serve the National Guard Encampment there.

The foregoing information is probably not complete in every respect but doubtless you will be able to supplement it locally. I am sure that Mr. Ruth will be glad to work along with you and refer you to possible sources in Little Falls. Some of our older employees there will undoubtedly recall items of interest relative to various phases of construction and development of our line.

Should you wish to work into your Morrison County history some data from the general history of our line, I am glad to advise as follows: The charter for construction of the Northern Pacific was approved by Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln July 2, 1864. Construction of the line was begun at Carlton, Minnesota, in February 1870, and it was completed at Gold Creek, Montana, Sept. 8, 1883. Among the prominent builders were W. Milnor Roberts, Edwin Johnson, General Adna Anderson and General T. Rosser.

Roberts built the Lehigh Canal in the east and helped to build the Eads Jetty System on the Lower Mississippi River. After helping construct the Northern Pacific, he became the builder of the Railways of Brazil in South America and died of fever in the South American Jungle. General Adna Anderson was the planner and builder of military railroads for the Union government during the Civil War. He built the Northern Pacific main line from Glendive to Spokane and also built the Stampede Tunnel through the Cascade Mountains in Washington. Rosser was a general in the Confederate army and he built the railroad in the Bismarck locality.

If we can supply further data, please call on us. -L. Perrin, Advertising Manager

This letter was published in the Summer 1999 issue of the Morrison County Historical Society’s newsletter. Those interested in learning more Morrison County history can visit the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, 2151 Lindbergh Dr. S., Little Falls or morrisoncountyhistory.org.