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Village History

History of Merrillan Wisconsin

Here’s a history from “Merrillan Centennial” by Jean Anderson, 1970:

The West Wisconsin Railroad was built through this portion of Jackson County in the fall of 1869. Leander Merrill sent his brother Benjamin to Hudson, where the railroad offices were then located, in an effort to convince the railroad to change their road bed enough to include the present site of Merrillan. According to stories handed down by the Merrill family, the railroad officials agreed to change their route to include Merrill’s future town for the consideration of $75,000, which Leander promptly paid to the company. Trains on the West Wisconsin Railroad did not make stops at Merrillan at this time and passengers both got off the trains at Wright’s Mill (about 5 miles south) or at Humbird and then walked to Merrillan.

When the Green Bay & Lake Pepin Railroad planned to build their road through Jackson County, L.G. Merrill donated many acres of land to the company so they would change their plans from connecting with the West Wisconsin at Wright’s to connecting with that railroad in Merrillan. The Green Bay & Lake Pepin Road reached Merrillan on December 22, 1872, and the first train arrived here the following week with a Mr. Garvin as engineer. The telegraph line on the railroad was completed in January 1873. A crude shack was converted into a Union Depot and both the West Wisconsin and Green Bay railroad began passenger service here. The first depot agent was J.A. Maynard. Merrillan’s growth was very rapid after receiving passenger service.

In the spring of 1873, George Hiles of Dexterville took the contract to do the grading on the Green Bay & Lake Pepin Railroad from Merrillan to the Mississippi River and work began in mid May. During the summer of 1873 the Green Bay Railroad erected the Blair House, sometimes referred to as the Railroad House. This large 40 room hotel was located northwest of the junction of the two railroads on the site where a tavern, The Depot Saloon, sits today. A. Putman, a former Black River Falls resident was the proprietor of the hotel and he was assisted by a Mr. Libby.

A lawsuit involving the title to a disputed 40 acres of land (known as the Railroad 40) almost in the center of Merrillan, involving the Green Bay Railroad, was tried in the fall of 1880. The litigation over this property had been a serious drawback in the growth of the town. L.G. Merrill had donated this portion of land to the Green Bay Railroad Company in order to persuade them to locate their route to cross the West Wisconsin at this point..(This was finally added to the Village Plat and is known as the D.M. Kelley Addition.)

On October 9, 1884, the Union freight depot burned. This was located at the junction of the Omaha and Green Bay and Minnesota roads. It was only a ‘shack’ and the citizens of Merrillan were not sorry to see it burn, as they hoped the two railroad companies would build a depot that would be a credit to the village. H.Weldon McGee, president of the Green Bay & Western Railroad in 1970 states, ‘The original freight depot was built by the GB&M RR in 1884 and was rebuilt by the Omaha at joint expense by both carriers in 1885 after the original had burned. The original passenger depot, a 14 x 28 frame building with a 10 x 22 foot lean-to, was built by the G.B. & M.R.R. Co. in 1880 and converted into a car inspector’s house in 1916. In 1886 a new depot was built by the Omaha at joint expense and has been so owned ever since.

The History of Trow; by Bob Gile

Trow was named for Alvin S. Trow, a lumberman who lived in Merrillan in the 1880’s and 90’s. He owned Wakefield, Trow & Co., who operated a sawmill on Lower Lake southeast of Merrillan and had extensive camps in the area of Dewhurst that was known as Trow. His company operated a steam driven “tram” up into their pinery and also had a line into Merrillan that intersected with the Green Bay & Minnesota Railroad. Although references to it in the newspaper were of a “tram” a section of rail that was found in that area indicates it may have been a regular logging railroad with iron rails, and if so, would have been the first such operation in Wisconsin (but a friend and I were never able to prove it to the satisfaction of the “authorities”). I would presume there might have been some farms in the area and a map of Clark County from around the turn of the century does show a siding and some type of structure, probably a passenger shelter at the Trow location, which is where the road running north from the Arnold Creek bridge on Hwy. 95 hits the old Omaha Marshfield Branch roadbed. Mr. Trow was also one of the first cranberry growers in the Millston area and owned lands there. He had a large dairy farm north of Merrillan. He was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly from Jackson County for several terms. Prior to living in Merrillan, he was from Oshkosh and operated a flour mill and a steamboat line on the Fox River.
He has the distinction of running the last log drive on the Black River as he had a mill in La Crosse also. I don’t believe there ever was a post office at Trow though.