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Madison Roundhouse

Madison Roundhouse (1896)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-24818

Railroad Stations

At one time Madison had six railroad stations. The Northwestern station was at Blair and East Wilson streets. Kitty corner was the Franklin Street station of the Milwaukee Road. Another Milwaukee Road station was on West Washington Avenue. The Illinois Central station was on West Washington Avenue, where the Badger Bus Company is today located. Across the street was the Illinois Central freight station. The Northwestern station in South Madison stood where the track crosses Lakeside Street. The final station served Wingra Park, today's Dudgeon-Monroe and Vilas neighborhoods along Monroe Street. The small triangle park between Breese Terrace, Crazy Legs Lane, and Regent Street was originally part of this station. Across the Illinois Central track, it curved onto Monroe Street. The trolley line went to Forest Hill Cemetery originally, but it was cut back when the wooden trestle of the Illinois Central was declared unsafe. The Illinois Central tracks were made into the Southwest Bike Path in 2001. The station had a shelter, but no ticket taker. The present Forest Hill office building was originally a trolley stop.

Madison also had two roundhouses, one on the east side and one on the west, each the scene of a “frightful accident.” On January 25, 1898, at 9:50 a.m., the boiler of passenger engine 249 exploded in the roundhouse of the Chicago and Northwestern Railway Company, a few blocks east of the passenger depot, killing Frank Beck, Charles E. Young, and C. W. Shelper, and injuring five, including Beck’s son Joseph.

“The shock,” the Madison Democrat reported, “was plainly heard in the heart of the city, while every building in the Sixth Ward rattled and books fell from the desks in the schoolhouse. Immediately after the explosion, an enormous cloud of smoke and steam enveloped the building, hiding it completely from view. Many rushed to the scene from all directions. The spectacle was one not soon to be forgotten. The south half of the roundhouse was completely demolished. Huge timbers twisted and broken lay crossed in every imaginable direction, mixed with boards, rods, bricks, and scraps of iron.”

Twelve years earlier, almost to the day, there had been a similar explosion in the roundhouse of the St. Paul Company at West Madison, killing Peter Burke, John DeCampel, and John Klug.

Both explosions followed snowstorms. Some believed the engines in both cases were weakened by being subjected to extra strain while plowing through snowdrifts.

William H. Polk, Jr.
Mark Gajewski