The Chicago and North Western Railway in West Bend A Brief Summary
Gary Seymour - Retired West Bend East High School Teacher, Model Railroader
James H. Yanke - Retired C&NW Conductor, Author “The C&NW Air Line”
The West Bend area began settlement in the mid-1800's. As the Washington County seat, it became a regional government and business center. In 1873, the Northwestern Union Railroad completed a main line between Milwaukee and Fond du Lac through West Bend. It merged into the Chicago and North Western Railway (C&NW) in 1893.
Because the railroad line was built on the east side of the Milwaukee River, businesses and manufacturing companies gravitated to the area. The first station was built, and grain elevators, stores, a stave factory, and residences soon followed. Close behind was a brewery and an agricultural implements factory later known as Gehl Manufacturing. West Bend Aluminum Company, an innovative maker of aluminum cookware, began manufacturing along the railroad right of way in 1911. Amity Leather Products and Enger Kress also developed nearby. Pick Industries, West Bend Malting, Brittingham & Hixon Lumber Company, West Bend Canning Company, White House Milk, and others also located along the line, thus adding to West Bend’s growing economic development. The increased industry induced the C&NW to add improved facilities and to replace the original depot in 1900 with the current structure.
West Bend became known as "The City of Varied Industries". The products manufactured in West Bend were transported by the railroad to locations for worldwide distribution. Several West Bend industries were major manufacturers of war materials for the military during World War II and the Korean War. By the 1960's, the industrial base and associated rail traffic in West Bend was declining. The community was transforming into a financial, retailing, service, and educational center.
In addition to freight, C&NW also moved passengers. All passenger trains stopped in West Bend-four trains in each direction Monday through Saturday, and two in each direction on Sunday. During World War II passenger traffic boomed for both civilians and troops. After the war, the United States government provided large subsidies for highways and airport growth. As newer modes of transportation, the competition from automobiles and airplanes grew dramatically and caused railroad passenger service to decline. The C&NW ceased passenger service through West Bend in 1971.
The line through West Bend was sold twice to regional railroads and eventually abandoned in 2000. It was acquired by the State of Wisconsin, who removed the rails and created the 18 mile Eisenbahn Trail.
The West Bend Depot is the only surviving example of it’s type of C&NW combination depot in the State of Wisconsin. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
More information about the depot will be added to this page, so stay tuned.