Reminders of the Appleton Branch

The Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) constructed a 4.7-mile branch line from Menasha, Wis., into ‘The Flats’ at Appleton, Wis., in 1880. The branch is still active to Midway Rd. in Menasha, operated by the Canadian National (CN). The portion of the line from approximately 400 feet northeast of Valley Rd. to the end of the branch in ‘The Flats’ was abandoned by the Milwaukee Road (MILW) in 1981.

Looking northeast along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch at Midway Rd. at Menasha, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch used to continue northeast from Midway Rd. This spur which curves to the right is the northernmost active remnant of the branch. It is currently operated by the Canadian National (CN) to serve LSC Communications, Inc. (formerly RR Donnelley, originally Banta Corp.), 800 Midway Rd. Banta began construction of this facility, to supplement their original plant near downtown Menasha, in September of 1945, so it is historically a Milwaukee Road (MILW) customer. RR Donnelley purchased Banta Corp. on 2 January 2007. LSC Communications was spun off from RR Donnelley circa November 2016. When the M&N laid their tracks here in 1880, this area was mostly farm land. This parcel was a 40-acre farm owned by A. Kruse (Kraus) at the time. I’m not sure when this portion of the Appleton Branch was abandoned and torn out. The portion beyond their customers at Valley Rd. and down to ‘The Flats’ at Appleton was abandoned in 1981. Highway 441, the Tri-county Expressway, can be seen in the background. Construction commenced circa 1990, it was completed in September 1993. The cell phone tower in the background stands next to the former right-of-way.

This spur at Midway Rd., Menasha, Wis., is the northernmost active remnant of the former Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch. Banta began construction of this facility in September of 1945, so it is historically a Milwaukee Road (MILW) customer. When the M&N laid their tracks here in 1880, this area was mostly farm land. This parcel was a 40-acre farm owned by A. Kruse (Kraus) at the time.

A Canadian National (CN) local, led by IC 9605, services RR Donnelley, originally Banta Corp., at Menasha, Wis., on 27 January 2014. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking northeast along O’Conner Way, the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, at Valley Rd. at Fox Crossing, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

When the M&N laid their tracks here in 1880, this area was mostly farm land. This parcel was an 80-acre farm owned by P. Schumich (Schwmich) at the time. This industrial facility at 960 Valley Rd., Appleton, Wis. (physically located in Fox Crossing) dates to at least 1955 and was served by the Milwaukee Road (MILW). If you proceed along O’Conner Way, you can still see where the loading doors were along the northwest wall of the building. The turnout for the spur was at the far end of the building. I’m not sure who the original occupant was, but it is currently occupied by Great Northern Container. I’m not sure when this portion of the Appleton Branch was abandoned and torn out. The portion beyond this facility’s turnout and down to ‘The Flats’ at Appleton was abandoned in 1981. I believe that this facility continued to receive rail service after the Soo Line (SOO) acquired the MILW, but I am not positive. This portion of Valley Rd. forms the absurdly convoluted border between Menasha and Fox Crossing (formerly Town of Menasha, from 1855 until 14 April 2016). I was standing on the Menasha side looking toward Fox Crossing.

The property line which separates WOW Logistics, Menasha Distribution Center, 923 Valley Rd., from Altimate Motorsports, 887 Valley Rd., and Multi Storage, LLC, 867 Valley Rd., approximates the former right-of-way. The WOW Logistics facility was erected in 1995, with an addition in 1997. I do not know who the original occupant was, or when WOW Logistics moved in. The Altimate Motorsports site was once home to Appleton Steel Works. Multi Storage, LLC, was erected in 2017, after yet another historic manufacturing facility was erased from the local landscape. The factory was constructed in 1947, but I do not know who the original occupant was. It was home to Kool Brothers, Inc., from at least the 1960s until the early 1980s. They began to manufacture farm machinery in the 1950s, but had also produced ornamental iron since 1924. The facility was the home of Kinetic Systems, Inc., circa 1984 to at least 1994. They manufactured palletizing equipment. The factory was later home to Urban Evolutions for a few years. When the M&N laid their tracks here in 1880, this area was mostly farm land. This parcel was a 120-acre farm owned by T. Johnson in 1873, purchased by M. Lochbaum sometime prior to 1889. I’m not sure when this portion of the Appleton Branch was abandoned and torn out. The portion beyond the turnout for the facility behind me and down to ‘The Flats’ at Appleton was abandoned in 1981. I believe that facility continued to receive rail service after the Soo Line (SOO) acquired the MILW, but I am not positive. Highway 441, the Tri-county Expressway, can be seen in the background. Construction commenced circa 1990, it was completed in September 1993.

Looking southwest along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, at Valley Rd. at Menasha, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking northeast along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, from the intersection of O’Connor Way and George St. at Fox Crossing, Wis., (formerly Town of Menasha, WI, from 1855 until 14 April 2016) on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The right half of the house at left was built over the former right-of-way. The railroad tracks used to curve from northeast to east northeast behind the house at right. When the M&N laid their tracks here in 1880, this area was mostly farm land. I believe this parcel was a 64-acre farm owned by W. Hungerfest (Hangerfest) at the time. This portion of the Appleton Branch, down into ‘The Flats’ at Appleton, was abandoned in 1981.

Looking southwest along the Fox River from the S. Memorial Dr. (originally Cherry St.) bridge at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. The abutment on the far bank at left is the last remnant of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) swing bridge over the Fox River and under the Memorial Dr. bridge. This portion of the Appleton Branch, down into ‘The Flats’ at Appleton, was abandoned in 1981. I remember seeing trains cross this bridge. I do not remember when this bridge was removed. I do not know for sure if the bridge which I remember was the original bridge erected by the M&N in 1880, or if it was a replacement built by the MILW. The tracks to the right are the Canadian National (CN) branch line which runs from Appleton Junction, Wis., to Combined Locks, Wis. Those rails were originally laid by the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western (MLS&W) in 1873. The MLS&W was absorbed by the Chicago & North Western (C&NW) in 1893. The Appleton Yacht Club and Lutz Park can be seen in the background to the right. Over the past several years, I have notice that some misinformed individuals erroneously refer to ‘The Flats’ as ‘Oneida Flats,’ or some other variation. However, the historic, industrial heart of Appleton is simply ‘The Flats.’ In the M&N-era this area was referred to as ‘The Water Power.’ The cell phone tower in the background stands next to the former right-of-way north of Valley Rd. (near the intersection of O’Connor Way and Stanton Cir.).

Looking southwest along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, from the S. Memorial Dr. bridge at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking southwest along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, from the S. Memorial Dr. bridge at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking southwest along the former Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) right-of-way from the S. Memorial Dr. (originally Cherry St.) bridge over the Fox River at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. This abutment is the last remnant of the M&N swing bridge over the Fox River and under the Memorial Dr. bridge. This portion of the Appleton Branch, down into ‘The Flats’ at Appleton, was abandoned in 1981. I remember seeing trains cross this bridge. I do not remember when this bridge was removed. I do not know for sure if the bridge which I remember was the original bridge erected by the M&N in 1880, or if it was a replacement built by the MILW. Over the past several years, I have notice that some misinformed individuals erroneously refer to ‘The Flats’ as ‘Oneida Flats,’ or some other variation. However, the historic, industrial heart of Appleton is simply ‘The Flats.’ In the M&N-era this area was referred to as ‘The Water Power.’ The cell phone tower in the background to the right stands next to the former right-of-way north of Valley Rd. (near the intersection of O’Connor Way and Stanton Cir.).

Looking east over ‘The Flats’ from the Oneida Skyline Bridge at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. The railroad tracks belong to the Canadian National (CN), former Chicago & North Western (C&NW), originally Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western (MLS&W), laid in 1872. The MLS&W depot stood at the bottom of the scene, this side of S. Olde Oneida St. (formerly S. Oneida St., originally Lake St.), on the strip of land between their tracks and W. Edison Ave. (originally Mill St.). The Milwaukee & Northern (M&N), later Milwaukee Road (MILW), depot stood on the opposite side of S. Olde Oneida St. in the grassy area between E. Eagle Flats Pkwy. (originally Railroad Ave.) and the parking lot of Union Jack, 812 S. Olde Oneida St. (original address 649 Lake St.) (just out-of-frame to the right). The M&N tracks, laid in 1880, ran parallel and to the right of the MLS&W tracks as they crossed the Fox River (behind me), then they veered slightly to the right, passing to the right of the MLS&W depot and to the right of their own depot. The M&N yard stretched from S. Olde Oneida St. toward S. Lawe St. The white, metal-clad warehouse to the right of E. Eagle Flats Pkwy. (currently used by CBC Coating, Inc., 820 S. Olde Oneida St.) is the approximate location of the M&N 2-stall roundhouse and turntable depicted on the 1886 Sanborn map. The bland apartment buildings beyond that (the tan and maroon buildings) are the Landing at Eagle Flats and Riverwalk Place, which were built in 2011-12 on the former site of Riverside Paper. That facility, which dated to 1895, was known as Kerwin Paper Co., a subsidiary of Riverside Paper Corp., when it closed in 2005 or ’06. The road parallel to the right of the tracks and leading toward those apartments was originally Railroad Ave., it ran between the MLS&W and M&N yards. It was renamed E. Eagle Flats Pkwy. when those apartments were built. The tan, brick facility to the left of the MLS&W tracks is currently home to JWM Coenen Mechanical (historically Allis-Chalmers, originally Valley Iron Works), 401 E. South Island St. Neenah Paper (formerly Fox River Paper Co.), 600 S. Vulcan St., is partially visible beyond that to the upper left. This portion of the Appleton Branch was abandoned in 1981. Although the Milwaukee Road (MILW) hadn’t gone past here since 1978, when they handed over their customers in ‘The Flats’ to the Chicago & North Western (C&NW) because they didn’t want to (couldn’t afford to) maintain that stretch of rail any longer. The South Channel of the Fox River once flowed parallel and to the left of these railroad tracks. The land to the left is, or at least was, Grand Chute Island. Old maps reveal that the west end of the South Channel was filled in at some point between 1916 and 1957. Most of the remainder of the South Channel was filled in the following years. Part of the JWM facility was built over what was once the South Channel. Over the past several years, I have notice that some misinformed individuals erroneously refer to ‘The Flats’ as ‘Oneida Flats,’ or some other variation. However, the historic, industrial heart of Appleton is simply ‘The Flats.’ In the M&N-era this area was referred to as ‘The Water Power.’

Looking east along the former right-of-way of the Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) Appleton Branch, from the Oneida Skyline Bridge at Appleton, Wis., on 4 April 2020. Photograph by Tom Bruss.