The Milwaukee & Northern Main Line – Menominee River to Ontonagon

The Milwaukee & Northern (M&N) reached the Menominee River (the border of Wisconsin and Michigan) in 1886.

Fifty-eight miles of track were laid from the Menominee River to Champion, Michigan, in 1887. This section was completed, or opened, on 20 November 1887.

Construction of the main line continued northward, until the M&N reached the shore of Lake Superior at Ontonagon, Michigan, in 1893.

The majority of this portion of the main line is still active, operated by the Escanaba & Lake Superior (E&LS or ELS).

Iron Mountain, Mich., was Milepost 208 on the M&N.

ELS 501 leads a train past the former Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul (CM&StP), or Milwaukee Road (MILW) depot as it heads north at Iron Mountain, Mich., on 23 July 2021. This depot was built in 1914 at a cost of about $25,000. It replaced the original ca. 1887 M&N depot, which was moved one block to the south and converted into a freight house. It is awesome to encounter a former MILW locomotive plying former MILW rails. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The north and west walls of the former MILW, depot at Iron Mountain, Mich., on 3 November 2018. This depot was built in 1914 at a cost of about $25,000. It replaced the original ca. 1887 M&N depot, which was moved one block to the south and converted into a freight house. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The south and west walls of the former MILW, depot at Iron Mountain, Mich., on 3 November 2018. This depot was built in 1914 at a cost of about $25,000. It replaced the original ca. 1887 M&N depot, which was moved one block to the south and converted into a freight house. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking south along the former M&N main line from E. H St. at Iron Mountain, Mich., on 3 November 2018. The tracks curving off to the left are a rare remnant of the former Wisconsin & Michigan (W&M) line. This remnant is about 6,000 ft. long. A short section of track bridges the gap between the spot where the W&M rails were truncated long ago, and the western end of the truncated former Chicago & North Western (C&NW), now Canadian National (CN), line from Powers, Mich. I didn’t realize the significance of this junction at the time. If I had, I would have to capture a better photograph. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The C&NW Crossing at Antoine, Mich., was Milepost 209 on the M&N.

ELS 402 and ELS 502 lead a train across the former Chicago & North Western (C&NW) right-of-way as they head southeast via the former M&N main line at Antoine, Mich., on 19 October 2021. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Merriman, Mich., was Milepost 216 (some references state 215) on the M&N.

ELS 402 and ELS 502 lead a train across Merriman Rd. as they head south via the former M&N main line at Merriman, Mich. on 19 October 2021. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Granite Bluff, Mich., was Milepost 217 (some references state 218) on the M&N.

ELS 501 leads a train approaching Johnson Rd. as it heads northwest via the former M&N main line at Granite Bluff, Mich., on 23 July 2021. It is awesome to encounter a former MILW locomotive plying former MILW rails. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Randville, Mich., was Milepost 221 on the M&N.

ELS 501 slows to halt short of Carbis Rd. on the former M&N main line at Randville, Mich., on 23 July 2021. It is awesome to encounter a former MILW locomotive plying former MILW rails. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Channing (originally Ford Siding), Mich., was Milepost 232 on the M&N.

MILW 531 rests in front of the former M&N depot at Channing, Mich. (originally Ford Siding, Mich.), photographed circa 1912. This view is looking northward. Photograph courtesy of the Dickinson County Library and the Upper Peninsula Regional Digitization Center.

ELS 503 and ELS 402 rest in front of the former M&N depot at the E&LS yard at Channing, Mich., on 26 June 2021. I believe this to be the 1893 M&N depot, with the newer, larger MILW depot hiding beyond it. I haven’t found much information regarding the two depots here. One reference states the older depot was built in 1888, but that is almost certainly erroneous. In 1892, when the name was changed from Ford Siding to Channing, the depot was an old box car, as J. Parke Channing (the namesake of this community) later recalled. A newspaper article from 27 July 1893 proudly proclaimed that “a new and neat depot has just been completed.” The newer, larger depot was built by the MILW later, in or prior to 1907, the earliest photograph I have seen. This view is looking northward. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Amasa (originally Hemlock), Mich., was ca. Milepost 252 on the M&N.

The south and west walls of the former M&N depot at Amasa (originally Hemlock), Mich., on 24 July 2021. This line was laid, and the depot almost certainly constructed, by the M&N in 1892. Newspaper articles suggest the line was completed circa 1 December 1892, although it was not declared officially open (when scheduled trains commenced) until January 1893. That is probably why some references state the depot was built in 1893. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The west wall of the former M&N depot at Amasa (originally Hemlock), Mich., on 17 October 2021. It was sunnier on this day than it was the last time I was here, so I was obligated to capture some better photographs. This line was laid, and the depot almost certainly constructed, by the M&N in 1892. Newspaper articles suggest the line was completed circa 1 December 1892, although it was not declared officially open (when scheduled trains commenced) until January 1893. That is probably why some references state the depot was built in 1893. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Sidnaw, Mich., was ca. Milepost 279 on the M&N.

Looking northwest along the E&LS, former M&N, main line from Blaine St. at Sidnaw, Mich., on 17 October 2021. These rails were laid by the Ontonagon & Brule River (O&BR); the first 20 miles of that railroad were completed on 5 February 1882. The O&BR had been controlled by the M&N since at least 1881. Several M&N officers were major stockholders and officers of the O&BR. It was purchased by the M&N on 16 June 1890. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Ontonagon, Mich., was ca. Milepost 325 on the M&N.

The southeast and southwest walls of the circa 1896 CM&StP, or MILW, depot at Ontonagon, Mich., on 17 October 2021. This depot was built after the previous depot, along with most of Ontonagon, was destroyed when a forest/swamp fire engulfed the village on 25 August 1896. The previous depot was likely the original one built by the O&BR when the first 20 miles of that railroad were completed on 5 February 1882. The O&BR had been controlled by the M&N since at least 1881. Several M&N officers were major stockholders and officers of the O&BR. It was purchased by the M&N on 16 June 1890. The building in the background is Lake Shore Systems, Inc. The tracks used to run right to the shore of Lake Superior at the mouth of the Ontonagon River, to the left of the Lake Shore Systems, Inc., building. The E&LS abandoned this section of the line after the paper mill closed in 2009. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

The absolute northern terminus of the M&N main line at the shore of Lake Superior, on the east bank of the mouth of the Ontonagon River, at Ontonagon, Mich., in 1887. A flatcar is spotted next to the Harvey Bissell. The Harvey Bissel, U. S. No. 11281, was built as a barquentine, or barkentine, at Toledo, Ohio, in 1866, and plied the Great Lakes for 39 years. It was converted to a 3-masted schooner in 1874. By 1887 it had been converted to a 2-masted towbarge. It was wrecked, with a cargo of lumber, in a storm on 24 or 28 November 1905 on Lake Huron between Thunder Bay Island and Presque Isle. The building to the right is the Sisson & Lilly sawmill, with a massive pile of logs on its dock, on the west bank of the mouth of the Ontonagon River. The O&BR, later M&N, depot stands about half of a mile to the southeast, out-of-frame to the left. Uncredited photograph from Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, Bulletin No. 121, October 1969.

The copy of the newspaper article, at right, is not very good, so here is a transcript of it:

     “Green Bay Gazette: Railroad officials who were on the Milwaukee & Northern train north from Champion yesterday forenoon report a novel sight. When a short distance this side of Champion two deer sprang on the track ahead of the engine and started on a run. The train was moving along at a rate of about twenty five or thirty miles an hour, but the animals did not seem to have very much trouble in keeping ahead. This uneven race was kept up for about three miles, when the deer came to a railroad bridge. It being too wide to clear, they parted, one jumping to the right side of the bridge and the other to the left, and disappeared into the woods in different directions.”

Daily Northwestern article on 1 March 1888, about two deer running on the tracks in front of a M&N train near Champion, Mich., on 29 February 1888.

An advertisement for the M&N from the Souvenir Program of the 1888 National Republican Convention in Chicago, Ill.