Reminders of 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 northwestward, until the M&N reached the shore of Lake Superior at Ontonagon, Mich., in 1893.

Technically, the M&N reached the shore of Lake Superior on 1 October 1889, when the Ontonagon & Brule River (O&BR) extended their line from Rockland, Mich., to Sidnaw, Mich.

The O&BR had been controlled by the M&N almost since its inception, 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.

M&N passengers and freight could then travel from Champion, Mich., to Sidnaw via the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic (DSS&A), and then from Sidnaw to Ontonagon via the O&BR. The year of 1893 is given here as the year the M&N reached Lake Superior because that is when their passengers and freight could make the entire trip from Milwaukee to Ontonagon via their own rails (after their main line was extended from Channing, Mich., to Sidnaw). Scheduled train service commenced on 1 January 1893.

The M&N became the Superior Division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul (CM&StP), or Milwaukee Road (MILW), on 1 July 1893.

The majority of this portion of the main line is still active, operated by the Escanaba & Lake Superior (E&LS or ELS). The section from Rockland to Ontonagon was abandoned in 2009 and the rails have been removed.

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

An E&LS train, led by ELS 503, parked on the former M&N main line at Blaine St. at Sidnaw, Mich., on 25 July 2022. I played cat-and-mouse with this train for 3 days. The mouse won. The tracks to the right were part of the interchange with the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic (DSS&A). Photograph by Tom Bruss.

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 O&BR in 1889. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking northeast along the former Soo Line (SOO) right-of-way from Blaine St. toward the remnants of the junction with the former M&N main line at Sidnaw, Mich., on 17 October 2021. The former 1909 union depot would be visible in the background, if it still stood. The SOO, historically Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic (DSS&A), rails were laid in Sep. 1888 by the Marquette, Houghton & Ontonagon (MH&O). The E&LS tracks, laid by the M&N in 1892, bisect the scene. Photograph by Tom Bruss.

Looking northeast from Ontario St. toward the site of the former MILW/Soo Line (SOO) 1909 union depot at Sidnaw, Mich., on 17 October 2021. This view shows the SOO side. These rails were laid in Sep. 1888 by the Marquette, Houghton & Ontonagon (MH&O), a predecessor of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic (DSS&A). To the far right you can see the former M&N main line, laid in 1892. Photograph by Tom Bruss.