In 1867, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway acquired it. No building was ever done under the LT&P, and C&NW completed it.
By 1870, the line was built between Winona and La Crosse. Starting in 1873, the C&NW desired to built further.
The C&NW first crossed the Mississippi River at Winona in 1871. The bridge would connect to the existing Minnesota Mainline.
Now they wanted to build east of La Crosse. The proposed line would follow the existing Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul tracks from La Crosse to Sparta, a distance of about 25 miles.
In addition, a line would be completed from Sparta to Elroy, into a very difficult area. This area had many geographical features, such as large hills.
Nonetheless, this line was completed in 1873. At Elroy, the line connected to a line to Madison. This line had been completed from Madison through Reedsburg to Elroy in 1872 by the Barbaroo Air Line Railroad.
One of the challenges of the Sparta-Elroy portion of the line was three massive tunnels under sandstone bluffs. These were completed in 1873.
In 1911, at the peak, the line could handle a massive 60 trains/day. This line became the mainline for the C&NW connecting Chicago/Milwaukee/Madison to the Twin Cities years before.
But maybe more importantly, the line would connect into South Dakota across Minnesota, making it a true grain line.
But, regardless of the traffic, once the new double track line between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee through Eau Claire opened in 1911, the traffic fell off hard north of Elroy.
Another contributing factor was a connection directly to that line at Wyeville, built from Sparta in 1912.
The first abandonment came in 1964 when the C&NW shut down the line from Sparta to Elroy. At Elroy, the line was still connecting to a C&NW line to Wausau, and was one of a few connections from Wausau to Madison.
The next round came in 1977, when the northern end of the line was shut down from Winona to Trempealeau.
By 1985, the line would be shut down from Reedsburg to Elroy. And the final blow came in the 1980s when the Trempealeau to Sparta line was abandoned.
With these massive abandonments, the lines became part of trails. The first rail-trail in the nation, the Elroy-Sparta trail was completed in 1965.
The feature is three massive tunnels and 34 decked bridges, with numerous hidden stone arches.
The next sections were completed in the 1990s. From Elroy-Reedsburg, its named the 400 trail, and is a reference to the fact that C&NW could run between Milwaukee and the Twin Cities in 400 minutes.
From La Crosse to Sparta is named the La Crosse River Trail, and features scenic views of the La Crosse River in La Crosse and Dutch Creek in Bangor, as well as many smaller bridges and swamps. This trail parallels the CP ex CMStP&P (Milwaukee Road) for the entire length.
The final section runs from La Crosse to Trempealeau. This trail is known as the Great River Trail, and features scenic crossings of numerous swamps along the Mississippi River. The largest attraction is the quarter mile long bridge over the Black River.
Together, these four trails make up Wisconsin's famed "Bike 4 Trails", and make Sparta the bicycle capitol of the world (as they claim).
The final few miles from Trempealeau to Winona Junction remain abandoned, with little hopes for future trail development. The bridge over the Mississippi River is missing its main swing span, although the approaches remain.
From Reedsburg to Madison remains in use as Union Pacific Railroad, who purchased the C&NW in 1995.
If you ever find yourself in this area of Wisconsin, Bike 4!
This is one of 6 arches in this area of the Elroy-Sparta Trail. The bridge is unique, as it contains both the 14'x15' Stone Arch, but also a 4'x6' Stone Box Culvert Underneath.
The bridge looks like it was built in the 1880s. When I was driving along WI-71 in November 2013, I just happened to spot this arch, along with the other 5 and a couple girder bridges.
Lucky for me, the landowner who owns the farm and fields around the bridge let me back to the bridge. Thanks for that!!
The bridge is made of a heavy limestone, typical of other bridges in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This type of stone is resistant to crumbling and can last for hundreds of years.
The photo above is an overview.