Elroy-Sparta Trail Arch #1

Stone Arch Bridge over Farm Road
South of Sparta In Monroe County, Wisconsin

Click the Photo Above to See All Photos of This Bridge!
Name Elroy-Sparta Trail Arch #1
Built By Chicago & North Western Railway
Contractor Unknown
Currently Owned By Wisconsin DNR
Length 14 Feet
Width 1 Track
Height Above Ground 15 Feet
Superstructure Type Stone Arch and Stone Box Culvert
Date Built 1880
Traffic Count 0 Trains/Day (Bridge is a Trail)
Current Status Rails to Trails
C&NW Bridge Number 578
Significance Moderate Significance
In 1857, the La Crosse, Trempeauleau & Prescott Railroad charted a line from Marshland (near Winona) to Medary Junction in La Crosse.
Ten years later, in 1867, the Chicago & North Western Railway acquired this route. 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 Baraboo 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.
Increases in traffic required the construction of a second mainline between Madison and Elroy, constructed between 1896 and 1900.
But, regardless of the traffic, once the new double track line between Wyeville and Milwaukee was complete, 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.
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 Wisconsin Southern Railroad, who operates the spur as the Reedsburg Subdivision.

This beautiful stone arch bridge is one of the several such arches along the Elroy-Sparta Trail, and crosses a driveway.
Built in 1880, the bridge is in near mint condition, with little to no defects anywhere. The stonework is absolutely stellar as well.
The bridge is the 1st arch, heading west to east along the Elroy-Sparta Trail. In addition to the main arch, a smaller stone box culvert runs through the arch.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in great condition. Virtually no major deterioration was noted.

The author has ranked this bridge as being moderately significant, due to the older age and great condition.
The photo above is an overview. The bridge was accessed with permission.


Source Type


Build Date Chicago & North Western Railway Historical Society Archives
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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