Railroads gone from Spring Valley by 1980

The Milwaukee Road depot, about 1900.
By : 
Mary Jo Dathe
Glimpses of Yesteryear

We continue with the historical society's History of Spring Valley, remembering that this IS 1980, almost 40 years ago.

Demolition of the Milwaukee Road depot on Main and South Section was begun in 1979.  The depot, built in 1870, was for many years the focal point of activity as it brought passengers and commodities from throughout the country.  In Harry Johnson's "History of Railroads," he made the town of Spring Valley “glow with promise”....many area settlements died like Hamilton, Etna and Forestville when the railroad bypassed them.  When the Southern Minnesota railroad, later known as the Milwaukee Road, came from La Crosse, working their way west, the work crews stayed in Spring Valley for five years while they built depots, windmills and water towers up and down the line.

Then with a great deal of persuasion and considerable cash promises, the Winona & Southwest Railroad came from Simpson heading down into Iowa in 1890, making two railroads in town.  Five large elevators were built along the railroad tracks on Market Street; farmers who had raised livestock only for their own use could now ship to packinghouses such as Hormel in Austin, so the southeast corner of town was busy with the stockyards. Produce men in the 1880s could ship via railroad their butter, eggs, produce and apples east to Chicago or west to the Dakotas.  Ten years later there were eight daily passenger and freight trains moving through Spring Valley, and everyone was used to the familiar toots and whistles, and heeded the “stop, look and listen” signs at the railroad crossings where the tracks separated the town along the creek or on the west side of town.

We were reminded that the railroads were doomed by the 1960s because of freight trucks, good highways, automobiles, and aircraft, which offered better and faster service.  The Chicago Great Western, now the Chicago Great Northern, on the west side of town was the first to petition the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon service to its customers, and by 1977, trains were halted and crane crews picked up the rails.  When I was working at the Standard Oil terminal east of town (later Amoco, now bp), there was a tank car dock and men often loaded as many as 12 tank cars per day which were delivered to bulk plants in three states.

The old "tin cupboard" next to the municipal light plant was demolished in August 1974.  At one time the building housed the Spring Valley Mercury newspaper; it was later used as the Valley Chick Hatchery; then R.M. Gustafson's appliance store.

The first light plant was demolished in 1968.  Electric lights were first turned on in town on July 23, 1893.  The building was sold to the cooperative creamery.  In March 1969, the Congregational church voted to sell its property (church and parsonage) to the Red Owl owners so a large grocery store could be built on site. (The Spring Valley municipal library is now at this site!)

In the summer of 1901, several public meetings were held to discuss the need for a public library.  Accordingly, the lower part of the Lawrence building was rented.  The front part was fitted up for a rest room and the back part for a reading room and library.  The first Library Board consisted of B.F. Farmer, J.N. Graling, F.E. Lurton, and Mrs. O.E. Thayer, collector.  The first librarian was Miss Nellie Grant.  A book shower was given, 112 books were placed on the shelves, $15 given to the book committee, and $30 was subscribed for magazines.  Nearly every organization vied with each other in giving benefit for the library.  The first year showed a circulation of 7,103 volumes.  After the first year, the library was supported by a one-mill tax until 1904 when Andrew Carnegie gave $8,000 upon consideration of the usual tax and the donation of a site for the new building.  Carnegie Library was erected during the summer of 1904.  The present Library Board (we are talking 1980!) was John Osterud, Mrs. Burton Perkins, Mrs. Wm. Callaway, Mrs. Francis Tart, Kenneth Stickan and Virgil Roberts.  (The library building is now our city hall.)

(We consulted with the present library director, Jenny Simon, and she was unable to give info about the following:  When the will of the late Miss Jessie Whitman of St. Paul was read in May 1954, it was revealed that she had bequeathed the library $1,000.  She was a native of Spring Valley and received her education in the local schools.  The trustees of her estate gave a large portrait of Miss Whitman to be unveiled during the centennial in 1980.  Simon did not know but will find out the identity of the historical portraits in the back room.)  Interestingly, the library does not subscribe to ANY magazines -- all magazines are given to the library and it has a multitude of them.

We will continue with more stories from 1980 -- the History of Spring Valley is no longer available, but we may be able to print it!  In the meantime, we suggest you visit the museums at 221 West Courtland; admission is minimal for what you get to see!