| The origin of Morrisonville is traced to James Morrison, who emigrated to America from Scotland in 1842. James arrived in the area (Dane County, Section 6 of the Township of Windsor) on June 6, 1843. He purchased 290 acres from the U.S. government as part of a homestead grant.
On a knoll above the headwaters of the Yahara River, the Morrison family erected a form of temporary shelter while a log structure was constructed, their first home. James and his family worked hard to convert the virgin land into farmland suitable for growing crops. By 1851 they had cleared land, added several building to the farm, and constructed a more substantial frame home.
The prospect of a railroad coming through the area was hailed with joy by James Morrison and other early settlers fortunate enough to own land along the potential right-of-way. In 1862 James conveyed 43 acres of land to the railroad company with the understanding that a station would be built. On August 9, 1870 a corporation was formed to build a portion of the railroad between Madison and Portage, the Madison and Portage Railroad Company. The Morrison family and others in the area likely provided meals and support to the work crews as they laid the tracks.
The Madison and Portage Company received aid from Madison, Portage, and other towns along the line. The history associated with the building of this portion of the railroad is a particularly fascinating one involving a host of political and economic deals—some more successful and honorable than others.
Official operation of the railroad began in August, 1871, and the line was leased to the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad, which eventually purchased it in 1878. During the early years in Morrisonville, each day there were two passenger trains which traveled south (8:25 a.m. and 5:05 p.m.) and one freight train (2:30 p.m). Traveling north were two passenger trains (12:36 p.m. and 9:37 p.m.) and one freight train (8:55 a.m.)
In 1871 the town was surveyed by L. P. Drake, county surveyor for George Clinton, an officer of the railroad who also became the first agent at Morrisonville. The first post office was established on May 10, 1871 and designated "Morrisonville" by the U.S. government. (There was already a "Morrison" at another location in the state.)
The exact date of the construction of the depot building has not been determined. However, the permanent structure that was eventually erected measured 20 feet by 48 feet, a wood building defined by its wood drop siding and wood shingles. The building trended in the north-south direction and was located on the east side of the main tracks.
The depot structure was designed by J. U. Nettenstrom, (who used the exact design for depots at Summit and Pierpont). It provided for a waiting room in the north portion, which included an elevated and fenced-off area for the station agent. A nine-foot agent’s desk was built-in and located in a windowed cubby which extended out beyond the regular building on the west side. The freight room, which had large doors on both the east and west sides, measured 20 by 27 feet.
After the railroad came through, Morrisonville flourished for many years--an important focal point for commerce and travel. In fact, during this period in history, Morrisonville was considered to be one of the most prosperous towns along the new railroad line. Great quantities of tobacco and other farm goods were shipped out each week. Businesses were built on the nearby main street (Morrison Street), several residences, and a hotel and livery stable near the depot area.
By the middle of the 20th century rail travel and commerce had diminished substantially and rail service to Morrisonville was cut back. Passenger service ended on September 6, 1952. Eventually the depot was sold to a nearby feed company and moved from its original mainline location to where it now stands. When it was moved it was rotated 90 degrees so that it is now perpendicular to the tracks. By the 1980s the feed company had closed and the buildings basically abandoned.
The future of the depot is questionable but there is reason for optimism. The Morrisonville Depot Preservation Society, Inc. is working very hard to save the depot and with the help of the community, local, state and federal officials, they believe this important part of Morrisonville's past will be saved for future generations to enjoy.
|Morrisonville and The Morrisonville Depot:
A Brief History
by John H. Englesby
|(c)2002, 2003, MDPSI. All Rights Reserved.|