April 16, 2004

Little Theater, Quad 346-SJU

Joseph Farry, Political Science (Emeritus)

Building the Railroad to St. Joe and Collegeville: Dutch Bankers, Canadian speculators and a US Government land “give away”

The opening of the Lake Wobegon bike trail along an abandoned railroad right-of-way attracted my curiosity: why did the railroad builders of the 1870’s decide on this particular route for connecting St. Cloud to the western border of Minnesota? Where did they get the money? What happened to the proceeds of the Federal land grant—over a million acres of land stretching from St. Cloud to Morehead? How did this stretch of rail line become the foundation for James J. Hill’s railroad empire? I discovered a fascinating story of entrepreneurship, political influence peddling, and “creative” financing -- and the usual confluences of unexpected historical events.