Judge George Reed's Railroad Dream
Dreams are what this community has been built on. When the first settlers came here, I imagine they envisioned a land with more than just trees and a river. Our immigrant ancestors saw opportunities for a better life and for one pioneer in particular, George Reed, he dreamt of a railroad.
Judge George Reed, for whom the Village of Reedsville and Reed Avenue in the city of Manitowoc is named after, was one of the leaders responsible for the building of the Wisconsin Central Railroad. Reed was born in 1807 in Massachusetts. He came to Milwaukee in 1834 and soon began to dream of contributing to the building of Wisconsin. Around 1850, Judge Reed moved to Manitowoc and was elected as County Judge. In 1871, Reed bought up much of the road’s right of ways. On February 4 of that year the Wisconsin Central Railway was officially incorporated by a special act of the Wisconsin Legislature and organized as a land grant railroad, to tap the vast forest and lumber reserve of northern Wisconsin.
At this time the first rails were laid north from Menasha towards Ashland. Judge Reed, his brother Curtis and fellow entrepreneur Matt Wadleigh (from Stevens Point) ventured to Boston to secure financial support for the project from investors. Reed had studied corporate law for many years and felt confident in the connections and support they could gain from Boston. His dream was to connect the railroad from Manitowoc to Menasha. His goal didn’t stop there – he also wanted to get the railroad line to continue to the Mississippi River.
While working towards the completed Wisconsin Central rail line, Reed was met with many challenges. His biggest hurdle proved to be opposition and lack of cooperation from Manitowoc citizens to complete the project.
For many years, Reed continued to promote the project and drove up and down the rail’s path and held meetings with the local townspeople and town officers. He met with businessmen to pitch his idea and garner the needed financial support to bring the rail line to life. His desire to bring the rail line to Northeast Wisconsin was strong and Reed devoted a considerable amount of time and his own money to building the foundation for the project.
1895 was a landmark year. The Manitowoc Terminal Company, the precursor to the start of the Central Line in Manitowoc, began. Soon the Wisconsin Central had a plan to move freight trains across Lake Michigan, from Manitowoc to Ludington, Michigan, by carferry.
The rail line officially began construction from Hilbert to Manitowoc in April of 1895. The 27-line trek took over a year to complete and the first passenger train came into Manitowoc in June, 1896. Judge Reed was never able to see the completion of the rail line as he died in 1883 in the Newhall House fire in Milwaukee. While the railroad became a reality 25 years after Reed’s death, he deserves much credit for his perseverance and faith in what many considered a dead-end project.