New Lisbon history is founded upon the railroad reaching its boundaries in 1857. All life pulsed around the tracks for a means of transportation, exporting local crops, mail, freight, and receiving products from other parts of the country. New Lisbon’s depot was the central stopping location between Minneapolis and Chicago.
The present day railroad between New Lisbon and Minocqua was built between 1878 and 1895. Milwaukee Road introduced its competitive Hiawatha May 29, 1935, which was the first full-sized steam-powered stream-lined train. The Hiawatha was outstanding, receiving four new sets of cars in the next thirteen years. The time of the eastbound Morning Hiawatha Sparta to Portage: 78 miles in 58 minutes was the fastest regularly scheduled steam-powered train ever operated in the world. The Hiawathas were gradually converted from steam to diesel electric between 1941-1946. Three of the Hiawathas stopped in New Lisbon.
In its heyday, as many as 350-400 people could be transferring trains at our bustling depot at any given day.
Many local men were part of the railroad crews that worked day and night shifts earning $25-$40 per month depending upon the position held. Local restaurants and hotels provided fine food and clean lodging for the workers. Victoria’s Hotel was well known amongst the railroad crews as the place to stay. This hotel still resides along the tracks.
A popular restaurant for the railroad workers at the time was the Beanery, the place to go for home cooking and delicious pies.
A regular meal at the Beanery consisted of meat, potatoes, gravy, hot vegetable, salad, one slice of dark and one slice of white bread, butte, and coffee for 35 cents. A fine T-bone dinner could be purchased for 75 cents. “Whippies” were quite popular which was a hamburger on bread for only a nickel. Ice cream cones, 5 cents; cupcakes or donuts, 2 for 5 cents; pie with ice cream, 10 cents.
The depot was also home to Western Union telegrams. Several old timers can relay stories of being delivery boys of telegrams for 5 cents per message. The earnings would usually end up at Elias Boynton’s candy shop where a lot of candy could be purchased with tat precarious nickel.
Fred Rabuck remembers a time when he was a youngster of selling papers to the travelers. He would jump on board as the train arrived and collect all the papers he could gather and then resell them to passengers that were leaving for a nickel apiece.