Map Showing the City of Watertown and Its Railroad Connections (1856)

Watertown, roughly 45 miles northwest of Milwaukee, was founded in 1836 astride a bend in the Rock River, whose many cataracts were capable of providing abundant waterpower for emerging industries. As shown on the inset map at lower left, the sinuous course of the river made it possible for three separate dams and power sources to be established in close proximity to the town site. The pamphlet enthusiastically proclaimed the advantages of Watertown for manufacturing, claiming: “[i]t only needs the enterprise and industry of New England and the Eastern States, to make for our city a name as widely known as that of Lowell or Rochester.” A plank road connecting the town to Milwaukee was opened in the same year, and the Milwaukee and Watertown Railroad opened in 1855. The future looked bright; Watertown had 8,500 inhabitants and was the second largest town in the state.

The City Council intended this bit of cartographic wishful thinking to show the town in the most favorable geographical light. Watertown appears to be the largest place outside of Milwaukee (only slightly smaller than a city that was actually ten times larger) and destined to become the rail hub of the state. Though the contemplated rail links with Madison, Janesville, and Fond du Lac were constructed within the next few years, the Panic of 1857 bankrupted the railroads serving Watertown, undermining its future as a transportation hub.



Current, Richard N. The Civil War Era, 1848-1873, vol. 2., The History of Wisconsin, edited by Thompson William Fletcher. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976.

Kiessling Elmer C.. Watertown Remembered. Watertown, WI: Watertown Historical Society, 1976.



Dictionary of Wisconsin History. Wisconsin Historical Society.

“Map of Wisconsin, Showing the City of Watertown and Its Railroad Connections,” in City of Watertown, Wisconsin: Its Manufacturing & Rail Road Advantages, and Business Statistics (Watertown, WI: City Council, Watertown, 1856). The Newberry Library, Graff 3413