This article was last modified on August 23, 2018.

A History of Kaukauna’s Trolley / Streetcars / Interurban

Exactly when the trolley started running in Kaukauna is unclear. We have stories involving a “street railway” as early as 1887, indicating such a railway was being built by O. Spaulding of the Appleton and Menasha Street Railway Company, as well as the firm of Driscoll & Goehnauer. (KT 7-28-1887, 10-12-1887)

In March 1893, an interurban line connecting Kaukauna and Neenah opened. (KS 3-24-1893) In October 1893, Harry Peerenboom was killed by a streetcar. (KS 10-20-1893)

Dr. H.B. Tanner (the mayor) joined with James K. Tillotson of Toledo, Ohio (with financing from Chicago) to form the Inter-Urban Street Railway Company in 1894. This resulted in a bit of scandal at City Hall. (KT 6-1-1894, 11-9-1894, 11-16-1894, 12-22-1894, 1-4-1895) In 1895, Tillotson managed to raise $1,000,000 from investors in Cleveland and Chicago to connect a car from Kaukauna to Oshkosh. It was expected to open January 1, 1896 and would have been one of the longest routes in the country at an impressive 26 miles. The cost (equal to more than $24 million in 2016 dollars) was seen as worthwhile, as it would allow employees to more easily get to their factory jobs throughout the Fox Valley. Automobiles were not yet very common.

The franchise of the Fox River Inter-Urban Railway company which has been pending here all summer came up before the common council for final action last Tuesday night and was killed by a vote of 4-4, two of the aldermen being absent. The city council voted not to let an electric interurban enter Kaukauna unless it served both sides of the river. (9-1-1899)

The Fox River Interurban franchise has been resuscitated and is still alive although once killed by the council. A vote of 5 to 3 was the motion reconsidering the action. (9-8-1899)

The first mention of “trolley” in the newspaper is January 20, 1905 in the headline “Trolley Car Smashed!” involving Conductor Steidl and Motorman Golden. (KT 1-20-05)

In November 1905, the Green Bay- Kaukauna Interurban established a new speed record, becoming the fastest in the state. (KS 11-9-05) Two months later, a new track was opened connecting Kaukauna with Sheboygan. (KS 1-11-06)

The year 1907-1908 was apparently a dangerous one, though promoter James Tillotson didn’t live to see it, passing in November 1907. At Christmas 1907, Albert Vogels was hit (and recovered), but in April 1908 Herman Konrad was hit and was killed. (KT 11-1-07, KS 12-26-1907, KT 4-24-1908)

The word trolley doesn’t come up again until September 1909, with “Trolley Wire Severed” involving the Green Bay Traction Company and Superintendent Carl. (KT 9-3-09)

December 1911, the Kaukauna tracks leading to Green Bay and Neenah were joined, meaning people could now travel further by street car. (KS 12-14-11, KT 12-15-11)

In October 1919, Fern Lambie crashed her car into a streetcar. (KT 10-18-19)

In March 1921, the Commission was set to hear charges of overcrowding streetcars. The meeting featured the Wisconsin Traction, Light, Heat and Power Company, Charles R. Seaborne, and Superintendent Ellis. (KT 3-10-21)

Trolleys evidently were not news in Kaukauna unless something went wrong. Which makes sense, considering we don’t have weekly stories on city buses. The trolley did not show up again until August 1923, when it was announced that the interurban car (presumably between Kaukauna and Green bay) would be sooner or later be abandoned. (KT 8-17-23)

In September 1926, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation cut the number of streetcars running between Kaukauna and Green Bay. (KT 9-30-26)

The end came in 1928. The abandonment was announced in May. Authorization to discontinue the Green Bay-Kaukauna interurban has been given to the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation by the Wisconsin Railroad commission. The order will take effect on Monday, August 20th. Thus, the last of the two interurban lines into Kaukauna passed out of existence. (8-17-28) By September the lines were being torn up.

The reason for the demise was simple: the cars were losing money and could not compete with the growing automobile industry. In October 1929, the tracks on Lawe Street (and probably elsewhere) were paved over, buried from public view and forgotten. (KT 5-8-28, 6-12-28, 6-22-28, 7-13-28, 7-24-28, 8-17-28, 9-5-28, 10-18-29)

In 1997, the Kaukauna Times had a three-part retrospective on the streetcar, including the sad story of one resident’s grandmother who was killed by one. (KT 6-10-97, 7-12-97, 7-24-97)

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

Leave a Reply