Difference between revisions of "Great Northern Railway (U.S.)"

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From east to west some of the most signficant towns on a typical route were:  
From east to west some of the most signficant towns on a typical route were:  
*New Orleans, [[Louisiana|Louisiana]]  
*Chicago, [[Illinois]]  
*Marshall, [[Texas]]  
*Praire du Chien, [[Wisconsin]]  
*Houston, Texas
*La Crosse, Wisconsin [[Image:{{GNroute}}]]
*San Antonio, Texas
*St. Paul, [[Minnesota]]
*El Paso, Texas
*Minneapolis, Minnesota
*Deming, [[New Mexico|New Mexico]]
*Moorhead, Minnesota
*Tucson, [[Arizona|Arizona ]]  
*Fargo, [[North Dakota]]  
*Yuma, Arizona
*Minot, North Dakota
*Los Angeles, [[California|California]]
*Culbertson, [[Montana]]  
*Glacier Nat'l Park, Montana
Routes in [[Oregon|Oregon]] and the old [[Central Pacific Railroad|Central Pacific]] tracks&nbsp;through [[Nevada|Nevada]] to Ogden, [[Utah|Utah]] also were controlled at various times by the Southern Pacific Company.<ref>Wikipedia contributors, "Southern Pacific Transportation Company" in ''Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia'' at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Southern_Pacific_Transportation_Company (accessed 4 July 2009).</ref>
*Kalispell, Montana
*Coeur d'Alene, [[Idaho]]  
*Spokane, [[Washington]]  
*Seattle, Washington
=== Settlers and Records  ===
=== Settlers and Records  ===

Revision as of 18:14, 17 September 2010

United States  Gotoarrow-kelly.png  Migration  Gotoarrow-kelly.png  Railroads  Gotoarrow-kelly.png  Great Northern Railway (U.S.)

Marias Pass, Montana is the lowest U.S. railroad crossing of the Continental Divide. Here a BNSF (successor to Great Northern) train emerges from a snow shed.

The Great Northern Railway was the only "transcontinental" service built with almost no land grants from the federal government, and one of the few that did not go into receivership in the Panic of 1893. It's transcontinental route primarily from St. Paul, Minnesota to Seattle, Washington was north of the Northern Pacific route. This was the sixth railroad company in the United States to offer transcontinental service. Their route was built up slowly by making each part commercially successful before building further. It was completed in 1893.

Settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the railroads provided access to markets. Railroads encouraged settlement along their routes to help increase the need for their service. For example, the Great Northern in some cases paid immigrant expenses from Europe, supplied seed and animals to start-up farmers, held promotional contests for largest farm animal and largest freight car capacity.[1] If an ancestor settled near a railroad, you may be able to trace their place of origin back to another place along the tracks.

Historical Background

Early transcontinental railroad visionaries proposed several possible routes including one along the border with Canada. Such a route offered more flat prairie land and known mountain passes, but had the disadvantage of less population and greater snow-weather problems.[2]

The Great Northern was formed by James J. Hill in 1889 by merging three railroads, the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway, and the Montana Central Railroad. His goal was the produce profits on lines before extending them further. He also sought the flattest, straightest possible route with fewest curves. The Great Northern crossed the continental divide at Marias Pass, 5,213 feet, lowest divide crossing south of the Canadian border.[1]

A few months after the transcontinental line was completed the Panic of 1893 started. Hill aggressively reduced expenses, including repeatedly cutting employee wages. By also cutting fares, freight rates, and extending credit he actually increased the value of the Great Northern Railway during the panic. However, after the panic there were strikes and he had to restore wages to pre-panic levels.[3]

Routes were also extended into Montana mining areas, and south from Seattle into California. The California connections made the Great Northern one of the main competitors to the Union Pacific Railroad. The Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railways merged to become the Burlington Northern in 1970. In 1995 a merger with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad created the BNSF Railway.[1]


From east to west some of the most signficant towns on a typical route were:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Praire du Chien, Wisconsin
  • La Crosse, Wisconsin
    Great Northern Railway route map about 1920 in brown.
  • St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Moorhead, Minnesota
  • Fargo, North Dakota
  • Minot, North Dakota
  • Culbertson, Montana
  • Glacier Nat'l Park, Montana
  • Kalispell, Montana
  • Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Seattle, Washington

Settlers and Records

Settlers who made their way west on the Southern Pacific were likely to be from the southern states, especially Louisiana and Texas. However, via the Texas and Pacific Railway link to St. Louis, Missouri, and the Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway link to Chicago, Illinois many people using the Southern Pacific Railroad to settle in New Mexico, Arizona, and California could also have come from Midwestern states as well.

There are no known passenger lists for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Internet Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wikipedia contributors, "Great Northern Railway (U.S.)" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Northern_Railway_%28U.S.%29 (accessed 17 September 2010).
  2. David A. Lanegran and Carol Louise Urness, Minnesota on the Map : a Historical Atlas (St. Paul, Minnesota : Minnesota Historical Society Press, c2008), 116-17. (FHL 977.6 E7L) WorldCat entry.
  3. Wikipedia contributors. "James Jerome Hill" in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/eng/James_Jerome_Hill (accessed 17 September 2010).