Glory Days of the Railroad in White Bear Lake

The railroad was once a leading employer of White Bear Lake resididents.
White Bear Lake Depot ca 1900.

Fall of 1868 was a turning point in the history of our area when the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad opened its first division between St. Paul and White Bear. Planning for the relatively short 12-mile track began in 1864. Construction began in 1867, and a grand excursion to celebrate the opening of the line arrived in White Bear on Thursday, September 10, 1868.
With nearly 500 passengers in its 14 cars, the joyful party traveled past the bluffs of St. Paul and over farmland as it made its way northeast to White Bear. Spectators gathered along the route to wave handkerchiefs and cheer for the progress of industry. As the train arrived at the lake, a cannon fired to announce its presence in case anyone had not noticed the iron behemoth in their midst.

The crowd gathered along the platform to listen to the music and hear the speeches of several railroad executives and politicians, including William L. Banning, president of the Lake Superior and Miss. and J.H. Stewart, mayor of St. Paul, both of whom have streets named for them in the original plat of the area that today comprises downtown White Bear Lake.

By early October, a regular schedule consisting of a northbound train departing St. Paul six days a week at 7 a.m. with a southbound train departing White Bear at 5 p.m. was established. The timetable soon filled with as many as two dozen trains a day each direction, and special trains for theatrical or other outings. Over the next century, the rail industry would peak. In 1930, about one out of five homes in White Bear had a family member who worked for the railroad. Passenger service ended in January 1967, and rail service ended soon after, signaling the end of an era.

—Sara Markoe Hanson is the executive director of the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society.