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Railroad important to early Avoca
Random Thoughts - August 18
Random Thoughts_081822_Avoca railroad caboose
THIS CABOOSE may not move, but it’s a fitting symbol of the importance of the railroad to early Avoca.

AVOCA - A newcomer or a visitor to Avoca may wonder why a brightly colored caboose occupies a place of honor in downtown Avoca. Perhaps during sesquicentennial time for the village is a good time to remind folks about the importance of the railroad to early Avoca.

The railroad came to Avoca in 1856 and among the first uses was transporting zinc ore, delivered by mule train from mines south of Avoca, to be shipped out of the area. Also, twice a week a special cattle train would run, hauling nothing but livestock.

With both railroad and telegraph activity the Avoca depot was a busy place. According to the 1970 Avoca Centennial Book there was a time when at least five mail trains passed through the community daily, some of which could pick up and deliver bags of mail without stopping. At that time some mail was sorted on moving trains.

The late Eleanor Poole, who worked for this newspaper for a time, related she once could mail a letter from Muscoda, addressed to her mother in Lone Rock, and it would be delivered to her mom the same day. (That’s far different than today when such a letter would travel first to Milwaukee to be postmarked and then arrive in Lone Rock in a day or two).

The first Avoca depot agent was Homer C. Snow, who was followed by his son Nelson. Dan Bohan followed and served in that position for 62 years. When he started, all trains were using wood heat to power the locomotive boilers and when the train arrived at the depot people would pitch in to “wood up” the engine. Dan reported he received a $45 a month salary and was able to “put a little savings aside.”

Tom Lawless became the agent January 1, 1947 and served until the depot was closed.

There was a time when area people could board a Madison-bound train in Avoca in the morning, shop, see a doctor, or whatever, and return home to Avoca by train in the evening.

The railroad may have been a factor in naming the village Avoca. One story is: “The first special train to make the run from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien in early 1856 bore a joyous party of railroad officials and friends. Quoting from a leading Wisconsin newspaper, “As the train wound around the beautiful Wisconsin River, it reached a part where the valley between the bluffs narrowed to become a long leafy corridor of delicate and exquisite proportions – a fairy-like place with the first foliage of spring shining green.”

The train stopped and the stockholders and first citizens stepped from the platform to gaze, enraptured at the lovely, tender vale. “We are going to build a depot right here,” announced an official. “A town will grow up around it. Are you going to name it Valley City or Valley Point?”

Then a passenger quoted some lines from poet Thomas Moore: “There is not in this wide world a valley so sweet.’ The quotation commenced and ended, ‘Sweet Vale of Avoca! how calm could I rest in thy bosom of shade, with friends I love best.! He lifted his arm in a wild gesture, ‘Let me introduce the town of Avoca.’”

There is another possibility of how the town got its name, but it’s not so poetic.