Browntown Trail Bridge

Pratt Through Truss Bridge over Pecatonica River
Browntown, Green County, Wisconsin

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Name Browntown Trail Bridge
Built By Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway
Contractor Unknown
Currently Owned By Green County
Length 440 Feet Total, 120 Foot Largest Span
Width 1 Track, 2 Trail Lanes
Height Above Ground 10 Feet (Estimated)
Superstructure Type Pratt Through Truss and Trestle
Substructure Type Stone Masonry and Timber Pile
Date Erected 1888, East Spans Added 1931
Date Fabricated (East Spans) 1886
Original Location (East Spans) Bridge #B-256; Spring Green, Wisconsin
Traffic Count 0 Trains/Day (Bridge is a Trail)
Current Status Rails to Trails
MILW Bridge Number F-182
Significance High Significance
Documentation Date March 2015
In 1853, the Southern Wisconsin Railroad Company completed a short spur from Milton, Wisconsin to Janesville, Wisconsin.
This company would be acquired by the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad, who operated the existing mainline at Milton.
In 1857, the line would be extended to Monroe by the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad.
In 1861, the railroad became a part of the Milwaukee and Prairie Du Chein Railroad, and by 1867 would join the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway.
The line would change hands again in 1874, when it became part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway, nicknamed the Milwaukee Road.
The Milwaukee Road had acquired several charter lines, to build an empire throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota.
This line was a simple spur that dead ended at Monroe.
By 1881, it was found that Southwest Wisconsin was a great hub for lead mining, crop production and livestock. This lead to an abundance of branch lines in the area.
This line would be extended to Schullsburg, where it would meet up with another line at Gratiot.
In 1912, the railroad was renamed the Chicago, Milwaukee St. Paul & Pacific Railway.

In addition to the stem, the line also had a number of branches to it.
The first of these branches was built in 1857 from Warren, Illinois to Mineral Point, Wisconsin by the Mineral Point Railroad Company. This line went through Gratiot. This was known as the Mineral Point Branch. It was quickly extended to Platteville. This was known as the Platteville Branch
This railroad became a part of the Dubuque, Platteville and Milwaukee Railroad in 1880, and purchased in turn by the Milwaukee Road.
In 1880, the Milwaukee Road built a branch from Brodhead to Albany, and it was extended in 1887 to New Glarus. This was known as the New Glarus Branch

While this system of railroads seemed strong, as the mining died down, these branches began to fall out of favor.
The first stub was abandoned in 1923, and was the Gratiot to Warren section. In the 1950s, the Shullsburg-Gratiot Line would be abandoned.
The next section came in 1972, and was the New Glarus Branch.
Finally, during the reorganization of the Milwaukee Road during bankruptcy in 1980, the Platteville, Mineral Point and stem west Janesville would be abandoned.
These lines would be purchased by the State of Wisconsin in 1980, and the Central Wisconsin Railroad would operate them until around 1985, when they were finally torn up west of Monroe.
In 1992, the Wisconsin Southern would take over the Central Wisconsin Railroad (later Wisconsin and Calumet) from Milton to Janesville.
The remaining line has become a trail. From Monroe to Mineral Point is now the Cheese Country Trail. Calamine to Belmont is the Pecatonica River Trail, and the New Glarus Branch is the Sugar River Trail.

One of the most unique bridges in Southern Wisconsin, this bridge was built at multiple times.
The original bridge at this location was a wooden truss span, built in 1881.
In 1888, two spans of 5-panel, pin connected Pratt Through Truss (Spans #1 and #2) were built to replace the wooden bridge. These spans were approached by a long wooden trestle, and contained a lattice portal bracing.
While the bridge with two spans was originally more than enough to cross the river, a second set of spans was added in approximately 1931.
These spans were likely built in 1886 at Spring Green, Wisconsin to cross the Wisconsin River. Span #3 was a 6 panel, pin connected Pratt Through Truss with a button type portal bracing.
Span #4 is a 7-panel, skewed Pratt Through Truss identical to span #3. This span also contains button style portal bracing.
Currently, the bridge contains these four spans. The 1888 spans are the western set of spans, while the relocated spans are the eastern spans. The eastern spans rest on stone substructures, built in 1881; while the relocated spans rest on timber substructures. A short trestle approach exists on the east end.
It is unknown why the bridge was rebuilt in 1931. The Milwaukee Road archives provided information on a repair of this bridge in 1931, indicating it might have been flooding related.
Overall, the bridge appears to be in good condition. This is one of several former Milwaukee Road bridges now on Wisconsin State Trails. Due to the age and relocation history of this bridge, it should be considered a gem on the trail system.

The author has ranked this bridge as being highly significant, due to the historic nature of these unique trusses.
The photo above is an overview. The bridge can be seen from WI-11, which runs parallel.

Pecatonica River Railroad Bridges
Upstream Pecatonica River Trail Bridge #7
Downstream Jane Addams Trail Bridge

Detail Photos from March 2015


Source Type


Build Date (West Spans) Milwaukee Road Archives at the Milwaukee Central Library
Build Date (East Spans) Based on identical spans
Railroad Line History Source ICC Valuation Information, Compiled by Richard S. Steele

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