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Kaysen Railroad Maps Now Online

This standard U.S.G.S. topographic map was annotated by civil engineer and railroad historian James P. Kaysen to show the location of existing and defunct rail lines around the community of Boulder Junction in Vilas County

Logging historians, railroad buffs and everyone who vacations in Wisconsin's northern forests will enjoy a major new addition to the Society's online map collection. Some 1,200 topographic maps annotated by railroad historian James P. Kaysen to show defunct logging railroads and describe the lumber companies that owned them are streaming into the Society's online maps and atlas collection this month.

Begun under the CCC

Kaysen (1910-1994) graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1932 with a degree in civil engineering. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and spent most of the 1930s as a camp engineer in northern Wisconsin. During those years he made notes on abandoned logging railroads throughout the region and published the first comprehensive book on Wisconsin railroad history. Part of his research included tracing the railroad rights-of-way on foot and then drawing them on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps.

From 1938 until the mid-1950s, Kaysen served as an engineer for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road), which made him intimately familiar with Wisconsin's rail infrastructure. From the 1950s to the 1980s he worked for a company specializing in the structural restoration of public and commercial buildings and as a consulting engineer. After he retired in the late 1980s, Kaysen returned to his passion of identifying and mapping logging railroads that had operated in northern Wisconsin.

Amazing Detail and Accuracy

To record his notes, Kaysen acquired a virtually complete set of the USGS 1:24000 quadrangle maps for Wisconsin, which show the state at roughly one third of a mile per inch. Drawing upon decades of archival research and firsthand observations in the field, he drew the old logging railroad routes on these maps in red pencil. In the margins of most maps, he meticulously recorded railroad and lumber company history.

Although he hoped to issue a book with this information, Kaysen passed away before finding a publisher. In 1995 his family donated the 1,200 annotated maps to the Society, which began publishing them online this month. They contain more detailed and specific data on Wisconsin logging railroads than any conventional book would be likely to provide.

Although Kaysen was most interested in logging railroads, his 1,200 annotated maps cover virtually the entire state. Residents of southern counties from Kenosha to Platteville can also discover where railroads ran through their communities.

Using the Kaysen Railroad Maps

A few dozen maps are being added each day, and all 1,200 should be available by the end of April 2013.

Researchers can find maps by entering in the maps collection search box the word "Kaysen" and any place name, lumber company name, official USGS quadrangle name, or county.

When any map is open on the screen, researchers can zoom in to see small railroad spurs and precisely where they ran through the forest. Nearly all red pencil routes are explained in the margin by Kaysen with facts on the company history, logging output, total rail mileage and similar details.

This work was made possible by a generous 2012 grant from the Caxambas Foundation of Janesville and gifts from private donors. Kaysen's research has been known to historians for several decades but was only available before now by making a trip to Madison and searching by hand through many boxes of paper maps. We are grateful to our supporters for putting this uniquely valuable information in front of thousands of people via the Internet.

View the Kaysen Railroad Maps

:: Posted April 15, 2013

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