Railroad Corridor History

History of the Railroad Corridor
The Red Jacket Trail (RJT) runs through spectacular scenery from the Minnesota River at Mankato south to productive prairie land. The trail, which follows a former railroad, runs near the Blue Earth River, crosses the Le Sueur River, and for much of its length follows a deeply incised natural ravine.

Just as establishment of the RJT was a long and sometimes controversial process, construction of the railroad was difficulty.

The Minnesota Legislature chartered the Minnesota and Northwestern Railroad with rights to construct a railroad from the Iowa line via Mankato to Big Stone Lake. The charter requirements were not met and the project languished.

The Legislature amended the charter and extended the deadline.


Surveys from Mankato south to the Iowa border were completed. The most challenging construction section was the 5.5 miles from the Minnesota River to the higher prairies south of Mankato. An engineering challenge then is now a scenic opportunity.

Financial problems, political considerations, and coordination with other railroad lines all contributed to delays in construction. Finally, a group of investors agreed to fund the project contingent on cash donations and loans from adjacent townships and cities.

Construction finally started. Several routes were considered before the present trail alignment was chosen. In the summer, 400 men were at work in the ravine segment which, at 60-feet-per-mile grade, was the most difficult section to build even though mother nature, through erosion, had moved much of the earth needed to construct a uniform grade up the Minnesota River bluff. Rock for the Le Sueur River trestle was hauled.

Work resumed in the spring. Funds were depleted; local newspapers entered the fray with opposing views on the future of the railroad; additional bonuses from affected townships and cities were sought. The railroad's name was changed to Central Railroad of Minnesota. The financial panic of 1873 added to the financial difficulties.

Finally in the summer, financial constraints were resolved and work resumed. Tracks were laid on sections graded earlier and the high trestle, with its 183-foot long Howe Truss (later replaced with the existing riveted steel beams) and massive stone piers, were completed.

Difficulties were not over. The railroad failed to pay some debts; Mankato did not like its depot location or train schedules; Rapidan wanted its own depot; landslides and heavy snow in the ravine created operating problems.

The Minnesota RR acquired the Central RR.

The railroad was transferred to the Milwaukee Road, which operated the line until its abandonment in 1978 after several years of no service.

The railroad had a key role in the development of several of the County's cities, including Rapidan, Good Thunder, and Mapleton, which moved three miles from its original location to be track side.