BNSF Railroad Yards, 44th Avenue Bridge, Fridley

Railroads replaced the Ox Cart Trail in the 1860s.

Railroads and steamboats replaced the Ox Cart Trail during the 1860s.

From just north of I-694 south to 42nd Avenue Northeast, the Ox Cart Trail route passed through the middle of where the BNSF Railroad yards are now.

The Ox Cart Trail was choosen to serve as the military road in the 1850s. Shortly after that, the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was extended along the same route, east of the road and the Mississippi River, through Anoka and St. Cloud.

The Ox Cart Trail, by staying in the river valley, had followed a natural route that minimized steep grades, swampy ground and other obstacles, which is why the route was later followed by highways and railroads.

As the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad extended north from St. Paul, it diverted more and more freight and passenger traffic from the military road, which was still being used by the ox cart caravans. The railroad eventually reached Pembina, where the Red River crosses the U.S.-Canada border. At about the same time, the buffalo herds were in rapid decline from overhunting. As a result, the ox cart processions dwindled and ended altogether by 1871, about the time the railroad reached the Red River.

Around this time Canadian-born James J. Hill was a partner in a venture to ship furs on flatboats, and later steamboats, on the Red River. In 1878, Hill and other investors, including Norman Kittson, a wealthy fur trader, bought the railroad. Kittson, also a Canadian, had earlier in his career organized ox cart caravans and served as mayor of St. Paul.

Hill became a famous railroad magnate, whose reputation earned him the title of “the Empire Builder.” Today the house he lived in on Summit Avenue in St. Paul is a property of the Minnesota Historical Society.

In a series of mergers the St. Paul and Pacific became part of the Great Northern, which became the Burlington Northern, which merged with the Santa Fe to become today’s BNSF Railway.

Images

Audio

Commentary: BNSF Rail Yards

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John Driscoll autobiographical

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Map

The BNSF rail yards are private property.