A few weeks ago one of our Daily Times staff members asked if we had any knowledge of why that short little street on the north side of town would have been called "Mound Street."
Mound Street is a short one, one block in length, and it connects Elizabeth Street with North Avenue. The street sits on a hill and overlooks the Rock River.
That was an interesting question, one that made us scratch our head, do a little research and ultimately rely on Ken Riedl, Watertown historian, who is as fascinated by our local history as we are.
First of all, the question about how Mound Street got named brought back memories of our predecessor here at the Daily Times, Clarence Wetter, who would on occasion bring up the topic of Chenango Street.
The headline would often read "WhoinhellnamedChenangoStreet?"
Well, after some research we found that there is a Chenango River in New York, not too far from Syracuse. And, it was from that area of New York that pioneers set out for a new life in the wilds of Wisconsin and, more particularly, what became Watertown.
It's safe to say "Chenango Street" came from those early settlers who brought it to our fair city back before 1850.
For the record, Chenango Street is pretty much abandoned these days. It was a north-south street that crossed Hart Street just east of Diversey, Inc., (years ago the location of the old shoe factory, but has been used for other businesses since that era), and just west of Reiss Industries.
If you are traveling east on Hart Street, just past the Diversey building, you'll see a street sign that says "Chenango Street" and that's the only mention of the street that we know of in town.
For years, Chenango Street did not have an official city sign but there is one at that location now, even though the street has never been officially opened.
To our knowledge Chenango Street was never fully opened, but the street right of way was used for a spur railroad track from the main line of what is now Canadian Pacific Railroad south along the Diversey, Reiss Industries, We Energies buildings, and at one time all the way south to Lake Victoria and Heiden Pond. That spur used to haul bricks that were made from the excavations that ultimately made the lakes which are now a well used city recreational area.
That spur originally connected to the Canadian Pacific main line just east of the Third Street crossing but in recent years the spur has not been used and as a result it was disconnected. Now the tracks lead to nowhere.
While we're writing about Chenango Street and how the right of way is used for a now abandoned rail spur, we thought a few words on the condition of the rail crossings of city streets might be appropriate.
Most of the crossings in town are not in good condition and cause vehicles to bounce around quite a bit, and they probably cause more than normal wear and tear on vehicles.
West Main Street and South Third Street crossings are among the worst ones.
There are a lot of rail crossings in Watertown, especially given that three railroads operate here. They are the Union Pacific (north/south), Canadian Pacific (east/west) and the Wisconsin and Southern from Dayton Street west to Madison and beyond.
We have no doubt that city officials have been in contact with the railroads to get some attention to the crossings and ultimately that will happen, but it doesn't come easy. Municipalities throughout the state are faced with similar situations and the railroads have only so much money for this kind of maintenance.
When one gets bad enough a railroad crew is usually dispatched to replace the crossing. But, it does take time and money and coaxing by the city.
Replacing a crossing means the rail line will be out of commission for some periods of time and that, of course, is disruptive to the railroad. With 30 or more trains passing through Watertown on the Canadian Pacific main line each day it's easy to see the complexity and high cost of repairs.
It will be interesting to see which crossing will be renovated next and how long it will take.