This 1854 photo purportedly shows the first passenger train arriving in Oconomowoc along the Milwaukee Road. As travelers boarded and exited the train, they would have crossed paths with Washington W. Collins, the lone station agent for nearly half a century.
Born in Vermont in 1822, Collins had made his way to Milwaukee by 1843. He settled in Oconomowoc the next year and ran a mercantile store with his father-in-law, George Fay. In 1852, Collins became an agent for the Milwaukee Road, a position he would hold for the next 47 years.
Collins also served as Oconomowoc’s school commissioner, town clerk and first postmaster. He was a charter member of the Masonic Lodge, and, in 1875, was elected the city’s first mayor.
A newspaper article lauding Collins’ career in its 41st year described the importance of the railroad in the city’s early development:
"Even when the railroad was built through the country, running the track between two of the most beautiful lakes and along the banks of two more, little was thought of them, but now Oconomowoc is known almost from end to end of this land for its resorts and summer homes. All this Mr. Collins has seen grown up and has been a part of aiding in the development and upbuilding [sic] of the country."
The Collins name became synonymous with the railroad, and Washington’s three sons, Sumner, Wallie, and William, all attained prominent positions with the Milwaukee Road as adults. Today, Oconomowoc’s historic train depot houses Maxim’s restaurant, which resides on the aptly named Collins Street.
Railroad enthusiasts are invited to a model train open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Oconomowoc Area Historical Society & Museum, 103 W. Jefferson St., Oconomowoc.