An anonymous Curious Kenosha visitor asked us this question: “I’ve heard there was a train that you use to go across Silver Lake during the winter, and that there is a train car sunken. Is this true?”
We looked into it, and have a definitive answer:
The rumor that a train car is sunken in Silver Lake is false.
“Silver Lake does not have a train car in the lake,” confirmed Linda Valentine, of the Western Kenosha County Historical Society. “Parts maybe, but no car. There are parts in all the lakes. But the track never got really close to Silver Lake.”
Divemaster Dan Vaccaro of the Kenosha County Dive Team has seen below the surface of Silver Lake and has sever seen a train car. Vaccaro dove in Silver Lake “extensively as a youth” and still dives there at least twice a year.
“It has a been a rumor for many, many years,” Vaccaro said. “I have never come across it.”
The amount of ice train traffic to and from Silver Lake makes the rumor plausible. Silver Lake had as many as 12 commercial ice houses which shipped out 11,000 cars of ice each year on the Kenosha Division line (KD line) of the Chicago and North Western Railway (which became the Kenosha Rockford and Rock Island Railway in 1857).
A small piece of a 1912-era traction engine can still be seen while walking the Silver Lake Ice House Trail, though it’s partially buried in the ground and hidden in the underbrush near a group of mobile homes.
You can catch glimpses of rail history by walking the trail west from the parking lot of Silver Lake Park beach toward Highway B. The trail runs along the north shore of the lake. Coal ash cinders used to build up the rail bed and the raised rail bed spur that led to one of the Knickerbocker Ice Co. (later Consumer Ice Co.) ice houses can still be seen.
While not visible from the trail, a cobblestone wall that is most likely part of the foundation of an old ice house, is also still intact about 50 feet from the water’s edge.
That doesn’t mean there’s no train car in any lake, however.
Valentine said there is a chassis of a box car in Rock Lake, in the town of Salem. There, trains backed up to the lake to be filled with ice in the southwest quadrant of the lake. The chassis is from a car that derailed.
Investigation into the Curious Kenosha question also turned up a notable Kenosha Evening News report of a historic ice train wreck on Aug. 25, 1906 on the rail line that crossed Kenosha County, picking up cars from icehouses in Twin Lakes and Salem before heading to Bristol.
That fateful day, there were 40 cars attached to the train by the time it was ready to leave Salem. Around 4 a.m, it came to a standstill about a half-mile east of the Bristol station.
A second freight train coming from Salem slammed into the ice train at about 60 mph. Reportedly, proper signals hadn’t been displayed on the first train. The crew of the second train went over with the engine, but emerged without injury.
The collision destroyed 16 rail cars, and 500 tons of ice melted, sending
Sixteen rail cars with ice were destroyed and 500 tons of ice valued at hundreds of dollars melted. For comparison, $100 in 1906 would now be worth about $2,500, according to online conversion tools.
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