WINSIDE — Nearly 50 years have passed since the last time a train chugged through the central Wayne County community of Winside.
Lifelong resident Bill Burris easily recalls when the cars used to rumble through: “My dad used to have a tavern in Winside, and when the trains were going through, the tavern would shake.”
The tracks stretched east and west across the town until they were removed in 1972. Now, two raised lines crossing Whitten Street are among the few clues that suggest a railroad ever ran through it.
But the presence of a rail line echoes every time someone utters the town’s name. Without the railroad, the town would not have existed. Even if it had been established without the railroad, Winside would not be known as Winside.
Burris, who serves on the Wayne County Historical Society, said there are a couple of stories that float around about the origin of Winside’s unique name. Both point to the feud that arose between land companies who were vying for a depot on the rail line that was to connect Norfolk to Sioux City.
“The way it was supposed to be was the railroad was planning to locate towns every 8 miles apart,” Burris said.
The Chicago & North Western Railroad had located a station at Apex — the large hill southwest of town that separates Winside from Hoskins. Because of the elevated location, a siding was put in at Apex so freight trains could be carried over points in the section when they were too heavy for one to pull.
“When the trains went west, they couldn’t get enough momentum to get up the hill,” Burris said.
A side track and temporary depot were secured for a town called Northside, which sat near the bottom of Apex. A post office was established there in October 1882, but the railroad struggled to get an agreement with landowners in the Northside area.
Burris said when negotiations broke down with the people in Northside, the railroad began talking to Dr. R.C. Crawford, who owned land where Winside sits and who was more agreeable to work with the railroad.
“What ended up happening was (Northside) thought maybe they will put a town here, so then the people over there started thinking, ‘Oh my ... we’re going to get cut out of this whole deal,” Burris said. “They hurried and platted the town of Northside with streets and lots.”
Burris said Northside was small with a population of maybe 20 and had a livery stable and mercantile store but nothing very well established.
“They incorporated quick, thinking maybe that would attract them,” he said.
But in 1885, the railroad moved its section house and siding; legend said the move was done on a Sunday to avoid injunction proceedings.
In June 1886, the plat for Winside was registered and lots were auctioned off. Burris said according to one story, Crawford is said to have chosen the town’s name because it was bound to win and “kill off” Northside, and another story says the town got its name when someone came running into town hollering, “We win! Our side wins!” in response to the railroad’s decision.
The Winside post office was established in December 1887. After that, Winside continued to grow, reaching its peak population in 1930, when 479 souls called the community home.
Over the years, as its population remained relatively steady, the town enjoyed a thriving business community that included an independent grocery store, co-op, bank, locker and a couple of bars.
Today, Winside’s population is around 420. Its school serves preschool through 12th grade students; the town also has one Methodist and two Lutheran churches and a library. Thies Family Locker is still among the prominent businesses, and the community’s newest business is a pet grooming salon called Heads to Tails, owned by Diane Uhing.
“We have the basic stuff,” Burris said. “We have a mechanic, a guy that welds, the co-op where the farmers can get what they need, a bank, a bar. There isn’t a ton of stuff, but I always tell people if you really need something, you can find it.”
Aside from its name, Winside still possesses a few hints of the railroad’s impact on the town. Street names like Crawford, Bressler and Whitten reflect the names of gentlemen who were involved in the railroad deal that established the community of Winside.
The museum — converted from an old church — now sits where the train depot stood until it was torn down in the mid-1960s.
Signs and photographs of the railroad’s former glory now take up a section inside the museum. While huge signs for Winside and Apex take up large spots inside that museum area, not much is mentioned about Northside.