Roscoe Young led early railroad building in Marquette, Alger counties

Roscoe Young, circa 1927.

MARQUETTE – Few have had the influence on railroad building in Alger and Marquette counties as Roscoe Young, who spent over 40 years surveying routes and constructing rail lines stretching from west of Ishpeming to near Grand Marais–from 1895 to 1937.

Born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin , in 1864, the son of a shoemaker, he moved as an infant with his family in a covered wagon to Blue Earth City, Minnesota. Crop failures there prompted a return to Wisconsin.

In 1882, he moved with his family to Escanaba where his father worked as a carpenter for the Chicago and North Western Railroad. Here, Roscoe soon got a job as ax man on the railroad’s survey team building branch lines to mines near Alpha, and from Ishpeming to Deer Lake. Other work for the C&NW took him to western U.P. mining areas, and to Wisconsin and Iowa.

Later, as assistant engineer for its Peninsula Division, he oversaw construction of a new ore dock in Escanaba. In 1891 he married an Escanaba girl, Cora Ella Cox, and they became parents of two daughters and a son. In 1892 he relocated the Escanaba & Western Railroad.

Young had by this time gained wide experience in civil engineering, and was asked to build a new waterworks plant for the city of Girard, Illinois, which he accomplished. Although he soon had other opportunities in that field, he decided to return to railroading in the Upper Peninsula.

In 1895, he became head of construction for the Munising Railway, a new railroad being built to connect Munising with the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic several miles to the south at Hallston (Munising Junction), and continuing westerly to connect with the Chicago & North Western at Little Lake.

Initial construction was being done by the railroad itself out of Munising, and work wasn’t going well when Young took over the last week of August 1895. The previous construction superintendent had just quit and grade location and construction was turned over to Young. The grade had been completed only as far as Hallston. As no contractor was involved in the work, Young had a lot of training to do — including the construction crew cook!

By December, Young had trains running to Munising Junction, and he spent the winter platting additions to the Munising townsite, building a merchandise dock in the harbor, and laying out industrial sites. Due to financial difficulties the railroad didn’t reach Little Lake until 1897. The previous year seven miles of track had also been completed on the East Branch northeast of Munising.

In 1899 Young was made superintendent of the railroad, and in 1900 it was purchased by the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co. Young soon resigned and briefly held a position with the Algoma Central Railway at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was then named by Governor Pingree to a new Michigan commission to appraise all railroads in the state on their value rather than gross earnings. At the same time he designed a new coal dock in Houghton for the Copper Range Railroad.

That job finished, he was asked to locate and build the Des Moines, Iowa Falls & Northern Railroad in Iowa. Upon completion, he joined the Rock Island Railroad as its Location Engineer. In the summer of 1904, he was on vacation in the Upper Peninsula and was on the train to visit friends in Munising. Fellow passengers included officials of the railroad, including J.T. Demling, its chief civil engineer. Demling soon resigned and the job was offered to Young, who accepted. It included work for three railroads- The Lake Superior & Ishpeming, Marquette & Southeastern, and the Munising Railroad- all controlled by the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co., and later merged into the LS&I.

Young regarded the Presque Isle Ore Dock, started in 1911 and completed in 1912, as a highlight of his long career with the LS&I. The dock was one of the first concrete and steel docks on the lake. The first was built at Superior, Wisconsin, in 1911. The hinged hook to the ore chutes is high, making loading ore carriers fast and efficient. The LS&I dock has a flexible wooden pile foundation. Cost of construction was $1,113,000.

Young continued as LS&I Chief Civil Engineer until his retirement in 1937. His last major assignment in railroad building came in 1935 when the LS&I planned on building approximately 20 miles of new track from the end-of-track on the East Branch at Cusino, northeasterly toward Grand Marais. The extension would be entirely on Cleveland-Cliffs’ timberland. The survey crew worked out of a boarding car and got meals at the Cusino CCC Camp. It was a chilly late August and rainy.

“It was such work-trips as this that made me realize it was time to retire,” Young later recalled. He was 71. He retired on New Year’s Day in 1937.

The LS&I later decided not to build the Cusino Extension and used already-purchased track elsewhere. But 20 years later the extension was built, ending as Sunrise Landing- a couple of miles from the intersection of the Adams Trail and M-77, southwest of Grand Marais.

I once asked the late Jim Scullion, former president of the LS&I, if they used Roscoe Young’s 1935 survey. He said, “I’m sure they did.”


Young and his wife, Cora, spent retirement winters in Florida, where he became active in raising orchard fruit. He died in Marquette on October 4, 1950 at age 86.


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