By Hilda Parks
To speak of riding the Alphabet Road to Cream sounds like the beginning of a children’s book. To say it was because of the Alphabet Road that Cream died sounds like a murder mystery. To say that the Alphabet Road once ran through the town of Cream is history.
Cream began with the building of a creamery in 1894, and the organization of a creamery association. Butter was hauled to the nearest railroad in Janesville for shipping east. The return trip brought mail and groceries for the small community, until 1895 when Cream got its own Post Office. Over the following years, the town grew on both sides of the county line, Medo Township in Blue Earth County and Freedom Township in Waseca County. By 1907, the town had a cheese factory, general store, barbershop, two churches, and the Modern Woodman Hall. The post office closed in 1903, but Cream became part of the first Rural Free Delivery route in Minnesota, coming from the Janesville post office. It was not the absence of a post office that killed Cream, however. It was the railroad.
In 1905 the St. Cloud, Glencoe, Duluth, Mankato and Albert Lea Railroad Company began to build a 52 mile branch line from Albert Lea to Mankato. The company tried to shorten the name, but people referred it its line as “The Alphabet Road” or simply “The Alphabet.” The first train arrived in Cream on January 9, 1907, and 200 people celebrated its arrival, including the Cream band. On March 9, 1907 the first passenger train arrived, and freight was delivered two days later. March 20 was an important date for the lumberyard, as it received a carload of lumber and wire by rail. Rail continued to be laid as far as St. Clair, with rumors that it would then go to St. Peter, and eventually to Duluth. If coal could be hauled from Duluth, the cost would be appreciably lowered.
The Free Press reported in February that “the road has at last arrived and it will be watched with great interest to see where it continues to.” Already there were some doubts about its success, as the reporter added: “The people in the vicinity are anxious it should strike Mankato, but it seems doubtful.” The train still caused great excitement, and even in May that paper reported that “the arrival of the Alphabet Train at Cream is an event each day of momentous consequence.” People came from miles around to check our every train car, passenger and package delivered, and then watch the train back out of Cream for its return trip to Albert Lea.
In those early days, a boxcar served as the Cream depot, overseen by agent Byron Graham.
However very quickly controversy ensued over where the permanent depot, with enough land for a railroad yard, would be built. Backed by investors from the east, there was no loyalty to a small Minnesota community. The railroad company bought 80 acres of land one mile northwest of Cream, and in July, 1907, they began to plat what would become the town of Pemberton. The Janesville Argus reported that “The people of Cream are said to feel pretty sore because the depot to the Alphabet has been taken away from them, or rather that the promise of one has been taken away, a promise as sacred as the most binding contract in the world.”
With no depot, the town of Cream gradually disappeared. The general store burned in January, 1907, and was not rebuilt. The Congregational Church building was moved to Pemberton in March, 1911, and the machinery from the old creamery was moved to a new building in Pemberton in October, 1911. Cream had become a “memory city.”
The Alphabet Road would also become a memory. In September, 1907, The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Company notified the Alphabet line that they were “invading their territory.” They began laying track east out of Good Thunder, with the intent of cutting across the right-of-way of the Alphabet Road. The dream of the investors in the St. Cloud, Glencoe, Duluth, Mankato and Albert Lea Railroad Company to eventually build a rail line from the Gulf to Duluth had been lost, and the company sold to their competitors. It was hoped by many that the new owners would extend the rail line through Rapidan to Mankato.
Although the line continued to run its passenger and freight trains to St. Clair, it appeared to have no interest in going any further. Businesses in Mankato realized they were losing trade from St. Clair and Pemberton. In 1914 the Commercial Club in Mankato “urged” that the Alphabet Road from St. Clair be extended to Mankato, and beyond. The reply to those businessmen was “at no time have the business possibilities seemed to justify the expenditure.”
The Alphabet Road, after leaving Cream without a depot, would never go beyond St. Clair. The line was abandoned in the mid 70’s.