The first train in Illinois was a little bitty thing named the Rogers—a wood-burning, 4-2-0 locomotive. On November 9, 1838, this engine made its first run from the small burg of Meredosia to where the track ended abruptly, eight miles to the east, just outside of Chapin. The Rogers was the first train operated by the state-run Northern Cross Railroad, the first of what became a growing network of railways across Illinois from 1833 to 1873. The Rogers—a little engine that could—began to deteriorate and made its last run in 1847. The Northern Cross line was shut down and auctioned off by the State of Illinois for $21,000, and was merged into the Wabash Railroad system.
Prior to 1848, Illinois had relatively few miles of track, but from 1850 to 1860, twelve private railroads had laid their rails from one end of Illinois to the other, in all four directions. The development of these railroads was crucial to the establishment of Logan County towns and the livelihood of those who called them home.
Railroads Across Logan County
The Chicago and Alton Railroad was the first in Logan County in 1853. With the arrival of the railroad Alton, Logan County farmers now had an efficient means to ship farm products across central Illinois and as far as Chicago. The Chicago and Alton remained in operation for nearly 100 years until it was absorbed in 1972 by the GM&O. That line merged with the Illinois Central (IC) in 1972.
The next railroad to arrive in Logan County was the Illinois Central, which reached the town of Lincoln in 1871. The Illinois Central was the first U.S. railroad to receive federal land grant financing from the Land Grant Act of 1850, and when its initial route was completed in 1856, it was the longest railroad in the world. The IC acquired more land throughout the 1870s and 1880s, and its size and geographical reach to the Gulf Coast made it the most significant railroad in the state. It not only opened additional markets for Logan County farms but also was crucial to the development of Chicago and its eventual role as the railroad capital of the country.
The third railroad in Lincoln, which made its first run through Logan County in 1896, was the interurban Illinois Terminal Company. The company provided major freight and passenger transportation throughout central and southern Illinois. The system became essential to linking the manufacturing and industrial development of the Alton area with financial interests in Chicago.
Decline & Legacy
During the decade of the Great Depression, 1929—1939, many railroads became insolvent and were shut down. Others were bought by larger railroad companies, but in time those also began to decline because of competition from the automobile. Nothing reflects this shift in travel preferences better than the creation of Highway 66 along previously popular rail routes.
Today, more local produce is shipped by truck than rail, but the railroads that chug across Logan County are still vital to moving freight across the country. The occasional train horn is a reminder of the infrastructure that played an essential role in putting Logan County on the map.
Want more information on central Illinois railroads, or where you can see railroad artifacts in central Illinois? Contact the Logan County Tourism Bureau to learn more!