Illinois Central Railroad History
In 1850 Congress
granted over 2,000,000 acres of land to the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1850 President Fillmore signed into law the Land
Grant Act, which was the first ever to build a railroad. It was officially chartered in 1851. Sections from La Salle
and Bloomington opened on May 16, 1853, and the section from La Salle to Mendota opened on Nov 14, 1853.
The huge obstacle would be crossing the Illinois River Valley. The new bridge under construction would be 2, 899 feet in length
with 17 piers and two concrete abutments at each end. The bridge was not completed until August 21 of 1854, about a year and
a half after the other sections were in operation. So in the meantime a temporary bridge was being constructed over
the Illinois river near La Salle and cars hauled to the top of the bluff with chains and cable by means of a stationary engine.
By May 22, 1855 the section North was finished to Dunlieth (now East Dubuque) at the
In the 1850's La Salle had a population of just a couple hundred people. So it
was very small but the Illinois Central Railroad would open up the entire state and cause it to grow very rapid with a few
thousand residents by the end of the 1950's. It's 705.5 miles of track in Illinois caused other towns to
grow and flourish.
The Illinois Central Main Line reached from Cairo IL. to Galena with a branch line from
Centralia to the emerging transportation and industrial hub of Chicago. The Illinois Central railroad was shaped like a giant
What happened before the ICRR became official? Well, around the early to mid 1830's
talk began about a railroad to cut through the center of the State. During 1839 and 1840 a proposed "Illinois Central" railroad
was graded through La Salle. Following great financial difficulties in 1837 the railroad plans were soon abandoned for the
project and entire State. In early 1841, shortly after work stopped on the ICRR, the State Legislature passed an act chartering
a La Salle & Dixon RR Corporation whose line through La Salle was to be built on the proposed Bucklin St. The IC was required
by this act to transfer to the new corporation, the materials and the right-of-way between La Salle and Dixon. But, not even
a hundred dollars had been used to start the railroad due to the corruption of funds. (see page 27 in "La Salle a historical
sketch" on my links page).
In 1840 members of the Illinois representatives, which included Abe Lincoln
and Stephen Douglas decided a federal land grant was the answer. Much debate ensued over the massive undertaking.
was broken on December 23, 1851 and technically the IC was now official and a reality to happen. Eventually this railroad
at the time would be the longest in the world (about 705.5 miles) and the bridge we have here in La Salle was one of the most
magnificent engineering marvels of the world. A spectacle to be seen. The entire ICRR project would be greater than the building
of the Eerie canal.
Let us not forget that the I&M canal was the first mode of freight and passenger
transportation to La Salle. The canal was finished in 1848 to La Salle from Lockport and it took a long 12 years to build
with much financial troubles, death and misery.
The Rock Island Railroad made it to La Salle
on March 21, 1853. The IC made it to La Salle about eight weeks later on May 16th but could not get across the river until
August 21, 1854.
Just look at the amount of fill and dirt that had to be used to get from the
south side of the river to Jonesville. You can still see the elevated track and the amount of fill used when driving up toward
Jonesville and looking off toward the Abraham Lincoln bridge. The whole project as with any railroad was a huge undertaking.
We can't imagine the work involved when they did not have the heavy machinery. Basically it was done by hand.
Lincoln was an attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad from 1853-1860.
When the civil War began
in 1861, the Illinois Central was one main reason why the North won. This railroad hauled troops and ammunitions at such great
efficiency and volume it was very unlikely to win the war without this railroad called the Illinois Central. Much
has been written on that exact topic.
An excerpt from "The Illinois Central in the Civil Wars"
"The Illinois Central was the carrier that delivered men, equipment, provisions for Fort Donelson,
Shiloh, Corinth, Memphis, Holly Springs, Grand Gulf, Big Black, Vicksburg and scores of other battles and skirmishes.
the war hundreds of trainloads of troops, horses, forage, foodstuffs, cannon, lumber, equipment and supplies moved to Cairo
IL. Northward over the railroad moved hospital trains and trains of returning soldiers. Later there were carloads of prisoners.
It was a common experience for the railroad to receive orders to move 10,000 troops with but a few hours notice. Train records
still in existence at Amboy, IL. show how some of these emergency moves were accomplished. A notation for December 10th, 1862
reads, "Had two passengers and 31 freight cars loaded with U.S. Soldiers.' By 1863 the ICRR was entirely swamped with traffic
which was run with great precision."
So next time you see the bridge at La Salle, stand in awe and
marvel at the history. Imagine Abe Lincoln crossing over it and thousands of troop trains, not just the Civil War but other
Hail to the Illinois Central Railroad! Yes, Abe Lincoln was of course the most
famous ICRR man but there were dozens of others. No railroad in the United States was the alma-mater of more high-ranking
army officers than the Illinois Central. Men such as these Major Generals in the Union Army: George B. McClellan, Grenville
Dodge, Ambrose E. Burnside, Nathaniel P. Banks, John A. Logan Thomas E.G. Ransom, Mason Brayman and James C. Lane. Brigadier
generals included David Stuart, Henry L. Robinson, John B. Wyman and John B. Turchin.
Today the Illinois
Central Charter line is gone except for the sections we have in La Salle County. The tracks to Oglesby and a small portion
up in Mendota where a great deal of Illinois Central history can be seen at the Depot. Also visit the Amboy Depot. It was
at once the headquarters for the Illinois central railroad. It is the most magnificent building we have from the Old Illinois
Central Railroad around these parts.
Sources: "Main Line of Mid-America"
"Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois"