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Illinois Central RR

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IC on bridge at La Salle 1950
Notice CBQ bridge in background

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 Mississippi river.

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 "Y."

 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.
 Ground 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.

Abe 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" reads:

"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.
During 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 wars afterwards.
   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" Corliss
"Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois"

Shows when IC sections were completed


For in-depth detailed History of the Illinois Central (click here and Start at Chapter one)

Images of the ICRR in LaSalle IL.

The earliest view of the IC yard I have seen
Appears to be late 1890's to early 1900's

Timetable from 1894 shows six passenger trains

Later view of yard at draft of WWI

Illnois Central Yard map of LaSalle

Aerial view looking west in the 1950s
Long bldg on right is Freight hse and depot is at left

Aerial view looking NW
The mine rescue bldg is seen in the middle lower half of photo

Early view of IC yard with freight hse.
Steam shovel excavating land to make room for more trackage


IC freight hse
later was converted to an engine house


HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
ICRR Depot La Salle IL 1915


HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
Looking South near ICRR Depot LaSalle after remodeled depot

Looking south from inside the depot

Looking Northward from inside IC depot

The newer frieght hse along Union st



Looking north from Bridge

Coal Tower in view
See Depot in background

1853-1953 100 yrs of the ICRR

Centennial boulder seen near loco cab
Photo Anon. 1960

IC Yard 1979 by Marvin Helmig IC employee

IC Mainline of Mid America in Mendota 1979
Marvin Helmig photo from the Cab

ICRR coming into Oglesby Depot
Notice the Milwaukee Road overpass in distance which led to Lehigh and Marquette Cement plants.

IC swicthing at Oglesby Marquette Cement 1979
Photo by Marvin Helmig

Oglesby Marquetee Cement yard 1979
Marvin Helmig IC employee

IC and LSBC at Midway
When the Milw pulled out of Mendota in Feb-80, the ICG did work to Trekker chemical company in Mendota just SW of ole Rte 51 (now 251)
Later in 1980,the ICG delivered a LS&BC Baldwin to Mendota to handle Trekker Chemical.
They kept the engine at Trek.
[Info provided by Jerry Pyfer former Milw Rd and ICG employee]

The photo of the IC and LSBC loco together is before embarking on a trip to Mendota to set out the LSBC engine for Trekker Chemical.

Rare shot of IC and LSBC coupled together
1979 at Midway near the new LP high sports complex on NW corner

BN tower in Mendota 1979
Marvin Helmig photographing from Cab

IC LaSalle Yard View 1979

IC in Mendota at 1st st xing
1979 view. See Milw depot in background.

In the photo below you will notice the Milwaukee Road snow plow sitting on the Main track of the Milwaukee near 5th st. The diamond or track that crossed by the BN tower was taken out so they had to use the IC mainline at this time in 1979. The tower would soon be torn down on Feb 29, 1980 and the Milwaukee Road would take it's very last train out of Mendota forever. That was a sad day in Mendota history. The ICRR only lasted about five more years and abandoned the Ole mainline in about 1985-86.  Another sad day for so many towns up and down the line. Abraham Lincoln the ole lawyer for the ICRR would turn over in his grave if he knew that the ICRR was torn out. He fought hard for a land grant to build this charter line back in the late 1840's-1850.

Mendota IL near IC tracks and 5th st.
Marvin Helmig Photo Notice Milw Rd snow plow at left

Mendota Towr comes down on Feb 29, 1980
The same day the last Milwaukee Rd Train left Mendota

Tracks of the IC in Mendota near 5th st.
Marvin Helmig Photo

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
ICRR Engine house at LaSalle 1980s

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
IC Engine house LaSalle IL 1980s

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
Inside the engine hse La Salle

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
When the engine hse once was a freight house

HAER (Historic American Engineering Records)
Plans for the IC Freight hse

ICRR Snow Plow in Mendota 1970s
Freight house in background

Moving the IC Freight hse in Mendota
It was moved west several feet to make room for another track

These two photos (above and below) show when the IC Freight house in Mendota was moved westward several feet to accommodate a third track. It was set on logs and I was rolled to it's new resting spot.


ICRR Northbound train at La Salle

IC Steam Engine on Bridge at La Salle IL
Late 1870's

Classic views of the ICRR 1960
Photos by Bill Schlosser (1925-2017)

Great views of ICRR in La Salle 1950-60s
Photos by William Schlosser (1925-2017)

ICRR northbound at Mendota IL 1950s

Mendota Il 1950s
IC steam engine by Tower gets orders

Mendota IL ICRR
Passing by Mendota Interlocking tower 1950s

ICRR Mendota IL
Just passing 5th st xing northbound

VIew looking South on IC tracks in Mendota
Milw depot seen at right in distance. 1940s

Mendota along 7th avenue and second street
ICRR Tender parked in the 4-track yard 1978

MIke hands up orders to a IC train
Mike Gleason Hands up orders at age 12- Tower operator took picture

IC Mainline under the Milwaukee Road at Oglesby
The Milw tracks ended at the Marquette Cement plant

Oglesby IC southbound passing under Milw rd
Photo unknown

IC train wreck near Illinois River bridge
What a job it must have been working on that steep bank trying to clean up the mess

IC Coal tower in Yard at La Salle Il
Photo author unknown Notice Depot, Freight house in distance



The photo below shows the ICRR yard and Milw depot and tracks at top of picture. I grew up here in the 1970's. The things I seen. I was only a teenager but oh how I wished I would have been into photography then. But thanks to others who did photograph things of the railroad. Leo Muhlach snapped this nice aerial among numerous others and it shows one of my childhood homes. Our front yard was literally a theater stage of great railroad action. It was a free ticket too and life-size trains. Dreams.

Ray Tutaj Jr.

MENDOTA IL Our House circled
I Lived here from 72-81 Photo by Leo Muhlach in 1963 All was the same when we moved here in 72

7 tracks at this crossing ICRR and MIlw
I'm sitted 2nd from left watching the theater of trains in Mendota in 1974

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