Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis

Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis

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Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Images of Rail Rockford Area Railroads By Mike Schafer with Brian Landis
Softcover 127 pages
Copyright 2010

1.The Rise of Railroads in Rockford: 1852-1900
2.Rockford's Railroads Come of Age: 1901-1940
3.Rockford Railroading in Transition: 1941-1970
4.Rockford Area Railroads: 1971-2000 About the North Western Illinois Chapter-NRHS

Rockford was born because of water, not railroads. But if it had not been for railroads, today's Rockford might be known for being little more than a modest town on the banks of the Rock River at a location that marked an easy place for early settlers destined for Galena, in the northwest extreme of the new (1818) state, to ford the Rock River. That this ford was located about halfway between the scrappy lakefront trading post of Chicago and the bustling Galena in fact prompted the location to initially be christened Midway.
It was here in 1834 that Germanicus Kent established a sawmill on the creek that today bears his name, very close to the site of the former Illinois Central (IC) passenger depot on Rockford's South Main Street. By 1840, Midway was nearly 50 blocks large, occupied by homes, churches, general stores, saloons, and two hotels. At this time, the community had acquired an alternate name: Rockford, in reference to the shallow, "rocky ford" settlers used to cross the river.
Though limited by rudimentary roads, growth continued, and by 1852-a significant year for the community-the town was earning a reputation as an industrial center for northern Illinois. What is the special significance in 1852? First, in April of that year, Rockford was incorporated as a city; and secondly Rockford's first rail line came to life.
Today in the Chicago History Museum, a gangly looking steam locomotive named Pioneer stands on display-and a rare and special engine it is. Not only did it power the first train ever to depart from Chicago-today's railroad capital of North America-but it also powered the first train into Rockford.
The locomotive's pre-Chicago history is somewhat controversial. Most likely it was built in 1843 for upstate New York's Rochester and Tonawanda Railroad. In 1848, the R&T sold it to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad (G&CU)-Chicago's first railroad-striving to build northwest to Galena, Illinois, and area lead mines.
The G&CU had been chartered on January 16, 1836, to connect Chicago with Galena, a fledgling settlement that many thought was certain to become the commercial center of the westward-expanding frontier. Construction did not begin until 1848, but on October 25 of that year, the G&CU's first official train operated, departing Chicago for Oak Park, today a Chicago suburb.
The G&CU's route out of Chicago was by way of Turner Junction (West Chicago) and today's communities of Elgin, Belvidere, and Cherry Valley. The arrival of the G&CU in Rockford in 1852 radically elevated the city's prominence and solidified its stature as one of the Midwest's leading manufacturing centers. Meanwhile, Chicago was quickly eclipsing Galena's glow, thanks to Chicago's strategic location as a port at the southern end of Lake Michigan as well as the western terminus of several new railroads from the East.
Still the G&CU continued to build beyond Rockford but never got beyond Freeport, which it reached in 1853 via Winnebago and Pecatonica. The railroad instead turned its attention to building west from Turner Junction to the Mississippi River and beyond by way of Geneva, De Kalb, Rochelle, Dixon, and Sterling. It also built north from Belvidere to Roscoe and Beloit via Caledonia.
The next railroad to arrive in Rockford eventually turned out to be the most important: the mighty Illinois Central. The IC was chartered in 1851 to build a line from Cairo, Illinois, north to Dubuque, Iowa, via Freeport and Galena, and a line to Chicago via Champaign. With these lines having been mostly completed by 1854, the IC began running freight and passenger trains between Chicago and Freeport via Rockford using trackage rights on the G&CU, an arrangement that lasted until 1871 when the IC rerouted its Chicago-Freeport-East Dubuque trains over the Chicago and Iowa Railroad (C&I), bypassing Rockford. But the IC would be back.
The Kenosha, Rockford, and Rock Island Railroad (KR&RI) was next into Rockford in 1859. This railroad built from Kenosha to Rockford via Harvard and Caledonia, Illinois. It entered Rockford from the northeast-having to blast a cut through some rugged topography that today is best known as Rock Cut State Park-coming in through the burghs of Argyle and Harlem, south through the future Loves Park, and then along the Rock River to its terminal at today's Madison and Jefferson Streets.
The fourth railroad to enter Rockford was the Chicago and North Western (C&NW), but it did so the fast and easy way: by merging the G&CU out of existence on February 15, 1865, and later acquiring the KR&RI.
A decade would pass before the next new railway was built into Rockford: the Chicago, Rockford, and Northern. A subsidiary of the Chicago and Iowa Railroad, the CR&N was created to build a branch from the C&I's Aurora-Mount Morris-Forreston, Illinois, main line at Flagg Center (near Rochelle) north into Rockford. This branch opened on July 1, 1875.
That same year, 1875, yet another railroad entered the realm of Rockford when the Chicago and Pacific Railroad (C&P) opened its main line between Chicago and Byron, Illinois. This line skirted Rockford to the south by about 11 miles, crossing the C&I's new Rockford branch at a location that came to be known as Davis Junction. In 1880, the C&P was acquired by the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul (CM&StP)-or The Milwaukee Road-another booming giant of a railroad in mid-America at that time.
The CM&StP badly wanted direct access to Rockford, so the railroad proposed building its own branch from Davis Junction to Rockford parallel to the CR&N. This sparked a war between the CM&StP and the C&I. The matter was settled when the CM&StP was granted trackage rights over the C&I into Rockford in 1881. But that same year, the CM&StP also reached Rockford by building a line south into Rockford from the Beloit, Wisconsin, area.
The last steam railroad to actually construct a line into Rockford in the 19th century was the Chicago, Madison, and Northern (CM&N), which opened its Chicago-Rockford-Freeport-Madison, Wisconsin, line in 1888. The CM&N, however, was little more than a vehicle for the IC to reestablish a critical link in its system: Chicago to Freeport.

Rockford's interurban system grew from its street railway network, which was born in 1881 as the Rockford Street Railway Company and initially powered by mules and horses; electric-powered streetcars or trolleys arrived in 1890. What followed then were nearly two decades of growth and expansion, with several area interurbans merged to become the Rockford and Interurban Railway (R&I). By 1910, the R&I system, including its street railway lines, comprised over 100 route miles, reaching west to Freeport, north to Beloit and Janesville, south to Camp Grant, and east to Belvidere. The R&I was enormously popular in its early years, its annual passenger count peaking at 7.5-million riders in 1910.
After World War I, the R&I weakened, owing to improved roads. In 1926, the city lines, which had been deemed solvent, were separated from the R&I and reorganized, eventually winding up as a ward of the Rockford Public Service Company (RPS). Meanwhile, the R&I went its own separate way-into receivership. Freight and express service ended in 1928, and remaining passenger service ended in 1930. Rockford's streetcar system rolled on until July 4, 1936, when the last car operated.
Although Rockford would see no more new railroads until well after World War II, it did see the rise of two new suburbs between 1900 and World War I. One has already been mentioned: Loves Park, immediately north of Rockford. It began as a tract of land between the Rock River and C&NW's Kenosha line that was owned by Malcolm Love, a Rockford industrial mogul. Both the North Western and the R&I helped foster Loves Park's development, and in 1947, the community incorporated as the City of Loves Park.
The Images of Rail series celebrates the history of rail, trolley, streetcar, and subway transportation across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the people, places, and events that helped revolutionize transportation and commerce in 19th- and 20th-century America. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.

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