Humble Origin of the Present Great Railroad

The railroad was always a big deal in Clinton and in Clinton County.  The C & NW train station is such a beautiful building.  Here is a newspaper article from The Clinton Advertiser, February 18, 1920, regarding the history of the Northwestern railroad.

As "great oaks from humble acorns grow," so has the Chicago and Northwestern, from an obscure beginning, grown into one of the most potential transportation corporations in the world.

The story of its development, and the extension of its utility, is closely interwoven with the development of the great Middle West, which it serves, and in the advancement of which it has been a powerful factor.

In 1835 there was not a mile of railroad built in northern Illinois, not a coprporation chartered to build railroads.

Chicago was a little village on the shores of Lake Michigan.

On January 10, 1836 the Galena & Chicago Union railroad was incorporated by special charter by the Illinois legislature and authorized to build a railroad out across the prairie towards, if not to, the Mississippi river, "near the lead mines of Galena, Ill., and Dubuque, Iowa."

On March 4, 1837, the charter was amended and the stock, originally $100,000 was increased to one million dollars.  A preliminary survey was made a short distance west of Chicago.

The financial panic of 1837 put a stop to this and other contemporary railroad projects.  The charter, however, was kept alive.  Later the project was revived.  In SEptember, 1847, a survey of the proposed railroad was commenced by Richard P. Morgan at a salary of $2.50 per day.  The old St. Charles road, a stage route, was followed to Galena, then another stage rouad to Dixon, Ill.  The distance from Chicago to Galena was 182 miles, and the estimated cost of $14,550 per mile, including cost of "fencing, engines and cars."

The first seven miles west from Chicago were put under contract in the fall of 1847.  The next 31 miles was ready for contract in March 1848.

W. B. Ogden, president of the concern, in his second annual report, March 5, 1849, notified stockholders that on Dec 15, 1848, the road was finished "to near Des Plaines river, ten miles west from Chicago."  On May 5, 1848, the first issue of bonds was authorized.  Strip rails were used.  They cost $50 a ton on board the boat at Buffalo, whence they were shipped by water to Chicago.

Purchase the "Pioneer."

C & NW Pioneer

By Unknown author - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division.

In this year the first Chicago & Northwestern locomotive, the "Pioneer" was purchased.

The "Pioneer" was the first locomotive run on any railroad west of Chicago.

In 1849, John Van Nortwick, chief engineer of the company, said in his report: "The company have on hand one second-hand locomotive, which is in good order, and will answer all purposes connected with the construction and repairs of this division after it is in operation.

Numbers of Clinton people have seen this old "Pioneer," which is still in existence.  It was built by the Baldwin Locomotive works, had cylinders 10 inches in diameter, and an eighteen inch stroke.  It has one pair of 4 1/2 feet driving wheels, and weight ten tons.

The engine is now in the Field Museum, in Chicago.  It was exhibited at the worlds fairs in Chicago and St. Louis.  John Ebbert, who died in Chicago in 1899, was the first engineer of the old "Pioneer."

The St. Charles Branch Railroad company was authorized by charter in Illinois on January 31, 1849.  In 1850, the company built in Chicago a freight house 50 x 150 feet in size which the chief engineer declared to be large enough for all the freight purposes of the road for years to come.

The St. Charles branch road later was completed and formed a junction with the Glaena road at a point 33 miles west of Chicago.  The "Aurora Branch Road" was completed from this junction and opened for traffic on November 1, 1850.  John B. Turner was elected president of the Glaena and Chicago Union Railroad on January 5, 1851.

During the sixth fiscal year a survey was made for a railroad or "branch" from the junction west to connect with the "Rockford & Rock Island Railroad," one of the many roads projected but never built.  Contracts were then let for this branch, which was the beginning of what is now the main line of the Chicago & Northwestern from Chicago to the Missouri river.  The annual report for this year speaks of the building of a "road under the name of the "Mississippi Junction Railroad" from Dixon to Fulton, Ill., on the Mississippi and a suggestion was made as to "the probability of there being railroads built west of the Mississippi river.

Chicago, Fulton & Iowa Line

An old history of the Northwestern gives the following dates of the opening of the present main line of the company:

  • Opened to Lane, 45 miles west of Junction, January 10, 1854
  • Opened to Dixon, December 4, 1854
  • Opened to Sterline, January 22, 1855
  • Opened to Morrison, September 23, 1855
  • Opened Fulton, December 16, 1855

There is an interesting list of the old locomotives used, beginning with the "Pioneer."  Some of these follow: Chicago, Elgin, Illinois, Belvidere, Rockford, J. B. Turner, Iowa, Aerial, Cloud, DuPage, DeKalb, DesPlaines, Kehotaw, Kiswaukie, Shawbeney, Enterprise, Black Hawk, Falcon, Beloit, Kansas, Geneva, Dixon, Oregon, Sterling, Fulton, Nebraska, Hefoules, Sampson, Achilles, Winnebago, Como, Clinton, Lyons, Wayne, Savanna, Franklin, Grey Hawk, Nevada, Malta, Nachusa, Afton, Madison, Freeport and Roscoe.  The heaviest of these weighted 29 tons.  They were operated between 1848 and 1857.

The C I & N

The president on the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska railroad reported on December 31, 1858, that the railroad had been opened from Clinton, Iowa to Lisbon, Iowa, a distance of 66 miles.  A steam-car ferry was placed in service on the Mississippi river by the C I & N road to run between the bridge of the Galena company on Little Rock Island, to the Iowa shore.  "This," the report said, "gives an uninterrupted line between Chicago and Cedar Rapids, a distance of 218 miles."

The construction of the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska railroad was the outgrowth of a town-lot speculation. In 1854 an attempt was made to build a railroad from Lyons to Iowa City, and quite a little work was done at certain points along that proposed line, of which the exidences are still in existence.  The enterprise failed for want of funds.

Some gentlemen who had been interested in this project conceived the idea of laying out a town two miles south of Lyons, and making money out of the sale of lots.  In May, 1855, the Iowa Land company was organized, and 'New York, Iowa' sprang into being -- the present Clinton.

The "Iowa Central"

The same people organized a railroad company called the "Mississippi & Iowa Central Railroad" and graded half a mile of track northwesterly from Clinton.  This new enterprise attracted the attention of L. B. Crocker of Oswego, N. Y., Thomas T. Davis and Austin Meyers of Syracuse. Chas. A. Lambard of Maine later was interested, and through his influence a party of substantial New England capitalists joined in the enterprise.  A number of Cedar Rapids men also joined the venture a little later on.  Horace Williams came to Clinton in 1857 and thereafter was general representative of the New England interests.

The Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska corporation was organized in January, 1856, and construction work was begun the same year.  Track-laying was started in this city in August, 1856, and the track was completed to Cedar Rapids in June, 1859.  Milo Smith was chief engineer of construction for the road, and was its superintendent up to 1861 when he was succeeded by Major Bodfish with Isaac B. Howe his assistant.

In 1862 the road was leased to the Galena & Chicago Union which company in 1864 completed the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi here.  Afterwards the Galena & Chicago Union and its successor, the Chicago & Northwestern operated the railroad under this lease until August 1, 1884, when the Chicago & Northwestern purchased the entire road and property of the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska company, which went out of existence.

Build Road to Missouri

In July, 1864, Congress made additional grants to the Cedar Rapids & Missouri River Railroad company and authorized the construction of a road to Council Bluffs.  The work commenced in Boone in December, 1865 and the track was laid to Council Bluffs in January, 1867.  A connecting link with Lyons was completed in 1869.

In 1870 the Iowa Midland Railroad company was chartered, and at once commenced construction of the Lyons-Anamosa line, a road 75 miles long, to form a junction with the Dubuque & Southwestern.  The line was opened to Maquoketa early in 1870, and to Anamosa in December of the same year.  The Northwestern subsequently secured ownership of this spur.

This is the story, in its briefest form, of the birth of a great railroad.  With its later development everyone is familiar. The people of Clinton know what the Chicago & Northwestern means for this city.  They know something about the huge monthly pay-roll of Northwestern employees, and how the company has built in this city great shops, vast yards and roundhouses, office buildings, a freight house, a double-track bridge across the Mississippi, and finally a deopt.  They are familiar with the remaining portion of the local building program, which includes separation of street grades, and the construction of subways at Second and Fourth streets.

The Northwestern is often spoken of as "Clinton's greatest industry."  This term is justly applied to this great railroad corporation, which has always had an immense influence in the city's prosperity.

The following article was in the Clinton Advertiser, March 24, 1920

Depot Soon To Be Completed

The new Northwestern passenger station will soon be a realization for Clinton as construction work is being pushed ahead at top speed in an effect to complete the structure early next month and have same ready for occupancy at that time.

The laying of tile floors has been finished and the final polishing work is now being done.  All exterior work has been completed and the interior trim is being added as rapidly as condition will permit.

A part of the equipment to be installed in the lunch room has been received and the James Dunne Railway Eating House company will have charge of the installation and operation of the lunch room.  A thoroughly modern kitchen was included in the plans of the depot and will be ready for use in connection with the dining room as the interior walls are dried sufficiently so as to permit finishing coat to be added.

A subway will be the means used to reach the platform for west bound trains instead of permitting passengers to cross the main tracks.  This is done to uphold the feature of the Northwestern railway company in their Safety First campaign and the avoidance of accidents.