The Wabash Railroad

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Wabash Railroad - Litchfield Illinois
Wabash Railroad - Litchfield Illinois

The history of the Wabash Railroad Company dates back to the time when the state of Illinois was still virgin prairie. Few towns or settlements had been made and the towns which had sprung up were, for the most part, along the banks of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.

Pioneers who settled away from the rivers soon realized the need for better transportation facilities to move crops, furs, and goods to markets along the river.

When the Illinois legislature met at Springfield in the early 1830’s the legislators divided into two partisan groups. One group favored an extensive canal system of transportation for Illinois, since there was a network of rivers available; the other group favored a railroad. The latter group was met with public ridicule and jeers from the “canalers.” Financiers could see no gain in investing money in a railroad that would span an unpopulated forest.

However, under Governor Duncan’s term in office in 1834, the approval of a steam engine railroad to be built with state funds was obtained. Scarce materials, such as iron for rails, had to be brought by boat up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to a tiny settlement called Meredosia, which was later designated as the starting point for the new road.

On Nov. 8, 1838, the first railroad locomotive ever operated in Illinois, or in the entire Mississippi Valley, was placed on a track at Meredosia, Illinois, on the east bank of the Illinois River. River travel was easier than land travel so it was not absurd to find the beginning of the first railroad making its origin at this river point. A locomotive called the “Rogers” which had been made in Newark, New Jersey, by the firm of Rogers, Grosvenor, and Ketchum, was shipped knocked-down to Meredosia by a long, arduous river trip. The railroad track was laid from Meredosia east and south to Morgan City, a distance of 12 miles. This small railroad was known as the Northern Cross Railroad, since it paralleled the well-worn trail known as the Northern Crossing of Illinois. This early railroad, the Northern Cross, formed the nucleus of the Wabash Railroad system.

In 1841 a line between Jacksonville and Springfield was completed, and by February, 1842, service between Meredosia and Springfield, Illinois, was made available. Since the first locomotives soon wore out from travel on the rough rails, for a time animal power had to be used to maintain service on this line. By 1847 new locomotives were purchased. At this time the railway was known as the Sangamon and Morgan Railroad.

Rails were extended and connected to this original track, and by 1865 a corporation formed under the name of the Toledo, Wabash, and Western Railway Company.

The Decatur and East St. Louis Railroad Company was incorporated February 26, 1867. On June 9, 1869, work was begun at Decatur, Illinois, on the Decatur, East St. Louis track and rightaway. This line approached Litchfield in the northeast by southwest axis, and by August 1, 1870, a double track was completed, 109.14 miles in length. Litchfield was made a division point and many trains terminated here. On August 10, 1870, this track and rightaway was absorbed by the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railway.

This line pushed northward from Decatur, and this northern section was known as the Decatur and State Line Railroad. This formed one of the first direct routes between Chicago and St. Louis. During the business depression of 1877, the Toledo, Wabash, and Western Railroad which included some 678 miles of operating track was reorganized, and the new name of the railroad became the Wabash Railway Company.

The Wabash tapped the great coal area of southern Illinois, and the railroad became a large coal carrier. In Litchfield, a round house was constructed by the Wabash Company on the south side of the Litchfield mine. All local trains and mine crews operated in and out of Litchfield.

When the coal mine was abandoned and the Karnes yard was built, Litchfield ceased to be of much importance as a railroad yard. The round house was torn down and the local runs moved their terminal to Karnes.

Due to the four railroads in Litchfield, a good freight and passenger business was derived, with a volume almost incredible for a town of this size.

During the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904 the Wabash did a tremendous passenger business. Stations were built all along the line to accommodate the crowds of travelers who came from rural areas.

The Wabash Railway has always been noted for its freight and passenger service.’

The present subsidiaries of the Wabash Railroad are: the Ann Arbor Railroad Company; the New Jersey, Indiana, and Illinois Railroad Company; the Manistique & Lake Superior Railroad Company; and the Lake Erie & Fort Wayne Railroad.

Executive officers are A. K. Atkinson, president, who has been with the company since 1922; G. H. Sido, vice-president, in charge of operations, who has been with the company since 1905; and L. E. Clarahan, vice-president in charge of traffic, who has been with the company since 1912.

Local Wabash personnel include the following: George Gregory, agent; David Napier, first trick operator; Fred Humphrey, second trick operator; Victor McCracken, swing man.

Taken from: Litchfield Centennial Book 1853-1953

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Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society