The Railroad That Never Was: The Decatur & State Line Railway

I'm a fan of the open road, and as such, I once found myself out for a drive in the middle of nowhere, crossing the Kankakee River, when I noticed a few bridge piers jettisoning out of the water about 1000 feet west of the bridge I was crossing. They looked like railroad bridge piers.

A shot of one of the piers taken from a nearby boat launch. Warner Bridge Rd is in the background, where I originally saw these.
This was early in my search for abandoned railroad corridors, and I thought I had discovered a new right of way, this time in the field as opposed to on the computer, looking at Google Maps! 

Three Happy Little Mysteries (Google Maps)

After coming home, I found the bridge piers, but could not find where they went, either north or south of the Kankakee River beyond a few hundred feet. Topo maps had no information either. The Wikipedia Page for Kankakee River State Park had but one cryptic clue, "At the Chippewa Campground, hand-cut limestone pillars mark where a railway bridge was to have been built for the railroad before financiers ran out of money."

Decatur and State Line Railway Stock Certificate. Image: University of Illinois Library

So I had found a railroad line that never existed but nonetheless, has physical infrastructure. This proved problematic on my abandoned railroad map for some time, until I created a layer specifically for unbuilt rights-of-way, as how can you abandon something that never actually existed?

It took me awhile before the combined efforts of Bill Burmaster, Bill Dittus, Russ Nelson, and others would unearth a name for the railroad, the Decatur & State Line Railway.

This scar appears to be the northern end of where the D&SL Railway would have run just south of Frankfort.

Grading must have been relatively extensive, because there are several traces that were visible on satellite imagery in 1939.

Just north and just south of Frankfort, there are scars of grading that were visible. Image: Will County Historical Aerial Photography

Where the Decatur & State Line would cross the also unbuilt Plymouth Kankakee & Pacific.
If that name sounds familiar to you, it's because I've discussed it before. But I decided to go back to the Kankakee River State Park and take some more pictures of these pillars. 

Farthest north pier, the 4th pier, invisible from satellite imagery as it isn't over the river.

The line was chartered in 1869, when construction over the Kankakee River, including the bridge piers, began, but the project quickly lost its financial backing partly because of the Great Chicago Fire

Had it been constructed, the route would've run through Bellflower, Farmer City, Saybrook, Chatsworth, Wilton Center, and Frankfort, among other towns, before connecting with the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific.

The Proposed Right of Way through Frankfort Twp., Will County, IL on the 1873 Plat Map.

Looking south from the riverbank.

I find it amazing that these pillars are still here, essentially untouched, 150 years after their construction, serving seemingly no purpose.

Beyond the brush, you can kind of see the right-of-way over the river in this picture. Sorry it isn't more clear!
This link suggests an association with the nearby Wabash Railroad, which about 7 miles west (and also abandoned between Strawn and Manhattan, IL), but I'm not sure if that's true. It could've been an earlier alignment, perhaps, before the Wabash decided upon a more westerly route, as D&SL's route essentially parallels it through much of Central Illinois.

From atop the northernmost pier, looking north along what would have been the ROW, there is nothing to suggest a railroad may have once ran here under different circumstances.
Amazingly though, you can hear train horns, likely from a line about 8 miles south.
The 1870's was a tumultuous time for the railroad industry, as it was the 2nd largest employer in the United States, behind only the agricultural industry. The rapid build up of the railroad network of the past few decades continued, and in fact became much more speculative, as wannabe railroad tycoons proposed routes and sold stocks in many railroad proposals that simply couldn't become viable assets. This was a large cause of the global Panic of 1873.

The northernmost pier is about 15 feet higher than the rest of the nearby ground.
I didn't want to take any pictures from Warner Bridge Rd, as it was quite busy with both cars and trucks, thus I made my way to a boat launch to try and get some wide angle shots. It was my first time using such a lens, and it shows a bit in my photos.

It was difficult to get all the piers into one shot, especially facing the sun. This was the best I could do.

Depending on your perspective, these are either the most interesting or most boring abandoned railroad lines; those which never ran at all. In my mind, the stories of their demise before ever getting a chance to function as a route is quite interesting. But at the same time, at the end of the day, they're nothing more or less than ghost bridge pillars.

As always, I hope you enjoyed today's blog, and thanks for reading!


  1. Fascinating reading and great sleuthing to boot...Very enjoyable

    1. Thanks for your comment. I'm hoping to have more in the future!

  2. I was just at that site an hour or so ago and was rather
    mystified by it. There was no road bed running up to the
    first piling squarely on land in the state park. You’d think the state
    would place some kind of informational sign to explain.
    Then again - it’s Illinois.

    The river must run fairly shallow over that stretch.
    Great research on your part! Thank You -


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