The Forgotten Railways of Chicago: Cemetery Spurs and Stations

If you go outside the city limits of Chicago in any direction, and you will find numerous large cemeteries occupying the land. In fact, in some cases you don't even have to leave the city.

This stems from an early Chicago ordinance that disallowed cemeteries within the city limits, meaning many located just outside the city. This is why some villages, such as Forest Park and Hillside, have a larger population of dead individuals than the living. As Chicago annexed surrounding areas and grew, on occasion cemeteries that were once outside the city were now within it, even in spite of the ordinance.

Chicago Aurora & Elgin car serving Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Image: Electric Railway Review via GreatThirdRail
A funeral today often consists of dozens of cars en route to a cemetery, however, how did people reach cemeteries before the advent of the automobile?

Railroads provided the service, and in fact were required by law to do so. On the weekends, funeral trains were actually a boon for passenger traffic. This is partly why there are numerous cemeteries near and adjacent to railroad rights of way. In today's blog, we're going to explore some of the lines and stations in and around the Chicago area, which were used primarily by funeral trains.

According to Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries, "some funeral trains used regular railroad trackage,  but special spur tracks were also laid directly into many outlying cemeteries." Coffins and mourners traveled to the cemetery in specially built cars. Both freight railroads and streetcars served cemeteries along their routes. The predecessors to the CTA's "L" Trains all served funeral trains as well.

Waldheim Cemetery with streetcar tracks in front of the entrance. Image: Oak Park River Forest Museum
One example of this would be the Chicago Harlem & Batavia Railway, a dummy line service Waldheim Cemetery at its end, despite mostly running along Randolph St in Chicago and its western suburbs. This line was gone not much after the turn of the 20th century.

While most of these spur tracks and stations are long gone, there are nonetheless pieces of scarchitecture to be found if one looks hard enough.

Pictured: A scar of the CA&E line to Mt Carmel in Hillside between Roosevelt Rd between Mannheim Rd & Wolf Rd
Mt. Carmel Cemetery was once served by the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad. The line's primary service was for funeral trains, although it was also served as a stop between the cemetery and the main line at Bellwood, IL. Trains stopped serving the cemetery in the 1930's, yet satellite imagery still holds clues to the existence of this once gravely stop.

Some ghostly remains of stations still exist at a few of these cemeteries. For example, Rosehill Cemetery, now on Chicago's North Side once had a station on the adjacent Chicago & Northwestern line. Stairs which led down from the platform can still be seen today.

Image: Rosehill Cemetery Entrance Stairs by Gary J. Sibio

Interestingly, this was the second station built at Rosehill. The tracks that are elevated today were not always that way, and an earlier station stopped at the cemetery before the track elevation took place.

Image: The earlier Rosehill Station, spelled as two words. In reality, both are wrong, as the original plot of land was called "Roe's Hill", but got the name Rosehill as the result of a clerical error.
Elevating the tracks required installing an elevator to transport the coffin down into the cemetery at the station. That elevator still stands today. 

Image: Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries
Burial grounds have existed long before white settlers came to this land, and as such, unfortunately some development has occurred over American Indian burial grounds. One example is Haase’s Park, owned by Ferdinand Haase, an early German settler of Forest Park, who built a park on such land. To access this, a spur track was constructed by the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, in exchange for gravel necessary to build the rest of the railroad. Such gravel removal destroyed most of the original glacial ridge, leveled much of the land, and uncovered several Native American burial mounds. (Oak Park River Forest Museum). While the spur track is long gone, a wye is still quite visible today, as it is now Brown Ave and Circle Ave in River Forest.

Ultimately, funeral trains became a victim of paved roads and automobiles, as it is more convenient for the deceased and their loved ones to be transported to a cemetery and laid to rest on their schedule, as opposed to a railroad's. Chicago Aurora & Elgin last ran a funeral train in 1934, after which their Mt Carmel line was abandoned. (Chicago & Cook County Cemeteries)

Nonetheless, their memory is a great reminder of the role that railroads played in shaping our world today, and how different the world was before cars were readily available.

Finally, although Springfield is quite far from Chicago, Abraham Lincoln's legacy, as well as his funeral train, are well worth reading up on, and mentioning in this blog, especially since a spur track from the main line was built to service Oak Ridge Cemetery, his final resting place.

Image: Lincoln's Funeral Train. TIME Magazine.
I've created a map of all known cemetery stations and spur tracks in the Chicago area, as well as the spur track to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Let me know if I missed anything or if you have further things to add to it, just like any of my other maps!

Thanks as always for reading and have a Happy Halloween! Tomorrow we will discuss a tragic piece of history at the intersection of railroads and cemeteries that occurred in the Chicago area.


  1. While not a spur like the ones in the article the C&NW Hubbard Woods station had a freight elevator used almost exclusively by a nearby funeral home to receive bodies and caskets after the 1930's grade separation project. The casket would be raised to street level then wheeled down the adjacent alley about a block to the south to the funeral home. This lasted into the 1960's at least. The elevator is still in place but has not lifted in decades and the funeral home closed in the late 1980's.

  2. The wye at "Harlem" on the Galena & Chicago Union was not built to reach the cemeteries....
    The St. Charles & Mississippi Air Line Railroad (CStC&MAL) organized in 1850 to link Chicago with the Mississippi River. There was some grading carried out to St. Charles and construction of the Fox River Bridge was started, but the only track laid stopped short of the east bank of the Des Plaines River (blocked by the G&CU owning the timber and gravel lands that later became Haas Park and still later the cemeteries. The line (on the alignment of the CGW and CA&E) was bought at bankruptcy by the G&CU and they promptly built a connector (hence the wye) from Harlem to the CStC&MAL track. This "South Branch" of the G&CU allowed them to route most of the CB&Q traffic off their main line and in addition they picked up the very valuable properties in the city from the Chicago River west to Western Avenue along 16th Street. They sold off some of the property to the CB&Q and other railroads but the Western Avenue property became the "Potato Yard" and later Global 1. After the CB&Q built its own line into Chicago from Aurora the line was abandoned west of Western Avenue and a connector was made up to the West Line at Kinzie Street. The "St.Charles Air Line" that exists today was originally viewed as an extension of that line even though the official history of the C&NW and St. Charles Air Line do not mention the fact. The tail of the wye at one point was connected to the Waldheim Railroad which had been separately incorporated and also had been connected to a steam dummy line and the Chicago & Northern Pacific Air Line. G&CU shops at the wye became a car shops in later years.


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