The Story of the Illinois Midland Railway

The Illinois Midland Railway was one of the shortest independent railways in not just Illinois, but in the entire United States.

It was officially listed as having 1.962 miles of mainline track, running from a junction with the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad at Millington, IL south to Newark, IL. 

"Illinois Midland Railway no.2, 1936". Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places photo collection.

Despite its shortcomings, it had a relatively long life as a short line railroad, perhaps operating on the sheer will of its owner alone, until arsonists sealed its fate in 1967.

We briefly discussed the Illinois Midland in our blog on 4 Railway Lines Ended by Disaster, but when one considers the railroad's place in the US rail network, the fact that it lasted until the late 1960's is pretty miraculous. Had arsonists not destroyed one of its bridges, who is to say how long this line would have lasted? It may have even been preserved as a heritage railway.

"Steam Freight Train on the Illinois Midland Railway" Image: Stuart Pearson, c. 1957

The story of the Illinois Midland Railway, not to be confused with the much larger Chicago & Illinois Midland Railroad, or its Genesee & Wyoming owned Illinois & Midland successor, begins like an unfortunate number of railroad stories do, with an investor promising a small town railroad service, and running away with the cash before any construction gets done. For Newark, which remains today a very tiny town, the railroad was a chance for it to get on the map and grow.

For at least part of its life, the IMR ran with just one employee.

In the early 1910's, promoter S.G. Durant spearheaded the construction of the road using stock sales from the community, promising a much longer railway, perhaps one running as far north as Rockford and east to Kankakee, only to run south before the line was completed with all the money, in a similar swindle that occurred with the never-completed Artesia El Paso and Mexican Railroad between Artesia and Hope, NM.

This time, farmers would purchase the company and complete the line, incorporating in 1913 and finally opening on Valentine's Day in 1914. 

"1st Train on the Illinois Midland R.R, 1914" Forgotten Railways, Roads & Places photo collection.

The rail line was then sold to the Newark Farmers Grain Company, which operated at the south end of the line. Today the grain silo still operates under the name CHS Elburn. At its peak, the company hauled around 350 loads per year, not bad for such a small operation. It even hauled passengers at points early in its life.

Illinois Midland Railway Right of Way on our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map.

At least at some points in the Illinois Midland's life, it employed a single individual named William Thorson, who would engineer the line, in addition to doing every other job that railroads required in those days.

Instagram post, "The long abandoned Illinois Midland Railway at Newark, IL, in 1953. Photo: Don Ross Collection" 

Much of the right of way was fenced, and the single locomotive never ran more than 10 miles per hour, not that speed really mattered along a less than two mile route.

IMR #4. Photo: John T Eagan, Sr. John Eagan Jr writes of the above photograph, "Another view of Illinois Midland 0-4-0T Vulcan #4 between Millington and Newark on December 16, 1957. My father took this photo and shows a subject many have never seen in color."

In 1959, steam engine operations ceased along the right of way, with a Whitcomb engine borrowed from the Chicago Burlington & Quincy replacing it until 1964, when it was scrapped.

CB&Q 9120 at Newark, IL, 1959. John T Eagan, Sr. Photo

The Illinois Midland continued in spite of all the odds against it until 1967, when vandals destroyed a bridge that rendered it inoperable between Newark and Millington. No traces, let alone structures, of the line remain today, and most of the right of way was located on private property, hence the need for fences. The grain company would turn to trucking for its logistics, and the need for the railway was no more.

Another shot of IMR no 4. from our photo collection.

Amazingly, 8mm film reel footage of the line exists and was uploaded to the internet. The following comes from Beverly Shields Casey, who dates the footage from sometime in the 1940's or 50's. 

Further Reading: "Illinois Midland Railway (Images of Rail)" Paperback – February 14, 2022 by Jeff Kehoe

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. Interesting story. Thank you. Having grown up in the area I'd heard of the road, but before reading this had not seen any trace.


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