Showing posts from March, 2021

All Roads Lead to Normantown

Growing up in northern Will County, I noticed there was both a north-south and east-west road named Normantown, except that they didn't meet or intersect in any appreciable way, as far as I could tell at least.  After doing a bit of research, I'd discovered that Normantown was a stop on the EJ&E Aurora Branch , and was located at the junction between the Aurora Branch and the mainline, and that these two roads sort of met, as the N-S Normantown Road ran through the area, while once could easily trace 127th Street to the present-day E-W road. I find this fascinating because I can not think of an example where two other unrelated roads are named for such an obscure area, so that's what we're going to explore today. 1962 USGS Normantown Map Normantown is still shown on some maps, but apparently was never more than a stop on the line , and never developed into a village. Today, the area is part of the Village of Plainfield , although some properties are unincorporated.

The Illinois & Michigan Canal

The Illinois & Michigan Canal connected the Illinois River at LaSalle, IL with the Chicago River at Bridgeport, Chicago, IL, creating a waterway between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin. This canal created a navigable route between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico, and helped solidify the fledgling City of Chicago as an early transportation hub, something that greatly helped the westward expansion of the United States in the early part of the 19th century. But the delays in creating the canal would also somewhat damped its importance. Construction began on the canal in 1824, but it wouldn't be completed until 1848, when in the same year, the first train would leave Chicago via the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad . However, even when trains were king, the canal was a large part of Chicago's transportation network, so much so that its abandonment was not because of the railroads, but in favor of the larger and deeper Sanitary & Ship Canal

The Washington, Alexandria, & Mt. Vernon Electric Railway

The Washington, Alexandria, & Mt. Vernon Electric Railway connected Arlington, VA at present-day Rosslyn station with Mount Vernon , about 15 miles south, with service starting in 1892. ( Right of way ) The line was granted permission to connect with the District of Columbia via a barge on the Potomac, but this was never acted upon. Image: Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, n.d., Visual Studies Collection, Fairfax County Public Library Historical Photographs, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia. Its location in eastern Virginia meant that there were many iconic American landmarks along its path, such as George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, where it ended. The line also used the present-day right-of-way of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in spots, and part of the line ran through Arlington National Cemetery and the campus of the Pentagon . The line merged with another interurban line, the Washington, Arlington & Falls Church Railway

Denver & Rio Grande Railroad's Grape Creek Branch

The Grape Creek Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad was built in 1881 as a narrow gauge line between Cañon City, CO and Westcliffe, CO. (Right of way ) It ran adjacent to Grape Creek, which would be the undoing of the line. It was to compete with the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railway after that company built the grade through the Royal Gorge. Westcliffe showed great promise as a silver mining town. Unfortunately, the grade did not. The Grape Creek was prone to flooding, and the line was washed out in 1884, just three years after the road was completed. Image: The Old Grade of the Grape Creek Branch It was rebuilt, only to once again be washed out in floodwater five years later. Clearly, another grade would be necessary. The Rio Grande officially abandoned the route a year later. The company chose to rebuild a new route away from the Grape Creek, but that still serve Westcliffe . Ten years later, a standard gauge branch to serve Westcliffe was built along Texas Creek, a

Is There an Abandoned Steam Engine at the Bottom of Round Lake?

Last month, we talked about the myth that an abandoned locomotive is buried beneath the BNSF Railway near Hinsdale. Today, we're going to explore another mystery of railroad history; namely, that there is a steam engine in a watery grave at the bottom of Round Lake. A bit of background for starters. The village of Round Lake was founded in 1908, taking the name of the lake upon which an ice house had been constructed, one of the numerous such ice houses in Lake County , some of which we've discussed before in detail . According to the Village's web site , "In 1901, Armour and Company completed work on a five acre ice house in Round Lake and was said to be the largest in the world.  The plant made 100,000 tons of ice each winter and provided employment for many people in the area. One-hundred-and-eighty tons of ice were hauled out of the lake each day.  A large guest house adjoined the plant that was home to some of the 300 employees who worked at the ice house."

The Mystery of the Niles & Buchanan Railway

The Niles & Buchanan Railway, mapped below in white, was a proposed, but evidently unbuilt interurban railway between the namesake towns in southern Michigan. Interurbans at the turn of the 20th century, and for a few decades following, were all the rage in railroad construction in the United States, and connected small towns with small cities, and through various disconnected systems, one could even travel regionally.  However, they were not at all profitable, and this was before many of them were purchased by auto manufacturers , who had an obvious vested interest in converting many of those systems to buses. As such, the holistic view of the interurban is a curious piece of railroad history, but to say it changed the industry in any lasting way is a stance hard to defend; they were both predated and outlasted by most steam railways. From our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map There were also numerous interurbans that were never fully completed, as was the case wit