The Wabash Moved On - And Now Ritchie's Gone

In far southern Will County, IL, the Wabash Railroad once connected Chicago to downstate Gibson City, IL, passing through the small town of Ritchie

Ritchie was a flag stop, meaning that passing trains stopped only if a flag indicated passengers were waiting at the station.

The line was chosen and completed by the Chicago & Strawn Railroad in 1880, despite the fact that the Decatur & State Line Railway was graded, but never built, save for a few bridge piers in the river about five miles east. 

It became part of the Wabash (or more specifically the Wabash St. Louis & Pacific) upon completion, known as the Forrest District.

Situated on the Kankakee River, this alignment caused numerous derailments as a result of the curvature of the road; as such, the Wabash straightened the tracks north of the river just after 1900. This was not without at least some controversy, as the Ritchie station thrived when "a lot of people came from Chicago to go to Wesley [a health spa] on the Kankakee" - according to Commissioner Sandy Vasko (Kankakee Daily Journal)

Ritchie may still be shown on maps, but nothing remains of the village, except for a building home to a motorcycle club. The original alignment abandoned c.1900 is in brown, the Strawn-Manhattan alignment abandoned in 1991 is in orange. Abandoned & Out of Service Railroad Lines Map, Bing Light Basemap

This left Ritchie without rail service, which quickly hastened its demise, as in the early twentieth century, railroad service was an absolute necessity, and a lot of towns that were located beyond walking distance to a railroad would cease to exist, and Ritchie was no exception.

Of course, now the entire Wabash line between Strawn, IL and Manhattan, IL is abandoned. On our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map, the Ritchie alignment is in green and the realignment (now the Wauponsee Glacial Trail) is in blue. 

The realignment was described in Railway Age in 1905 as follows, "Recently the Wabash reconstructed its line, shortening the distance between New Lenox and the Kankakee River and taking out the curve running into Ritchie. The road has established a new station called North Ritchie about two miles from the old town and on the new line and proposes to abandon the old right of way entirely."

Despite the fact that the Ritchie alignment of the tracks was abandoned over 100 years ago, the right of way shows up quite easily on the LiDAR Data in the area. IMHP LiDAR Data.

North Ritchie continued as a station, but like Normantown in the completely opposite location in Will County, it never developed into a village, save for a grain elevator and three homes. It eventually become known as Ballou.

Looking north on the Wauponsee Glacial Trail Bridge over the Kankakee River in Custer Park, IL. Now a rail trail, this bridge once carried the Wabash Railroad, which ran from Strawn, IL to Manhattan, IL. The line between Chicago and Manhattan is today’s Metra Southwest Service. FRRandP photo.

Despite not having rail service in nearly 120 years, the Ritchie Depot still stands, albeit in a different location. It has now been granted landmark status by the Will County Historic Preservation Commission.


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