The Hanover Railway: One of Illinois' Shortest Short Line Railways

The Hanover Railway was a 2.5 mile line which connected the Village of Hanover in Jo Daviess County, IL to the rest of the US railroad network via a connection with the Chicago Great Western Railway at North Hanover Station beginning in 1906.

"Fast Freight. Hanover Railroad, Illinois". Undated postcard.

Hanover Railway on our Abandoned Railroads Map with the Bing Satellite Basemap.

If one were to compare it to another railroad line, its most similar parallel would be the Illinois Midland Railway, which was the shortest independent railway in Illinois, and connected Newark to the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad along a less than two mile line, and like the Hanover, remained independent throughout its life, despite it connecting to a single, and much larger, entity. 

A visualization of the line using plat map and historic aerial imagery on Youtube.

Despite not being located on-line of a railroad, which was almost always the lifeline for small towns in the 19th century, Hanover had a significant amount of industry relative to its size, most notably the Hanover Woolen Mill, which was the largest such mill west of Chicago.

Hanover Woolen Mill. Photo by CV Marcroft.

An 1878 history of the town noted, ""It is surprising to find so far from railroads and outer world a busy little village nestled among the hills, turning out a large quantity of fine cloths such as a few years ago were known only as 'English Cassimeres,'". The Hanover Railway was an attempt to rectify that predicament, as Hanover had been sandwiched by the CGW and the Burlington, but neither company built a branch to serve Hanover.

1913 Galena USGS Historic Topo Map, showing the entirety of the Hanover Railroad.

In 1906, the owners of the Mill decided to take matters into their own hands and incorporate their own railroad, financing the Hanover Railway Company entirely through private capital, and the following year, the railroad was opened.

The company used a few different gas-powered engines to transport passengers and freight throughout its life, and apparently only had one steam engine on its roster, in addition to just six employees, at least as of 1916.

Gasoline Motor Car, Hanover, Ill.

Like any other railroad of its size, it was a lean operation; however, it opened up markets and commodities to the small town that otherwise were unavailable, or at the very least much more difficult to acquire. The early 20th century was a difficult time for the railroads as we've discussed previously, as World War I would see the brief nationalization of the entire system. However, while the Hanover Railroad never really thrived, and had little to no room for expansion of its small size, it was profitable, and care was made to maintain the right of way, something that wasn't always a priority with other short lines. 

Railroad Car, Hanover. Postcard stamped January 26, 1911

Some documents list the Hanover as a narrow-gauge railway, meaning any through-freight from the CGW would either have to be re-gauged or re-loaded onto narrow-gauge cars at North Hanover. Others still point to it being a standard-gauge line, so it's also a possibility that the right-of-way was re-gauged at some point in its life.

Hanvoer Railroad, Hanover, Ill.

Ticket of the Hanover Railway from North Hanover (where it connected to the CGW) to Hanover.

Chicago Great Western, North Hanover, Illinois Station. "Tank in ground. Siding at right was once Narrow Gauge line to Hanover; Neg. No. 2502" WW Embry Collection, Northern Illinois University Digital Library

In 1934, the Hanover Railway was abandoned, as it was no longer profitable amid the competition from automobiles and the fallout from the Great Depression, the company found itself unable to repair its bridges.

Vol 202 of Interstate Commerce Commission Reports p.451. (1934-35)

While it did not last long in comparison to some other abandoned lines, with a life of less than thirty years, it was mainly profitable throughout its life, and was also spared some of the embarrassment of some of its sister short line railroads, some of whom operated less than a decade, examples of which are too numerous to list. 

"Abandonment of Hanover Railway Authorized by I.C.C" Freeport Journal-Standard. Freeport, Illinois 16 Nov 1934, Fri  •  Page 1

Thanks as always for reading!


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