The St. Clair River Pontiac & Jackson Railroad: An Unbuilt Mystery
For the better part of the last year, I've been stuck trying to figure out what appeared to be the trace of an abandoned rail line immediately west of Pinckney, MI, which is easily visible in the satellite imagery below.
|Google Maps image of the line west of Pinckney via our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines map.|
The line in question diverges from the right of way of the former Grand Trunk Railway line that is now part of the Lakelands Trail. The grading is fairly consistent for the first 10 miles of line, and then just stops around the Joslin Lake area, which led me to believe that it was either a long-forgotten ice house spur, just like the California Ice and Coal Company Line in Antioch, IL, or a logging railroad of some kind, of which numerous operated in the State of Michigan, albeit usually in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula.
However, after being unable to find any information corroborating those theories, I finally came across what appears to be the ROW on a few maps from the 1870's. I believe this stretch was the original alignment of the Michigan Air Line Railroad, one that was graded, but ultimately never built. The line appeared on some maps as the St. Clair & Chicago Air Line Railroad.
|From the David Rumsey Map Collection..."(Map of Livingston County, Michigan. Drawn, compiled, and edited by H.F. Walling, C.E. ... Published by R.M. & S.T. Tackabury, Detroit, Mich. Entered ... 1873, by H.F. Walling ... Washington. The Claremont Manufacturing Company, Claremont, N.H., Book Manufacturers)"|
To understand the St Clair & Chicago Air Line, it's necessary to examine the Michigan Air Line Railroad as a whole, which was part of a Grand Trunk Railway project to complete a continuous railroad line from Chicago to Buffalo, NY and beyond, which would eventually come to fruition as the Michigan Air Line in the US and the Canada Southern Railway in Ontario. The M AL was built by investors hoping for a quick sell to the Grand Trunk to complete the project. The first proposal for a route came in 1865 as the Chicago and Michigan Grand Trunk Railroad to connect Ridgeway, MI (present-day Richmond) with the State of Indiana.
While a continuous route would eventually be created, it proved to be more challenging than simply building a direct line through southern Michigan, especially as other railroads, like the New York Central, would attempt to build or purchase parts of the route, fearing the competition another through-route would bring.
|Part of this impressive map of the Grand Trunk Railway from 1885 via David Rumsey Map Collection.|
|(Map of Jackson County, Michigan. Drawn, compiled, and edited by H.F. Walling, C.E. ... Published by R.M. & S.T. Tackabury, Detroit, Mich. Entered ... 1873, by H.F. Walling ... Washington. The Claremont Manufacturing Company, Claremont, N.H., Book Manufacturers) via David Rumsey Map Collection.|
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