Did Galesburg businessmen really need to pay to bring the Santa Fe Railway to Town?

by Rex Cherrington

Passenger and freight trains, travelling the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway have served Galesburg for more than a century. Next month, Amtrak service will be pulled from those tracks and we will have but one passenger depot in Galesburg.

In December, 1887 the first passengers boarded the Santa Fe at Galesburg. During 1888, the villages of Appleton, Dahinda and Williamsfield were created as a result of the new road and trains stopped for passengers and freight in each. Numerous other villages sprung up in each county crossed by the tracks. Today, only Ft. Madison, Galesburg, Chillicothe, Streator and Joliet have Amtrak service on our part of the Santa Fe main line. August 1st, Chillicothe and Streator will lose all passenger train service.

Marc Magliari of Amtrak says that about 5,000 passengers a year board at Chillicothe and about 2,400 at Streator. While he says that "every passenger is important," it would have cost Amtrak about $100,000 to buy a short stretch of track near Bridgeport in Chicago being abandoned by the BNSF and essential to getting to Union Station. By changing the route, that money is saved as is the cost of maintaining the Santa Fe depot in Galesburg.

To encourage ridership on the state-subsidized Illinois Zephyr which leaves Chicago 45 minutes later than the Southwest Chief, riders boarding at Union Station or Naperville will not be allowed to travel to Princeton or Galesburg on the Chief. Riders originating in Galesburg will be allowed to board any train eastbound.

While July marks the ends of passenger service at the N. Broad St. Santa Fe depot, the efforts to bring that railway to Galesburg, already served by the CB&Q,were controversial.

Did local businessmen "Seize the Moment" or "Create a Carefully Orchestrated Illusion of Seizing the Moment"

Clark E.Carr wrote a small book, privately published in 1913, entitled History of Bringing the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway to Galesburg. The first characteristic of the book that quickly gains the attention of any reader familiar with Carr's speeches and other written works is its brevity­­ only 79 pages with large type and lots of white space. This is not Carr's usual style. Could it have been there was just so little to say about the securing of Galesburg's second major railroad? Unlikely!

Carr enjoyed it when people referred to him as Col. Carr­­ though he worked in the Governor's office in Springfield during the Civil War and held his political appointment as Galesburg's Postmaster the whole time. The Civil War was not a hardship for him, drawing two government paychecks and being far from danger.

Carr summarized the objective of the railway company,"The system had been in operation from Kansas City west, for years, the lines owned and operated by the company traversing the states and territories of the southwest, with terminals in California and old Mexico, on the Pacific OceanŠ The management decided that instead of giving this business to other lines, it was for the interest of the Santa Fe to build a line for itself to Chicago and deliver its own passengers and freight there, on its own cars, without reshipment. This being the principal object of extending the system, the question of gaining local business along the proposed line was subordinated to that of finding a short line with easy grades to Chicago"

James Marshall's book, Santa Fe, The Railroad that Built an Empire contains a chapter entitled, "The Invasion of Chicago" that largely concurs with Carr's assessment of the Santa Fe's objective. Marshall explained further that the Santa Fe officials worked in secrecy, sending survey parties between Kansas City and Chicago who had sworn not to answer questions concerning whose interests they represented. Carr agrees on this point but omits what Marshall further relates. It was at Keokuk where the Santa Fe intended to cross the Mississippi River­­ where a bridge belonging to Andrew Carnegie could be rented for $20,000 per year. During 1886 the citizenry of Ft. Madison outbid Keokuk's populace and secured the Santa Fe­­ which had the effect of moving the route northward by approximately 12 miles.

Carr omitted this fact, no doubt because it would have stolen part of his thunder. Carr wished to contend that he, with the help of other Galesburg citizenry, solely influenced the railroad officials' minds and pulled the railroad north of the intended route. Marshall states that Santa Fe officials had chosen to cross the Illinois River at Chillicothe in the initial stages. We can only wonder what importance Chillicothe possessed that caused Santa Fe officials to plan the route around it. Could the Santa Fe directors have hoped for a bidding war against Chillicothe from Peorians, only nine miles distant?

The Santa Fe chief engineer, A.A. Robinson, proposed a plan that would have laid the tracks 10 to 12 miles south of Galesburg. Our townspeople responded to the challenge and obtained an agreement with the Santa Fe. If Galesburg people would buy the right of way through town, the land for the depot and 20 acres for yards, then the Santa Fe would come here.

Carr heavily credits himself and W. Selden Gale for bringing the Santa Fe to Galesburg. Carr does not mention the Court Creek Railroad by name. It was organized in Galesburg 20 years earlier and became a failed attempt to get a second railroad to Chicago. Carr states, "Hon. W. Selden Gale and Col. Carr had been working together for many years trying to bring a new line of railway to Galesburg." Carr also mentions E.P.Williams, J.T.McKnight and A.C.Clay as serving on the committee to secure the Santa Fe. Carr credits John E. Frost, land commissioner of the Santa Fe and a Galesburg native as being helpful in furthering Galesburg interests.

Carr softens his egotism a bit and admits the following: "To no individual citizen can justly be attributed the distinction of securing the road to Galesburg. Never was there an enterprise in which the labors were more generally distributed and borne. Nearly every resident of Galesburg, high and low, rich and poor, male and female, contributed in some way to the result." Rich vs. poor and female vs. male are easily understood but it would be interesting to know how Carr differentiated high from low among the residents.

Doubts about Carr's efficacy and questions concerning the intent of the AT&SF and Carr's role in the change of plans existed in his own lifetime. He wrote at least two letters during 1897 and 1898 to W.B. Strong, who had been the railroad president during the planning and construction of the Kansas City to Chicago phase. Carefully reading and considering Strong's replies (Carr did not reveal the content of his letters to Strong) the main purpose for Carr's book is revealed; he was defending himself against his accusers without directly saying so

Strong relates the following in his letter of Dec. 10, 1897, "It was, as you say, my aim to have the shortest line between Chicago and Kansas City. The shorter line ran some miles south of Galesburg. Mr. Robinson, the chief engineer, urged the adoption of this line very strongly. Personally I was anxious to have the road run through Galesburg. My former connection with CB&Q. made me familiar with the place and its attractions for a railroad. The desire for the short line and Mr. Robinson's pressure for that line would have won the day if you had not come forward at the right moment and plead the cause of Galesburg. It was purely out of respect for you that I sent Mr. Robinson to Galesburg to Consider a line through Galesburg."The italics for emphasis are just as they appear in Carr's text.

Carr, apparently not content with this reply, wrote to Strong again and wanted even more. Strong's letter of January 6, 1898 contains the following: "Yours of the 2nd inst. came safely. I thank you for it. Your letter I prize. I simply want to say that I was amazed to know that any one believed the Atchison line would have gone to Galesburg any way, regardless of local aid. I want to say to you in the most positive and unequivocal language, that the location of the line rested with Mr. Robinson and myselfŠ Personally I preferred to adopt the Galesburg line, but there were influences against it which yielded, on condition the local aid was given." Strong says he and Robinson had the say in locating the line and he preferred to locate the route through Galesburg. Strong was the president and Robinson, chief engineer. If it was really up to Strong and Robinson and Robinson was subordinate to Strong, why didn't Strong's wishes prevail? What else would Strong have said to Carr ten years after the fact? If Carr and other Galesburg leaders had been deceived into buying the right of way through Galesburg for the Santa Fe it is extremely unlikely that Strong would ever have admitted it. Strong's testimony loses much of its weight when the context is considered.

The Santa Fe was not following the straightest path with the least grade work in the plan that missed Galesburg. If a straight line is drawn from Kansas City to Chicago it passes nearly through Keokuk and Galesburg! No bridge is even needed across the Illinois River and Chillicothe lies 25 miles south of the line!

It is interesting to go back and examine the charter of the Court Creek Railroad Co. of Galesburg. In 1867 it was granted the right to build a railroad from the Mississippi River at the Des Moines Rapids, which is just south of Keokuk, to Galesburg and from Galesburg to the Illinois River at a point not below Henry nor above Peru. This route came closer to the purported guidelines of the Santa Fe than the route that would miss Galesburg. Carr, Gale, Clay and others involved in the Santa Fe were also incorporators of the Court Creek RR. In spite of geography, the railroad barons contended the shortest line missed Galesburg and went to Chillicothe and Carr endorsed it. This can only bring us back to questioning why Galesburg would have been missed in the first plan and why it was so important to adhere to a plan to pass through Chillicothe which was keeping the route south of one which would be shorter and more level.

Railroads are rarely built in a straight line; political, social and economic considerations are added to technical ones imposed by physical geography. But in this case no explanation is offered concerning the seeming inflexibility of the plan to include Chillicothe. Why didn't Carr elaborate on the similarity between the plan of the Court Creek Railroad and the Santa Fe?

On December 21, 1886 a meeting was held, a bond signed by more than 100 Galesburg people and subscriptions made. Carr sent a telegram sent to Strong in Boston advising him of the support. A return telegram was received from Strong assuring Galesburg a spot on the new railroad. Even though the Santa Fe was a western railroad the corporate offices were in Boston at that time.

The Colville Brothers, George W. and William R., were the publishers of the Galesburg City Directory when the first Santa Fe train arrived here. The Colvilles had been engaged in printing and publishing here since 1856. They had an intimate awareness of the town's development and through the descriptions of businesses which appeared in the directories had chronicled much of its history. Colville Brothers paid in a respectable but modest $50 subscription to aid in buying the Santa Fe's right of way through town.

The following appeared in their 1889-90 directory: "Chicago, Santa Fe and California Railway. This road is an extension eastward of the AT&SF system, now stretching in an unbroken line from Chicago to the Golden Gate. It has been a matter of much self congratulation to our citizens that Galesburg was fortunate enough to secure its location through her borders. The question, Would it not have come anyway, without the expenditure of $65,000 good money, will have to go down to posterity unanswered, keeping company with other great problems of the ages." Even though the Colville's participated, they were not convinced.

The route through Galesburg was decided upon as following Cedar Fork on the west side of the city and Court Creek on the east. A few considerations come to mind for the selection of the route; being the lowest elevations in the city, they are the most level; the horrible stench of Cedar Fork with its raw sewage would have kept prices low in that part of town, a benefit to the purchase of the right of way; Crystal Springs, located along Cedar Fork provided an abundance of quality water, much needed by the steam locomotives. The drawback to the route was the flood danger.

As Carr's book is so lacking in important details we will turn to his newspaper, the Republican Register for insight. This division of the Santa Fe was originally named the Chicago, Santa Fe and California Railroad. Some persons along Cedar Fork provided instant cooperation in selling their properties. A suit was filed against a large number of Galesburg property owners in an eminent domain action. It was apparently thought by some that Hope Cemetery should donate a triangular shaped parcel of land to the railroad. The cemetery trustees met and decided they would be willing to sell land but not donate it and suit was immediately filed against the cemetery. The cemetery received $1,500 but estimated their loss at nearly twice that. Considering the land they gave up is on low elevation, quite wet, subject to flooding and not desirable for burial spots, the compensation was likely quite fair.

An interesting aspect of the construction phase was the 200 blacks brought from the South to do grade work. In April 1887 contractor Forrest (his first name not mentioned) was interviewed by a reporter from the Republican-Register, who related the following: "He (Forrest) speaks of them as more devoted to their work and more attentive than the colored men of the North. `I have no dudes', he remarked. They begin work with sunrise, are given an hour and a half for dinner, and cease labor at sunset. They are up before daylight. They work quietly. They engage in no profanity and treat strangers with deferenceŠ Their jolly time comes in the evening when the work is over. Then they bring out the banjo and the fiddle and sing and are jolly until late. Many of them are good singers and their plantation songs are rendered with weird effect. They are paid $1.50 for every day they work and get their board for $3.50 a week. They get their money promptly and spend it freely. Give them good clothes, good victuals, their [illegible] and an occasional nip of whisky, and that is all they want is the remark, then the speaker added philosophically, and that is about all that the most of us care for and can really enjoy."

On December 10, 1887 a small ceremony took place east of Galesburg on a bridge over Court Creek, near the tile works. The last section of rail completing the Illinois phase of construction was laid. The Republican-Register description of the event makes it sound more like a parody than a solemn occasion. The last two pieces of rail didn't fit quite right and the ceremony was extended while ends were cut off. Apparently no one came prepared to make a speech; Carr didn't show up. No one came with a silver spike or a bottle. There were numerous calls for a speech from local coal dealer, I. R. Green. The workers joined in the call. Green gave his famous Latin and Greek oration, as only he could do so well, beginning: "E Pluribus Unum. Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon, zeta, eta, theta, iota, youvus mayvus bevus surevas," apparently this gibberish delighted the crowd and much applause followed. It sounds as though the bottle's contents were consumed and the bottle and silver spike lost along the way. The Chicago Times announced that on December 19, 1887 regular service between Chicago and Kansas City would begin.

An amusing incident during construction is related in Marshall's book. "Construction was started by a grading crew that distinguished itself the first morning by getting arrested. This was at Knoxville, Illinois, a few miles out of Galesburg. It was an argument over relocation of a state highway, and a justice of the peace and a company lawyer had it straightened out quickly." Local documentation is still needed for this and Marshall doesn't cite his source. The state road from Knoxville to Henderson would have been the highway in question so the incident more likely took place near the brickyards­­ rather than at Knoxville. The crew involved would have been under the direction of Gere and Williams Co. who had the construction contract from Galesburg east to Monica (Williamsfield was named for this Mr. Williams). Did a Knoxville official still upset over losing the county seat fight decide to impede the progress on Galesburg's new railroad?

Accounts of travel east and west on the new lines from Galesburg appeared in the Republican Register. The Santa Fe cars captured the attention of the reporter and a separate article was written about them. Much of the article was devoted to the novel way they were heated by waste steam from the engine routed to the cars through pressurized flexible tubes. The writer admits it might not work so well on long trains but the ones here were uniformly and pleasantly warmed. Charles Dickens, Jr. visited Galesburg just before the arrival of the first Santa Fe train in December 1887. In his interview he complained of railroad cars in the East heated with stoves which he alleged gave off carbolic gas.

The big question in the final analysis, given over a century of perspective, concerns the value of the Santa Fe to Galesburg and Galesburg to the Santa Fe. Considering the stated purpose of building the Santa Fe from Kansas City to Chicago, it was not the primary intent of the railroad to obtain new passenger and freight business in the regions crossed by the new rails. The number of regular Santa Fe employees in Galesburg would have barely exceeded one hundred at the peak when track maintenance was more labor intensive. Since this was not a division point, few crew members ever lived here. There was the convenience to passengers and shippers to have direct access to more cities without changing trains, occasionally resulting in lower rates due to a reduction in distance. During the Court Creek Railroad era in the 1860s many of the same people who were so proud of themselves for creating the Central Military Tract Railroad which in part formed the nucleus of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy were complaining that Galesburg could never grow any larger with just one railroad with its monopolistic rates. The Santa Fe did not cause a change in Galesburg rates. Several months after the Santa Fe arrived, meetings were being held which pleaded for lower Galesburg freight rates. But the fact is all freight rates dropped in the United States between 1880 and 1890 due to economic conditions in the late eighties. It is not stated but, apparently, the Santa Fe charged rates similar to the "Q".

Marshall alleges that Galesburg experienced a rapid rise in real estate values after the Santa Fe's arrival. Could Carr have failed to notice? Marshall doesn't give his source or any figures and such a cause and effect relationship seems speculative.

The population of Galesburg increased by about 750 persons between 1885 and 1887 in comparison to the increase after the Santa Fe's arrival, about 1,300 between 1887 and 1889. Considering the increase had been about 1,000 between 1883 and 1885, the railroad's effect seems unspectacular.

Questions are raised concerning whether the horse market located at Cherry and Waters was created by the Santa Fe. In Cornelia Thompson's Galesburg's Mighty Horsemarket, the establishment of the horse market at this location is dated at 1877, ten years before the Santa Fe. She remarks, "In 1887 the Santa Fe railroad came through Galesburg and many of the horses were shipped by Santa Fe thereafter. They were run up the steep loading chute into the cars, until finally a special loading platform was built, after that it was easier to handle them." Clearly, the horse market's location was not chosen because of railroads, though the Santa Fe was convenient.

In Carr's history he attempts to exaggerate the value of the Santa Fe. "Nearly all the industries along the Court Creek valley and all of East Galesburg have been built up since, and because of building of the Santa Fe." Contrary to Carr's statement, paving bricks were being made at East Galesburg five years before the Santa Fe arrived there. In February 1887, ten months before the Santa Fe's completion, Galesburg Pressed Brick and Tile Company obtained a contract with the city of Quincy to furnish 400,000 paving bricks and was making the shipment at that time. This clearly establishes that the brick yards were connected with the CB&Q prior to the building of the Santa Fe. To what other industries could Carr have been referring? Perhaps he refers to the ice companies that harvested product from lakes around East Galesburg? Carr gave it his best shot to prove the value of the Santa Fe to our area. If it had the effect of lowering rates, increasing population or real estate values, rest assured he would not have hesitated to mention it.

On a lighter note, the colorful character Death Valley Scotty has a link to our area because of the Santa Fe. In July 1905 Walter Scott (his real name) asked J.J. Byrne, general passenger agent at Los Angeles if he could be transported to Chicago in 46 hours. He was answered affirmatively and the fare for Scotty and his wife set at $5,500. Scotty pulled it out of a roll of $1,000 bills and was given the privilege of naming the train "Coyote Special." They left Los Angeles on Sunday July 6, 1905 at 1pm and arrived at Dearborn Station in Chicago July 11th at 11:45am. They had travelled the 2,267 miles and arrived about one hour and fifteen minutes earlier than requested. Nineteen engines and eight engine crews were used on the trip. In the 2.8 miles between Cameron and Surrey the train maintained 106 miles per hour­­ then a new world record! With Surrey only five miles west of Galesburg there wouldn't have been time for much slowing down as the Coyote Special went through.

What the Santa Fe brought to Galesburg falls into that loosely defined realm called romance. Romance, which links illusion, imagination and fantasy makes pleasurable experiences even more so. People briefly identified themselves with Death Valley Scotty as he sped across the land. The Santa Fe was always trying to distinguish itself from other railroads; the Fred Harvey restaurants were an example of this with idealistic strict standards of character and conduct for the employees referred to as Harvey Girls, attempting to revive or preserve an idyllic past.

Locally, the red sandstone train station, with it's Gothic features and Neo-Classical lines was an interesting exercise in imagination for architect and viewer alike. The names of the passenger trains added to the effect, The "Chief" and "El Capitan" more recently, The "Navajo" and The "Scout" in earlier times. Their dishes, timetables, calendars and advertising reflected the Southwest, totally unlike any other railroad's.

It was all exciting to the imagination of Midwesterners only vaguely familiar with the Southwest. The Santa Fe often featured Native Americans in traditional costumes, living traditionally, long after the close of the frontier. Some Illinois towns on the Santa Fe had Indian names: Dahinda (created and named by the Santa Fe Land Co), Chillicothe, Pontussuc, Mazon and Ponemah. Clearly the Santa Fe had a marketing plan in place and they were not leaving people's impression of the railroad up to chance.

Since the Santa Fe and Burlington Northern have merged it seems less likely that the two routes between Chicago and Galesburg will be maintained for long. Economics is clearly on the side of the Burlington tracks being the least costly to maintain. If you want to ride Amtrak to Chicago through the valleys of the Court Creek, Spoon River, Illinois River and Crow Creek, better get on board before August. An era is about to close. We can only wonder how much longer the freight will run on our part of the old Santa Fe.

Last Modified: June 20, 1996

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