Galesburg’s Other Railroads – A History
by Terry Hogan
There is a new book out on one of Galesburg’s other railroads. It tracks the relatively short-lived Peoples Traction Company that was principally known for connecting Galesburg and Abingdon. It flourished during the relatively short period of time before the roads got paved and cars took the place of interurban railroads.
This book is titled The Peoples Traction Company, 1901-1925, Galesburg—Abingdon, Illinois. It was written by Fred A. Rozum and just recently published (2006). It is a remarkably well-researched book, beginning with Judd Seacord investigating the interest in an interurban line to connect Abingdon to Galesburg in 1898. The Seacord brothers, Fred and Judd, had been successful with the Galesburg Electric Motor and Power Company and were apparently interested in expansion. However, he apparently found insufficient support for such an adventure in Abingdon.
It took another three years for the Peoples Traction Company to make its appearance on the scene. It was quite an effort for the company to get the franchise from the Knox County Board of Supervisors to build the line along State Road 41 (aka Abingdon hard road). However even rails can have bumpy roads and the Abingdon Council refused to grant a franchise at the encouragement of the local Abingdon merchants. The merchants were afraid that their customers would travel to Galesburg to shop.
Not to be thwarted, the plans to terminate the line in downtown Abingdon were modified. The line was to stop outside the city limits at the Iowa Central Railroad Depot that was located about a half mile north of downtown Abingdon. Construction began in October 1903.
As many of us know, the line was constructed and ran along the dirt/mud road that connected Galesburg and Abingdon. The interurban provided a reliable alternative to fighting mud by horse or by car. My own mother recalls riding the line from near her home into Galesburg to shop with her mother and returning home. They lived on a farm south of Galesburg at the time.
But the Peoples Traction Company was not without its problems. There were disputes with Galesburg Electric Motor and Power Company concerning possible expansion plans within Galesburg. There was a strike that involved acts of vandalism that interrupted the interurbans trips between Galesburg and Abingdon. And in 1922 the Peoples Traction Company was sold to the McKinley Syndicate that had the Illinois Traction Company (ITC). If I remember correctly, the ITC owned the Galesburg electric utility which was later to become the Illinois Power Company. In any event, in December 1922, the holdings were reorganized into the Galesburg Railway, Lighting and Power Company, but the Peoples Traction Company did not become part of this group.
The author, Fred Rozum, has put together an extremely well researched book that is full of old photos of the cars, depots and the like, as well as a great amount of detailed historic information.
For anyone interested in Galesburg’s or Abingdon’s history, or local railroad history, this book would be an excellent choice. It is well researched, and I am particularly pleased with the careful and frequent footnotes that allow the reader the option to go back to the original source of the information.
To my knowledge, there is currently no local source (Galesburg/Abingdon) to purchase this book, but it would seem to me that the railroad museum would be “a natural” for this. However, it can be ordered from Fred Rozum (see details at end of the article). In a note included with my copy of the book, Fred writes that he is working on two additional research projects- history of street railways in Galesburg and a similar project for Kewanee. So we may hear, or at least read, more research by Fred again.
Ordering Information (as of May 2006):
Cost: $10 (includes S & H)
5616 N. Palacio Pl
Phoenix, AZ 85014