Galesburg's Railroad Carrs

Clark E Carr, born at Boston Corners, N. Y. May 20,1836, was to become a ''big man'' in shaping the future of Galesburg. Although never promising a ''chicken in every pot'', he did seem to have a finger in every pot.''

Clark's parents were Clark M. Carr and Delia (Torrey) Carr. Delia died when Clark E. was only three years old. When he was nine years old, his father married Fanny Le Yau. In the early spring of 1850, the family packed up and moved west via the Great Lakes and landed in Chicago in March. From Chicago, they traveled by ''prairie schooner'' to a farm near Cambridge in Henry County, where they stayed only briefly, moving to Galesburg in the fall of 1851.

His father, Clark M. Carr, spent much of his time in Galesburg, promoting and building the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (''CB&Q'') Railroad. Clark M. Carr applied his efforts to the collection of money to keep the land survey work in progress. He died in 1876 at the age of 72.

Clark E. was 14 years old upon arrival to Galesburg and he immediately enrolled in the Knox Academy and subsequently the ''Collegiate Department of Knox College.'' At the end of his sophomore year, he left Knox to study law, first at the Law School at Poughkeepsie, and then at the Albany Law School. In 1857, he graduated. He returned to Illinois to practice law and dabble in politics.

In 1861, his friend, Abraham Lincoln, appointed him as the Galesburg Postmaster. The Postmaster had minimal actual work to perform which left Clark E. Carr free time to pursue other issues. He held that position for 24 (Republican) years until President Grover Cleveland came into office. Perhaps one of his significant contributions for the newly-arrived Swedes, was his invention of the ''Swedish roll.'' Ernest Elmo Calkins in They Broke the Prairie attributes this device to Clark. The Swedish names and handwriting proved to be an overwhelming burden to the local post office. One John Johnson seemed a lot like another, making sorting out for general delivery nearly impossible. Clark developed a revolving barrel upon which the Swedish letters were displayed, visible to the addressee. The viewer could rotate the drum but he had to ask for the letter from the post office employees.

Clark E. Carr was, for a period of time, the editor of The Republican, which he started with J. M. Prior in 1872. It was then sold to S. W. Grubb and was consolidated with the Register to become Galesburg's Republican-Register newspaper-- precursor to today's Register-Mail.

Clark E. Carr was also the first Secretary of the Galesburg Gas & Coke Company, organized in 1860, and located on Cedar St. between Ferris and Water. In 1878, the company had 12 employees and Galesburg had 135 ''street lamp-posts,'' costing $22 per year per post to operate.

His house, built in 1894 and still standing at 560 N. Prairie St., was described by Calkins as ''the largest and most pretentious in town, the only one with a ballroom, and here prominent visitors were entertained, including three Presidents.'' This man, this house, had a paperboy. The paperboy records ''This man was the most roly-poly fat man in town. There were other fat men who stood bigger and weighed more, but no other so roly-poly. He was round everywhere you looked at him, no straight lines, even his back curved. He was a waddly barrel of a man, with a double chin, a round face, a gray silver mustache and goatee.'' Of course, this paper boy was Carl Sandburg (from Always the Young Strangers). Calkins seemed to portray Clark similarly, but perhaps with a slight more tact: ''He was for years the biggest politician in Knox County, literally as well as in Republican magnitude, for he was portly, even corpulent, with a certain rolling dignity of manner, and the slightly magniloquent style of talking, especially in his speeches, which marked the public men of the Middle West in the period after the Civil War.''

President Benjamin Harrison appointed Carr Minister to Denmark. Clark E. Carr's biography, published in the 1899 Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County, dutifully reports that while serving as Minister to Denmark, he received notice that he was promoted ''to the rank of Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary, in which position he represented our country at that brilliant court for four years.'' Perhaps this had something to do with his success in getting a lower tariff for American pork into Denmark. Sandburg writes that Carr made reference to this accomplishment during a speech ''Šand the collops of fat and flesh on him shook with his laughter as he added, 'When I was the Minister to Denmark the American hog obtained recognition!'''

Beyond that title, Clark E. Carr also was, frequently at his request, called ''Colonel Carr.'' Clark was appointed to that rank by Illinois Governor Richard Yates, upon whose staff he served during the Civil War. Carr's staff functions included assisting in the organization of regiments at Springfield and visiting the army in the field. Sandburg describes his youthful assumption that Carr had been a battlefield commander, rich in the experience of taking men into battle. However, he reports that he later learned that Carr was ''a commander without a regiment, an officer who never reached the marching and fighting fronts.'' Calkins observed that the title was useful for someone involved in politics.

Nevertheless, Clark did have political influence. He was, without a doubt, a friend of Lincoln. He was the Illinois member of the Board of Commissioners who made up the program for dedication of the cemetery on the Gettysburg Battlefield. He attended and heard Lincoln's address. Of Lincoln, he is attributed as saying that Lincoln ''could make a cat laugh.''

Clark E. Carr, perhaps following in his father's (railroad) tracks, also played an important role in bringing a railroad to Galesburg. His father, Clark M. Carr, played a role in bringing in the CB&Q. In 1887, Clark E. Carr played his role to attract the Santa Fe to run through Galesburg on its route connecting the Mississippi and Chicago. Clark E. raised the money and successfully lobbied the Santa Fe officials to run the track through Galesburg. In a letter to Clark E. Carr, dated December 10, 1897, William Strong, President of Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway, writes ''I want to say to you now-- as the president of the Atchison Company, at the time-- that if it had not been for your efforts, the Santa Fe line would have gone through from Fort Madison to Streator and left Galesburg to one side.''

It has been suggested that the raising of Galesburg funds by Carr to bring the Santa Fe to Galesburg may not have been necessary. For example, Rex Cherrington in a 1996 Zephyr article poses the question ''Did local businessmen 'Seize the Moment' or 'Create a Carefully Orchestrated Illusion of Seizing the Moment''' (Cherrington's article can be found at <>.

Whether the $60,000 was needed to entice Santa Fe to Galesburg or not, the railroads have been an economic and a cultural influence. The ''Q'' and Santa Fe have hauled our goods, provided jobs, and were instrumental in developing cultural diversity in Galesburg. Such is the legacy of the railroads and Galesburg's Railroad Carrs.

For those readers from out of town, a photo of the Carr house can be found at <>

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online August 4, 1999

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