The CB&Q Depot at Five Points


by William A. Franckey

The Zephyr, Galesburg


It seems that there will always be great mysteries, The Great Pyramid, The Holy Grail, The Ark and Amelia Earhart. Galesburg has a mystery; there is no photographic image of our town’s original railroad depot. True, on the order of lost knowledge, maybe more people have wondered about what that Custer was thinking in the final moments of the Little Big Horn battle than why there is no surviving photograph of Galesburg’s early wooden depot.

A town’s railroad depot was a point of pride where a community’s activity hustled to the sound of trains. Trains arrived and departed so people came and went, as did information. A depot’s telegraph stretched as far as the iron rails did. The telegraph office linked early American towns with the heartbeat of America and a prairie town pulsed at the train platform. This made for a place to people-watch in every sense of the word. Early depots were always front and center in a railroad’s operation. Passenger depots economically located freight offices at one end of the building to accommodate commerce and produce. Larger terminals may have had a separate building for a freight house or freight depot whereas the main passenger depot would have still served a variety of functions.

 Within the passenger house would have been passenger waiting rooms, a barber shop, a restaurant, and possibly sleeping rooms. In addition to a ticket sales, a station agent would be assigned there and offices for railroad officers whose duties required immediate access to the concerns of railroading. Galesburg’s original passenger depot was such a place.

The depot became the center of attention soon after its construction in 1854. The structure was an imposing two story wood building with eleven dormers and four chimneys. The outside was covered with vertical wood board and batten siding. This was the same depot that Stephen Douglas arrived at on an eastbound train from Oquawka. Douglas stepped off of his coach on the platform and headed towards the Bancroft Hotel on his way to debate Abraham Lincoln at Knox College just a few hundred yards away. The Northern Cross Railroad stretched from Quincy through Bushnell to Galesburg’s depot with the Central Military Tract reaching to Mendota. Also, the Peoria and Oquawka crossed at the station platform. All of this under the control of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad. Ownership would be achieved later but control was always at the forefront. The CB&Q’s small railroad yard was located here with an assortment of railroad buildings, roundhouses, machine shops and wood and coal chutes for the hungry steam locomotives. A short distance away stood Galesburg’s freight depot — practically the same size but with only a single story.

Galesburg began its railroad heritage with a meeting in the dining room at the farmhouse of at George Washington Gale Ferris. This is where the idea of constructing a railroad on the prairie was entertained. Ferris remembered that two or three meetings were held at the farmhouse. By early January 1851, contracts were entered into for grading and masonry. A meeting of the incorporators was held at the Academy, a little building on Galesburg’s Main Street, March 8th, 1851. Plans and action now would link Galesburg to Chicago and to the west.

William Whittle, a Civil Engineer, was first charged with railroad construction. Soon, John M. Berrien became Chief Engineer for Galesburg’s Central Military Tract Railroad. Berrien is remembered for the fireproof safe he designed in the CB&Q’s main office in Chicago. During the Great Chicago Fire, Berrien’s safe proved effective and the railroad’s corporate papers survived intact. Finally, tracks were laid at Mendota toward Galesburg, connecting the Aurora Branch Railroad from Aurora to points west. Construction inched across the prairie and local newspapers reported the progress. Soon a construction train’s whistle was heard outside of Galesburg. About where the current Amtrak Station now sits, huge mountains of railroad ties stood and around this area were tents for the construction workers and track gangs.

Buried in microfilm is fleeting reference to a platform and possibly a small temporary structure which served briefly as a depot but was eclipsed by a prominent two-story wooden passenger house. The first construction train rolled in and soon the first passenger train linking Galesburg with Chicago. Galesburg was jubilant at the prospects that a railroad would bring.

Quickly, this attitude took on a somber tone. Galesburg thought they had gained a railroad but discovered that the aggressive railroad had instead, gained a town.

A look at any city map of Galesburg shows orderly, well laid city blocks but the railroad had sliced into town at an angle. Clearly there became a “wrong” side of the tracks with Knox College on one side of the “Q” depot and the noisy and dirty railroad shops on the other side. To make matters worse, the railroad brought in immigrant workers and exploited them; the business of railroad work was a brutal one. Now the little hamlet of Galesburg, whose early focus was work and religious study, began to see an element of drifters, boomers, tramps and sluggers from abroad. What Galesburg hoped to develop away from had followed the town courtesy of the new railroad.

Each hotel in Galesburg would have two to six men acting as “runners” for the purposes of solicitation of business. Trains arriving at the depot brought some passengers who wished to take other trains and consequently had to detrain onto the platform. Some waited on the platform to board and upon almost every train were those who wished to get into the passenger house for a meal or other reasons. In 1857, the proprietor of the Victualing House located within the depot found the situation so intolerable that he approached railroad superintendent Hitchcock. Hitchcock added his weight to the situation and an ordinance was passed limiting the number of runners per hotel. The restriction applied to the platform but just off company property the ordinance did not apply. Because of the comings and goings of horse drawn carriages, known as taxis, trouble remained around the depot.

The upper floor of the depot had sleeping rooms that were contracted to an independent business group which operated the Depot Hotel. The other hotel owners cried foul, that the money generated by Depot Hotel did not stay in Galesburg but found its way back to Chicago. This was not true but the other hotels in Galesburg tried to create a boycott of the depot’s hotel thus increasing their own wealth. This was know early on as the Hotel Wars of Galesburg.

Abraham Lincoln was once found on Main Street after having received a haircut and asked an old acquaintance to walk with him to the depot. Lincoln would then wait for a train. Also at the depot, was a well known Galesburg personality with the name of Peanuts. Peanuts was a station boy who worked the depot and platform, undoubtedly hailing taxis and announcing arrivals and departures of trains. Stranger yet, the depot was, for a short time, used for religious services on each Sunday with a different denomination being represented each week.

The railyards located close to the depot, had a series of tracks where the railroad’s cabooses, called waycars on the Burlington, were stored. Because of the increasing amount of taverns, then known as Sample Houses, surrounding the depot, some inebriated patrons used the waycars as temporary sleeping quarters. It was said that the nightly commotion in this area reached such a state that some people living a half mile away from the depot thought the little depot to be on fire. In front of the depot, five streets came together and of course this was known as Five Points.

Ed Morrisey, a local policeman, was assigned to control the mayhem at the “points” — warrants by day, arrests at night. No photo exists of Policeman Morrisey but there is reference that he had scars upon scars. Again, if a picture can speak a thousand words, one can see how a photograph of Officer Morrisey would add so much to this story.

Galesburg’s little depot stood witness through good and bad times. A nationwide labor strike erupted in 1877 which affected Galesburg. The city’s founding fathers were still alive so civic responsibility was called for by local newspapers. Some strikers organized large groups to patrol the railroad’s property and keep it from harm. This had to perplex the railroad management. On July 29,1877 the railroad received notice that the protection committee would no longer protect railroad property. The railroad approached Mayor Stewart that the railroad needed protection so the city of Galesburg added 20 men to the 35 men the railroad had in place for protection. Soon the strike ended but the suspicious railroad understood that unrest lingered. Because of practices the railroad implemented for the next ten years, an ugly, vicious strike exploded in Galesburg in 1888.

Gala parties were part of the lore as the depot was obviously a main focus of Galesburg. During the first week of February 1881, Miss Newman hosted a party on the occasion of her 20th birthday. The guest list read like a page from Galesburg Society. The party formed a grand March and enjoyed a festive dance that lasted till half past ten when an elegant dinner was served. Professor Ferris furnished the music. Professors Seville and Booth of Monmouth assisted. The city depot must have felt as neutral ground on that night and not as ground on the wrong side of the tracks. No one suspected that within a few weeks, the depot would received a mortal blow.

The Galesburg depot suffered a minor fire in 1877 but survived intact until a fire in 1881. Even though Galesburg’s newspaper described the fire as utter devastation, the depot did somewhat survive. At 4am on a cold morning, March 1st, 1881, the old wooden depot was discovered to be on fire. An alarm was sounded by the steam whistle at the railroad’s machine shop. The railroad fire department, Galesburg’ s fire department and volunteers waded through snow drifts towards the burning depot. In the cold wind and snow, they fought the fire until the last flames were out. Although the depot and depot hotel suffered severe damage, the telegraph offices and depot baggage room were saved. Two railroad coaches were used as a temporary depot until the depot was repaired in part. The railroad apparently wasted no time in repairing the structure as the weather undoubtedly dictated the logic of a quick fix.

On March 19, 1881 a Galesburg newspaper reported that the newly rebuilt depot was nearly roofed over. Once again the depot became an area for social release.

By 1883, a new grand brick depot farther north at the site of today’s Amtrak depot, was well under construction so that when completed in 1884, Galesburg’s original passenger house, the old little “red depow” was abandoned. Although the freight depot survived until 1921 and the existing switching yards functioned until 1906 when the new gravity yard farther south opened, the John Berrien depot disappeared in obscurity.

Ralph Budd, President of the Burlington Railroad, (CB&Q) assumed control of the nation’s railroads under Roosevelt during World War II and for the idea of combining diesel engine propulsion with the Shotweld Process of stainless steel that created a new type of train called Zephyr. In 1941, Budd asked the question: Where was the first Aurora Depot? The report handed to him not only studied Aurora’s depots but encompassed all the depot from Aurora to Galesburg including Batavia. In this report was a lithograph of the Galesburg depot found on a 1861 map of Knox County. Around the edge of this 1861 map were representations of different prominent structures around Galesburg. Among the varied buildings was a small lithograph of John Berrien’s Galesburg depot. Clearly by 1941, no known photograph of the Galesburg structure existed. How do we explain such an avoidance to such a prominent local structure? Possibly there was animosity felt by Galesburg to its source of problems at Five Points. So probably this animosity translated into the lack of photographs of such a vital structure. Did Galesburg lose photographs of the depot in the fire of the town’s library in 1958? Time and time again, photographs that did survive of scenes before 1884 somehow leave out the depot. One city directory from the early 1880s refers to the little wooden depot as not worthy of Galesburg and the great CB&Q Railroad.

For years, there has been a small group of people working to find the needle in a haystack, somewhere there has to be a photograph of Galesburg’s first depot. Every known photograph was surveyed and scanned to find its orientation to the town and to the direction of the depot’s location at Five Points. Time and time again, the depot of a pre-1884 was just out of the frame, just out of reach.

An early Knox County photographer was Charles Osgood, a local photographer who collected and sold photos. One wonders, “Maybe some of Osgood’s glass plates of Galesburg survived and in that collection, there’s a unrecognized depot photograph.” These things don’t happen though, so a different approach was taken. Using funds and supplies donated by Bill Selleck, Gary Granberg, and Irene Franckey, a miniature recreation was created in scale of Galesburg’s depot, freight house and switching yard circa 1870. This was done just to get a handle on the changing landscape of the railroad in Galesburg. Even today, as new information surfaces, this diorama of the early depot is changing. Recently, retired railroad conductor Mike Thompson has become involved in creating miniature complex roof shapes of those original buildings at his woodworking shop.

As each photograph of Galesburg’s old railroad yard was scrutinized, the orientation was crucial to understanding the photo. Finally a high quality photograph was acquired showing two steam locomotives sitting back to back on a full covered revolving turntable. Something odd was at the right of the photo so that with scanning of the computer and enhancing digital information, that odd thing proved to be an early railroad coach. This meant we were looking in the right direction, literally. By using a variety of computer filters that can sense obscure digital information, a faint outline appeared between the two steam locomotives. For the first time in easily 60 some years an actual photograph of the depot existed if only the roof of that depot. It showed lightning rods among other things. True, it was not the photo we had hoped for but this was still better than anything we had before.

The earlier one looks back into Galesburg’s past, fewer photographs exist. There are a handful from the 1860s of which one is a view looking in a southeastward direction. Unbelievably, the photograph’s view happened to be in the direction of Five Points in 1866. Carley Robinson of Knox College, helped to obtain a very, very high resolution scan from the original photograph measuring just under four inches square yet high in dots per inch. Computers and powerful programs used in salvaging lost or obscure digital information has been described as a “black art.” Sometimes different filters in the computer programs can lead to different conclusions about information obscured in an old photograph bu slowly the little photo yielded its secrets. There sitting in the far distance, barely discernible, was Galesburg’s original depot. To its left, the Q’s erecting shop appeared, devoid of the machine shop that would soon be built. One of the biggest surprises was the “engine house.” A brief reference, discovered in microfilm, suggested that an “engine house” may have existed briefly before the known locomotive roundhouse of 1871. Sure enough, there appeared a square building instead of a rounded engine house. Maybe the biggest surprise was that there was a road directly to the front of the depot. Let there be no mistake, this forgotten road led the way to all arrivals and departures of early Galesburg.