Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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April 26, 1855

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In 1846, Stephen A. Douglas was elected to the Senate on a platform calling for the construction of a central railroad through the state with a terminus at Chicago. Construction was to be financed by a grant of federal lands along the right of way to the state which in turn would turn them over to the most promising entrepreneur willing to undertake the project. His proposal became law in 1850. An eastern firm was awarded the project. There were actually two routes. One stretched from Galena to Freeport to Bloomington to Decatur to Centralia to Du Quoin to Cairo. The other was a feeder route but became the more important. It ran from Chicago to Kankakee to Urbana and to Centralia where it connected for passage down to Cairo. By January 15, 1855, the main line had been completed and a celebration was held in Cairo. Special trains left from Galena, Chicago, and Springfield. Those departing from Galena went straight down the Illinois Central. Those leaving Chicago joined the line at Mendota and those leaving Springfield joined it at Decatur. The Chicago feeder was completed on September 27, 1856, after four years and nine months of construction.

The Illinois Central Railroad had a dramatic affect on the state. In central Illinois, towns appeared quickly along the route and massive areas were brought under cultivation due to the availability of easy transportation to markets.

Points to Consider

What was the route of the Illinois Central Railroad?

Why was it important to the growth of Chicago?

Why was it important to the growth of the state as a whole?

How was the construction of this railroad financed?

See Related Document:

7, 8, 16, 38, and 44

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