4. Making Connections
When the Illinois & Michigan Canal opened for business in 1848 there were less than 100 miles
of operating railroad track in Illinois.
A group of Will County citizens started a plank road company in
1849 with plans to build from Oswego to Joliet and then straight
east to the Indiana border.
A Railroad is Built
The Michigan Central Railroad completed it's railroad line across Michigan from Detroit to Niles
and New Buffalo around 1848. Passengers would get off the train in Michigan and take a stage
coach or steamboat into Chicago.
The Michigan Central R.R. was looking for ways to push it's railroad
across northern Indiana and through Illinois into Chicago. According to
Walter Havighurst, "the Michigan Central company bought stock in the
New Albany and Salem Railroad of Indiana and the newly projected
Illinois Central." Michigan Central backers were also probably among the
Joliet and Northern Indiana supporters.
In 1852 the Illinois Central Railroad line was under construction. The
Michigan Central had obtained trackage rights across Indiana and was
busy connecting with the Illinois Central at Kensington so it could run
trains into Chicago.
In 1854 the
formed in Michigan City, Indiana with
subscribers as the Joliet and Northern Indiana Plank Road. The plank road company and the
railroad consolidated once both state legislatures had passed laws enabling such interstate
John Murray Forbes, the President of the Michigan Central Railroad, and his associates were
very involved in building and financing the mid western railroads. Their goal was to build an
integrated system across Illinois and Iowa and beyond. During the 1850's, Forbes and his
partners merged a number of Illinois railroad lines into the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy
Railroad. They built the first railroad bridges across the Mississippi and proceeded to buy up
lines in Iowa and further west.
According to Illinois Central Rail Road historian, Carlton Corliss, The Joliet Cutoff was a critical
link when it first opened. The Chicago & Mississippi Railroad (aka the Alton Road) started
operating between Alton and Bloomington, Illinois during the spring of 1854. In August the
Alton Road was completed to Joliet and on September 7, the Joliet Cutoff was completed from
Joliet east to Matteson.
Alton bound trains ran from Chicago to Matteson and then over the Joliet and Northern Indiana
Railroad west to Joliet. From Joliet south the trains used the Alton Road's own rails. This route
was discontinued the next year when on July 4, 1856 the Alton Road completed it's line between
Joliet and Chicago.
Railroad poster from the 1850s
click to enlarge
Old Plank Road Trail
A 22-mile recreation and nature trail in northeastern Illinois