Monday, April 25, 2022

The History of the Illinois Central Railroad in Freeburg, Illinois.

The Illinois Central line between Belleville and DuQuoin, Illinois, was built by the Belleville and Southern Illinois Railroad Company,  later to be called the Alton and Terre Haute Railroad Company, which was incorporated by the General Assembly of Illinois Congress on February 14, 1857. Very little was done as far as the construction of an actual RR line until after the Civil War. In 1866, surveying began on the rail line between Freeburg and Belleville. In May 1869, the contract for the building of the line from Belleville and the newly added addition to New Athens was awarded to Messrs. Clark & Co. of Chicago. The contract stipulated that the work is to be completed to Freeburg, which is one-half the distance, by the first day of September 1869, and to New Athens by the first day of October. Of course, this schedule could never be kept as many problems occurred with labor. But the line from Belleville to Freeburg, a distance of only seven miles, was completed by November 1869, and at that time, when the first locomotive rolled into town, there was a huge celebration.
Many Freeburg people had never seen such a massive piece of machinery, clanking and pouring hot white steam from every orifice. Some people ran in fear as the massive engine rounded the curve north of town. The whistle could be heard for miles. By the end of 1870, the 15-mile line from Belleville to New Athens, through Freeburg, had been completed. Now work began to continue the line to DuQuoin and then on to Cairo. This line would now be called the Cairo Short Line. In October 1869, a new locomotive, of thirty tons, 16 x24 cylinders, had been purchased at the McQueen Works in New York, for the amount of $13,500 (
$285,000 today). This engine was specially designed for a passenger train service that had been planned for the new line which was now being extended into St. Louis.
Freeburg Train Station, Circa 1890.
With the start of passenger service, towns along the line would need a station for train stops. The first depot was built in Freeburg in 1870. By the time the station was completed in 1871, the name of the line was changed to St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute Railroad Company, and remained in operation under this name until October 1895.

Freeburg Illinois Train Station Passengers, Circa 1890s.
At this time, the line was leased to the Illinois Central Railroad Company and this same company purchased the line in February 1907. By this time, the line had been extended to Paducah, KY, and through connecting extensions to the south and north, this line could travel to the Gulf of Mexico or Canada. The line saw the most passenger travel during the period of 1910-1940. It was also during this time that a second rail would be added to the line that extended almost the entire length of the line. In the 1920-1930 period, twelve trains made a stop in Freeburg from 5:45 a.m. to 10:45 p.m. (going both ways). After the war ended in 1945, passenger service began to decline as people were obtaining automobiles or riding the bus. Although a train ride was often fast, comfortable and relaxing, it could also be messy and often the passengers were faced with smoke and soot-filled cars as the trains raced across the tracks.

By September 1958, the ICRR had discontinued all but one passenger stop which headed north to St. Louis in the morning and south to Cairo in the evening. It would take only 8 months until the ICRR decided to dismiss all passenger service in this line. Nobody cared to ride the train anymore.

The ICRR would continue to operate this line for freight purposes until 1999 when it was taken over by the Canadian National Railroad Company. The CNR continues to operate this line to this day with very limited train service.

Many men have served as station agents in Freeburg over the years. The first recorded agent was Mr. Rad Burnett in 1898. He remained until December 1905, when Mr. T.E. Crawford took over, and remained until 1917. At this time, Mr. Charles C. Mulkey became the station agent. He would be located in Freeburg for 21 years and in January 1938, Mr. Roy Virgin, a native of Lementon Station [1] (which was located in the area of the Gas plant south of Freeburg), became the station agent. Mr. Virgin is probably the most remembered of the agents here in Freeburg. In April 1955, Mr. Russell Kilgore was appointed as station agent after Mr. Virgin decided to retire. Mr. Kilgore would be the last agent at this station. By 1960, nearly all freight and mail stops in Freeburg had ceased. The need for a depot had ended and the building became a playground for local kids until, in the mid-1980s, when the depot was torn down. The second track was also removed.
There were other rail lines that almost became a part of Freeburg’s history. In April 1909, St. Louis & St. Libory Railroad Company purchased a “right of way” through Lyman Wilderman’s farm, from the Locust Grove Schoolhouse to the current Illinois Central Railroad line (running east to west, east of the Gas Plant south of Freeburg). Necessary grading would be done immediately and then a switch would be laid to connect with the ICRR line. A completion date of September 1, 1909, was the hope. Grading from Silver Creek, heading west to the ICRR line near Lementon Station had already been completed by June 1909. This line would progress no further and later became an access rail line for the Red Ray Mine.

Another line was planned in December 1905. It would be an electric rail line traveling from East St. Louis to Freeburg by way of Millstadt and Smithton with future extensions heading to Fayetteville and St. Libory. This electric rail line never got past the planning stages.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

[1] Lementon Station - John T. Lemen, a trustee of the First Baptist Church resided south of Freeberg. A mine close to the railroad, located on the Ben Hartman farm, was known as the Lemen Mine. Near here, on the William Hartman farm was the Lemen School. Further south, about three miles, was a railroad stop known as Lementon Station.

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