Illinois Central Railroad Company

After several failed attempts to build a north-south railroad in Illinois, a successful campaign to build such a railroad began in 1850, when Congress, at the behest of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, granted the state nearly 2.6 million acres of federal land. The grant included alternate 640-acre sections of public land adjacent to and within six miles of both sides of the two-hundred-foot-wide right-of-way. The legislation gave the Illinois General Assembly the right to dispose of the land to help pay for the construction of the railroad. Congress specified the general route of the railroad and required that it be completed within ten years. In February 1851, the Illinois General Assembly passed the incorporating act, or charter, establishing the Illinois Central Railroad. The charter named the directors of the Illinois Central Railroad and authorized them to survey the right-of-way for the main line from Cairo, north to LaSalle, with a branch running northwest, via Galena, to the Mississippi River at Dunleith (East Dubuque), Illinois, and another branch running northeast to Chicago. Including the branches, the proposed railroad would be approximately 705 miles long and would run through thirty counties, surpassing the New York & Erie Railroad, which was 300 miles long in the early 1850s. The company directors met in New York City in March 1851, and at that meeting they accepted the legislative charter and elected New York railroad developer Robert Schuyler as company president. The company directors immediately began subscribing stock and seeking foreign investment and loans. Beginning in May 1851, chief engineer Roswell B. Mason supervised the survey work needed to locate the route of the railroad in Illinois. After company engineers established a route, contractors broke ground in December. In May 1852, contractors completed the line from Chicago to the Michigan Central Railroad, at the Indiana border, connecting Chicago with eastern cities by rail for the first time. A year later, in May 1853, contractors completed the first sixty miles of the main line, from LaSalle to Bloomington, Illinois. As workers completed sections of track, those sections were immediately opened to freight and passenger traffic. Despite labor shortages and rising prices for building materials, by September 1856, workers had laid all of the proposed track, and the company formally opened the railroad for business. During 1857, contractors completed work on company infrastructure, including station buildings and fences and the replacement of temporary bridges and culverts. The total cost of construction was more than $26 million. The completion of the Illinois Central Railroad allowed agricultural produce to arrive at eastern markets less expensively than in previous years. The railroad also spurred population and business growth in Illinois. Company revenue through 1860 totaled approximately $13 million, with a net revenue of $4 million.

Paul W. Gates, The Illinois Central Railroad and Its Colonization Work (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), 14-98 passim; John F. Stover, History of the Illinois Central Railroad (New York: Macmillan, 1975), 16-84 passim; “An Act Granting the Right of Way, and Making a Grant of Land to the States of Illinois, Mississippi, and Alabama, in Aid of the Construction of a Railroad from Chicago to Mobile,” 20 September 1850, Statutes at Large of the United States 9 (1862):466-67; “An Act to Incorporate the Illinois Central Railroad Company,” 10 February 1851, Private Laws of Illinois (1851), 61-74.