The First Railroad Constructed West of the Mountains by the Author

and Others.-Other Railroads in Illinois.



BEING left out of congress in 1836, I was overflowing with energy and vigor, so that I could not remain quiet and idle. I had a large tract of land located on the Mississippi Bluff, six miles from St. Louis, which contained in it inexhaustible quantities of bituminous coal. This coal mine was the nearest St. Louis, Missouri, of any other on this side of the Mississippi River. I had also most of the land on which a railroad might be constructed to convey the coal onto the market. Under these circumstances, a few others with myself decided to construct a railroad from the bluff to the Mississippi opposite St. Louis. This road was about six miles long, and although short, the engineer made an erroneous calculation of the cost--making the estimate less than one-half the real cost.

We all embarked in this enterprise when we knew very little about the construction of a railroad or the capacity of the market for the use of coal. In fact, the company had nothing but an excessive amount of energy and vigor, together with some wealth and, some. standing with, which to construct the road, and we accomplished it.

We were forced to bridge a lake over 2000 feet across, and we drove down piles more than eighty feet into the mud and water of the lake, on which to erect the bridge, We put three piles on the top of one another, and fastened the ends together.

We battered the piles down with a metal battering-ram of 1400 pounds' weight.

The members of the company themselves hired the hands--at times one hundred a-day--and overlooked the work. They built shanties to board the hands in, and procured provisions and lodging for them. They graded the track, cut and hauled the timber, piled the lake, built the road, and had it running in one season of the year, in 1837. This work was performed in opposition to much clamor against it that it would not succeed, and that we would break at it, and such predictions. We had not the means or the time in one year to procure the iron for the rails or a locomotive, so we were compelled to work the road without iron and with horse-power. We did so, and de livered much coal at the river. It is strange how it was possible we could construct this road under these circumstances. It was the first railroad built in the Mississippi Valley, and such an improvernent was new to every one as well as our company.

It was in the year 1826 that the first railroad was built in the United States, connecting Albany with Schenectady, in the State of New York; and the next was built in South Carolina. Railroads were not well understood at that day in any part of America.

In the spring of 1838, I offered for congress, and we considered it best to sell out, as I could not attend to the road with the rest of the company. We sold and took no mortgage on the property. We lost by the sale twelve or thirteen thousand dollars. We sold for less by twenty thousand dollars than it cost us. I lost in the enterprise fifteen or eighteen thousand dollars. This amount was then considered as much as thirty thousand at this day.

The members of the company, and I one of them, lay out on the premises of the road day and night while the work was progressing; and I assert that it was the greatest work or enterprise ever performed in Illinois under the circumstances. But it well-nigh broke us all.

As heretofore stated, the railroad connecting Springfield with the Illinois River was the next road made in the State. It never succeeded to any great extent, and finally it was sold, as recorded above. For many years, the railroad system remained not entirely dead in Illinois, "but sleepeth." The next in order of time, is the road known as the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad. This improvement lingered for many years, but it worked. its way at last into existence. It is extended one hundred and twenty-one miles from Chicago to Freeport, and there intersects the Illinois Central Railroad. The Illinois Central Railroad extending from Cairo-one branch to Dubuque, in Iowa, and the other to Chicago-is the most splendid and rnagnificent road in America. It is upward of seven hundred miles long, and not only connects the North and South together, but extends through the middle of the most fertile and prolific soil on the globe. This road received from the United States a great quantity of land for its construction, and was made on the most substantial and approved system. It would require a volume to record the history of this road; suffice it to say here, that this road is grand and magnificent, and is in perfect keeping with the age and State where it is built.

A fine road is constructed from Alton to Chicago, connecting the Atlantic with the Western waters. This was the first road in the Union connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mississippi. Another road has been constructed from Chicago to the Mississippi at Rock Island, also connecting the seaboard with the Mississippi.

A road has been constructed this summer from Illinoistown, opposite St. Louis, Missouri, to Vincennes, Indiana. This road is one hundred and forty-six miles long, and connects the Ocean and the Mississippi together by Terre Haute, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio. A fine road is now constructed from the Illinois River, by Jacksonville and Springfield, to Decatur, on the Illinois Central Road. A road is built from Peoria to the Rock Island Railroad, fourteen miles west of Peru.

Another has recently been constructed from Joliet direct to the East, intersecting the roads east from Chicago. A road is built from Belleville to Alton, by the Illinoistown, and the cars are on it.

A fine road is nearly completed from Terre Haute, Indiana, to Alton that will connect the ocean with the Mississippi.

These are some of the roads built in the State, but others are being completed so fast that we can scarcely record them. I presume that there are two thousand miles of railroads running at this time in the State of Illinois.


from Gov. John Reynold's My Own Times. 1879. (pp. 321-323)


top.gif (906 bytes)