A New Era

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The New Era of Transportation


In 1837, twelve years after the first use of railroads in the world, the Illinois & St. Louis Line was started in Illinoistown. The men responsible for this type of transportation, which in later years monopolized the transportation business and made the steamboat a subject of history, were Gov. John Reynolds, Samuel B. Chandler, George Walker, Vital Jarrot and Daniel Pierce.

These men invested money and property in this great project to modernize the then wild Mississippi Valley. Gov. Reynolds owned a large tract of land on the bluff, about six miles from St. Louis on the Illinois side; which contained large quantities of coal and was already being mined on a small scale. Knowing that this was the nearest coal-mine to St. Louis, and having possession of all the land necessary to erect a road between this point and St. Louis, the men mentioned above merged their land with the interests of Gov. Reynolds and started the erection of the first railroad in the Mississippi Valley. Having but little knowledge of railroad building and only a vague idea of how one would look when finished, they encountered many difficulties. Undoubtedly the most difficult task was to bridge the Pittsburgh lake, which was then over 2,000 feet wide. This, however, was accomplished by driving piles, one on top of the other, more than 80 feet through the water and mud to a solid base. During the construction of this line, Vital Jarrot sold one-half of his interest to Daniel Pierce, thus making Pierce the largest stock holder. Many times the financiers of this project were near bankruptcy but they always managed to pull out. Over 100 laborers were hired, working night and day and living in bunk houses erected by the financiers, who personally supervised this enterprise. After many difficulties, both financial and engineering, the line was finished in the early part of 1838.

Because of the expense of shipping the better rails from Pittsburgh was too high, the railroad used wooden rails. However, five coal cars were brought from Pittsburgh for this line. These coal cars were drawn by four horses at the rate of about three miles per hour, and after allowing approximately two hours for unloading they were fortunate if they made two round trips per day. The road continued to lose money after three years of operation so Gov. Reynolds and his partners sold out in 1841, to the St. Clair Coal Co. Road, at a loss of $18,000. Eleven years later this road was again sold, this time to the Illinois & St. Louis R.R. Co., and after taking over this line, this company immediately extended it to Belleville. In 1854, the St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute line bought this line from the Illinois & St. Louis Road changing the name to the Belleville & Illinoistown line, which in 1873 was extended under the name of Belleville & Southern Illinois to Duquoin forming a connection with the Illinois Central R.R. giving a direct line to Cairo. These two sections now constitute a part of the Illinois Central System known as the Cairo Short Line.

The first railroad erected in East St. Louis did not in any way affect the transportation wagons which at that time were still bringing merchandise from all parts of the East. The second which was opened in 1853 and called the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis railroad had its line running from East St. Louis to Chicago. The shippers from New York and other eastern cites would bring their goods to Chicago where it was hauled to East St. Louis by railroad. Because there were no bridges for the railroad trains to cross to St. Louis, the line ended in East St. Louis. Here the goods were loaded on a ferry and transported to St. Louis where again the merchandise was loaded on a train of wagons headed for the west, or they were loaded on a steamboat and shipped south. Because of the want of a bridge, East St. Louis was made the terminal point of all goods shipped from the east to the west. During this time the west was demanding more and more merchandise from the east, the transportation traffic became heavier, and more railroads were being connected with East St. Louis. The number of wagon trains headed for the west coast were increased until it seemed impossible to carry on without a railroad, for the west was growing very fast.

This continued until 1862, when Congress passed an act to aid in the construction of a railroad to the Pacific coast. These acts gave the Union Pacific, which was then running from Omaha to Ogden, Utah, some 2,000,000 acres of land, and to the Central Pacific, which was built eastward from Ogden to Sacramento to connect with the Union Pacific, about 10,000,000.

The Union Pacific extended their line from Omaha to St. Louis in 1865. At last the west was connected with the east, the next move being that of constructing a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis. This was realized in 1874, when James Eads, an engineer, constructed a bridge named, in his honor, the "Eads Bridge."


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