7.23. DOUGLAS LINKS THE COMPROMISE OF 1850 AND THE ILLINOIS CENTRAL BILLS

The 1848 election of Taylor meant that the Whigs could fill the many patronage positions in the Federal government, none being more crucial to Douglas’ landgrant bill than the Commissioner of the U. S. General Land Office, in charge of overseeing all landgrants and sales of Federal lands.  Political horse-trading within Taylor’s cabinet had determined that the office would be given to a Whig from Illinois to be named later.  The two top contenders for the position were Chicago lawyer Justin Butterfield, and Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln who had been elected as a Whig to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1846 stating that he would serve but one term.  The freshman Congressman, after having been in Washington for less than a month, had stood in the House of Representatives on Dec. 22. 1847, and offered eight “Spot Resolutions” that challenged then Pres. Polk’s veracity on the events that he quoted as having led up to the declaration of war on Mexico.  Lincoln had supported Taylor in the 1848 election and thought that he had the inside track.  The prior Congress, however, had formed a new Department of the Interior, into which the General Land Office had been merged.  Taylor appointed Ohio’s Thomas Ewing as the Secretary of the new department, who requested that the President appoint his friend Butterfield, which he did.  Therefore, it would be Butterfield, and not Lincoln, who would be responsible for working with Douglas to flesh out the IC landgrant bill.

The new Congress that was seated in March 1849 was divided politically and Sectionally more so than ever before, as the political resolution of the territories of the Mexican Cession continued to be vexed by the issue of the extension of slavery.  Northern abolitionists supported the Wilmot Proviso’s prohibition of slavery from all the territories, while Southern extremists began to threaten secession (hence, Calhoun’s call for the Mississippi convention on October 1, 1849) if the “peculiar institution” was not allowed to expand beyond the Rio Grande River and the Missiouri Compromise line of 36° 30.’  The final disposition of the states of California and Texas, and the territories of New Mexico and Utah, as well as the impact of the composition of Congress itself, hung in the balance.  This was the political situation in Congress when the first proposals to fund a transcontinental railroad began to be debated.  

1850 Map of the Proposed Illinois Central Railroad. Note that Galena was shown to be the northern terminus. The original route to Chicago veered off from Bloomington, 120 miles farther north than the final route from Centralia. Obviously, moving the junction south to Centralia added more land to the final landgrant. It also brought the Chicago line to intersect directly east of St. Louis, drawing traffic away from Cincinnati. (Online)

Into this inferno Douglas determinedly reintroduced his Illinois Central bill on Jan. 3, 1850, but still had to utilize all his political savvy to make the appropriate deals to revise the proposal to secure the votes needed to pass the bill in the Senate.  In order to gain the votes of Southern legislators, Douglas had agreed to extend the scope of the route to Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf of Mexico, with the construction of the Ohio & Mobile Railroad, thereby extending the landgrant into Mississippi and Alabama and, in essence, creating a manmade alternative to the Mississippi River south from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico that would, unintentionally, divert to Chicago most, if not all traffic originally bound for St. Louis.  More importantly, with this stroke of political genius Douglas had, at one and the same time, managed to transcend sectional jealousies by creating a railroad that would link the NorthWest and the South (running north/south rather than the more typical east/west proposals) to insure that both, if not all three sections would support his proposal: while the Northeast would view the railroad, as it had the Chicago canal, as a means of furthering the economic bond between its Great Lakes system and the emerging NorthWest, Southerners saw the extension of the line to Mobile as an opportunity to forge a stronger counterbalancing link with the NorthWest.  In essence, Douglas’s southern extension of the IC had increased the scale of the project to the point where it would be the longest route ever attempted to be constructed in the U.S. at this time.  The total length of the proposed route was over 700 miles, which was almost double that of the longest railroad then being attempted, the Erie (450 miles), whose problems at this time only seemed to reinforce the doubts of those who voted against the measure.  As it stretched across the country (albeit in a north/south direction) the IC, together with the Ohio & Mobile would be a dry run for the eventual construction of the much more ambitious transcontinental railroad to the Pacific.  On May 2, 1850, the amended bill once again passed the Senate, but was stopped dead in its tracks in the House because by this date, the more inflammatory issues of California and Texas had grabbed center stage in the halls of Congress.  Calhoun had called for a second convention to discuss the option of secession to be held in Nashville on June 3-11, 1850, as the threat of the Wilmot Proviso, like the sword of Damocles, still hung over the Congress.

Three months earlier on January 29, 1850, the “Great Pacificator,” Kentucky’s Sen. Clay had once again stood up in the Senate and offered a series of resolutions that attempted to address all these issues in a compromise to settle the heated Congressional debates, in which everyone got something they wanted, but no one got everything for which they were fighting.  At the suggestion of Southern Senators, a Committee of Thirteen was formed to flesh out each resolution, that were eventually combined, against both Clay’s and Douglas’ better judgment, into one omnibus bill, that Clay introduced in the Senate on May 8, only six days after the Senate had approved Douglas’ IC bill.  The all or nothing nature of the omnibus bill allowed the bill’s various opponents to unite and defeat it on July 31, after which Clay, thoroughly exhausted from the marathon, was forced to withdraw to nurse his tuberculosis.  Clay handed his leadership of the compromise effort over to Douglas, recommending that Douglas return to his original idea of passing individual bills.

Douglas’ challenge in getting these bills passed in August and September 1850 had been eased, however, with both the accidental death of Pres. Taylor from food poisoning on July 9, who had been opposed to the extension of slavery, and the move into the White House of Millard Fillmore who was more interested in resolving these issues so as to move forward on more pressing items. Not one to dally, Douglas successfully singlehandedly shepherded a series of five bills individually first through his Committee on Territories, that he began the very next day, August 1, that followed the final defeat of the omnibus bill, and then through the Senate and House, ending with a bill that abolished the slave trade in Washington, DC, that was passed on September 16.  These five bills compromised what is known as the Compromise of 1850, and may represent Douglas’ finest moment in the Congress.  It was in this atmosphere of compromise and collaboration that Douglas had wisely waited before he had his supporters in the House bring the IC bill for a final vote, but, once again he wasted little time in which some might change their mind because it was finally approved by the House on September 17, 1850, the “day after” much celebration had occurred the night before (can you say hungover?) following the passage of the DC slave trade bill by the Senate.   

Map of the Illinois Landgrant to the Illinois Central Railroad. (Online)

As Douglas’ biographer, Robert Johannsen stated, “much of the story of the [IC’s] bill’s treatment in the House still remains shrouded in mystery, but it is clear that private bargaining and logrolling, carried on through personal contacts and behind closed doors, greatly contributed to the bill’s eventual success.”  One of those whose personal contacts played a crucial role in securing the support of the Northeast was “Free-Soiler” John Wentworth, who could deal with those Representatives who were appalled by Douglas’ support of “Popular Sovereignty.”  Pres. Fillmore signed the IC bill into law three days later, unleashing the great Illinois Central landrush.  Douglas had succeeded not only in finally getting the IC off the ground, but with the Compromise of 1850, is also credited by many historians as having postponed the Civil War by ten years.  As the Congress adjourned, Douglas was forced by his doctor to take to his bed for a week as a severe abscess had formed on his hip, thought to have been the result of the excessive amount of sitting he had to endure during the debates.  Nonetheless, while William Ogden was beating the bushes in the western prairie for every dollar he might cajole from a farmer in order to keep the construction of Chicago’s first railroad progressing ever westward to the Mississippi River, Sen.  Douglas had secured full financing from the Federal government for Chicago’s second railroad.  The two companies thus represented the two extremes between which such American companies would traditionally operate: one was financed completely privately, while the other was to be subsidized by the Federal government through the sales of a landgrant.  The stations that the companies each build would reflect this reality.  Our interest lies in where these stations were to be built, for their location would greatly influence Chicago’s urban fabric and structure.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Brownson, Howard Gray. History of the Illinois Central Railroad to 1870. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1915.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– 2. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Stover, John F. History of the Illinois Central Railroad. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.22. “FREE-SOIL” AND THE ELECTION OF 1848

Douglas had added the Chicago branch to his bill also for political, as well as economic reasons.  With the Presidential election of 1848 on the horizon, the issue of slavery was becoming the divisive political issue that would eventually tear the country apart. David Wilmot’s proposed proviso of August 8, 1846, of course, had gotten nowhere in the Southern-controlled Senate, but that had not stopped the country’s nascent abolitionists from pursuing their agenda, who began to use the support of the Proviso as a litmus test for political candidates.  This issue played directly into the hands of Martin Van Buren and his political machine, who, following his defeat by Calhoun’s machinations in the 1844 Democratic Convention, had been planning his last shot at the Presidency.  After Van Buren and his opponent in 1844, Lewis Cass, had agreed to back Polk as the compromise candidate,  Polk then had proceeded to throw salt into the party fissure by refusing to appoint any of Van Buren’s men to patronage positions during his entire term in office. Van Buren and his supporters (of which Ogden was the leader of the Chicago faction), after suffering eight years of humiliation, were determined to have their revenge and carried Van Buren’s support of the Proviso as its banner into the fray, as Cass, his opponent once again, was a member of the new “Young America” movement and a well-known advocate for the competing ideology of “Popular Sovereignty” that argued that Congress had no power to legislate on the slavery issue and, therefore, the issue was best resolved in the new territories that were approaching statehood by the vote of its citizens.

As Van Buren’s power base was still in upstate New York, he had launched his campaign in the fall of 1847 at the Democratic State convention in Syracuse.  Van Buren’s men, who supported the Proviso were nicknamed “Barnburners” by their opponents, after the fabled Dutch farmer who had burned his barn in order to rid it of rats, while those who opposed him and the Proviso in favor of Popular Sovereignty were called “Hunkers” by Van Buren’s men because they “hunkered” after the patronage jobs that government doled out. The Hunkers had the majority and thus, named the State ticket that the Barnburners refused to support and instead, named their own slate of candidates at a separate convention held a few weeks later in December.  The split of the Democrats in New York State did not portend well for the national party, that had scheduled its Presidential Convention for Baltimore to open on May 22, 1848.  The split within the Democratic Party grew beyond the Empire State as Chicago’s Van Buren supporters, led by William Ogden and Isaac Arnold, had staged a “Free-Soiler” mass meeting in support of the Wilmot Proviso on April 1, 1848, some two and a half months before Ogden began construction of the G&CU.  Both New York factions had sent delegations to the Baltimore convention, setting the spark that eventually resulted in Van Buren’s Barnburners leaving the convention that allowed Lewis Cass to be named the Democratic nominee.  The anti-slavery position of the “Free-soilers” began to attract similarly minded Whigs and Independents, who gathered in Buffalo in early August to form the “Free-Soil” Party, that nominated Van Buren as its Presidential candidate, and as its candidate for Vice President, Charles Francis Adams, the son of former President John Quincy Adams, with the slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men!”

The split of the Democratic vote allowed Whig Gen. Zachary Taylor to win the election and had also placed Stephen Douglas between a rock and a hard place, in that while he was an advocate of Popular Sovereignty, Chicago, led by Van Buren’s good friend Ogden, was a “Free-Soil” Democratic city. Ogden and Arnold launched Van Buren’s “Free-Soil” candidacy that they ran as a non-stop campaign in Chicago that eventually resulted in gaining a majority of the city’s votes for Van Buren.  In the same election that saw Taylor elected as President, Sen. Sidney Breese, who was supported by many of Chicago’s Democrats, was defeated for reelection to the Senate in the Illinois legislature by James Shields, for whom Douglas had personally stumped.  In addition to their differences over the IC bill, the reason for Douglas turning on Breese’s reelection effort was quite straightforward: with Breese removed from the Senate, his chair of the Senate Committee for Public Lands would be vacated and easily picked up by Douglas.  During Breese’s lameduck session in the winter of 1849, he was able to get his own IC bill passed in the Senate but ran into stiff opposition in the House (led by Rep. Wentworth and encouraged by Sen. Douglas) and returned to Illinois empty-handed. Douglas was just where he wanted to be: in charge of dolling out large amounts of free land that used to be the home of Native Americans.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Biographical Sketches of the Leading Men of Chicago. Chicago: Wilson & St. Clair, 1868.

Fergus Historical Series, No, 18. Chicago: Fergus, 1882.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.21. STEPHEN DOUGLAS AND THE ILLINOIS CENTRAL

The railroad’s entry into Chicago from the east, however, was just the tip of the iceberg of the battle being fought between a number of competing railroad companies at this moment, for by the start of 1850, an economic and real estate boom in Chicago had been unleashed by the anticipation of the arrival of the railroads from the East.  The interest in building a railroad to the Pacific had increased exponentially only the year before with the discovery of Gold in California, but the real prize being fought over during the second half of 1850 was which group of investors would gain control of the largesse of 2.5 million acres of Illinois prairie (that consisted of a 200′ wide right-of-way and the even-numbered sections within six miles of both sides of the right-of-way) recently earmarked by the Federal government to finance the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad, for Sen. Stephen Douglas, Rep. John Wentworth, and Justin Butterfield, Commissioner of the Federal Land Office, had finally succeeded in getting the Federal government to approve the project on September 20, 1850, culminating a seven-year campaign in Washington by some of Illinois’ ablest legislators.

Map of the Illinois Landgrant to the Illinois Central Railroad. (Online) The Federal government was giving to a private company the even-numbered sections in the bordering six-mile wide swath on both sides of the railroad’s route: 2.5 million acres.

Sidney Breese, who together with Darius Holbrook were the original company’s two major investors and had been some of the earliest supporters of the IC since 1836, had been elected to the U.S. Senate in November 1842, where he was named as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Lands, the ideal position to eventually promote the Central Railroad proposal.  One of his first acts was to sponsor a bill in 1844 to study the feasibility of building a Federal Naval Depot on the Mississippi River at Cairo, IL, at the mouth of the Ohio River, that if constructed, could help justify the construction of the Central Railroad in the future with the aid of a Federal land grant so that it would link the new depot with Lake Michigan.  By this date, Stephen Douglas had joined John Wentworth in the House of Representatives, who could offer their combined support to the campaign as well.  The following year, Douglas had published his open letter to Asa Whitney, outlining his plan to construct a transcontinental railroad from Chicago.  In 1846, Breese, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Lands, had published the first Congressional study of just such a railroad.  Douglas then joined Breese in the Senate following his election in November 1846, and once in the Senate, Douglas made the Central Railroad his top priority.  He had, however, become suspicious of Breese and Holbrook’s motives with the project, believing that their land speculation in Cairo was more important than the successful completion of the railroad, and, therefore, had proposed a bill that differed from the bill that Breese was sponsoring in two important ways.

The Route of the Illinois Central: 1850-1856. (Johnson & Supple, Boston Capitalists)

Douglas appreciated, more than most, the geopolitical advantage that Chicago would gain if it, rather than St. Louis became the intersection of an east-west transcontinental railroad with the Great Lakes and the north-south running IC linking Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico, via the Mississippi River albeit downriver from St. Louis.  In order to gain support for the Central Railroad from both Northeast Illinois, as well as from the northern states that surrounded the Great Lakes, Douglas added an amendment into his bill that allowed the company to build a branch line from Centralia into Chicago (that was not part of the company’s original charter that called for the line to connect with the canal at its western terminus, La Salle, before angling northwest to the Mississippi River at the Illinois/Wisconsin border) that also increased the size of the final landgrant by some 40%. 

Douglas’ bill also granted to the State of Illinois the authority to enter into a contract with a private company to build the railroad in exchange for free ownership of the landgrant.  Douglas’ bill, therefore, differed from Breese’s bill in that the Breese bill granted the land directly to the company (owned by Holbrook and himself) slated to build the railroad.  Being a known real estate investor, as was Breese, Douglas also appreciated the profit potential represented by the proposed Central Railroad and quietly purchased 160 acres of land that bordered Lake Michigan and was centered around 31st and Cottage Grove.  Sixteen of these acres were along the lakeshore outside of the city’s southern boundary at 22nd Street, that extended to 35th Street, and Douglas hoped to eventually sell some of the property (some of which was under water, no less) to the new railroad at a tidy profit once he succeeded in having the project approved by Congress. 

FURTHER READING:.

Brownson, Howard Gray, History of the Illinois Central Railroad to 1870, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1915.

Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

Milton, George Fort. The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War. New York: Octagon, 1969.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– v.2. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

Wille, Lois. Forever Open, Clear, and Free; The Struggle For Chicago’s Lakefront. Chicago: Regnery, 1972.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.20. THE MICHIGAN SOUTHERN BEATS THE MICHIGAN CENTRAL INTO INDIANA

Sheffield had chartered the HRR as a response to Schuyler’s double-cross at about the exact same time that George Bliss had been removed as the president of the Western Railroad.  As Bliss calculated his campaign to launch the Michigan Southern, somehow he secured financing from Sheffield (either Bliss had already made Sheffield’s acquaintance through his construction of the Northampton Railroad or Ogden had brought these two men together), and with Sheffield’s money came Henry Farnum as Superintendent and John Jervis as Chief Engineer.  

An 1850 Map of the Michigan Southern and the various roads along the southern shore of Lake Erie. All roads shown are either constructed (alternating black and white) or planned (two parallel lines). Note there are only four “trunk lines” from the Atlantic. From north to south these are: New York Central (from Boston/Albany); New & Erie (New York); the Pittsburgh & Philadelphia, i.e., the Penn (Philadelphia); and the Baltimore & Ohio (Baltimore). Ogden’s G&CU’s route is shown. This map should give one pause at the scale of gamble that Ogden was taking in the summer of 1848. (Online)

With his route through Indiana already secured with his acquisition of the Northern Indiana, Bliss had only to effect a connection between the two routes at the Michigan/Indiana border.  The MS’s charter stated that the road was to terminate at Lake Michigan in New Buffalo, but as the MC was already there and making its way along the lake to the border, it made little business sense to construct a duplicate route.  Therefore, Bliss favored a more direct route straight to the tip of Lake Michigan, with the hope of beating the MC to that point and thereby, physically blocking its competitor from entering Indiana. The Michigan legislature approved the change with the proviso that the Southern’s route extend at least to the St. Joseph River before crossing the border.  On December 10, 1850, the MS reached Coldwater, MI, and headed for the Indiana border.  During this time, the MC had finally reached Michigan City only five weeks earlier on October 31, but with the loss of the Northern Indiana, it was stalled at the border, for it had no legal authority to construct tracks in Indiana.  Bliss (and Ogden), therefore, had completely outflanked the MC and owning the Northern Indiana, moved quickly to consolidate his route into Chicago by laying tracks straight to the tip of Lake Michigan.  Boston’s MC was left in a very compromised position, requiring some sophisticated action from its owners if the MC was to regain the initiative.

The Routes of the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern: 1846-1852.

FURTHER READING:.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

Harlow, Alvin F. The Road of the Century. New York: Creative Age Press, 1947..

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– v.2. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.19. A SALUTE TO JOHN JERVIS AND HIS CROTON AQUEDUCT

Jervis is one of the under-celebrated American civil engineers I referenced at the beginning of this blog. We first encountered him in Chap. 2.1 as the chief engineer for one of the country’s early railroads, Pennsylvania’s Delaware & Hudson Railroad, for which he designed The Stourbridge Lion that had made the first run of a steam-powered locomotive in the U.S on August 8, 1829.  Then in 1830 he was hired by New York’s Mohawk & Hudson, for which he designed the DeWitt Clinton whose first ride took place on August 13, 1831.  In October 1836 he was named the chief engineer to design the 41-mile-long Croton aqueduct, slated to bring fresh water to New York City from the Croton River, north of the city.  Among the structures erected for this project was the 140′ high, 1450′ long Aqueduct (later High) Bridge, needed to carry the aqueduct over the Harlem River and into Manhattan (at 174th Street).  It is comprised of 15 stone arches: the eight larger arches have a span of 80,’ while the seven shorter ones span 50.’ To compare, France’s Pont du Gard has a height of 160′ and a length of 900,’ with its largest span being 82;’ therefore, one can say that Jervis’ design is comparable to its Roman precedent.

Above: John B. Jervis, Croton Aqueduct, High Bridge Aqueduct over the Harlem River, New York City, 174th St., c. 1840. (Online); Below: Pont du Gard, Remoulins, France, 19 BC-50 AD. (Online)

The water was then directed to two reservoirs in Manhattan: the first. the York Hill Reservoir was located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and 79th and 86th Streets (currently the site of the Great lawn in Central Park).

The water was then led to the distribution Murray Hill Reservoir, located on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets (the present location of the New York Public Library). This reservoir had 25′ thick granite walls that were 44′ high atop of which was a promenade that afforded grand vistas of the metropolis.  The Egyptian-influenced design of the walls can be credited to either Jervis, or the young James Renwick, Jr., who, having just completed his M.A. at Columbia in 1839, was hired as an assistant engineer, which was his first degree from Columbia in 1836.  I tend to favor Jervis as the designer simply because Renwick would not receive his first commission, that for New York’s Grace Church, until 1843, after the reservoir had been completed.  

John B. Jervis, Croton Aqueduct Distribution Reservoir, New York, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, c. 1838. (Online)

If this last photo reminds you of Root’s Monadnock Block, good, because that is exactly what I thought. Root spent over five years in New York (1866-1871), the last two he was John Snook’s supervisor of construction for the new Grand Central Depot, located only two blocks east of the reservoir. Root had to walk by this coped cornice every day.

Among the variety of out buildings needed for the aqueduct complex, the building that I find most interesting, however, is this gatehouse located at 113th and Amsterdam. I immediately thought this building had been designed by H.H. Richardson. He had spent a few years in New York prior to moving his practice to Boston in 1872. We will follow Jervis’s career as the railroads continue to build ever westward.

Above: John Jervis (?), Croton Aqueduct Gatehouse, 113th and Amsterdam, diagonally across from St. John the Divine. c.1840. (Online); Below: H.H. Richardson. Allegheny County Jail, Pittsburgh, 1884. (Online)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.18. JOSEPH SHEFFIELD’S EARLIER INVESTMENTS IN RAILROADS

While the railroads from Boston had pushed west to join the New York “Central” lines that were being built from Albany to Lake Erie, New York City’s first experiment with an intrastate railroad, the New York & Erie, had met with stiff opposition from Albany in defending the Erie canal’s economic hegemony over the route to Buffalo.  It had taken the better part of ten years for railroad interests in New York City (which included Van Buren’s use of Ogden’s 1835 speech in the New York State Assembly) to overcome the upstate’s political antagonism, but by 1846 the monopoly to the West enjoyed by the Boston/Albany/Buffalo railroad was being threatened by the potential of a revitalized Erie Railroad that had finally emerged from New York City as a worthy competitor for the race to the West.  However, it would still take the better part of five and half years to complete the Erie to the shore of Lake Erie, that finally ended on May 14, 1851. 

Meanwhile, the mounting pressure to forge a direct rail link between New York City and Lake Erie was such that a second railroad out of New York City had been proposed.  The New York & Harlem Railroad, an enterprise originally incorporated in 1831 to be a Manhattan commuter line, had its charter amended by 1840 so that its tracks could be extended to Albany.  Rather than starting from scratch and building straight to Lake Erie from New York City as the Erie was attempting, however, the Harlem thought that it would be quicker to build a link from New York City along the east bank of the Hudson River to directly across from Albany, and thereby forge a through route to Buffalo via the “Central” route in upsate New York.  Similar to the Erie, unfortunately, the Harlem’s construction had been sporadic because of political interference, and had correspondingly not managed to lay much track during its sixteen-year existence to date.  A competing road that was planned to more closely follow the east bank of the river, the Hudson River Railroad, however, was chartered on March 4, 1847, by Joseph Sheffield and James Boorman, a New York banker and merchant who specialized in iron imports.  The genesis of the HRR seems to have been an attempt on Sheffield’s part to build a competing line to the Harlem because he had been forced off the Board of Directors of the NY&NH, a company that he initially had chartered and financed in 1844, by the very man he had appointed as its president, Robert Schuyler.

Map of the New York & Harlem RR and the Hudson River RR. The HRRR (black line) was built closer to the path of the Hudson River, while the NY&H (two parallel lines) was built farther to the East. (Online)

Sheffield was a very successful financier who eventually had settled in New Haven in 1835.  In 1840 he had purchased a controlling share of stock of the Farmington Canal (that ran from New Haven north into Massachusetts to connect with the Connecticut River at Northampton), in which he had made a lifelong relationship with the company’s engineer, Henry Farnam.  In 1844 Sheffield, along with Samuel J. Hitchcock, then the president of the Hartford & New Haven Railroad, chartered the NY&NH Railroad, intended as an extension of Hitchcock’s H&NH to New York City.  Sheffield had intended that Hitchcock would also be the president of the new company, but he unexpectedly died before the company’s organization was completed.  Hitchcock’s premature death in 1845 would have a significant impact on Chicago’s history and urban form.  Sheffield was forced to find a replacement for Hitchcock as president of both companies, and it seemed that Robert Schuyler, who along with his brother George, headed a well-respected Wall Street brokerage firm (and were from the highest stratum of New York City society, as they were grandsons of Revolutionary General Philip Schuyler, the hero of Saratoga, as well being nephews of Alexander Hamilton), seemed to fit the position perfectly.

Construction of the NY&NH went smoothly, once an agreement was signed with the Harlem that required the NY&NH to use the Harlem’s tracks to enter New York City.  During the period of constructing the NY&NH, Sheffield was forced to confront the unprofitability of the Farmington Canal, to which Farnam posed the solution of using the canal’s property as a right-of-way for a parallel railroad from New Haven to Springfield (with a connection to Bliss’ Western Railroad).  Sheffield provided most of the financing for the Northampton Railroad, that Farnam began construction in January 1847, that would, necessarily, compete with the H&NH’s route, Hitchcock’s original company now run by Schuyler.  Sheffield had leased the Northampton to Schuyler’s NY&NH in good faith with the understanding that Sheffield and Farnam would continue building the Northampton to Springfield, once Sheffield secured a charter in Massachusetts.  Schuyler then went back on his word and contracted with the H&NH as the sole carrier for the NY&NH to Springfield, completing blocking Sheffield’s plans for the Northampton and earning Sheffield’s personal and professional enmity.  While this move put Schuyler in sole control of not only the line from New York to Hartford and Springfield via New Haven, but also with the Harlem, the ability to forge a direct route between New York and Albany, it caused Sheffield to choose to compete directly with Schuyler’s Harlem by financing the Hudson River Railroad, a parallel route from New York City to Albany.  Sheffield and Boorman hired New York’s leading engineer, John B. Jervis, who by this time, had among his accomplishments the construction of New York’s first railroad, the Mohawk & Hudson, as well as New York City’s Croton Aqueduct and Reservoir as the road’s superintendent. Jervis began construction of the HRR in 1847, during which he set what was then a record: he averaged 36 miles per year.  Sheffield enjoined a modicum of satisfaction in that the HRR arrived in Albany ahead of the Harlem on October 1, 1851, by two and a half months.

FURTHER READING:

Beebe, Lucius and Charles Clegg. Hear the Train Blow: A Pictorial Epic of America in the Railroad Age. New York, 1952.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

Harlow, Alvin F. The Road of the Century. New York: Creative Age Press, 1947.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

McLellan, David and Bill Warrick, The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, Polo, IL: Transportation Trails, 1989.

Porter, Noah, A Discourse Commemorative of the Life and Character of Mr. Joseph Earl Sheffield, Delivered at the Battell Chapel, June 26, 1882.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

Withington, Sidney, “The Strange Case of Robert Schuyler,” Railway and Locomotive Historical Society Bulletin, No. 98 (April 1958).

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.17. GEORGE BLISS AND JOSEPH SHEFFIELD TAKEOVER THE MICHIGAN SOUTHERN

By 1849, the railroad industry had matured to the point that the process of consolidating the original chartered short lines into longer, larger, and more efficient companies had begun. Inevitably, there would be individual winners and losers among the various corporate executives, as the merged companies began to shed redundant managers.  Human nature is such that not all those terminations were either voluntary or appreciated, especially among those who had pioneered the original company from which they had been terminated.  Competition or revenge would be the reaction engendered in some of these businessmen.  Two particular situations in the Northeast would have significant consequences on the development of Chicago.  One corporate battle involved the two companies that connected Boston with Albany.  The second conflict arose between two businessmen who had chartered and built the New York & New Haven in Connecticut.  These two aggrieved parties would eventually find each other and team up to build a competing company to the Bostonians’ Michigan Central.  

Some nine months after Forbes had taken over the more completed MC, the Southern Michigan was acquired from the state on December 23, 1846, by the Railroad Charter and Insolvent Railroad Purchasing Company, owned by Edwin C. Litchfield of New York, and financed by John Stryker of Rome, NY, who was also a Director of the Utica & Syracuse.  The name of the new company was changed to the Michigan Southern and to build the MS, as it was for any railroad, at least three things were necessary: motivation, financing, and expertise.  The Bostonians’ desire to make a profit and to extend the spokes of their burgeoning system ever westward had provided the motivation for the MC.  Financial interests from Boston, Albany, and other towns in upstate New York along the New York “Central’s” route had provided its financing.  John W. Brooks provided much of the railroad expertise.  

The Railroads from the East to Chicago: 1841-1856. While the New York Central chose to take the northern shore of Lake Erie through Canada, the Michigan Southern lines evolved a shorter route along the southern shore. (Johnson & Supple, Boston Capitalists)

With the MS, however, the motivation and expertise came about as the apparent result of an internal conflict within the ranks of the two original Massachusetts companies that had built the route from Boston to Albany: the Boston & Worcester and its president Nathan Hale from Boston, and the Western Railroad and its president George Bliss of Springfield.  Bliss had graduated from Yale and studied to become a lawyer.  He was a leader in Springfield’s politics, having served in the state legislature, before he moved into taking control of the Western Railroad. Although each road was dependent upon the other for their mutual success, the managements of the two companies could never reach an agreement upon the rates to be charged and how the resulting income was to be shared between the two companies.  This disagreement had come to a head in 1846 when Hale publicly criticized Bliss’ management of the Western.  BY the end of the year, Bliss, the man from Springfield, had been voted out of the presidency of the road he had helped to build from scratch by the Bostonians, creating an embittered rival whose name, within a year of his removal, was found among the ranks of the directors of Litchfield’s nascent MS, rising quickly to become its president on August 1, 1849.

Map of the Early Railraods in Massachusetts. (Kirkland, Men, Cities, and Transportation)

By this time there was a new impetus pushing the construction of these roads to the west as quickly as possible: the discovery of gold in California. At the peak of the goldrush during the summer of 1849, as Forbes was considering Brooks’ request to extend the MC from New Buffalo to the Indiana line at Michigan City, Bliss was finalizing his own financial support to build a competing line to Chicago. As Brooks had perceived two year earlier, the easiest and fastest way to Chicago was to obtain control over a company that was already chartered in Indiana to build a railroad, such as the B&M, whose name, coincidently, had been changed in early 1949 to the pragmatic, but more realistic-sounding Northern Indiana.  If we recall how insulting the MC’s William Weld had treated Ogden in early 1848 and again in early 1849, when Ogden had twice tried to obtain financing from the Bostonians for the G&CU, and that Ogden was the President of the B&M, the facts seem to suggest that somehow Bliss and Ogden had found each other at the right time, allowing Bliss, who had been President of the MS for less than three months, to buy the Northern Indiana in October 1849 right out from under the noses of Brooks and the MC, thereby allowing the MS to beat Forbes to the punch, and would, therefore, be the first to expand into Indiana. Ogden had changed allegiances from trying to cooperate with Brooks and the MC and was now doing all he could do to stimy the MC and assist Bliss and the MS.  It is not known whether or not Ogden did this openly or secretly so as not to alert Brooks, as not all of the G&CU’s Board would have gone along with this switch, for the G&CU was contractually obligated to allow Brooks’ and Wadsworth’s Aurora Branch use of the G&CU tracks into Chicago from Turner Junction.  Nonetheless, Ogden, indeed, had decided to assist the MS, that was proved by fact that not only was Charles Butler, Ogden’s brother-in-law, named to the new Board of Directors of the Northern Indiana, but also Scammon’s law partner, Norman Judd, was appointed to be the attorney for the Michigan Southern.  

The Routes of the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern: 1846-1852.

But Bliss still needed the third component, financing, for the MS, and once again Ogden would play a central role, albeit somewhat behind the scenes, in the eventual success of the MS, in that he seems to also have been involved in securing the long-tern financial backing of Connecticut financier Joseph E. Sheffield for the company.  Sheffield was a wealthy financier in New Haven CT, who in 1845, while being immersed in the construction of the NY&NH, had hired Ogden & Jones to be his Chicago real estate agent.  How Sheffield had become acquainted with Ogden has yet to be documented, but one plausible connection may have been the fact that Sheffield had married Maria St. John in 1822, who had hailed from Walton, NY, Ogden’s very small hometown. Ogden had already taken over running his father’s businesses in Walton by this date, so he would have, at least been aware of, if not actually at the wedding.  (It was possible that Ogden and Sheffield’s bride were related.)  An alternative connection could have been the wealthy businessman Samuel Russell, an Ogden client, who lived in Middletown, CT, only 15 miles to north of New Haven.   Either way, it is quite plausible to see Ogden as the one who was responsible for securing Sheffield’s financing of the MS at this critical point in time, but why had the Connecticut magnate become interested in building a railroad to Chicago in the first place?

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946.

Harlow, Alvin F. The Road of the Century. New York: Creative Age Press, 1947.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.

McLellan, David and Bill Warrick, The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, Polo, IL: Transportation Trails, 1989.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.15. SCAMMON SAVES THE G&CU

With the G&CU enterprise commanding every minute of their attention during 1848 and into 1849, the plans Ogden and Scammon had for a parallel railroad to the East with the joint venture they had entered into with Brooks had to be shelved so the B&M continued to lay dormant, just as Forbes had assumed it would when he rejected Brooks’ initial offer to purchase it.  During the winter of 1848-49, Ogden had signed contracts for the rails and ties (with his other company, McCagg, Reed, and Company) needed for the upcoming spring construction campaign, assuming that the inherent investment potential of his now-proven railroad and the good faith agreement he had recently signed with Brooks’ Aurora Branch would more than suffice in bringing Boston investment capital to finish the G&CU.  Such was not to be the case, however, for when Ogden once again made the trip back to Boston accompanied this time not by Scammon but by another G&CU Director, former two-term Mayor Benjamin Raymond, he returned once again disheartened (and more than likely, quite disgusted) with the lack of support from those with whom he thought he had made the earlier arrangements for the westward continuation of the Boston road via the Aurora Branch.  Weld’s dire prophesy from his last trip now seemed to be coming true.  Facing imminent financial ruin from Ogden’s overcommitment in these contracts, an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors was called to discuss the dire situation.  To continue construction could endanger the stock while halting it at this point would bring certain bankruptcy and the curse of the Bostonians down upon them.  Thomas Dyer, owner of the Lake House and a close business partner of Elisha Wadsworth (see Chap. 6.10), who had wanted to extend the G&CU tracks east across the North Branch to make a connection with his property, had lost confidence in Ogden, after which Scammon referred to him in front of the Board as “a doubting Thomas.”  Having his manhood so challenged Dyer replied, “if Mr. Scammon has so much faith in the Road, I move that a committee of five be appointed, with full power to do anything which they deem expedient in regard to the Road, and that Mr. Scammon be chairman of that committee, and be authorized to appoint his associates.”  This was done and the committee gave Scammon free reign to do whatever it took to save the company.

Scammon, who had also been humbled by Weld the prior year, succeeded in saving the entire enterprise from falling into the hands of the waiting Bostonians by secretly cajoling a personal loan of $20,000 from the thrifty George Smith. Although Smith also sat on the G&CU Board of Directors, he was unwilling to loan Ogden the necessary funds to bridge the deficit, for he confided to Scammon that he did not think Ogden would be able to complete the road to Elgin.  Somehow Scammon convinced “Scotch George” to make a personal loan to himself that he then signed over to the company, allowing Ogden to continue the carefully-paced construction of the G&CU through 1849, enabling it to reach Elgin, some 40 miles to the west, on January 22, 1850.  More importantly, Scammon’s personal loan had kept the little company within the control of its local investors, financially and politically independent of the Boston company that had become by this time, locked in an all-out struggle with a new competitor to be the first railroad to enter Chicago.  Scammon’s loan would also allow Ogden to switch allegiances at this pivotal moment so that he would no longer be financially or politically dependent upon the Bostonians.  This was the second time “Scotch George” had saved Chicago’s bacon.

7.16. FORBES’ CONSERVATIVE BUSINESS PRACTICES COMES BACK TO BITE HIM

After the Michigan Central had reached New Buffalo in April 1849, Forbes eventually approved a modest proposal by Brooks to extend the line the nine and a half miles to the Indiana border at Michigan City, which it finally did on October 31, 1850, some eighteen months later.  The next logical leg for the route to Chicago would be the construction of a route through Indiana.  Since the B&M in Indiana was already chartered to do this, Brooks’ foresight in trying to persuade Forbes to purchase the company in the previous year exactly for this purpose had made perfect sense.  However, the Bostonians had grown accustomed over the decades to doing business, whether it was in China or “out west,” in a very methodical, conservative manner.  They had been successful heretofore with this mindset simply because they had enjoyed a relative monopoly over the financing of first, the China trade, and now with the early American railroads.  

Had their monopoly continued into the 1850s, they simply would have bided their time and eventually purchased the B&M in October 1850, once the MC’s tracks had reached the Indiana border, laid its tracks around the tip of Lake Michigan, found a bankrupt Illinois railroad, (hence, their refusal to fund Ogden’s G&CU) and use it to complete their route into Chicago, planned to parallel the west bank of the South Branch in order to make a direct connection with Brooks’ Aurora Branch to the west that was already using Ogden’s G&CU tracks and station at Canal and Kinzie (that they had naturally assumed they would take control of once Ogden had gone bankrupt).  However, Scammon’s private loan from George Smith had prevented the G&CU from going bankrupt at a critical moment in the life of the fledgling company.  More importantly, however, was the fact that by the time the MC’s tracks had reached the Indiana border, Forbes’ caution was to prove to be pennywise, but pound foolish, for a newly-formed competing company, the Michigan Southern Railroad that had recently bought the dormant Southern Michigan, had arisen to challenge the MC and proceeded to buy the B&M in October 1849 for exactly the purpose that Brooks had originally proposed some two years earlier. 

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Scammon, J. Young. “William B. Ogden,” Fergus Historical Series, No, 17. Chicago: Fergus, 1882.

Harlow, Alvin F. Steelways of New England. New York: Creative Age Press, 1946..

McLellan, David and Bill Warrick, The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, Polo, IL: Transportation Trails, 1989.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.14. THE MICHIGAN CENTRAL ARRIVES IN NEW BUFFALO

As the debate in Congress over the transcontinental project began to heat up, the Michigan Central tracks had finally reached New Buffalo, MI, on April 23, 1849.  Similar to the operation during their construction of the various lines that ran from Albany to Buffalo (that would be consolidated as the New York Central Railroad in 1853), until the MC tracks reached New Buffalo, a brisk carriage trade had filled in the gaps along the incomplete route from its current railhead to New Buffalo, where a lake steamer could then be boarded for Chicago. Once completed, the MC reduced the three-day steamboat trip from Detroit around the Great Lakes to Chicago to a fifteen-hour ride on the railroad and steamer.  A direct route from Boston to Chicago was now in operation that took from thirty-three to thirty-six hours: the Boston & Worcester, Western, and New York “Central” roads to Buffalo, the MC’s new lake steamer, The Mayflower, across Lake Erie to Detroit, the MC to New Buffalo, and another steamer across Lake Michigan to Chicago.  A New Yorker could make the same trip by taking a Hudson River boat to Albany, and then boarding a train. 

The Railroads from the East to Chicago: 1841-1856. While the New York Central originally chose to take the northern shore of Lake Erie through Canada, the Michigan Southern lines evolved a shorter route along the southern shore. (Johnson & Supple, Boston Capitalists)

All that remained to achieve a continuous direct rail route from Boston to Chicago was to fill in the two routes around the Lakes Erie and Michigan.  A magazine confidently stated:

“In a few years we may expect a railroad to be made from New Buffalo, around the lake, to Chicago, and from thence to the Mississippi river, at Galena, thus completing the iron chain of communication between Detroit and the Mississippi river.”

Undaunted by Forbes’ hesitancy over the purchase of the Buffalo & Mississippi, however, John W. Brooks unilaterally, apparently, had secured the financial backing of Elisha Wadsworth, owner of Chicago’s largest drygoods company, Wadsworth & Phelps, (see Chap. 6.10) that allowed Brooks, Wadsworth, and eight other Chicago investors, along with a group of businessmen from Aurora, Illinois, 20 miles west of Chicago, to charter the Aurora Branch Railroad on February 12, 1849. This was planned by Brooks to run to the southwest and eventually become the next link in Boston’s system to run west from Chicago. By this date, the G&CU had begun operations to the west, so Brooks negotiated a deal with Ogden (who had hoped that such a sign of goodwill might change the hearts of the Bostonians) that would let the trains of this new company use the Galena’s tracks to enter Chicago from a point that would become known as Turner Junction (named after John Turner, the superintendent of the Galena), some 16 miles west of Chicago, thereby saving Brooks the cost and time of building a separate line into Chicago from that point.  He also succeeded in enticing John Van Nortwick, the G&CU’s Chief Engineer to move to the Aurora to supervise its construction, whom Ogden then replaced with William McAlpine.  Such was the continuous route of lines that Brooks had planned to get the Michigan Central around Lake Michigan and through Chicago on its way to the west (what would eventually become the Forbes group’s Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad), as its tracks were on the verge of entering New Buffalo in the spring of 1849.  However, events would soon foil Brooks’ ambition for a quick and easy entry into Chicago from the East.

The Route of the Aurora Branch. (Johnson & Supple, Boston Capitalists)

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Harlow, Alvin F. The Road of the Century. New York: Creative Age Press, 1947.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge:     Harvard University Press, 1967.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

7.13. THE GEOPOLITICS OF THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD – PART 2

Following the later Memphis convention that called for a southern route from San Diego along the Gila River to El Paso before terminating at Memphis, the advocates of a northern route met one more time as a called continuation of the St. Louis Convention the following year in Philadelphia on April 1-2, 1850, to continue to keep the pressure on Congress for a transcontinental railroad.  William Ogden was made the President of this meeting, at which no route other than an ambiguously worded route from the “Valley of the Mississippi” to the Pacific Ocean was identified to maintain Sectional political unanimity over the project.  So while St. Louis and Memphis, that were both already located on the Mississippi River, hosted conventions in 1849 where great plans for the transcontinental railroad were debated over and over, Ogden and Scammon continued to doggedly lay tracks due west from Chicago to the Mississippi.  Therefore, both St. Louis and Memphis were already too late, or maybe it is more accurate to say that Ogden was already ahead of the game for by the time of the two conventions in October 1849, the G&CU was making its daily run to the end of the construction of its ever-lengthening roadbed to the Mississippi. 

The Route of the Ohio & Mississippi/Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Note that Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and St. Louis are in a straight line to the West through the center of the country. New York and Philadelphia are easliy connected by an extension, thereby providing an excellent route for the Transcontinental Railroad that would have completely bypassed Chicago. (Online)

The larger of the two threats to Chicago’s own northern route seemed to be Sen. Benton’s compromise route between North and South that ran through the country’s midsection along the 39° parallel from Baltimore through Cincinnati and on to St. Louis, that the B&O had slowly been building at the same time the Boston Concern had been constructing its route to Chicago.  This compromise route would have completely bypassed Chicago by some 200 miles to the south, condemning Chicago to exist as an economic satellite of the two powerful river cities.  Once the B&O would reach the Ohio River at Wheeling, the way seemed to be open to continue the railroad, as the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad, through Ohio to Cincinnati and then on to St. Louis.  Planning for the O&M had actually begun in 1848, about the same time as Ogden started construction on the G&CU.  Fortunately for the economic future of Chicago (and unfortunately, for Cincinnati and St. Louis), the State of Pennsylvania as well as the Allegheny Mountains stood between Baltimore and the Ohio River.  Pennsylvania was now attempting to build its own railroad from Philadelphia to the Ohio River, the Pennsylvania Railroad, and would not permit the chartering of the B&O’s extension from Cumberland, MD, on the Potomac, through Pennsylvania to Wheeling on the Ohio, which forced the B&O to build a route through Virginia, around the southeast corner of Pennsylvania to Wheeling. There was no geologic equivalent in Virginia, however, to the Mohawk River Valley that had made the Erie Canal and the subsequent chain of parallel railroads possible.  It took the better part of ten years, eleven tunnels and 13 bridges, for the B&O to build its rails from Cumberland to Wheeling, that was located geographically as far west as only Erie, PA.  The B&O was just too late when it finally made it to Wheeling on January 1, 1853, and once it had reached Wheeling, it still had to cross the entire state of Ohio to reach Cincinnati, and then cross Indiana before it could even start laying tracks in Illinois.

Map of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, c. 1859. (Online)

But St. Louis lay some 125 miles farther west than Chicago and could have easily beaten its northern competitor to the Missouri River (say at St. Joseph, MO, midway between Omaha and Kansas City) and up to the Platte River at Council Bluffs and then west to the South Pass, if someone in St. Louis had the same acumen and tenacity that Ogden had and had just started laying tracks to the west rather than waiting for an eastern railroad to build to St. Louis.  An obvious advantage to this strategy would have been no need to build a bridge over the Mississippi but to simply rely on a ferry across the river once the eastern tracks had reached St. Louis.  In fact, although the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, planned to link Hannibal, MO, some 120 miles upriver from St. Louis, with St. Joseph had been chartered in 1845, before Ogden took over the G&CU in January 1846, its construction didn’t begin until 1851. The fact was that there was no equivalent of a William Ogden in St. Louis at this moment who dared take the needed financial risk to begin the enterprise. And even if there would have been an equivalent to Ogden in St. Louis, his attempt would have been severely opposed by the local riverboat owners for St. Louis was, most assuredly, a river city.  Cincinnati (Dr. Drake’s earlier attempt with the LC&C notwithstanding) and St. Louis didn’t do themselves any favors by not taking advantage of every opportunity to help their long-term interests in this battle.  Instead of recognizing the reality that the steam locomotive represented and offered, there were vested interests in both cities founded in the late eighteenth century, that fought hard to maintain the primacy of the steamboat on the river over the underappreciated effects that the steam railroad was imposing on the nineteenth century.  On the other hand, Chicago was a true nineteenth century city, and was not as easily held back by the inertia of the past. 

Last but not least, any such effort to directly link Cincinnati with St. Louis was easily thwarted by the geography of the NorthWest for the State of Illinois extended from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.  As the B&O had experienced with the Pennsylvania legislature, to do any construction of a railroad at this time in any state required the approval by that state’s legislature of a state charter and of the right-of-way.  Illinois’ legislature would be no less chauvinistic than any other antebellum legislature in protecting their own local interests. There was no way around the fact that St. Louis’ economic future was completely in the hands of the Illinois State legislature, that, consequently, could also control the future economic development of the entire Midwest. (An earlier example of this geographical roadblock that St. Louis faced had been the fact that the National Road had never reached St. Louis, having been stopped in 1837 at Vandalia, IL, some 60 miles east of the Mississippi.) If the Illinois legislature could stall the O&M long enough to permit the construction of a system of railroads that radiated from Chicago, all rail traffic, whether from the East to the West, or from the West bound for the East, would have to pass through Chicago.  Furthermore, if no through routes in the state of Illinois were allowed in the charters that did manage to be approved by the legislature, all passenger and freight traffic would have to transfer from one railroad to another in Chicago.  There was no logical reason to require passengers or freight to transfer from one train to another in Chicago.  It would have been more efficient to build a through route to the southern tip of Lake Michigan (at the Calumet River) and just keep going due west (as the MC would eventually threaten to do), instead of having to swing north for the extra 20 miles to Chicago, where Ogden had had the foresight to lay the first western tracks to the Mississippi River and where trains coming from the East and the West were now forced to prematurely end their tracks.  It was simply pure greed on the part of the city and its representatives in the state legislature that made this expensive non-necessity a physical reality.  Thanks to the ceaseless efforts of William Ogden, Chicago had grabbed the momentum of the project by unilaterally beginning construction of the G&CU to the West, a quest Ogden would not surrender for the next twenty years, until his Chicago & North Western (that eventually absorbed the G&CU) would be the first line to make it to Council Bluffs in February 1867, allowing it to provide the necessary construction materials to the Union Pacific Railroad, that Ogden would personally help to organize during the Civil War as the company to build the next link in the chain from Omaha to the Pacific.  Chicago, and the State of Illinois would, correspondingly reap the economic windfall from such traffic, and the city’s dominance in the region as the hub of the nation’s (if not the world’s) largest railroad network would be secured, not merely through any preordained geographic advantage but with sheer political muscle (“I will”).

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Borneman, Walter R. Iron Horses: America’s Race to Bring the Railroad West.  New York: Back Bay, 2010.

Cotterill, R.S., “Memphis Railroad Convention, 1849,” Tennessee Historical Magazine, Vol. 4, June 1918.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

Young, David M. The Iron Horse and the Windy City. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)