Meanwhile, it took less than six months from the resumption of the canal’s construction in Chicago in October 1845, for the same Boston investors (Thomas H. Perkins, John Bryant, William Sturgis, John E. Thayer, Josiah Quincy) who had taken over control of the canal to snatch the stalled Michigan Central Railroad from a bankrupt State of Michigan and consolidate their planned route to the west with the addition of an overland connection through Michigan (to replace the steamboat route between Buffalo and Chicago over Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, for the over-water routes were of no practical use during the winter) to their recently acquired canal project. By January 1846, when the State of Michigan had finally run out of money, the route had been completed from Detroit to Kalamazoo, over two-thirds of the distance to Lake Michigan.
The looming possibility of the MC’s eventual bankruptcy with the corresponding opportunity for a private company to purchase the railroad for a bargain was appreciated by two Detroit law partners, James F. Joy and Michigan’s commissioner of Internal Improvements, George F. Porter. Understanding the importance of a completed railroad to Detroit’s long-term economic future, the two had undertaken a letter-writing campaign to newspapers, extolling the potential merits of the stalled project. The letters eventually got the attention of the Bostonians and the owners of the various New York roads that paralleled the Erie Canal, including John W. Brooks, then the superintendent of the Auburn & Rochester. True to their modus operandi, the Bostonians would wait until the state had expended all that it could afford and the project was bankrupt before they stepped in to buy up the project and its land at a very favorable price. During the fall of 1845, when the reports of Whitney’s transcontinental expedition were filling the pages of the nation’s newspapers, Brooks traveled to Detroit as the representative of the Boston investors to confer with Joy and Porter. He eventually aligned himself with the two lawyers in a campaign by the Boston Concern to purchase the MC from the state. After much debate, similar to the final canal agreement in Illinois, the Michigan legislature saw no alternative and eventually approved the transfer of the assets of the MC on March 5, 1846, to an investment group headed by the Bostonians, with the stipulation that the road be completed to Lake Michigan within three years.
As the financing of the purchase proposal was being finalized, a Bostonian new to railroad investment, John Murray Forbes, had emerged to become president of the fledgling company. Forbes was the son of T.H. Perkins’ youngest sister and had been brought up in the family’s Chinese opium business in Canton by his older brother, Robert Bennet Forbes, who by 1840 was put in charge of Russell & Co. by Samuel Russell, (By 1846, Ogden had been Russell’s agent in Chicago for a number of years: see Chap. 7.1.) Although originally not so inclined, by September 1846, the younger Forbes had agreed to accept the presidency of the railroad before the purchase was completed on September 23, 1846. Soon thereafter, Brooks was made the superintendent of the reorganized Michigan Central and began construction in the spring of 1847 on the railroad’s final Michigan leg from Kalamazoo to Lake Michigan, in order to honor the agreement with the state.
Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.
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.
Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
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