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)


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)

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