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.
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.
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