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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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