Ogden, Chicago’s leading political figure had sensed that Schuyler’s group, aligned not only with the MC but also at least Sen. Douglas, Rep. Wentworth, and a number of men with very close ties to Springfield’s politics, was gaining the upper hand in the IC decision as it was well-known that Douglas had been trying to steer the legislature away from the two Illinois bids made the Holbrook and Wadsworth groups and toward Schuyler’s bid. Ogden, therefore, also understood that Sheffield’s MS&NI, following the loss of the IC, would be forced to look for another company chartered to build tracks in Illinois in order to reach Chicago. During November 1850, while the MC was stalled at the Michigan/Indiana border as Henry Farnam was racing to complete the MS tracks in Indiana to the Indiana/Illinois border, and supporters of both companies were hard at lobbying down in Springfield for the IC contract, Ogden invited Farnam to come to Chicago reportedly under the guise of advising him on the further construction of the Galena route.  

The facts of Farnam’s visit, however, point more to Ogden’s interest in not only assisting the MS to gain access into Chicago but also the possibility of Sheffield’s financing his long-term objective that Ogden had first signaled in his 1848 GCU Annual Report, a road from Chicago to the Mississippi, by taking over control of the stillborn Rock Island & La Salle, originally incorporated in February 1847 to run from Rock Island (where Redfield had terminated his proposed railroad from New York to the Mississippi in 1829) to the end of the canal at La Salle.[i]  Andreas in his History of Chicago stated outrightly that “the men of the state gifted with the powers of persuasion and foresight, headed by William A. [sic] Ogden” had secured the successful construction of the Rock Island.  Following Ogden’s second rebuff by the MC’s Weld in early 1849 that had almost cost him control of his G&CU, the facts point to Ogden having seen the writing on the wall and his need to find alternative financing for his railroad to the Pacific as he was barely keeping the wolves from the door of the G&CU.  Ogden accompanied Farnam on an inspection of the route from La Salle to Rock Island, where a meeting between Farnam and the chartered company’s president, Judge James Grant of Davenport, IA, located directly across the river from Rock Island, seems to have been arranged by Ogden.  This succeeded in piquing Farnam’s interest in the potential of the company to provide tracks into Illinois for the MS, for he contacted Sheffield and his business partners, recommending that they purchase a controlling interest in the RI&LS.  On February 7, 1851, the Illinois state legislature approved an amended charter for the company with two significant revisions: at Farnam’s urging, the eastern terminus of the route was extended to Chicago, via Joliet, (in order to give the MS the right to build its tracks into the city) and a corresponding revision in the company’s name to the Chicago & Rock Island.  The Board of Directors of the MS, namely George Bliss, Edwin Litchfield, and John Stryker, were among the board of the new company that also now included Ogden’s associate, Norman Judd, who was also to serve as the company’s attorney.

Only three days later, the legislature approved the Schuyler group’s control over the IC, leaving Elisha and Julius Wadsworth’s Aurora Branch still dependent upon Ogden’s G&CU.  On March 19, 1851, the Schuyler investors met in New York City to formally accept the legislature’s proposal and to incorporate the Illinois Central as a legal entity, with Schuyler as its president.[ii]  Three days later, Schuyler appointed his Gen. Superintendent from the NY&NH, Col. Roswell B. Mason, as the superintendent and engineer of the new railroad and authorized him to assemble an engineering staff in order to survey the IC routes and prepare an estimate of the cost of construction.  A fourth railroad company (in addition to Ogden’s G&CU, Bliss’ MS, and Forbes’ MC) with its own financial agenda and supporters had entered the Chicago scene to only further complicate what was already an all-out war.

Within two weeks of Schuyler’s election as president of the IC, Sheffield’s Rock Island named the MS’s John Jervis to be its president in April (while Jervis would be responsible for organizing the company’s operational infrastructure, the company would contract with Sheffield & Farnam to actually construct the route), with a contract between the C&RI and the MS soon to follow that gave the MS the authority to use the C&RI’s charter to purchase a right-of-way in Illinois to Chicago.  Bliss and Farnam then only needed to secure Common Council’s blessing to allow the MS to build tracks within Chicago’s city limits.  Speculators holding real estate within the city along the projected line of tracks inline with S. La Salle Street, especially around the planned location of the terminal on the southside of Jackson, used every trick in the book to get the number of Council votes needed to approve the scheme.  

The Routes into Chicago of the Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central, the Rock Island, and the Illinois Central: 1851-56. You can follow the tracks of the MS as they hug the lakefront until they hit the Illinois border. At this point Farnam kept going straight, veering away from the lakefront until at Englewood, he was directly in line with La Salle Street. He then laid tracks north to the south side of Jackson Street. He had built a defensive ring around the downtown, hoping to force the MC/IC to enter downtown on the western side of the south branch. This would have forced their passengers to have to navigate the time-consuming crossing of a bridge. (Online)

The political and financial support that the Southern enjoyed (with Ogden’s tacit approval in the background) was such that council approved the resolution allowing the MS to lay tracks within the city on May 26, 1851 (it would not be until seven months later, on December 29, 1851, that the IC would receive similar authority).  Bliss finally had his ducks in a row and let Farnam start his run to Chicago.  In an attempt to completely wall off Chicago’s entire business district from the MC, the MS laid the C&RI’s tracks northwest from the tip of Lake Michigan in a blocking maneuver, aiming to enter the city limits as close to the east bank of South Branch of the river as possible thereby physically closing off the entire business district from the MC. This placement would bring the MS’s tracks in line with La Salle Street and the Public Square, for which plans for a new City Hall were then under consideration.  Finally, on February 20, 1852 (some three and a half years after Ogden had begun constructing the Galena), the first MS train pulled into a hastily constructed depot erected at the city limits at 22nd and Clark Streets.  The Western Citizen described the entry of the first eastern train into Chicago:

“At exactly three minutes before twelve by our watch, the cars arrived from the east.  Before the light train was a neat little engine, Monroe.  Before the passenger cars was the large and beautifully decorated engine Bronson [in honor of Arthur Bronson, the New York banker responsible for helping Chicago begin its meteoric growth, including sending Ogden-see Sec. 3.5].  Three cheers were given Mr. Farnam.”

The first train from the East had finally arrived in Chicago.  It would still take a few more years to complete an all-rail route from New York City around the southern shore of Lake Erie, but Ogden had got the railroad to Chicago (and not just to Gary, IN).


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.

Hayes, William Edward, Iron Road to Empire: The History of the Rock Island Lines, H. Wolff Book Manufacturing, 1953.

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:Transportation Trails, 1989.

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.

“William B. Ogden, Fellow A.S.C.E.,” Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers, Vol. IV, May 1878.

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

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