Some historians of Chicago’s railroads imply that Ogden had apparently decided to take a well-deserved break following his resignation in June, tending to blur it with a tour of Europe he took with his older sister Eliza, her husband Charles Butler and their family, a trip that kept Ogden out of the U. S. that stretched for the eighteen months from 1853 to the middle of 1854.  But this ignores the eighteen months between his resignation and his departure for Europe.  It appears that Ogden, having secured Sheffield’s financing for the Rock Island, that would assure that his objective of building a route to the Mississippi would become a reality, he had bowed out of the G&CU strategically at this precise moment in order to initiate his expansion into Wisconsin.  Three days after he had tendered his resignation as the president of the G&CU, he accepted the presidency of the Illinois & Wisconsin Railroad.  Events as well as his previous actions tend to point to the fact that Ogden had actually been planning this move for some time.   Ogden had already begun to purchase the timberlands centered along the Peshtigo River that emptied into Green Bay, some ten miles south of the Wisconsin/Upper Michigan border, that he would eventually make into a company town named Peshtigo.  In addition to wanting to connect this operation to Chicago with a railroad, Ogden also wanted to divert as much of the Upper Mississippi valley’s wheat crop away from Milwaukee and towards Chicago.  Milwaukee’s harbor represented a direct threat to Chicago’s wheat trade as it was about 100 miles north of Chicago’s, meaning that lake vessels would have a 200-mile shorter (quicker and less expensive) round-trip between Lake Michigan and Buffalo.  

Milwaukee was not far behind Chicago in building its first railroad to the Mississippi.  Although the Milwaukee & Waukesha Railroad had been chartered on February 11, 1847, only a year after Ogden had gained control over the G&CU, its President, Milwaukee’s Mayor Byron Kilbourne was quite aware by this early date of the threat that Ogden’s GC&U, even though it had not yet started construction when he gave his inaugural speech, represented to his city’s economy and stated it directly:

“Boston enterprise compelled New York to build her Erie Canal.  Will not Chicago enterprise induce Milwaukee to build the Mississippi Railroad? Unless she is content to see the business of the finest region of the country wrested from her grasp, she must do it without delay.”

Although Kilbourne had sounded the alarm, he was not an Ogden and it took fifteen long manths before construction began on the M&W in October 1849, over a year after The Pioneer had made its first run on the G&CU.  It would be another sixteen months before the line, renamed the Milwaukee & Mississippi on February 1, 1850, was completed the short twenty miles to Waukesha, so that the first train could make the run on February 25, 1851.

By this date, however, Ogden had already started his campaign to completely cordon off Milwaukee from its own region.  He had learned from the Bostonians how to take ownership of a bankrupt company without costing him a dime, and following his experience with the IC, understood that the most profitable method of building a railroad was to have it subsidized by the Federal government with a generous landgrant.  As he was thoroughly immersed in financing and constructing the first few miles of the G&CU in 1848 and 1849, he also had his surveyor, Richard Morgan, who, incidentally, had also surveyed Kilbourne’s route to Waukesha the previous year, secretly chart the route of two railroads forming a line around Milwaukee, from Beloit at the Illinois stateline, to Fond du Lac on Lake Winnebago, from where it would take only a short extension between Appleton and Green Bay to complete the line around Milwaukee. At the same time, he was quietly arranging a takeover of both companies.

Above: Map of Wisconsin Railroads as of 1854, showing the start of Ogden’s ring around Milwaukee from Fond du Lac (Rock River Valley Union Railroad) to Beloit. (Lorenzsonn, Steam & Cinders); Below: Map of the completed Chicago & NorthWestern Railroad as built by Ogden. The Illinois & Wisconsin route runs from Chicago northwest straight to Janesville. (Harpster, Ogden)

On February 12, 1851, two days after the Illinois legislature had resolved the IC landgrant in Schuyler’s favor, and five days after it had passed the revised charter of the Rock Island, it approved the charter of the Illinois & Wisconsin Railroad, with a proposed route from Chicago directly on a line to Janesville, WI, only a few miles north of Beloit.   Three and  a half months later on June 2 Ogden resigned as the President of the G&CU, not from exhaustion, but to assume the presidency of the infant I&W three days later on June 5, 1851.  With his good friend Turner taking over control of the G&CU’s operations and further construction, Ogden began construction within a month of the I&W tracks, at almost the exact spot he had begun laying the tracks for the G&CU, some three years earlier, one block north of the corner of Kinzie and Halsted.  But this time, the tracks went not to the west, but to the northwest, beginning the wall around Milwaukee.  Meanwhile, a few days later at Fond du Lac at the other end of the wall, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on July 10, 1851, for the Rock River Valley Union Railroad, that began laying its tracks to the south.

The Routes into Chicago, 1855. Ogden had erected the I&W depot one block northwest of the original G&CU depot at Kinzie and Halsted. Meanwhile, Farnam had begun the tracks for the Rock Island at Englewood.


While Ogden had refocused his energies northwestward to Wisconsin, once the MS tracks had reached Chicago’s city limits, Farnam hired “Ogden’s surveyor,” the ever-faithful Richard Morgan to survey the western route to Rock Island, anticipating the eventual passage by Congress of the Iowa railroad landgrant.  This was approved on April 2, 1852, and Farnam wasted little time by starting to lay the C&RI tracks only eight days later on April 10, out of Chicago from the station at Englewood, straight to the Mississippi.  The MS’s management was also eagerly anticipating the completion of the lines along the southern shore of Lake Erie between Toledo and Buffalo, that eventually would be consolidated in 1868 into the Lake Shore Railroad.  By January 1853, through travel from Chicago to Erie, PA, where the Erie Railroad had finally reached the year before, was possible, for all practical purposes completing a continuous railroad route from New York City to Chicago via the south shore of Lake Erie. With the prospect of the eventual completion of both the eastern and the western extension routes, the MS&NI and the C&RI commenced construction during the fall of 1852 on a permanent terminal and train shed (fig. 4.10) on Van Buren in line with La Salle Street, the property for which the company had already quietly purchased was as far as Common Council was willing to allow a railroad to push its tracks into the traffic of the business district.  La Salle Street had been extended only to Jackson by this date so Council had kept the railroad short of making a direct connection with La Salle Street.  Nonetheless, the new station was inline with La Salle Street, where the new combined City Hall/County Courthouse had just been completed.  The train shed ran 355′ from Harrison to Van Buren.  It had 22′ high masonry walls that supported arched Howe trusses that rose another 20′ at their apex.  These spanned 116,’ although Andreas recorded that there was a single line of interior supports.  Another building that contained the companies’ offices was constructed on the block immediately to the north, which fronted Van Buren Street.  The total investment in both buildings came to $60,000.

The MS/RI depot and train shed in line with La Salle Street, 1855. At this time La Salle stopped at Monroe. (McLellan and Warrick, Lake Shore & Michigan Southern)


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago- vols. 1&2. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Condit, Carl W. Chicago: 1910-1929, Building, Planning, and Urban Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Harpster, Jack. A Biography of William B. Ogden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2009.

Lorenzsonn, Axel S. Steam and Cinders: The Advent of Railroads in Wisconsin: 1831-1861. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2009.

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.

Young, David M. The Iron Horse and the Windy City. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.

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