While Farnam, during the latter half of 1851 was laying the MS’s tracks straight into Chicago and thereby, attempting to cut off any possible direct route into Chicago by the MC, John Murray Forbes was understandably fuming as the MC had been stalled at the Michigan and Indiana border since October 30, 1850.  Brooks finally had uncovered another Indiana company, the New Albany & Salem, and with the purchase of $500,000 of its stock, Brooks had the legal authority to lay tracks in Indiana, but not as of yet in Illinois.  Even though the state legislature had made the decision on February 10, 1851, to accept the Schuyler group’s proposal to build the IC, Schuyler had yet to make any preparations for construction which had continued to infuriate Forbes to no end.  The legislature had added the provision that construction on the IC had to start prior to January 1, 1852, and Schuyler seemed to be in no hurry to incur any costs prior to that date, no matter what Forbes might threaten to do for Schuyler did, indeed, hold all the cards.

The Routes into Chicago of the Michigan Southern, the Michigan Central, the Rock Island, and the Illinois Central: 1851-56.  Note the first six miles of the MC tracks from the Indiana border into Illinois were built due west/northwest to Kensington, on a line that could have taken it to Joliet and bypassed Chicago altogether. Note the location of Grand Crossing at 76th and Woodlawn. 

Out of pure frustration, Brooks and Joy made the suggestion to Forbes that they attempt to force the IC, as well as Chicago’s Council into action, by taking matters into their own hands and build (illegally because it had no charter) a 6.5 mile stretch of tracks into Illinois from the Indiana border on a route straight to Joliet, that could threaten to bypass Chicago altogether. Word of this plan was strategically leaked and MS proponents, including the company’s attorney, Norman Judd, immediately resurrected the threat of the IC/MC bypass plan, identifying Joliet as the potential rival railroad hub. Wisely, the MC’s authorities had consulted with Mayor Walter Gurnee and Sen. Douglas, apparently giving them private assurances that the MC would not bypass Chicago, but did, indeed, intend to build into Chicago, if only it would be allowed to do so.  Douglas, for all practical purposes, ended the controversy by publishing a letter to the editor that stated that it was his opinion (which carried a great amount of weight) that neither the C&RI nor the IC could make a through connection at the Indiana State line, but were required to terminate their lines at a depot in Chicago.The MS/RI had laid its tracks northwest from the bottom of Lake Michigan in a blocking maneuver that attempted to completely ring off the business district from the IC, choosing to enter the city limits as close as possible to the east bank of the South Branch. The MC, therefore, had initially planned to enter the city along the west bank of the South Branch of the river, a route that would not require it to cross the MC tracks, but would connect with the original G&CU station at Kinzie and Canal Streets. This would have allowed the MC to make a direct connection with Brooks’ Aurora Branch that was using the G&CU’s tracks into the city.  The MS had gotten wind of the MC’s plan, however, and purchased the right-of-way along this path before the Bostonians had even made an attempt to do so (could the MS have been tipped off by Ogden who had other plans for this property as we will discuss later, or had it been Douglas who had favored an alternative entry route for the IC that was on a line with his lakefront property?).

The Routes into Chicago of the Michigan Southern and the Michigan Central: 1851-56. Note the location of Grand Crossing at 76th and Woodlawn. Here you can see that Ogden had denied the IC from using the west bank of the South Branch because he was planning to use it to bring the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne, and Chicago into a direct connection with his G&CU/I&W station. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)

With both banks of the South Branch denied them, the IC and MC had to look for another route into Chicago.  If the Bostonians were to be denied a direct link to their Aurora Branch, as they looked around Chicago for a favorable site, the vacant land of the Fort Dearborn reservation at the mouth of the river, the heart of Chicago’s commerce, appeared to be an ideal location: immediate proximity to the lake and to the river with a large area of open land that could also be expanded limitlessly into the lake as operations grew (without having to make inflated purchases from greedy owners) that also was located only a short walk to Chicago’s retail center at Lake and Wabash.  (This site would also provide a convenient link, with only one bridge and a short five-block carriage ride to get to the connecting trains of the Aurora Branch at the Wells Street Station of the G&CU then being planned.)  Quite frankly, there was no better location in Chicago with this many advantages.  Only one thing seemed to pose a problem: how to get the tracks to this location from the city’s southern limits in the face of the 1836 declaration that the lakefront east of Michigan Avenue between Madison and Twelfth Street was to be kept “forever clear of any buildings or obstructions.”


Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago- vols. 1&2. 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.

Douglas, George H. Rail City: Chicago U.S.A. San Diego: Howell-North Books, 1981.

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– 2. New York: Knopf.  1940.

Stover, John F. Iron Road to the West: American Railroads in the 1850s. New York: Columbia University, 1978.

Wille, Lois. Forever Open, Clear, and Free; The Struggle For Chicago’s Lakefront. Chicago: Regnery, 1972.

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

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

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