7.12. THE GEOPOLITICS OF THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD – PART 1

Map of the U.S., c. 1844. At this time there was no “Southern” landbridge to the Pacific Ocean: Mexico owned the land that was needed to build a Southern Transcontinental Railroad. (Online)

While the nation’s interest had been focused in 1846 and 1847 on the Mexican-American War, all discussions of the transcontinental railroad had, for all practical purposes, been pushed to the backburner.  One of the reasons behind Pres. Polk’s decision to go to war with Mexico had been to conquer as much of the Mexican provinces of Nuevo México and Alta California as possible to create a contiguous land route in the South through American-controlled land to the Pacific so that just such a route could be built.    The war would, indeed, result in the physical unification of the East with the West, but it would also cause the division of both political parties along North and South factions over the possible extension of slavery into the lands ceded by Mexico.  

The issue of whether this new land would be free of slavery or not had not been determined by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, that drew the line of demarcation between free and slave territory west of Missouri, that was admitted as a slave state, by extending the 36° 30’ line of Missouri’s southern border to the west, but this pertained only to lands within the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory.  This had left the status of slavery in the future states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in limbo.  Once Polk’s duplicity over the resolution of the Oregon boundary became public, Pennsylvania’s Van Buren Democratic Congressman David Wilmot, unafraid to debate the slavery issue, had added a proviso to a war appropriation bill on August 8, 1846, that would have denied the extension of slavery to all territory that was anticipated to be ceded by Mexico.  

Map of the U.S., 1846, showing the impact of the Wilmot Proviso. (Online)

The Wilmot Proviso hardened the Sectional lines regarding slavery and, thereby, doomed any coordinated Federal attempt to build a transcontinental railroad until the start of the Civil War.  While the economic and demographic forces continued to reinforce the logic and need of such a connection between the East and West coasts, antebellum Sectional jealousies succeeded in thwarting competing plans to build such a federally subsidized route. Douglas would eventually achieve in linking the North and South with the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad, but an East/West route had to wait until the start of the Civil War finally broke the political logjam.  Instead of a centralized effort on the part of the Federal government to build a transcontinental route, what emerged in the U.S. as the economy rebounded during the late 1840s and early 1850s, was an epic laissez-faire struggle of continental proportions among local governments and private companies, straight out of Herbert Spenser’s contemporary theory of social Darwinism, with each entity trying to outwit the other in the placement of two parallel ribbons of iron, inching their way ever westward.  This uncontrolled competition would be to antebellum Chicago’s advantage for Ogden had grabbed the momentum of the project with his own hands by unilaterally beginning construction of the G&CU to the West.  While the supporters of the other routes bickered over Federal support in Congress during the thirteen years between Ogden’s laying the first rail in 1848 and the attack on Fort Sumter in 1861, Chicago’s businesses and population would catch up with Cincinnati and St. Louis.  The momentum of this expansion would result in Chicago becoming a “black hole,” sucking anything and everything (such as McCormick’s factory) into its ever-expanding vortex.

Map of the U.S., c. 1849. (Online)

Once the Mexican War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848, the issue of where to build the federally subsidized transcontinental railroad had returned to the halls of Congress.  With Mexico ceding the vast lands of Nuevo México and Alta California to the U.S. as one of the requirements of the Treaty, a transcontinental route completely within the legal borders of the U.S. was finally available.  As of then, there was not yet a comparable contiguous route in the north (for “Nebraska,” that stretched from the Red River in Texas to the Canadian border, was still unorganized as a territory and “legally” still belonged to the Native tribes).  No Federal support for a transcontinental proposal in the North through land not formally controlled by the Federal government would ever be approved by the South’s representatives as long as comparable routes to the Pacific existed that could extend from Charleston and Atlanta to Memphis along the 35° parallel, or from New Orleans and Houston along the 32° (New Orleans also argued for a road across the Isthmus of Panama), that were not only feasible but also completely within the borders of the U.S.   

The Route of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad. Note that Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and St. Louis are in a straight line to the West through the center of the country. New York and Philadelphia are easliy connected by an extension, thereby providing an excellent route for the Transcontinental Railroad that would have completely bypassed Chicago. (Online)

Following the signing of the treaty that formally brought these lands under U.S. political control, Missouri’s ever-vigilant Sen. Benton once again proposed that Congress approve his “compromise route” for a transcontinental railroad from St. Louis to San Francisco Bay (as the logical continuation of the B&O’s planned Ohio & Mississippi).  After the Senate rejected this, he attempted to have Congress finance a fourth expedition by his son-in-law, Frémont, (who during the War had completed a third expedition from St. Louis to California, under secret orders from Pres. Polk in anticipation of the coming war with Mexico to reinforce the American presence in Alta California, that also allowed Frémont to explore for a potential transcontinental route along the 38° parallel) to continue to search for the best transcontinental route along the 38° parallel, but this, too, was rejected along Sectional lines.  Not so easily deterred in their mutual expansionist visions, the Senator and his son-in-law eventually secured private funding and Frémont set off from St. Louis in October 1848 on an ill-fated expedition into the Central Rockies, that, nonetheless, still provided valuable information on the region’s geography.

On January 6, 1849, (already more than a month after The Pioneer’s initial run), the South joined the political debate when interests in Little Rock, AK, with an eye out for a transcontinental railroad through its territory, proposed to convene a convention in Memphis on July 4, 1849, to discuss a possible railroad between Memphis and Monterey (100 miles south of San Francisco).  In response to the proposed Memphis convention, St. Louis scheduled its own transcontinental railroad convention for October 15, 1849.  The outbreak of cholera along the Mississippi River in the summer, however, forced Memphis to postpone its convention until October 23, 1849, that followed not only the St. Louis convention, but also an earlier convention in Mississippi on October 1, 1849, called by Calhoun to discuss a possible southern response (Secession) to the threatened passage of the Wilmot Proviso.  Stephen Douglas, not one to shy away from a debate, not only attended the 1849 St. Louis convention, but was elected its president.  He resigned after his presentation of his proposed northern route that was, for all practical purposes, a direct Chicago trunkline to the South Pass, with only connecting lines from Council Bluffs to St. Louis and to Memphis, was jeered in the local press.  Benton followed with a plea to Congress encouraging it to approve a route that had “the Bay of San Francisco at one end, St. Louis in the middle, and the national metropolis and great commercial emporium at the other end.”  The convention ultimately voted in favor of “a grand trunk railroad” centered on St. Louis, “with branches to Memphis and Chicago,” even though Douglas would hear of no such idea of a railroad between St. Louis and California, coyly arguing that endorsing a single terminus in the east would be politically impossible in the highly fractionalized atmosphere of the antebellum era.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Borneman, Walter R. Iron Horses: America’s Race to Bring the Railroad West.  New York: Back Bay, 2010.

Cotterill, R.S., “Memphis Railroad Convention, 1849,” Tennessee Historical Magazine, Vol. 4, June 1918.

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.

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

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)

7.11. THE FIRST LINK OF THE TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD

While Ogden was negotiating between McCormick and Gray, The Alert, an old locomotive purchased from Brooks’ Michigan Central had been refitted and shipped overwater to Chicago.  The locomotive arrived at the Chicago River on October 10, was carefully unloaded, and placed on temporary tracks that had been laid from Halsted and Kinzie to the riverbank.  In the meanwhile, Ogden and Turner had funded a local mechanic and foundry operator, Hiram H. Scoville, to start a new company to manufacture the freight and passenger cars for the nascent railroad.  Ogden had sold him a lot on the corner of Canal and Adams, upon which Scoville moved a frame building from the corner of Randolph and Clinton, in which H.H. Scoville & Sons would become the city’s first company to manufacture railroad cars.  Turner had shipped a prototype of a car on a schooner from Michigan and Scoville was in business, and by October 25, 1848, he had made two cars that were hitched to the locomotive, renamed The Pioneer, and Chicago’s first locomotive made a successful five-mile experimental run.  (As the railroad business grew, the owners of the Galena funded the expansion of Scoville into the manufacture of locomotives as well, with the incorporation of the Chicago Locomotive Company in 1854.  William H. Brown, a G&CU Director, was elected the company’s president, while Ogden and Thomas Dyer were major investors.)

“The Pioneer,” the first locomotive of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad. (Online)

Little did Ogden know at that time how valuable his unilateral decision to begin construction of the railroad was to be, as gold had been discovered in California on January 24, 1848, but the first news of the discovery didn’t make it back to the East Coast until August 19, some two months after he had started laying track.  The Gold Rush to California was on and Ogden’s little train had a serendipitous head start. Meanwhile, construction of the G&CU’s tracks had continued west throughout the fall until the Des Plaines River was reached in mid-November.  With an eye out for some desperately needed public relations, Ogden invited about 100 stockholders and newspaper reporters to take the first passenger ride to the end of the line on November 20.  They reported to the railroad’s hastily constructed shed at Canal and Kinzie.  A couple of baggage cars fitted with benches waited behind The Pioneer as the guests made their way to the tracks.  At around 4:00 p.m., history was made as Chicago’s first passenger train began the eight-mile trek over the prairie to the end of the line.  On the return trip home, the party came across three wagons loaded with hides and wheat that were stuck up to their wheel hubs in mud.  The owners were easily induced to be relieved on the spot of their commodities, that were loaded on the train for the ride into the city.  After this inaugural run, The Pioneer made the run each day carrying workers and supplies to the end of the line.  Word quickly spread throughout the surrounding farming community and within a week, there were over thirty wagons of wheat waiting at the Des Plaines depot.

Map of G&CU as of December 1848. Note the location of the G&CU terminal on the west bank of the North Branch of the river. (Online)

Ogden’s vision of a grain cycle was becoming a reality.  By December the route’s length had been extended to ten miles and with such an auspicious response by the farmers, Ogden began making plans for the upcoming spring’s construction.  Within a year, Ogden had replaced the shed at the start of the line with a permanent depot, the first of a new kind building in Chicago. 

The First Galena & Chicago Union Railroad Station, Canal and Kinzie, 1848. Looking northwest. The second story and cupola were added in 1849. Ogden and Scammon used the cupola to watch their trains’ arrivals and departures with a telescope. (Wade and Meyer, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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

Heise, Kenan and Michael Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982.

Mayer, Harold  M., and Richard C. Wade. Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis. Chicago: University   of Chicago Press, 1969.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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

7.10. OGDEN SAVES McCORMICK’S FACTORY AND BECOMES AN EQUAL PARTNER

Cyrus McCormick returned to Chicago on June 1, 1848, after spending the spring in Washington defending his patents, to find a very impressive factory along the bank of the north branch in which his partner Charles Gray was busy at work with his part of the bargain, producing the 500 machines for the imminent harvest.  A few days later, Ogden began to lay his tracks to the west.  McCormick’s factory had already become the rave of Chicago, best described by the Chicago Weekly Democrat:

“This is truly a mechanical age, and probably nothing so distinctively marks the civilization of the present day as the state of perfection to which machinery is being brought… These remarks were suggested by a visit yesterday to the Reaping Machine Factory of Messrs. McCormick and Gray.  It is situated on the north side of the river near the piers; and is a well finished brick building, 100 feet by 30 or over and three stories high.  Attached to the main building is a building containing the steam engine, lathes for turning iron, and also a building containing six forges.  There are 33 hands employed in the factory, ten of whom are blacksmiths.

The steam engine [10 hp.] particularly attracted our attention… This engine drives some fourteen or fifteen machines; viz. a planing machine, two circular saws, a tenent saw, a lathe for turning handles for rakes, pitch forks, etc.; also two lathes for turning iron, a gage’s patent die, two morticing machines and two grind stones.  Machines are being set up for various other uses in several branches of carpenter’s work. The smithy contains 10 forges in all… We understand the proprietors design enlargening this portion of the establishment as it is at present too contracted for the wants of the factory.”

All was not, however, what it at first appeared to be upon McCormick’s arrival.  Gray was supposed to have mailed McCormick monthly financial statements, who upon receiving these was to have forwarded any necessary additional cash needed to help Gray with the manufacturing.  McCormick apparently had received no communications whatsoever from his partner and had assumed that the $2500 in patent fees that Gray had still owed him from the 1847 season had been sufficient to cover any additional costs incurred by Gray during McCormick’s absence.  Meanwhile, Gray apparently had second thoughts about his involvement in such a large business undertaking, especially as the early winter of 1847-8 had progressed in a markedly disadvantageous way for the promise of the upcoming wheat season.  Fearing a potential financial debacle if the harvest proved to be a bust, Gray had approached Ogden in January in “great need of capital” to continue the fledgling operation, misrepresenting the situation by stating that McCormick was not holding up his part of the contract by forwarding the necessary funds already expended by Gray in the construction of the factory.  Instead of securing a loan sufficient to continue the operation, however, Gray apparently chose to hedge his bet by reducing his potential liability from a poor harvest by selling half of his interest in the company to Ogden for $7000 (netting a $6,000 profit), without ever consulting McCormick. 

As McCormick arrived in Chicago in June 1848, he not only had a new factory, but also a new partner, although as he stepped off the boat, he was apparently unaware of this fact.  Even as production of the reapers continued apace into the summer in order to meet demand, both Gray and McCormick lined up their arguments in anticipation of legal action.  At the end of the very successful season (McCormick had netted over $30,000 from the Chicago operation alone), the two partners agreed on September 25, 1848, to submit their differences to arbitration, and assigned to Ogden the responsibility of collecting the outstanding debts.  On the same day, Gray also shed himself of McCormick’s iron will by selling his remaining quarter interest in the factory to Ogden, who now owned half of the reaper operation.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick- Harvest: 1856-1884, New York: The Century Co., 1930.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I,II. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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)

7.9. OGDEN AND SCAMMON DECIDE TO “GO IT ALONE”

Consequently, Ogden understood that not only would no financial assistance ever be coming from Boston, no matter his prior political connections with New York or how cordial the relations he may had struck with Brooks, but that he would, more than likely, also have to find an alternative railroad company that he could better rely upon for a more favorable connection to the east for the G&CU.  Determined not to fail in the face of Weld’s smug dismissal, Ogden and Scammon were forced to build the Galena in a “pay as you go” manner with what little money they raised from stock subscriptions that they and their partners were able to procure from farmers along the proposed route.  They continued their fund-raising (begging) efforts during the winter and by spring, enough stock had been subscribed that the first construction contracts for the line’s first 32 miles were let on March 1, 1848.  As had been the case with the canal, profits from construction contracts would be more immediately available than those from the operation of the railroad, and Ogden had set up a company, McCagg, Reed, and Co. in which he was a silent partner, to provide the wood ties and rails (that were topped with iron strap ribbons) from his own forests in Wisconsin.  Twenty-one year-old Ezra Butler McCagg had just arrived in Chicago from Kinderhook, NY, where he had recently completed his law degree.  (Kinderhook was also the birthplace of Martin Van Buren and Charles Butler, that, together with McCagg’s middle name, Butler, his mother’s maiden name, suggests that he may have been related to Charles Butler.)  

The facts of McCagg’s move to Chicago suggest that he was brought to Chicago by Ogden to replace Norman B. Judd’s position in Scammon’s law firm.  Judd, a lawyer who had studied law in Rome, NY, had been invited to move to Chicago in November 1836 by one of his old classmates, Judge John D. Caton, to be his partner.  He quickly made the acqaintence of William Ogden and in the city’s first election that saw Ogden rise to be elected Mayor in 1837, Judd was elected the City Attorney, a position he held for two years, until Caton moved out of town in 1838.  Judd remained in Ogden’s inner circle by becoming Scammon’s law partner, a position he had held until Ogden decided to realign his business plans from the MC to a company whoe goals were more aligned with his own, at which time Judd was spun off to become the corporate attorney for that company, the Michigan Southern.  During Judd’s partnership with Scammon, he had also moved into Illinois politics, being first elected to the State Senate in 1844, a position he held for the next sixteen years, providing a critical connection within the Illinois government during Ogden’s rise in the railroad industry.  McCagg’s move to Chicago had also, therefore, positioned him to be conveniently used by Ogden as a front man for some of his other business ventures (such as McCagg, Reed and Co.) when needed without an obvious appearance of a conflict of interest suggested by the name Ogden appearing on a company’s letterhead.  (Following the death of Ogden’s partner and brother-in-law, William Jones in 1851, McCagg would even marry Jones’ widow, Ogden’s sister Caroline in 1854.) 

Ogden then followed up the letting of the first G&CU contracts with an overly-optimistic annual report to the company’s stockholders on April 5, 1848, in which he laid out his overall vision for Chicago’s first railroad:

“It cannot have escaped the observation of all acquanted with the region of the country to be affected by the construction of this important work, that, if constructed now and extended east from Chicago around the head of Lake Michigan till it meets the Michigan Central Railroad, as it soon will, it secures to the country through it passes the Great North-Western railroad thoroughfare for all time to come [the italics were by Ogden].”

Ogden also threw out a few crumbs to his Wisconsin supporters by stating that the used strap-iron rails that would be used to begin the G&CU, would eventually be reused in laying the track for the Rockford to Beloit branch, once the main line was replaced with rolled iron rails. Nonetheless, local opposition to the Galena was still coming from all directions.  Common Council still had to give its approval to build tracks within the North Division.  Even though Ogden, who had been the city’s first mayor, had run and been elected in early 1847 as an alderman, undoubtedly to assist the railroad’s approval process, he failed to get a right-of-way ordinance passed as members from the West Division sought to keep the train from crossing the North Branch to Ogden’s property in the North Division. Meanwhile, the company had managed to secure some old strap rail from the Rochester & Tonawanda that was being replaced with rolled iron T-sections.  To the satisfaction of all who had worked so long and so hard, especially Ogden and Scammon, construction on the G&CU began in June 1848 heading not east to meet the MC but due west, barely two months after the completion of the canal.  (It bears repeating the scale of the gamble Ogden was taking in this move, for there was not a railraod track within a hundred-mile radius of Chicago.) Thus, Ogden and his iron horse struck out on their twenty-one year westwardly trek from Chicago toward their ultimate destination, the Pacific Ocean, proceeding only on a “paycheck-to paycheck” existence.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

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.

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

7.7. McCORMICK MOVES FROM CINCINNATI TO CHICAGO

Always one to plan ahead, McCormick decided to consolidate his business in Chicago after the 1847 harvest, if all went well with Chicago’s Charles Gray.  In addition to a potentially reliable manufacturer, with the completion of the canal slated for early 1848, Chicago also appeared to offer a better transportation network than Cincinnati’s Ohio River system.  This coincided nicely with McCormick’s timetable for shipping the planned production.  In need of a knowledgeable attorney in Chicago to consummate any contractual relationship, McCormick asked Rep. McDowell of Virginia for a letter of introduction to Illinois’ newly-elected Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who himself had just moved to Chicago.  

In the 1846 national election, Douglas had been elected to the U.S. Senate, joining his former Supreme Court colleague, Sen. Sidney Breese.  He subsequently had moved his family from Quincy, IL, in his former Congressional District to Chicago during the summer of 1847. Douglas willingly obliged McCormick’s request with a letter to his Chicago lawyer friend, Ebenezer Peck, (an associate of Ogden’s) who agreed to draw up the necessary papers for McCormick’s partnership with Gray, following Gray’s satisfactory  production in 1847 of the 100 machines.  Ogden, quite assurdedly couldn’t believe his luck when he was informed by Peck of the Virginaian’s plan to build a factory in Chicago.  Sale of shares of the G&CU had gotten off to a poor start on August 10, 1847.  Only twenty days later, the contract that brought from Cincinnati to Chicago what was to eventually become the largest factory of its kind in the country was signed on August 30, 1847.  

The First McCormick Reaper Factory, northside of the mouth of the river. The Galena & Chicago Union tracks have been laid to service the factory. (Online)

McCormick and Gray initially each put up $2000 in capital with which three lots on the north bank of the river’s Main branch, east of the Lake House and as close to the lake as feasible, were purchased from Ogden, for the erection of a factory with a planned capacity of 500 reapers for the 1848 harvest (an incredible five times the number Gray had made the previous year).  The location on the river not only assured McCormick of the direct loading of his reapers onto boats for shipment either to the east via the lake or to the west via the canal, as well as the direct receiving of bulk raw materials needed for manufacturing without paying a transfer charge.  The costs incurred in setting up the factory and manufacturing the 500 machines were to be shared equally by the partners, as were the net profits at the end of the 1848 harvest.  Ten days after finalizing these arrangements, McCormick left Chicago on September 10, 1847, to pursue his patent extension case in Washington, confident that he had made the right decision in choosing Gray as his partner and moving his company from Cincinnati to Chicago as the location to centralize his operations.  He planned to return in the summer of 1848 to view his new factory and the 500 reapers that his new partner was contracted to construct.  When he would return, he would find that Ogden was laying the G&CU tracks to the west, but on a line that could extend directly to his factory.

7.8. BOSTON SPRINGS THE TRAP

Sometimes during their summer campaign to sell G&CU stock, Ogden and Scammon had crossed paths with the MC’s John Brooks and informally agreed that their two lines were made to meet in Chicago. They took it upon themselves in October 1847 to take over a defunct line in Indiana, the Buffalo & Mississippi (B&M), with Ogden taking the position of President.  The B&M was chartered to construct its tracks in Indiana, exactly what was needed to bring the MC into Illinois. Ogden and Brooks also signed an agreement that gave the Michigan Central the right to use the provision in the G&CU’s charter that permitted it “to unite with any other rail road,… and also to construct such other and lateral routes, as may be necessary to connect them with any other route…”  Ogden was already projecting, at this early date, a route directly to Council Bluffs, that offered a strategic railroad connection to steamboats via the Missouri and Platte Rivers.  It was the exact route that Douglas had propsed only two years earlier.  Ogden and Brooks were, therefore, already planning for the next section in the Boston route to the Mississippi.  Having made what they considered to have been a good faith commitment with the Michigan Central through Brooks, Ogden (who had also worked with a number of its Bostonian directors on the canal project and, therefore, assumed they were allies) and Scammon traveled during the winter of 1847-48 to Albany and Boston in order to enlist financial support for the G&CU from the directors of the MC, whom they now considered to be business partners. (It is quite possible that Ogden had received encouragement from his client Samuel Russell to approach John Murray Forbes, the President of the MC as had his older brother, Robert Bennet Forbes, was the head of Russell & Co.)  They were cordially greeted by Forbes and William Fletcher Weld, another of Boston’s shipping magnates who had made the transition from ships to railroads, but returned with nothing but a sobering rebuff and a patronizing sermon on the Bostonians’ view of the world.  Weld was brusquely forthright in his response to the request made by the novice Westerners, who should have remembered how the Illinois & Michigan Canal was being completed at that very moment:

“Gentlemen.  I do not remember any enterprise of this kind we Boston people have taken hold upon statistics.  You must go home, raise what money you can, expend it upon your road, and when it breaks down, as it surely, or in all probability will; come and give it to us, and we will take hold of it and complete it, as we are completing the Michigan Central.”

Ogden and Scammon had been double-crossed by the wily Bostonians. It seems curious that Ogden fell for such a scheme when the Bostonians had used the exact same stretegy to take over the canal.  We can surmise whether Brooks was part of this scheme when he had agreed to join Ogden in buying the B&M in Indiana, or had also been duped by his superiors. The Bostonians, however, had greatly underestimated Ogden’s business and political connections, prior experience, and tenacious personality, that would eventually cost them dearly.  (Scammon would later in life reveal that upon their return to Chicago, “a resolution was then formed though never publicly expressed, that the Galena should not break down.”)

FURTHER READING:

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.

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick- Harvest: 1856-1884, New York: The Century Co., 1930.

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.

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

7.6. CYRUS McCORMICK AND THE VIRGINIA REAPER

While the original 1836, uncompleted tracks for the G&CU had started at Dearborn and ran west along Madison Street, Ogden having almost the entire city at his beckon call in 1848, had chosen the corner of Kinzie and Halsted to begin his tracks.  Analyzing his choice, the following issues more than likely played a role in this decision: First, it was adjacent to the city’s business district, meaning that it was convenient for the company’s passengers and freight.  Second, he owned much of the land in the north division, where he planned to eventually extend the tracks to the lake (selling his land needed for the tracks to the company for a tidy profit).  And third, he would have to bridge the lesser-travelled north branch rather than the busy south branch of the river was less travelled than the south branch, meaning a bridge over this portion of the Chicago River would have to be moved less often, disrupting rail traffic much less than a bridge over the south branch.  If one stood on the spot where Ogden had the first rail laid in June 1848, and looked back east toward the lake, your view you take you directly to a brand new factory being erected on the north side of the river’s mouth into Lake Michigan.  As the Federal government still owned the south side of the mouth (Fort Dearborn reservation), the north side of the river’s mouth was the most valuable piece of real estate in downtown Chicago.  Ogden owned this property, and would eventually sell it in August 1847 to Virginian Cyrus McCormick to erect the the largest factory of its kind in the country.

Wheat’s great strength in the NorthWest was its ability to be stored over a long period of  time without rotting until the spring thaw opened up the Great Lakes shipping season, permitting the grain to finally be transported to markets in the East and Europe.  The Achilles’ heel of wheat, on the other hand, was that no matter how large a plot of land the region’s farmers planted with seed, once the grain had started to ripen, there was a period of roughly ten days within which they could harvest by hand as much as humanly possible before the wheat began to rot in the field.  The promise of the seemingly ideal flat, unbounded prairie to provide bread for the world would be unrealized until enough farm laborers had moved west to help the new landowners harvest all of the wheat that the fertile acreage could produce.  Farmers could grow as much wheat as they could plant, but those ten days in early summer would determine not only what percentage of the crop actually got harvested, but also how much profit the farmer netted after paying the premium wages demanded by the few available hired hands who had migrated to the west at this time.  As early as 1842, Chicago understood that this limitation of nature’s bounty had to be overcome if the city was ever to realize the latent profit in its surrounding farmland:

“We therefore say to inventors – here is a field for you to operate in; anything that you wish to have introduced into extensive use, which you know to be really valuable, you can bring here with a good prospect of success.  Bring along your machines, and also give us a chance to advertise them.

The next three years saw wheat exports increase at a “modest” rate from 586,907 bushels in 1842 to 956,860 in 1845, as each year more farms were established in the surrounding region. Exports in 1846, however, once again exploded to 1.46 million bushels, an increase of over 500,000 bushels, some 33%  above the year before.  The following year, 1847, saw another jump of half a million bushels to a total of 1.97 million. Chicago had now more than doubled its wheat exports in just two harvests.  One of the reasons for the increase was the first appearance of a machine such as what had been called for as far back as 1842: the “Virginia Reaper.”

Cyrus McCormick’s “Virginia Reaper,” patented 1834. (Online)

In July 1846 Chicago laid eyes for the first time on the ungainly machine that was about to revolutionize the harvesting of wheat and secure for Chicago the role of the world’s grain merchant.  Some thirty of the wood and iron beasts had been shipped via the Erie Canal from Brockport, NY., where they had been manufactured by Seymour, Chappell, and Co. to the design patented by Cyrus Hall McCormick of Walnut Grove, Virginia.  Although McCormick had invented in 1831 and patented in 1834 what he soon dubbed the “Virginia reaper,” he had continued to refine its design in the small number of machines he had manufactured each year since 1839.  These he fabricated on his father’s farm until he had sufficient confidence in their performance that he could afford to grant franchises to various manufacturers to produce enough machines to meet the growing demand in the East for the new-fangled device.  This began in 1844, when McCormick had first passed through Chicago during the summer on his first attempt to promote his invention west of the Allegheny Mountains.  Appreciating the potential demand for his machine on the flat prairie farms in the west, McCormick had chosen larger and better-established Cincinnati over youthful Chicago to be his western manufacturing center, undoubtedly due to the scheduled completion of the Miami-Eire Canal in 1845 that would link Cincinnati to Toledo on Lake Erie, and thence to New York via the Erie Canal. He signed a contract with A.C. Brown on September 19, 1844, to produce 200 machines for the upcoming 1845 harvest (all told, McCormick had contracts for the manufacture of over 400 machines for 1845, an extremely ambitious increase over the 70 reapers he had made the previous year).

Unfortunately for McCormick, his plans proved overly optimistic as one contractor after another either fell behind in production or produced such shoddy workmanship (despite his residence in Cincinnati that spring to supervise Brown’s manufacture) that the machines proved worthless to the farmers who had been anticipating all winter long the liberating boon promised by such a device.  Nonetheless, with no apparent alternative, McCormick renewed his contract with Brown in Cincinnati to produce 100 reapers for the 1846 harvest.  Before returning to his Virginia home for the winter, however, he made one more pass through Illinois to bolster the sagging opinion of his product.  Passing through Chicago, he still found the local papers bemoaning the lack of any mechanical assistance for the region’s farmers:

“We may add that from the great number of enquiries made at our office this winter, some machine or machines to cut grain will be in great demand in the Western States for a few years to come, and those who wish to make sales will do well to be on hand.”

While Brown in Cincinnati once again fell short of McCormick’s expectations for the 1846 harvest, Seymour, Chappell and Co. successfully fulfilled their contract for 100 reapers, all but ten of which were shipped from Buffalo via steamship to Chicago where McCormick had no trouble in selling all 90 in just months.  Gratifying was the response of farmers, such as H.E. Towner of Will County who flatly stated, “For my own part, I consider it [McCormick’s reaper] to the Western country the most important invention of the age, and that it will greatly increase the product of the country, not being able to without it to reap so much as can be sown.”  McCormick was somewhat unprepared for the immediate enthusiasm shown his machine by Illinois’ farmers and agricultural editors alike:

“[It] will cut from 15 to 20 acres per day, which is as decided an advantage upon the old method of ‘cradling’ as the Magnetic Telegraph is on steam.  These machines are highly useful in this State, where the harvest is large, while the means of saving it is disproportionally small.”

Encouraged by Chicago’s response, McCormick contracted in July 1846 with a local manufacturer, Charles M. Gray and S. R. Warner, to make 100 reapers to sell in Boone, McHenry, and DuPage Counties for the 1847 season.  Although McCormick had enticed his younger brother Leander to move from Virginia to Cincinnati in January 1847 to help Brown produce his contract for the 1847 harvest, he apparently had already made up his mind that if Gray could produce his 100 machines without defect and on time, he would centralize his manufacturing operations not in Cincinnati as originally planned, but in Chicago.  McCormick, whose all-important patents allowed him to charge a patent fee between $15 and $30 on every reaper produced by a manufacturer, realized that in the upcoming year, 1848, he faced the uncertain task of renewing his original patent.  If not successful, his subcontractors would be free to use his design without paying him a cent, resulting in immediate financial loss.  Moreover, the quantity of the reapers now being made, as well as the far-flung geographic distribution of production and sales, was straining his ability to personally oversee production and introduction in the field by individual purchasers of his machine.  Another factor that had to be considered was the larger freight charge per reaper, that he had to absorb, for shipment from the factories in the east to the farmer in the west.  McCormick was slowly having to face the fact that either he must move from his Virginian birthplace and centralize all operations in one locale closer to his markets or face total loss of control of the development of the machine he had spent his entire life perfecting.

FURTHER READING:

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Heise, Kenan and Michael Edgerton, Chicago: Center for Enterprise. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, 1982.

Hutchinson, William T. Cyrus Hall McCormick- Harvest: 1856-1884, New York: The Century Co., 1930.

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I. New York: Knopf.  1940.

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

7.5. FINANCING THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE GALENA

While the Bostonians were finalizing the financing needed to start construction in Michigan, Ogden was desparately searching for financing to start the G&CU.  The G&CU’s new Board’s political friends had seen to the rechartering of the company in the State legislature that was approved on February 24, 1847.  This increased the size of the Board of Directors to thirteen and the size of the company’s stock to three million dollars.  On April 5, Ogden was formally elected as the new company’s president who named Turner as its Superintendent and John Van Nortwick as Chief Engineer.   Ogden’s group now owned a company worth three million dollars (that included the title to 940 acres of woodland along the Des Plaines River, from which ties and fuel could be obtained), while they had not put a penny of their own money into the company.  Ogden then had made an inspection trip along the proposed route of the railroad up to Rockford, from where he changed course and went north into Wisconsin, following the Rock River, that was becoming the center of the NorthWest’s emerging wheat belt.  By this date, Galena’s lead had been supplanted by the region’s wheat crop as the area’s top grossing product.  (In fact, the G&CU tracks would never reach Galena.)  Stopping first at Beloit, at the stateline, and then at Janesville, the largest inland town in Wisconsin with a population at the time of 2,500, he querried if there was any interest among its inhabitants for a branch line of the G&CU.  Ogden’s northernly detour indicated that he was not only interested in building a railroad west to the Pacific, but also an entire network of roads criss-crossing the entire NorthWest.

Map of the completed Chicago & NorthWestern Railroad as built by Ogden. Note the original route to Galena was never completed because Ogden wanted to build two routes: one to Council Bluffs for the transcontinental railroad, the second one through Wisconsin to ring off Milwaukee. (Online)

Although the Rockford meeting that January had been well-attended by residents along the proposed route, Ogden needed some kind of major publicity event that would generate national publicity for the small, but growing town of Chicago in order to divert attention away from St. Louis that was, at this moment, basking in the glory of Whitney’s reports and energies.  Having pushed the country into war with Mexico on May 13, 1846, Pres. Polk then gave Ogden what he so badly needed on Aug. 3, 1846: he vetoed the Congressional funding bill that included money for the dredging operations at the mouth of the Chicago River and in the process, set off a major revolt in the NorthWest that culminated in the 1847 Rivers and Harbors Convention.  What would be the city’s first national convention was just the opportunity Ogden needed to showcase the potential of the nascent metropolis to a nationwide audience, including the Boston owners of the MC.

Following the highly successful convention in July, representatives of the MC began investigating the options open to them to extend the railroad to Chicago.  Rather than build to St. Joseph on Lake Michigan, that had been designated as the western terminus of the line in the company’s original charter, Forbes had approved Brooks’ proposal to plot a southwestern course to the Indiana border at New Buffalo (appropriately named in honor of the terminus of the Erie Canal at Lake Erie), some twenty-five miles closer to Chicago in anticipation of continuing the line to Chicago in the near future.  From New Buffalo, a lake steamer could then be boarded for the ride to Chicago, where the Bostonians’ canal was on the verge of completion (the switch to New Buffalo would also reduce the length of the lake steamer trip by some fifteen miles).  While the realignment of the Central’s route telegraphed Forbes’ intention to go to Chicago, it was also meant as an attempt to block a potential albeit dormant competitor, the Southern Michigan Railroad, whose own charter terminated its route at New Buffalo.

Once news reached Ogden that the MC was considering extending its tracks to Lake Michigan at New Buffalo, with the goal of eventually building a line around Lake Michigan to Chicago, he and Scammon unilaterally (and naively) announced that the G&CU would become the natural next link in the road to the west.  Ogden had organized the G&CU along the lines of an East Coast stock corporation, the first in Chicago, and put up stock in the company for subscription on August 10, 1847.  This was followed up with the publication of a pamphlet for distribution in Wisconsin that laid out his plan for a branch line that extended from Rockford north, following the Rock River to Beloit.  Only $20,000, however, was raised in Chicago by this method, for not only were many people suspicious of the motives of Ogden, the real estate agent, but also Chicago merchants feared that a railroad into Chicago would hurt their business:

“Chicago is a retail center, dependent on the farmers who come to trade.  If they can ship their produce on a railroad they won’t come to town.  Villages, perhaps cities, will spring up along the right of way and farmers will trade there, nearer home.  Grass will grow in the streets of Chicago if railroads come.”

The only recourse left open to Ogden and Scammon was to canvass the entire countryside along the proposed route during the Fall of 1847, giving speeches to whomever would stop to listen and to cajole from all who came a commitment to buy at least one share, even if it meant they had to borrow the first payment from Ogden against the upcoming harvest, for after all, the railroad was being planned to expedite the tedious process that farmers had to endure in bringing their crops to the Chicago market.   Enough was subscribed through this campaign to pay surveyor Richard Morgan to commence a survey of the route to the Fox River in September, in preparation to let the first construction contracts during the upcoming Spring of 1848.

It wasn’t just the transportation of wheat from the burgeoning farms in the west for which Ogden was planning, but in true synergistic thinking, he was also making provision for increasing the harvesting capacity of these farms with the help of  a new machine, the “Virginia reaper.”

FURTHER READING

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.

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.

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

7.4. BOSTON TAKES OVER THE MICHIGAN CENTRAL

Meanwhile, it took less than six months from the resumption of the canal’s construction in Chicago in October 1845, for the same Boston investors (Thomas H. Perkins, John Bryant, William Sturgis, John E. Thayer, Josiah Quincy) who had taken over control of the canal to snatch the stalled Michigan Central Railroad from a bankrupt State of Michigan and consolidate their planned route to the west with the addition of an overland connection through Michigan (to replace the steamboat route between Buffalo and Chicago over Lakes Erie, Huron, and Michigan, for the over-water routes were of no practical use during the winter) to their recently acquired canal project.  By January 1846, when the State of Michigan had finally run out of money, the route had been completed from Detroit to Kalamazoo, over two-thirds of the distance to Lake Michigan.  

The Routes of the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern: 1846-1852.

The looming possibility of the MC’s eventual bankruptcy with the corresponding opportunity for a private company to purchase the railroad for a bargain was appreciated by two Detroit law partners, James F. Joy and Michigan’s commissioner of Internal Improvements, George F. Porter. Understanding the importance of a completed railroad to Detroit’s long-term economic future, the two had undertaken a letter-writing campaign to newspapers, extolling the potential merits of the stalled project.  The letters eventually got the attention of the Bostonians and the owners of the various New York roads that paralleled the Erie Canal, including John W. Brooks, then the superintendent of the Auburn & Rochester.   True to their modus operandi, the Bostonians would wait until the state had expended all that it could afford and the project was bankrupt before they stepped in to buy up the project and its land at a very favorable price. During the fall of 1845, when the reports of Whitney’s transcontinental expedition were filling the pages of the nation’s newspapers, Brooks traveled to Detroit as the representative of the Boston investors to confer with Joy and Porter.  He eventually aligned himself with the two lawyers in a campaign by the Boston Concern to purchase the MC from the state.  After much debate, similar to the final canal agreement in Illinois, the Michigan legislature saw no alternative and eventually approved the transfer of the assets of the MC on March 5, 1846, to an investment group headed by the Bostonians, with the stipulation that the road be completed to Lake Michigan within three years.

As the financing of the purchase proposal was being finalized, a Bostonian new to  railroad investment, John Murray Forbes, had emerged to become president of the fledgling company.  Forbes was the son of T.H. Perkins’ youngest sister and had been brought up in the family’s Chinese opium business in Canton by his older brother, Robert Bennet Forbes, who by 1840 was put in charge of Russell & Co. by Samuel Russell,  (By 1846, Ogden had been Russell’s agent in Chicago for a number of years: see Chap. 7.1.) Although originally not so inclined, by September 1846, the younger Forbes had agreed to accept the presidency of the railroad before the purchase was completed on September 23, 1846.  Soon thereafter, Brooks was made the superintendent of the reorganized Michigan Central and began construction in the spring of 1847 on the railroad’s final Michigan leg from Kalamazoo to Lake Michigan, in order to honor the agreement with the state.  

FURTHER READING

Adams, Russell B., Jr., The Boston Money Tree, New York, 1977.

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.

Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge:     Harvard University Press, 1967.

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

7.2. BRIGHAM YOUNG AND THE MORMONS SHOW THE WAY

While Douglas had, rather nonchalantly projected his Pacific railroad from Chicago over the virgin plains of Iowa, following Asa Whitney’s recent exploration of a route through Iowa and northern Missouri to the mouth of the Kansas River, overland travel through virgin prairie, with minimum water supplies (i.e., rivers) was not as simple as drawing a line from here (Chicago) to there (Caldwell’s Camp).  When Ogden revealed his plan to build a line to Rock Island in his 1848 annual report, an overland route west across the Mississippi and through Iowa to the junction of the Missouri and Platte Rivers, however, had just recently been forged by Brigham Young and his followers, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons.  The Mormons had been led by their prophet, Joseph Smith, to settle in Northwest Missouri in 1831.  Although they had been forced by local authorities to move to adjacent counties for a variety of reasons. Primarily, they were quite successful as an autonomus community as their numbers had grown to the point where they could control the outcome of a local election.  The Panic of 1837, however, had taken its toll on them as well, leading to an internecine split among the group’s leaders.  This fracture further fueled the hate and jealousy of their neighbors that ultimately resulted in the Missouri-Mormon War of 1838, during which the state’s Governor, Lilburn Boggs had issued Missouri Executive Order 44 on Oct. 27, 1838, that stated “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.”  

Map of Iowa and Illinois, the Land bridge from Chicago to the Pacific. The Mormons had blazed a trail from Nauvoo across Iowa. Ogden first had to lay tracks through northern Illinois to the Mississippi, before he could contemplate continuing into Iowa. (Online)

Over 8,000 followers evacuated back across the Mississippi River to Quincy, IL, where they were welcomed by the local authorities.  In essence, the Mormons were a significant demographic force wandering in search of a hometown (Chicago’s population in 1839 was a mere 4200).  The sect soon purchased the town of Commerce, IL, some 50 miles upriver and changed its name to Nauvoo, that Smith said in ancient Hebrew meant “How beautiful upon the mountains.”  The state legislature approved its city charter on April 25, 1839, that among other provisions, allowed it to maintain its own militia.  By 1844, the sect was so successful and prosperous that it had grown in size to over 14,000, the largest town in the state (in 1845 Galena’s size was 14,000 while Chicago’s population in 1844 was 8,000).  Internecine bickering, however, eventually broke out again in 1844, this time over the practice of plural marriage, which led to the arrest and assassination of Joseph Smith while he was incarcerated in Carthage, IL, on June 27, 1844.  Local authorities believed the sect would disintegrate following Smith’s death, but the group’s discipline held and Brigham Young was elevated to be its new leader.  In frustration, Illinois revoked Nauvoo’s charter on Jan. 29, 1845, and demanded that the Mormons leave the state by the end of the year.  In September, Hancock County authorities also demanded that they leave and Young made the fateful decision that he would lead his people to where Smith had prophesized their ultimate home would be, in Utah, a place that he felt no one wanted that was also, at the time, outside of the U.S. where no one would ever bother them again.  

Route of the Mormons to Utah, 1847-8. (Online)

Unfortunately, the conventional route to the west down the Mississippi to St. Louis and up the Missouri to Independence to begin the Oregon Trail, was closed off to Young and his followers because it was, of course, located in Missouri, the state that had issued the Mormon extermination decree.  Young had no alternative but to lead his 14,000 people in a 265-mile overland trek through Iowa’s virgin territory.  Rumors were heard that local militias were planning an attack during the coming spring that made Young push the time of departure that he had hoped could wait for the warmer temperatures of spring up to February 4, 1846, when Young’s pathfinder group walked across the iced-over Mississippi River into the freezing darkness of a midwestern February.  One hundred and twenty days later, they arrived on the outskirts of Caldwell’s Camp on the Missouri River on June 13, along the way, having cut a trail through the southern half of uninhabited Iowa that included erecting housing and planting crops for the Mormon parties that were following.   As the following Mormon parties arrived at the Missouri River, they changed the name of the area to Kanesville, in honor of Thomas L. Kane, a young Philadelphian lawyer who had used his political connections to gain Federal permission for the Mormons to occupy the lands that the Natives were residing upon at the time.  Young spent the remainder of the year establishing “Winter Quarters,” across the river and away from the disgruntled Natives, in what is now northern Omaha (that would be founded in 1854), where the majority of the group resided, waiting for the coming spring’s march to Utah.  They would reach it on July 24, 1847, some 22 years before the transcontinental railroad would.  Brigham Young had proved that an overland route from Chicago to the Pacific, that completely bypassed St. Louis, Missouri, was quite feasible.

7.3. THE MORMON TEMPLE AT NAUVOO

William Weeks, The Nauvoo Mormon Temple, 1841. Bottom right: the reconstruction. (Online)

Soon after moving to Navoo, Joseph Smith began preparations to build the second Mormon Temple, the first one in Kirtland, OH still stands today although it has had a checkered history.  Smith laid the cornerstone on April 6, 1841. The architect was William Weeks.  Its total height was 165,’ easily the tallest building west of the Appalachian Mountains; Baltimore’s shot tower was the tallest in the U.S. at 234,’ soon to be surpassed by Manhattan’s Trinity Church at 279.’ (The tallest building in Chicago at this time was the First Methodist Church at 148.’)  Although Brigham Young had begun the Mormon evacuation in February 1846, he ordered that its construction be completed so that it could still be dedicated.  This occured on April 30; the last of the Mormons left some four months later, leaving the building vacant. They tried to find a buyer to no avail, and eventually sold the $200,000 structure for $5000.  Vigilantes set fire to the vacant building on October 8, 1848.  In 1999 the Mormons decide to rebuild a copy as close as possible to the original building.

FURTHER READING

Howe, Daniel Walker.  What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

http://www.cityofgalena.org/en/our_community/galena_history/

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

7.1. CHICAGO’S FIRST RAILROAD: THE GALENA & CHICAGO UNION

The Proposed route of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad. (Online)

The first train to make an appearance in Chicago did not chug into town accompanied by the usual celebration of parades and speeches, however, as many American cities had experienced their first encounter with the iron horse.  Instead, the first train to appear in Chicago had departed from the city, headed west on October 25, 1848.  (What this meant was that all the iron rails and the early rolling stock had to be shipped to Chicago via lake steamers.)  William Ogden, the builder of Chicago’s first railroad did not want to helplessly wait for the lines slowly coming from the East to make a connection with Chicago or worse, completely bypass the small town altogether by simply continuing due west from the tip of Lake Michigan (as had Redfield’s and Dexter’s original routes fifteen years earlier), but in exemplary “I will” fashion, unilaterally started building his tracks to the west, confidently assuming that the Eastern tracks would eventually make their way to Chicago in order to forge a connection with his planned western route (however, this would take three and a half long years to occur, testifying to the gamble that he was undertaking).       Let me restate this fact to emphasize Bill Ogden’s foresight and the immense gamble he was undertaking in 1848, without any financial assistance from the Federal Government, i.e., land grants, because I don’t believe history truly appreciates Ogden’s achievement.  In 1848, there was not a railroad track within 100 miles of Chicago. Ogden could have laid  his tracks safely to the East to make a link with one of the two roads, the Michigan Central or the Michigan Southern, laying tracks from the East headed for the southern tip of Lake Michigan, and thereby hastened the connection of Chicago with the East Coast, and have had a quicker return on his investment.  Instead, he started building to the Pacific, ahead of all comers.  His tracks started in Chicago and headed straight first for the wheat fields in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin (the Pacific connection would come, hopefully, later).  His plan was that his small. short road would entice the eastern roads to head north, once they reached the tip of Lake Michigan, to connect with his operational line to the Pacific.  Hindsight, once again shows how intelligent Ogden had been, but that original pair of iron rails to “nowhere” dangled on the edge of bankruptcy for their first three years, with Ogden’s investors nervously hoping that they had not thrown away their money on a pipe dream.

In Chicago in late 1845, as construction on the canal had resumed with vigor once the Bostonians refinancing plan had been accepted by the legislature, Ogden, who had a number of canal construction contracts, was also looking ahead to the next financial opportunity once the canal had been completed.  Undoubtedly he had found inspiration during that summer from Asa Whitney’s reports of his Pacific Railroad expedition and Douglas’ counterproposal that had started from Chicago that had been published on October 15, 1845.  But in truth, Ogden had voiced his support for a transcontinental road as a member of the New York State Assembly ten years earlier, before he had left the state for Chicago (see Chap. 3.11).  However, ten years after he had delivered this speech he now understood that the inherent importance to the long-term economic success of his adopted hometown lay not with the route in the midsection of the country that linked Cincinnati to St. Louis for which he had initially advocated back then, but with Douglas’ route that led directly from Chicago to the Pacific, and determined to make the project his own life-long ambition.  His ultimate objective to build a road to the Pacific was revealed as early as April 5, 1848, when in his first Annual Report of the Galean & Chicago Union, he expressed his interst in extending the road not only to its original terminus on the Mississippi, Galena, but also via a second line directly to Rock Island.

One can assume that through Ogden’s network of friends and business associates (after all, these were the same people with which he had just finished working behind the scenes in securing Boston’s refinancing of the canal) he was at least aware of the Bostonians’ plan to push their railroads to Lake Michigan once the national economy rebounded.  Rather than waiting for the railroad from Boston to arrive at the Calumet River at the southern tip of Lake Michigan, with the chance that the Bostonians might just keep going west and, thereby, bypass Chicago altogether, he had initiated a campaign in Chicago to build a railroad to the West that could be the next link in their chain, and thereby, attempted to insure that the railroads from the East would swing north to connect with his line out of Chicago.   Therefore, once Ogden had succeeded in getting the construction of the canal restarted in October 1845, that serendipidtously coincided with Douglas’ publication of his proposed Chicago transcontinental railroad, it took Ogden less than month to call a secret meeting at his house to discuss with his inner circle his plan to take over the charter of the moribund G&CU (see Chap. 3.9).  At this same moment, Douglas moved into the Chairmanship of the House Committee on Territories, in charge of overseeing all legislation that pertained to the development of all lands west of the Mississippi (i.e., land grants) that as of yet had not fallen under the jurisdiction of a state.  He would hold this powerful position for two years until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in the fall of 1846, in which he politically maneuvered to eventually take over the Chair of the Senate Committee on Territories, a power he would wield for ten long and critical years, to the distinct advantage of Chicago’s long-term interests.

Construction of the original G&CU that had been chartered on January 16, 1836, under the direction of Elijah K. Hubbard, Gurdon Hubbard’s younger cousin and business associate, who represented the interersts of New York financier Elihu Townsend who owned a majority of the company’s stock, had actually begun in 1838 with a few piles being driven along Madison Street, to the west starting from the point where the construction of Dearborn Street had stopped.  However, first the financial panic of 1837, and then the death of the younger Hubbard on May 26, 1839, had stopped the project dead in its tracks.  Nothing had been done on the project during the economic recession, as the deadline contained within its original charter that required the road had to be completed within ten years (i.e., January 16, 1846) inevitably approached.  Farmers along the proposed route in the Rock River valley who had subscribed to the company’s stock understood that the deadline was upon them, and had called a meeting in Rockford, scheduled for January 7, 1846, to discuss what alternatives they would have once the deadline had come and gone.  

Apparently, Ogden had gotten word of the meeting which had piqued his interest in the G&CU, in which he quietly had his team research the pertitent legal facts.  Maybe the most important fact they uncovered was that Gurdon Hubbard was planning to make a bid to take over the charter once it expired on January 16, as he believed he had first rights to purchase the charter through his cousin’s will.  It appears from Ogden’s next series of actions that at this time there may have been some bad blood between himself and Hubbard.  This may have resulted from Middletown, CT, financier Samuel Wadsworth Russell’s decision, who was then the owner of the country’s largest China merchant, Russell & Co., having absorbed J. & T.H. Perkins in 1827 upon the retirement of its head, John Perkins Cushing, to replace Hubbard with Ogden as his local real estate agent.  (Andreas claimed that over time Ogden & Jones would become the agent over Russell’s entire financial estate.)  Nonetheless, Ogden had called the secret meeting at his house in the fall of 1845, prior to the Rockford meeting, that included his close associates J. Young Scammon and Walter Newberry, his new partner William E. Jones, his attorney Isaac N. Arnold, and a newcomer, John Bice Turner, to orchestrate a secret campaign to resurrect the bankrupt G&CU.  While Ogden and Scammon knew how to run a business, neither of them knew anything about building a railroad, and so they had asked Turner, who had been a contractor on a number of lines in upsate New York before he had serendipitously moved to Chicago in 1843, to join the campaign.  On December 5, 1845, a mere ten weeks after Asa Whitney had returned in St. Louis and began to promote his route for the transcontinental railroad, and only seven weeks after Douglas had published his own transcontinental railroad plan, Ogden held a public meeting at the Courthouse to elect Chicago’s delegates to the Rockford convention in the coming month. 

At the convention on January 7, 1846, Scammon, Newberry, Arnold, and Jones successfully presented Ogden’s proposal, with Newberry moving a resolution that their group be allowed to take over the expired charter if they could gain control over a majority of the Galena’s stock, that Newberry had then revealed was already under discussion.  The resolution was almost unanimously approved by those in attendence, the news of which infuriated Hubbard when he eventually found out.  But it was too late for Hubbard to do anything about it, for while Ogden’s associates were working the convention, he himself had traveled secretly to New York to finalize the purchase of the needed stock from Townsend.  Ogden may have already made the acquaintence of Townsend some twelve years earlier, as Townsend had been a member of the original Board of Directors of New York & Erie Railroad when Ogden had made his impasioned speech in the New York Legislature. Among the provisos of the deal struck by the two New Yorkers had been the transfer, new stock for old stock, of six shares of Townsend’s Galena stock, one each to Ogden, Scammon, Newberry, Charles Walker, Thomas Dyer, and William H. Brown. Brown was a lawyer originally from Connecticut who had moved to Chicago in 1835 to be the Cashier of the new Chicago Branch of the State Bank of Illinois. What was to become a trademark of Ogden’s later corporate takeovers was the fact that no cash was exchanged between the involved parties. Townsend’s price was $20,000 that Ogden agreed to pay in two installments: $10,000 in full-paid stock upon the formation of the Board of Directors, and $10,000 in stock upon the road’s completion to the Rock River (note that at this early date Ogden had already decided to build to Rock Island, and not to Galena!). Following the Rockford convention, the new stockholders met in Chicago and elected a new Board of Directors, with Ogden as its president.  The Ogden group had handily beaten Hubbard in taking over control of the city’s first railroad.

FURTHER READING

Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Brown, Margaret L. “Asa Whitney and His Pacific Railraod Publicity Campaing.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, vol. 20. No. 2 (Sept. 1933), pp. 209-224.

Fergus Historical Series, No, 18. Chicago: Fergus, 1882.

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

Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago- I. New York: Knopf, 1940.

Smith, Alice E. George Smith’s Money. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1966.

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