Trains: we love them when they take us quickly to Chicago, we curse them when they halt our progress along Milwaukee Avenue. Once upon a time, however, Libertyville’s first train was cause for major celebration.
Back in the 1860s and ʼ70s in Libertyville, local farmers raised sheep and hogs which had to be driven by foot to the markets in Chicago at the slow rate of about 12 miles a day. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad ran tantalizingly close to Libertyville but on the east side of the Des Plaines River. Herding animals to a safe crossing of the river to the railroad there was almost as time-consuming as walking them to Chicago.
By 1879 Libertyville had grown to the point where both businessmen and farmers could see the benefit of a railroad in their community. They gathered and elected three of their most trusted associates to approach the railroad officials and ask for an extension to be built into town from Libertyville Junction, known today as Rondout.
Colonel E. B. Messer, George Schanck, and Dr. Sam Galloway were Libertyville’s chosen representatives. When they returned from their meeting with the railroad officials, they had a deal. The railroad promised to lay tracks into Libertyville and provide one daily trip to Chicago. Libertyville’s side of the bargain was a little more work: they had to acquire the right of way for the tracks to come into town, grade the roadbed, build a bridge across the Des Plaines River, and provide the land for the depot.
Undeterred, the businessmen formed a company to get started right away. General Walter Newberry was the president of the company and he headed up many of the fundraisers, including several popular dances. Obstacles to obtaining land were determinedly overcome. Local farmers volunteered their labor as well as the use of their horses and wagons, and George Schanck and Caleb Wright donated land for the end of the tracks which, incidentally, was right next to their stores and grain elevators.
Work progressed apace. Thankfully the winter of 1879 was a mild one so construction continued with little delay. The railroad company ended up helping with the bridge. And on May 31, 1880, the first train whistle sounded in Libertyville. You will not be surprised to learn that the first freight included a carload of reapers for George Schanck to sell at his store.
The frequency of trains increased and passenger cars were added to the line. Within a few years Henry Kern built a boarding house on the southwest corner of First and Church Streets and George Schanck started a lumber yard and mill right near the depot. Libertyville businesses benefitted from the faster connection to Chicago and beyond, all because a few men had a vision and were willing to support it with money and sweat equity.
The original tracks ran from Libertyville Junction/Rondout into Libertyville along a path that now leads behind the Foulds factory and ended up at First Street between Cook and Church Streets. The end point of those first railroad tracks is but a shadow now, a hidden memorial to the diligence and entrepreneurial spirit upon which Libertyville was built.