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article number 167
article date 09-20-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
A Railroad Passing Switch Results in a Town? … Arthur Illinois, 1872
author not stated

From the 1973 Book, History of Arthur Illinois, 1873-1973.


Although the history of the white man in Illinois begins early in the seventeenth century, the central portions of the state were not even significantly explored until the nineteenth century. This was due in part to the lack of navigable waterways and in part to the excess of land available to the early settlers of our country. These people also had the misconception that only land which grew forests of trees was the most fertile. So the most fertile lands of our nation, the prairies, were left till later waves of immigrants had begun to fill in the gaps in the frontier and the steel plow had made cutting the tough prairie sod easier.

Our part of Illinois was open prairie covered by prairie grasses and broken by groves of oak, hickory, and maples along the watercourses. In spring, the particular area in which Arthur now lies was very marshy and was called the “Big Slough” by earlier settlers who came to Arcola and other nearby settlements. Through this marsh ran two branches of a river some people called the “Okaw.” Later they found out that it was the same Kaskaskia River which also ran past Vandalia, the state capitol in the early nineteenth century. Later, the territory west of the river was called “West Prairie.” This sounded better and nobody wanted to say they lived near a “Big Slough.”

Signs of the earlier inhabitants of this area have been found in the form of mounds on the Blaase farm from which some human remains were supposed to have been taken. Farmers used to find Indian objects in their fields, such as arrowheads, but such things are rare today. There is also a legend that the early white settlers found trees with ancient markings all pointing in one direction. This was still considered good hunting ground by the Indians in the early nineteenth century before the Black Hawk wars drove the rest of them out of Illinois, and some of the early settlers reported seeing them in Bourbon Township, but there were no conflicts reported and they seemed to be interested only in hunting game for food.

The first white settlers came to this area in the early 1830’s. The first family was George DeHart and his sons Samuel and Lucas. George was roadmaster for Coles County at the time and this was part of his territory.

Douglas County was not formed until 1859 as the result of a split off from Coles County. Other early families were named Campbell, Gruelle, Jones, and Chandler. Malden Jones came in 1840 and became one of the richest men in Bourbon Township. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1864 and 1866 and knew Abraham Lincoln.


In 1850 a Congressional land grant was made for the Illinois Central Railroad. The builders of this railroad braved the swamps and pushed two branches south from Chicago, the main one going through Champaign, Arcola, Mattoon and Effingham to Centralia. Soon all along the line sprang up almost overnight, towns and villages every three to five miles apart. The one most influencing our West Prairie was Arcola.

The railroad was completed in 1856 and it was from Arcola that trappers, woodsmen, but mostly settlers filtered into the country west of the river and built the farms that would later make Arthur possible.

In 1865 Illinois was the first state to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. In 1868 Ulysses S. Grant of Illinois was elected President of the United States, and also in 1868 William and Caroline Kanitz started farming in Lowe Township. Because of a fire at the Sullivan courthouse, records of the settlement of the country just west of Arthur are almost nonexistent. We do know that Sullivan was a much older community than Arcola but settlers from that direction did not seem to fill in that area as early as those closer to the railroad.


In 1870 all the country was excited about a railroad going to cross “The Big Slough” from east to west starting from Paris and going to Decatur. It was originally an enterprise of citizens of Arcola and the vicinity, as most railroads were local projects in those days.

Two years later on October 25, 1872, the first train wended its way over a track laid on the ground following the contour, except where grades were absolutely necessary to keep it out of the water. As the track crossed the river going west of Arcola four miles, it made the first tie switch and water tank at what is now Chesterville. Then going on another five miles it became necessary to have another passing switch; so one was made near a road that had been laid out running at right angles with the track. This road at that time started nowhere and ran nowhere, but there were those who said it was the county line. How accurate our original surveyors were is evidenced by the fact that we even now find but a few errors in the surveying they did from a wagon bed with only the wagon wheel as a measuring chain.


This passing track was first called Glasgow. In 1872 with the presence of a railroad running almost directly east and west, a semblance of a street running north and south, and a switch there was enough to start talk of a town. The earliest settlers of the village itself moved their homes up to the track sides from the southwest in Lowe Township. They petitioned for a post office but were told that there was already a Glasgow in Illinois. So Robert G. Hervey, president of the Paris and Decatur Railroad and an Arcola man, renamed the village Arthur in honor of his brother Arthur Hervey.

On November 4, 1874 the Paris and Decatur Railroad merged with the Paris and Terre Haute Railroad and the Peoria, Atlanta, and Decatur Railroad, thus forming the Illinois Midland Railroad. Robert G. Hervey was still president of the company but it had a very hard time. Trains would often be 24, 48, or even 72 hours in making a round trip from Terre Haute to Decatur. In 1886, The Illinois Midland was sold under foreclosure and in February of 1887 it was reorganized as the Terre Haute and Peoria Railroad.

The T.H. & P. was jokingly referred to as the “take hold and pull” or the “take hold and push.” In November of 1887 the T.H. & P. was selling round trip tickets for one-way fare to Decatur for Sam Jones Lecture. The offer was good on the forenoon train and return after the lecture. Coaches were attached the midnight freight. That’s service!


In 1892 the railroad was leased for 99 years to the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad and was operated as part of the Vandalia system and was known locally as the “Vandalia Line.” The Pennsylvania Railroad took it over in the early 1900’s and operated it until the merger February 1, 1968 with the New York Central. This railroad is now a branch of the Penn Central Railroad System (1973).

In the early 1890’s surveyors were going through Arthur making plans for another railroad from Danville to some southern Illinois coal fields. Plans called for an early opening but it was late 1891 when the first train crossed the T.H. & P., making Arthur a railroad center. They said they would have passenger service in time for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1892. The Fair ran into difficulties and wasn’t held until 1893, but the railroad was slower and the first passenger train to Chicago went through in 1894. A cutoff to St. Louis was attempted for service to the World’s Fair in 1904, but passenger service to St. Louis was not achieved until 1905.

In 1904 the C. & E.I., (Chicago and Eastern Illinois) as the new railroad was called, built an Interlocker Tower to operate the railroad switches. Fred Watkins was the day man and O.L. Neal was the night man working in the tower. A Union Depot had been built to serve both railroads and is still used today by the Penn Central. This depot handled freight, mail, express, and passenger service. The south side of the building was utilized by the Vandalia Line and the north side by the C. & E.I.

By 1905 there were twelve passenger trains daily serving Arthur. It was reported in 1910 that section hands on the railroad were given a big raise and now worked only ten hours a day and got the large sum of $1.30 a day in wages. That year the Vandalia purchased seventy new steam locomotives and a C. & E.I. excursion to Chicago round trip cost $3.10. Excursions were advertised for as low as $8.50 for a round trip to Niagara Falls or $19 to Colorado resorts.


In 1910 William Hunt was the “Pennsy” Railroad Agent in Arthur. His son Lester was later a United States Senator from Wyoming. The Hunts are related to the Bradfords in Arthur.

With the event of World War I in 1917, the transfer of coal from the C. & E.I. to the “Pennsy” for shipment to the northwest assumed large proportions and as many as one hundred men gained steady employment. Views of a great freight terminal were rosy, but after the war was over and strip mines opened in northwestern Illinois there was no market for coal and it collapsed like a toy balloon.

As business grew and passenger service boomed, the C. & E.I. (encouraged by the Illinois Commerce Commission) decided that the proximity of the Depot to the tracks presented a great hazard to passengers. The station platforms were narrow and gave insufficient room for the passengers to safely move about while the Express trucks were crowding the little space. Passing trains made it very dangerous for the people on the platform. So in 1922 the C. & E.I. built a separate depot located one-half block east of Vine Street on the south side of the tracks. Later with the loss of passenger service and the replacement of the station master with electronic gadgets, this depot was torn down.

Train going trough Arthur, Illinois.

The C. & E.I. was leased for a short time in the early 1900’s by the Frisco Line. But the C. & E.I. took it back over in 1916 and operated it as such until 1966 when the Missouri Pacific Railroad took over the operation of the line.

By 1946 there were nine trains carrying mail, but local service has declined since World War II due to competition with the automobile, the truck, and the airplane. The railroads are still a vital industry, but they, like everything else, reflect the changes that have come about in our nation.

Winter scene of train in Arthur Illinois.
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