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article number 171
article date 10-04-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Not Easy to Get a Railroad … Newton Illinois, 1870
by Martha Robins

From the 1938 book, Historical Development of Jasper County Illinois.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was somewhat crudely written in 1938. The book was written on a typewriter and has plenty of errors but the information if excellent. Thank you Martha Robbins of 1938.

One of the most necessary factors of a developing civilization is an efficient system of transportation and communication - a system that makes exchange of ideas and products not only possible but probable. Living at a time when transportation facilities have reached the stage that they have to-day makes the realization of conditions existing in a region where there are no such conveniences very difficult.

Although the first railroads in the United States were constructed before Jasper County was formed, almost a half century passed after its formation before a railroad was built across it. One of the first and most important railroads built across the state of Illinois was the Illinois Central. It was built from Dubuque, Iowa and from Chicago to Centralia and then to Cairo. Unfortunately Jasper County lay to the east of this line. The first railroads extending east and west were built also from city to city, and again Jasper County lay between them instead of on them. As a result, villages in neighboring counties received railroad accommodations before those in Jasper County. For products being shipped or received by rail Olney, Effingham, Greenup, or Jewett were chosen as points of destination.

Good ‘ole Rand McNally Map of towns mentioned in this article. © 2008 Rand McNally.

AGITATION FOR A RAILROAD. It was at the close of the Civil War that agitation for a railroad across Jasper County became of first importance in political discussions. At that time, provisions for railroads and the improvements of railroads were being discussed everywhere. In the Newton Weekly Press in March 1866, the following notice appeared: “A railroad meeting will be held at the court house, April 4, 1866 for all who feel an interest in the railroads of the county.”

A part of the report of this meeting was as follows: ”The meeting was called to order by D. B. Brown, chairman and William Kilgore, secretary. On motion of J. W. Welshear, it was resolved, we want a railroad and will have it. Resolved that the chair appoint a committee of twenty-five to represent the county in the railroad meeting to be held in Olney on the twentieth day of April, next that the delegates are expected to attend said meeting. Resolved that we are in favor of issuing bonds by the county to any amount not exceeding $100,000 for the purpose of aiding in the construction of the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad. The chairman appointed the following committees. (Deleted from this article but the committees were appointed for each town along the proposed line.)

Many articles were published in the county newspaper indicating the progress made and setting forth the advantages and disadvantages to be expected from the railroad when completed. The following item published in November, 1866 illustrates on method used to arouse interest: “Our citizens were altogether taken by surprise on Thursday, last by the sudden appearance in our streets of two magnificent, capacious, well-roofed and strongly built cars, each of which was supported by eight wheels. The velocity with which they moved through our streets gave unmistakable evidence of the power of steam.” Wagers were offered as to the probabilities of the cars ascending the Litzzelmann hill successfully, and all were pleased when the top was reached without accident.

An Election was called for May 4, 1867 for the purpose of voting for or against issuing bonds to the amount of $100,000 to be subscribed as stock to the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad Company. The bonds were to bear 7% interest, and one-sixth part was to be paid annually.

On January 17, 1868 the following announcement appeared in the Newton Weekly Press: “The Grayville and Mattoon railroad excitement runs high. The citizens of Richland county are ready and anxious to do their part. Coles and Cumberland also stand pledged. The matter now rests with Jasper to build or defeat the road. What will she do?”

In July 1868, Powell, director of the project was in Chicago conferring with capitalists and again voters were asked to “Urge upon your neighbor the importance of the railroad.”

BUILDING THE RAILROAD. In April 1869, Robert McCabe arrived in Olney to begin work on the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad. Work was to be started from Olney in both directions and from Mattoon. McCabe faced many obstacles. Progress was slow. Many thought him incompetent. In August, funds gave out and the work ceased. He went to Chicago to make arrangements for financial aid. Upon his return in September, he announced that arrangements had been made to complete the work.

In response to expressions of dissatisfaction he agreed to cancel his contract provided it be done before final arrangements were made. But he was permitted to continue the work until the close of the year. By that time dissatisfaction had so increased that a new contract was made.

In January, 1870, the Grayville and Mattoon and the Grayville and Mt. Vernon roads were consolidated. A new contract was made with Messrs. Brink, Conant and Company who agreed to pay off the indebtedness of $11,500 already contracted by McCabe and to continue the work.

Enthusiasm was again aroused. Some predicted, “Ere two years the ‘Iron Horse’ will whistle through Jasper County on the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad. But not until June was work actually begun, and then progress was slow.

DIFFICULTIES OF CONTRUCTION. With the many facilities at hand for obtaining money, materials, and labor today, this great delay in construction is hard to understand. But at that time, tools with which to labor were crude and few. The laying of the track had to be preceded by the dragging of the low valleys and the hill.

There was plenty of local labor and horsepower. There was less good planning, money and tools.

Once the road bed across the valleys was completed, time was necessary for it to settle. In some instances the grades that had been completed and bridges that had been built were carried away by floods and had to be rebuilt.

Ties and other forest products needed could be acquired locally. But irons, tools and machinery were rafted on the Ohio River as far as possible and then brought by rail and wagon to the place needed.

A news item of the county newspaper for March, 1871 notes that five barge loads of iron were sent down the Ohio River from Cincinnati for the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad. In April, two locomotives were bought, one for Mattoon and one for Mt. Vernon. Then in September, the question raised was: “What has become of the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad!”. Doubtless, the Olney Journal expressed the feeling of the people of Jasper County in the short exclamation: “For fifteen years the people have been talking railroad. As yet nothing has been done.”

Again in December, 1872, the question, What has become of the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad was asked. It was answered: “The last report is that an agent was in London negotiating for funds.”

COMPLETION OF THE RAILROAD TO NEWTON. By June 1874, conditions seemed to indicate that the railroad was not to be completed. A suggestion was made that a narrow gauge road be constructed between Olney and Effingham by way of Newton. Then a meeting of the directors of the original road was called and a contract made with George Taney. He was to begin work within thirty days and to complete five mile within ninety days. Although he was not able to complete the five mile in accordance with the agreement, he was allowed to continue the work until December. An agreement was then made with Naight, Lafflin and Brown of Chicago. In May 1875, the work was in progress again.

Plenty of local lumber for ties in Jasper County.

In June, petitions were circulated in Newton asking the choice of location for a depot. In July, W. Sandefur was active in behalf of the people near West Liberty for a station half way between Olney and Newton. Then again, failure seemed at hand. In November, the prediction was made that an east and west road under consideration, would be completed before the north and south one. Jan January, 1876, the report came: “The Grayville and Mattoon Railroad has gone by the board.”

In August 1876, a contract was completed with Finan, King and Company. They promised that cars would be in service by September 23, 1876. Ties were contracted for locally and delivered. True to promise, on September 28, 1876 the railroad was completed into the edge of Newton.


A Celebration was planned. The Masonic Order of Newton invited the Order of Olney to a banquet. Wagons were sent to meet the train and convey the guests into town. Apparently some who were not member of the fraternal organization took advantage of the trip and caused confusion. But the celebration was considered a success. The return trip of eighteen miles made safely through the dark was mention with pride.

By December 28, 1876, the road was completed to the Embarrass River. One train was making the trip to and from Newton daily.

RAILROAD IN USE. During the first few months there were many wrecks. Early in November a new engine, and a combination coach with an apartment for baggage in the front, arrived in Newton. In the latter part of November another engine was brought into Newton. The report was that during October, four engines had been completely wrecked and during November two others had to be replaced. Along with them many cars and coaches were destroyed. In November the material for constructing a bridge across the Embarrass River arrived. A new turn table was constructed and platforms were built for the passengers and for the freight. Wagon loads of freight were being hauled to and from the depot, daily.

Hunt City station.

CROSSING THE RIVER. On December 28, 1876 the following item appeared in the county newspaper: “The ‘Iron Horse’ crossed the river last Friday morning.” The bridge about which there had been considerable doubt had been proven safe. But until October, 1877 the time schedule for the passenger trains listed stations to Greenup. On November 1, the schedule was extended to Prairie City on the north and to Parkersburgh. In July, 1878, the road was opened to Mattoon.

Yager Bridge over Embarrass River.

PROBLEMS FOLLOWING THE COMPLETION. The completion of the railroad did not bring to a close the problems with which the company was faced. Now that the road was completed, the bonds, voted back in the sixties were due. But in response to the request for them, the supervisors of the county refused to issue them. The attorney general for the road decreed they must issue them. (An interesting item in the Newton Press of April 22, 1927 notes the finding in the files of the Peoples State Bank, four certificates of $50 each issued by the Grayville and Mattoon Railroad Company In exchange for bonds, October 20, 1876.)

As a means of increasing the profits of the road as well as of accommodating those who wished to visit the city, excursions were planned. In July 1877, a Sunday excursion was Sponsored by the library at Olney. In September 1877, one was planned to Chicago, by the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Newton. Others were arranged by the railroad company.

In February, 1880 the announcement was made that the railroad had changed hands. In 1881 it was in the possession of the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railroad Company and there was again trouble concerning the bonds.

In June the Company announced: “On and after July 1, Newton will cease to be a station on the line of the said road; and that on or after that date, no freight will be received by said company for transportation to or from said town of Newton.” In the meantime the Adams Express Company had, established their offices in connection with the railroad stations. Since August 1877, the passenger trains had been carrying express. To meet the situation mentioned above, the company arranged to have “all goods, parcels, and packages transported from Boos Station to Newton on and after July 1 by express wagons to connect with the regular train – the express charges to be the same as before.”

But by July 20 the trouble was settled and the road again resumed all business. But a force of hands was kept busy working along the track. In the summer of 1881 the right-of-way was fenced with a barbed wire fence as a protection against wandering stock. In 1887 men were busy replacing bridges, ballast, ties, and rails. All of this cost more than the company was able to pay and soon the road was again in the hands of receivers.

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