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article number 36
article date 07-25-2011
copyright 2011 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Sidney Gets a New Railroad in 1904
by Kevin Erb

EDITOR’S NOTE. In the late 1890’s and early 1900’s railroads provided both passenger and freight transportation at a local level. There were daily trips from Sidney to Urbana and Danville on the east/west Wabash Railroad (plus its spur line from Sidney, northwest to Urbana.) The dirt roads we had for horseback or wagon travel proved slow going, especially after rains. Even with good dirt roads, the short 13 mile trip to Urbana could take 2 hours. Railroads were big. This article, written in 1986 by Kevin Erb for the Southern Champaign County Today newspaper is enhanced with pictures from the History of Sidney book by Virginia McElroy.


ORIGINAL ARTICLE NAME: Sidney railroad Cut Finished in 1904
by Kevin Erb

By 1900, Sidney was a growing town with a population of over 600 people. (Sidney’s population reached 604 in 1888). Within the town lived several residents who had seen the growth created by the Wabash railroad in the late 1850’s, and the railroad spur to Urbana in the 1880’s. When the route for another railroad was surveyed near the town, many of these older residents felt that the new road might cause a ‘population boom’ on the east side of Sidney. This, however, was not to be the case.

Sidney’s Wabash Railroad Depot. Given the location of the sun, its location may be on the north side of the tracks.

If you have not already guessed, the name of the new railroad was the Chicago and Eastern Illinois, or just the C&EI. The line which was proposed was named the Woodland Cutoff. It branched off the C&EI’s Chicago-Danville line a few miles south of Woodland Illinois in Iroquois County to the C&EI’s Danville-St. Louis Division at Villa Grove, Illinois in northern Douglas County. The reasons behind the building of the cutoff were:

1) To speed service between St. Louis and Chicago.

2) To cut costs. The steep grades and sharp curves near Grape Creek, south of Danville, often necessitated an extra engine, and

3) The new line would divert some of the traffic from the Danville area. The lines were often busy from the coal traffic from the mines south and east of Danville.

Construction of the new line began in the spring of 1902. One of the first places where work was begun was one half mile east of Sidney. At this location, the C&EI’s construction engineers came upon two major obstacles. By far, the larger of the two obstacles was a thirty-foot bluff on the south side of the Salt Fork River. The second obstacle was the Wabash Railroad (it had been in place over 45 years.) The construction engineers faced two expensive alternatives. These were:

1) Build up a grade on the north side of the river and intersect the Wabash. If this option would have been chosen, a tower would have to be built and manned 24 hours a day. This option would also include building up the grade a few feet south of the Wabash.

2) Dig through the bluff on the south side of the river and under the Wabash. The cut would have to be deep enough to allow traffic to pass under the Wabash, but high enough to prevent flooding by the Salt Fork River.

The latter was selected and work was begun as soon as the weather allowed. The entire cut, over one mile long, was dug by horsepower and manpower. Railroad crews used mules and horses with slipshovels and graders. During the off season, local farmers with a team of horses or oxen were hired to help with digging. Many of the workers would lose their boots in the mud and quicksand.

Horse drawn graders and plenty of manpower made cut the ground so that the Chicago and Eastern Illinois railroad tracks (now the Union Pacific Railroad tracks) could pass under the Wabash Railroad tracks (now the Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks).

The cut was completed in 1904. The first Chicago-St. Louis passenger train to run on the Woodland Cutoff ran on July 31, 1904. A small temporary station was erected under the Homer- Sidney road bridge and this station was named “Rutherford”. According to some older residents of Sidney, the station was named for the chief construction boss on this stretch of the C&EI. He boarded at the house of S.L. Cole just west of Block Station. Each day he rode a beautiful horse to the construction site, usually staying on it the whole day watching the work.

Apparently mislabeled as Rutherford Station in the History of Sidney book, this appears to be Block Depot.
Tracks going north from Block in 2011.

The station in the cut has been said to be about the same size as a roadside fruit stand. The station was on the east
side of the railroad. It was a three sided shack, open on the west side, with a bench big enough for five people inside. If someone wished to board a train at Rutherford, they had to flag the train down. As the Wabash already had passenger and freight connections to Chicago via Decatur, it had no interest in an interchange or a station at the site. To transfer from the Wabash to the C&EI, a person would leave the Wabash station in downtown Sidney, walk the mile to the cut, go down a flight of stairs, and flag down the C&EI train.

It’s difficult to see in this reproduction but there are stairs going down to the tracks on the far right side of the bridge.
The same cut in 2011. Picture taken from the bridge located about ½ mile east of Sidney.

In the Feb. 2, 1906 issue of the Sidney Times, a Mr. W. Severns (a general freight agent for the C&EI or Frisco (which owned a controlling interest in the C&EI) visited Sidney and stated that the Frisco intended to erect a larger station at Rutherford because the company was taking on a large number of passengers there. The article stated that more passengers got on at Rutherford than at Block and Tipton combined (Tipton was located three miles north of Rutherford). The plans included:

1) A passenger depot.

2) A freight depot and

3) A bi-level stockyard. Plans also included the moving of the grain elevator from Tipton to Rutherford.

The passenger station was to be located on the west side of the C&EI between the Wabash and the Homer Sidney highway. Two local citizens speculated that the interurban would soon be built to Rutherford. Plans were also being made to sub-divide the joining land.

The employee of the C&E I who was put in charge of the proposed buildings at Rutherford was a Mr. Bennett Osborn. He visited the site many times during 1906. In August it was reported that the lumber was on the ground and construction was to begin soon.

The next mention of Rutherford in reference to the new station appeared in late December of 1908. In a letter from J.C. Never, the excuse given was that the C&EI planned to build a second track from Villa Grove north to Woodland Junction. The letter also stated that there would be no room in the cut if a second track was built (it is also interesting to note that the Wabash also planned to add a second track from Bement to Danville Junction).

The “fruitstand station” was used until trains discontinued local passenger service in the 1940’s.

Illinois Department of Transportation Map, revised 2006 shows an ageless connection of rail and towns. Missing of course, is the Sidney to Urbana spur.
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