To paraphrase Vane Jones, "Knowledge is of little value until shared with others."

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Land to the West of Chicago Prior to 1920 OR What About My Layout?

Don Bosan's comments added the last Post brings up a myriad of thoughts about the land west of Chicago ca 1900 give or take 20 years (1880 to 1920). We have just moved from Oak Park which is the 1st suburb directly west of Chicago . Now we live in a suburb about 3-4 miles south of Utopia as it was once known.

This Blog is about Insull and the electric railways he influenced in the Chicago area and making models of the equipment both passenger and freight. Included is making a layout upon which the models can be operated.

One cannot be knowledgeable about Insull's electric railways of the Chicago area without being fluent in what happened in the area west of Chicago in the 40 years around 1900. During this time a great many political and economic events happened.

So many events happened in this era that a book could be written placing the events into the correct context and time frame. We need to concentrate of the CA&E or more correctly the AE&C as the railway was known pre-Insull.

The main line of the AE&C, the "Great 3rd Rail", was built in 1902-1905 between Aurora and Chicago. The branches to Elgin, Batavia, and Geneva-St. Charles were built afterward. Another railroad which is today's Burlington Northern-Santa Fe (BNSF) also had track between Aurora and Chicago.

In the years before and after 1900, the number of passenger trains (main line and commuter) on the pre-BNSF were minimal. The syndicate which built the AE&C  felt there was a void to fill and at the same time make a profit. Simply put, the citizens of Aurora wanted or needed to go to Chicago and vice versa.

About the same time (1896 or so) a 3rd group or syndicate The Suburban Railway (SRy)decided to build an electric railway from Chicago to Aurora. The route was to go from the town of Cicero west and south through Riverside and Brookfield to LaGrange and then to Aurora. In Cicero the SRy's terminal was a few hundred yards south of the MET "L" line plus the SRy intersected with the pre-CSL streetcar lines in the area,

In LaGrange The SRy ran in the center of Hillgrove Ave. as far west to Brainard Ave. where it stopped. If you check a map you will see Hillgrove Ave. is immediately north of the BNSF tracks to Aurora.

The intention of The Suburban Railway was to continue building tracks west in Hillgrove Ave. to Aurora! The trolley line would run adjacent to the pre-BNSF. The SRy would provide more frequent passenger service between Aurora and its eastern terminal in Cicero.

If we fast forward to 1928 and let's say:
- the pre-BNSF has tracks with passenger trains from Aurora to Chicago,
- the CA&E has built the bypass to Utopia and beyond to Aurora, and
- The SRy (now the Chicago & West Towns) has built a trolley line from Cicero to who knows where - the Brookfield Zoo and beyond?.

During this time I am sure Samuel Insull had been using his influence to his advantage to build the CA&E bypass to Utopia and perhaps beyond. Who knows what else Insull had in mind to influence.

Finally, remember we are trolley fans and modelers. This allows us to get into "What if's?" What would you do in 2016 to make a modular trolley layout to fit into you basement? The space you have is about 12' x 18' with built-in book cases and cabinets along the walls.


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