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History of the Madison County Railroad

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser



Construction began on the Madison County Railroad in 1867. This railroad extended from Edwardsville, west to the Mississippi River, where it formed a connection with the Alton and St. Louis riverboat packets. The railroad was constructed by Tunstall and Holmes of St. Louis, who had purchased the steamers of the Alton – St. Louis line from the Chicago & Alton Railroad, when that company extended its line from Alton to St. Louis. Judge Joseph Gillespie, Judge David Gillespie, and Captain J. F. Lusk were the prominent pioneers of the Madison County Railroad. Edwardsville subscribed $50,000 cash, and $25,000 bonds to the building of the railroad. The original intention was to build from Edwardsville to Alton. Captain J. True Dodge represented Tunstall & Holmes, contractors, in the building of this railroad. The civil engineers were H. C. Swift and T. M. Long, and the first engine, at the suggestion of Captain Dodge, was named the “Harry C. Swift.” The German Savings Bank of St. Louis had a mortgage on the railroad, and eventually foreclosed it, and the property was purchased at the sale by Jay Gould, who owned it for sixteen years, when it passed into the control of the Wabash, and was operated by that company until leased by the Illinois Terminal in 1899.


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 23, 1866
The great question of interest with our people at present is the railroad. A meeting was held in the court house last Saturday, at which the reports of the various canvassing committees were heard, when it was found by adding together the various subscriptions, that the sum contributed has reached forty-nine thousand dollars – lacking only one thousand of the amount required. It is to be remembered, however, that there will have to be a margin to cover losses, and to secure that amount, committees have been appointed for the coming week, and a vigorous canvass will doubtless be made. In the meantime, we will probably hear from the other contracting parties, and if so, by next Saturday, will know whether the road is to be built.

The importance of the work for our town and county is beginning to be better appreciated, and we hope the matter will not be allowed to rest till we hear the whistle of the locomotive. No arguments are necessary now on the subject, as it is, we are almost out of the world, and to our town and surrounding country, it is a work of prime necessity. Our village does not at present even receive a visit from those who desire to invest their means, because it is not accessible. Besides, we need a large population to sustain the institutions of social and intellectual progress. For instance, we have a number of Baptist and Presbyterian Church members, and yet there are not enough of either of these denominations to organize a church that can sustain a regular minister. This must continue a great drawback against the growth of our town.

The railroad would obviate this, and we could offer inducements to members of either these powerful denominations to become a part of our population. The lecturers of national fame, the vocals of the country, whose sweet strains rapture and purify the soul, pass us in their journeyings because the swift tread of the iron horse conveys them more speedily and conveniently to more favored places for the exhibition of their talents.


    Madison County Railroad - 1873 map


Source: Alton Telegraph, October 18, 1867
We learn from Mr. H. C. Swift, engineer of the road, that the grading of the roadbed of the Edwardsville railroad is very nearly completed, and that track laying will be commenced by the first of November. The contracts require the road to be in running order by the first of December next.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 20, 1867
By reference to the City Council proceedings, it will be seen that a preamble resolution was introduced into that body, granting to the Madison County Railroad Company the privilege of laying down a track the entire length of the levee, commencing at a point west of Weaver’s elevator, and intersecting the Chicago Road near Piasa Street. It will also be noticed that the franchise grants the privilege for a period of twenty-five years at the magnificent annual rental of $200. The subject was referred to the Ordinance Committee to report.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 20, 1867
The Madison Courier learns that the rails are being laid on a portion of the Edwardsville railroad, and is credibly informed that the company are sanguine of completing the line before the new year. Nearly the entire grading is completed, the working party now being engaged inside the corporation of Edwardsville.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 24, 1868
We learn from Mr. H. C. Swift, the efficient engineer in charge of the construction of the Madison County Railroad, that the track is now laid to within a mile and a quarter of Edwardsville. Mr. Tunstall, President of the roads, yesterday purchased a passenger car at Litchfield for the use of the road, and trains will commence running between Alton and Edwardsville next week. The trains will enter Alton on the track of the Terre Haute Railroad. It is with no ordinary gratification that we announce the early completion of this important railroad connection, as it is destined to be of great business importance to both Alton and Edwardsville, as well as to all this section of the country; not to speak of its advantages in point of convenience and social intercommunication.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 24, 1868
The work of track laying on this road, although progressing slowly, is now nearly completed. It is the intention of the directors to run trains into this city and not to Madison, as has been stated.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 31, 1868
The railroad is nearly completed. The locomotive is this side of the creek, and inside of the corporation. We hope for the energetic gentlemen, to whom we owe the important work, the greatest success in the enterprise. Captain Tunstall is deserving of the thanks of our people, who should do their best to make the road a paying enterprise.


Source: Alton Telegraph, April 3, 1868
The facilities for reaching Edwardsville from Alton, via the new railroad, are so excellent that those who have made the trip declare it to be more trouble than to go to New York.


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 1, 1868
We had the pleasure yesterday of making our first trip over this new railroad, and found it a very great improvement over the old mode of getting to and from the county seat by buggies and carriages, both in reference to time and comfort. We left Alton about nine o’clock, and arrived safely in Edwardsville a little after ten. The citizens of that place, and the proprietors of the road, deserve the thanks and gratitude of the traveling public for their liberality and enterprise in shortening the distance between the two places. Success, say we, to all railroad enterprises.


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 8, 1868
The Madison Courier says that the depot of the Madison County Railroad at Edwardsville is nearly completed. It is situated on St. Louis Street. The turntable and engine house, situated about one-half mile up the road, are finished.


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 29, 1868
From Edwardsville: Since the completion of the Madison County Railroad, quite an impetus has been given to the business interests of this heretofore very quiet rural town. In fact, the place is thrilling with the recently acquired inspiration of the steam horse. A number of new buildings are being erected, and the community in general seems actuated by a desire to enlarge its borders and extend its fair fame. But notwithstanding this amiable disposition, there are influences, we think, that tend rather to retard than advance the growth of this place. Railroads, telegraphs, steamboats, and in fact, all the varied paraphernalia of an intelligent civilization, are effective in accomplishing the grand aims and purposes of their construction only when made use of by men of enlarged and comprehensive views, guiding and controlling them with some view to the public welfare and general prosperity, as well as the advancement of their own individual interests. So too, when a town is so unfortunate as to be owned by a number of greedy, grasping capitalists, whose highest aspirations in life are the filling of their own coffers and pockets, its future prosperity is rather vaguely discernible. But a grateful reflection it is that misers, as well as other folks, eventually “shuffle off this mortal coil,” and make room for better men. And thus the aforesaid inventions of genius eventually accomplish their legitimate purposes, though often held in check for many years. They are the ultimate fore-runners of better things.

It is the general rule, when a railroad happens to be built through or to a hitherto obscure village, that its inhabitants at once assume airs of the utmost importance. Property at once rises to a fictitious value, and the consequence is pro tempore retardation, rather than an improvement, in the interests of the place. Business is usually suspended for the first six months, and the inhabitants congregate at the “depot” to witness the arrivals and discuss the increased value of their town lots. Time, however, reduces affairs to their normal proportions, and gradually are accomplished the happy results of intelligent industry and enterprise.


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 19, 1868
It is understood that on the first of next month, the Madison County Railroad Company intend to commence running their trains direct to Alton, instead of to the Coal Switch, as heretofore. It is to be hoped that this will be done. Great benefit would doubtless result to the company and accommodation to the public.


Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, November 18, 1869
Yesterday morning, as the locomotive on the Madison County Railroad was run upon the turntable near the engine house, the turntable gave way, which caused considerable delay, in consequence of which there was no train left here in the morning or afternoon, and as a matter of course, none arrived.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 4, 1868
The new arrangement of trains on the Madison County Railroad is working smoothly and satisfactorily. The trains make two trips a day between this place and Edwardsville. They leave the latter place at 7:20 a.m., and returning, leave this city at 8:40 a.m. In the afternoon, they leave Edwardsville at 2:10 o’clock, and returning, leave this city at 6:40, on the arrival of the Alton packet. This change is highly advantageous and convenient, and meets with the cordial approbation of all who are accustomed to travel much between this place and the county seat, and vice versa.

The trains are under the charge of conductor Cobine, who is as gentlemanly and accommodating an official as any of our longer lines of railway can boast.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 6, 1871
The employees of the Madison County Railroad, on Christmas Eve presented Mr. James D. Cobine, superintendent of the line, with a massive gold ring as a testimonial of their esteem.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 27, 1871
The Madison County Railroad is to be sold under a deed of trust at Alton on February 27.


Source: Alton Telegraph, February 24, 1871
At a large and enthusiastic meeting of the citizens of Edwardsville, held in the courthouse this evening for the purpose of considering the necessity of sustaining the Madison County Railroad, John A. Prickett was in the chair, and G. W. Cole, Secretary. On motion, a committee consisting of Judge W. T. Brown, Hon. M. G. Dale, Hon. D. Gillespie, and J. S. Trares Esq., was appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting. During the deliberations of the committee, A. O. French, Esq., Hon. J. Gillespie, and others, addressed the meeting. Said committee reported the following:

“Whereas, the Madison County Railroad is to be sold under a deed of trust on February 27, and Whereas, said road was mainly built by the aid of the citizens of Edwardsville and vicinity, and we consider it greatly to our advantage that said road be kept up and sustained, it being the railroad for Edwardsville.

Resolved, That in case said railroad is purposed by those who intend to keep it up, we, as citizens of Edwardsville and vicinity, hereby pledge ourselves to do all in our power to encourage said purchasers in operating said road, and in case of equal facilities for transfer of passengers and freight at equal rates, we will give the preference to said road, it being considered our road. And in case said road is extended south, we hereby extend to the party contemplating such extension our best endeavors and encouragement in that behalf.

Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed, whose duty is shall be to see parties who contemplate the purchase of said road, and explain to them fully the feelings and expressions of this meeting in regard to this matter. Whereupon, J. A. Prickett, David Gillespie, and E. M. West were appointed said committee.

Revolved, That in case said railroad should be purchased by parties giving sufficient assurance that it will be permanently operated for the transportation of passengers and freight, that the town authorities of Edwardsville will be influenced to relinquish the claim of said town upon said railroad company for fifteen thousand dollars of second mortgage bonds, to and in favor of said purchasers.


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 9, 1871
The following article from the Edwardsville Intelligencer indicates that the railroad atmosphere at the county seat has become oppressive:

“In another column will be found an advertisement, signed by the President of the Board of Trustees of the town of Edwardsville, in which it is stated that the town will not pay certain interest now due on bonds issued in aid of the Madison County Railroad, nor the principal thereof, on failure of consideration. We do not know how the law would construe such action, but there is one thing certain, and that is that the taxpayers of Edwardsville are unanimous on one point. They feel that they have been most outrageously swindled in this matter, and that it makes but very little difference to them who is to blame for it. When our citizens voted to pay thirty thousand dollars to construct the Madison County Railroad, they did so with the understanding that it was to be operated; and it was the duty of those having the matter in charge to see that such a clause was inserted to the contract. Whether such a clause was incorporated in the contract or not, makes but very little difference – it was so understood when our people voted the amount.

The action of the Board of Trustees, in refusing to pay either the principal or interest, will be sanctioned by the whole community, and it would be doing no more than justice to themselves, under the circumstances, if they should repudiate the whole debt.”


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 23, 1871
A suit has been commenced in the United States Court at Springfield, Illinois, against the town of Edwardsville, by the German Savings Association of St. Louis, to enforce payment by said town of the principal and interest of its bonds, issued to aid in building the Madison County Railroad, payment of which is refused for the reason that said road is no longer operated.


Source: Alton Telegraph, July 14, 1871
“If Edwardsville goes to war about the Madison County Railroad, and all her citizens are killed off, where are patriotic men to be found willing to fill the county offices? We hope Edwardsville won’t go to war.”

From the Edwardsville Intelligencer, July 6, 1871
Yesterday morning, Captain R. J. Tunstall, former president of the Madison County Railroad, paid our town a visit. He came here as a representative of the German Savings Institution of St. Louis, with full powers to treat with our citizens in regard to the operation of the aforesaid article. On February 27, the Madison County Railroad was put up at public auction under a deed of trust, held by the German Savings Institution of St. Louis, and it will be recollected that there were at the sale several responsible bidders. The highest legitimate bid was that made by Mr. Tansey of Alton, who offered sixty thousand dollars for the road. This amount at that time was considered too insignificant, and the road was knocked down to the holders of the bonds for five hundred dollars more. Mr. Robert Barth, who is the controlling spirit in the German Savings Institution, was present at the sale, and thought that sixty thousand dollars was too small a sum for property that had cost that concern about half the amount. Mr. Barth wanted a hundred percent, or no sale could be effected. Since that time, Mr. Barth has repented of his folly, and has regretted that he did not let the road go for the amount stated. He bought the road in himself, and is utterly sick of his bargain, simply from the fact that nobody feels an interest of any particular degree in the German Savings Institution of St. Louis.

Mr. Barth wants to realize his original outlay, now that the road has been lying idle over four months, and is willing to resort to any expedient to accomplish that result. The law prohibits Mr. Barth from taking up the rails, but yet he sends Mr. Tunstall here to inform our people that on a certain day in the middle of next week, he will proceed to lift the rails and transfer them to East St. Louis. He is going to bring a sufficient number of men to act as a bodyguard, and a thirty-six pounder to awe the populace.

The fact of the matter is, Mr. Barth is in a tight place. He would not sell the road when he had an opportunity to do it, and now that he is willing to sell, nobody wants to buy. Hence it is that Mr. Tunstall is here to scare the good people of Edwardsville into putting their hands again into their pockets. But Mr. Barth mistakes the temper of the parties most interested. They will neither give more money, nor allow him to take up the road. Whenever he attempts to do the latter, he will find more obstacles in the way than he expected.


Source: Alton Telegraph, August 4, 1871
The best railroad investment that we know anything of is the Madison County Railroad. It can be purchased from the German Savings Institution at a low figure. The end of the road, west of Salem, can be taken up and laid on the old grade of the Alton and Mt. Carmel Railroad, to the Junction. There, it would connect with the Terre Haute and Alton, the Rockford, Rock Island, and St. Louis Railroad, and the plug road running out from Alton, and by this plug road, with the Chicago and Alton Railroad, so that it would connect with three roads and with the city of Alton, at the Junction, and if the Quincy and St. Louis Road is located on this side of the river, it would connect with that also.


Source: Alton Telegraph, December 15, 1871
The proprietors of the Madison County Railroad have appointed Captain J. G. Robinson their agent, to take charge of the road and the property belonging to it.


Source: Alton Telegraph, January 5, 1872
(From the Edwardsville Intelligencer)
Since the meeting at the courthouse, Messrs. Beach and Stiles have had a conference with Mr. Barth in regard to the Madison County Railroad, and Mr. Beach came here on Tuesday evening to present the proposition of himself and Mr. Stiles in reference to running the road. Mr. Barth refused to lease the road, but proposed to sell it to Messrs. Beach and Stiles for $65,000, and gave them the refusal of the road until yesterday at 12 o’clock.

Another party was here last Monday, and walked over the road with Captain Robinson. It is understood that this party was the agent of General Winslow, and that the latter will take the road at $65,000, if Messrs. Beach and Stiles do not purchase it, and in that event, the iron will be taken up and put on the Belleville & O’Fallon Road.

Beach and Stiles will take the road on the following terms: pay Barth $15,000 cash, and give bond and deed of trust on the road for $50,000. They will also purchase $15,000 of rolling stock, which the road must have to run it. This will make the road and rolling stock cost $80,000, and they will issue this amount of stock and commence operations at once, provided our citizens and the citizens of Alton will take $15,000 in stock of the company. Mr. Stiles went to St. Louis yesterday to get from Mr. Barth a few days longer time, in order that they may see if the $15,000 in stock will be taken, and if taken, we shall soon again hear the sound of the whistle on the old Madison County Road. Trains will run to St. Louis without change of cars – this arrangement having been made with the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad.


From Edwardsville
Source: Alton Telegraph, March 15, 1872
Pending the litigation in the courts in relation to the payment of the bonds of our town [Edwardsville], issued to the Madison County Railroad Company, the money in the town treasury was applied to the payment of other interest-bearing indebtedness of the town, and now that the case has been decided against the town, our authorities are proposing to negotiate a loan to pay the interest and so much of principal of said bonds as have fallen due, and levy a tax to meet the payment of the others as they fall due. Our railroad, being now in operation and doing a prosperous business, our town trustees and citizens generally seem to be quite wiling to pay the debt which they incurred in building it, but there being no money in the treasury, it is somewhat inconvenient for them to do so.


Source: Alton Telegraph, June 7, 1872
On May 26, a stirring railroad meeting was held at the Edwardsville courthouse. Many of the most prominent citizens of the town were present, and several from the town of Troy and vicinity. The Hon. J. A. Barnsback of Troy was chosen chairman, and G. M. Cole, secretary. Judge Joseph Gillespie stated the object of the meeting to be to take into consideration the propriety of extending the Madison County Railroad to Troy, to connect with the Belleville & O’Fallon Railroad. He stated that there were parties ready to build the road, provided they could meet with the proper encouragement from the Edwardsville people and those living along the proposed line between this point and Troy. Committees were appointed, who are to have their reports ready to present at the meeting next Saturday.


Source: Alton Weekly Telegraph, January 6, 1876
The employees of the Madison County Railroad, on Christmas Eve, presented Mr. James D. Cobine, superintendent of the line, with a massive gold ring as a testimonial of their esteem.


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