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  Northern Cross Railroad
Illinois joined the railroad boom very early with its funding of the Northern Cross Railroad as a first in a network of railways constructed between 1838 and 1873. Although this first trial was premature, by 1870 the Illinois River was crossed by six railroad bridges at LaSalle, Peoria, Pekin, Beardstown, Meredosia, and Naples.
Northern Cross Railroad
Northern Cross Railroad Locomotive Zoom in on Northern Cross Railroad

This early rail line was initiated by Governor Joseph Duncan over the protests of some legislators who wanted state funds to support canals and river boats. Some Illinoisans who migrated from the south wanted the railroads to serve the river ports. Duncan believed that by beginning to build railroads while the state was sparsely populated, it would be cheaper and easier to get right-of-way to straight tracts of land.

Origin of the Northern Cross
In 1837, the Illinois Internal Improvement Act was passed with funding for rail lines - the Illinois Central Railroad's Galena to Cairo line, and crossing it, the Northern Cross connecting Danville, Springfield, and Quincy and the Southern Cross from Mt. Carmel to Alton (in a bid to compete with St. Louis, Missouri). They were to be part of a system of railroads funded by the state to connect population centers. A compromise was negotiated in which money for river improvements was included in the bill (including $100,000 for the Illinois River).

The land for the Northern Cross Railroad was surveyed and a contract was bid to build the line between the autumn of 1837 to April 1838 along a twelve-mile strip from Meredosia to Monroe City, Illinois. The name Northern Cross reflects the fact that the northern half of the state of Illinois was still very sparsely settled in the 1830s.

The construction method was to lay "parallel lines of mud sills (ballast), eight or ten inches square, under where the rails would come", in places that did not have a firm foundation. On top of these sills were laid 4-by-6-inch- or 4-by-8-inch-oak "stringers" notched and pinned together. The rails Go to image of an original Northern Cross Rail Road track were flat straps (section of rail) twelve or fifteen feet long, two-and-a-half inches wide, and only five-eighths of an inch thick. Spikes held them onto the stringers, and their ends were mitered. As the rails were used, these ends often curled up, causing damage to the undercarriages of the cars.

Rolling Stock
Passengers cars were the size of buses, with a row of seats down either side. Even though the trains ran at a comparatively slow speed, passengers slid down the seats because the train's link and pin system of adjoining cars caused jerks on starting and stopping. In the engines, water hoses could freeze in the winter, and passengers may have had to help crew load wood at refueling stations. None of the signals, specialty cars, telegraph, and amenities known today existed on early rail lines.

The rolling stock consisted of a locomotive made by Rogers, Grosvenor, and Ketchum of Newark, New Jersey. "The Rogers" Go to image of The Rogers was shipped in pieces to Meredosia by riverboat, accompanied by the engineer in charge of assembling it. Locals were taught to run the engine.

Line Extension
In 1842, after the state had recovered from the Panic of 1837, the line was extended from Springfield to Jacksonville. Its one locomotive wore out by 1844. The state ran the deteriorating line until 1847, then auctioned it for $21,000 (2.5% of its original cost) to Nicholas Ridgely, who renamed it the Sangamon and Morgan. The line remained closed until settlement and costs allowed more railroads to be built in this part of Illinois. It eventually became part of the Wabash Railroad system.

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