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150 Years on the Rail

150 Years on the Rail

Although Evanston, Illinois is not the typical streetcar suburb or bedroom community, the rails that ran through it played a major role in transforming it from a sleepy rural farming community into the “Athens of the Northwest.” That legacy lives on to this day; in an age when many suburban communities barely have bus service, not one but two passenger rail lines serve Evanston. Yet the public transportation system that remains today is but a shadow of what once existed.

As a child growing up in Evanston, I would often wait at the Main Street Chicago & North Western station for my father, who rode the double-decker cars to work in downtown Chicago. While I waited, I would occasionally pass the time by placing pennies onto the rails and, as I watched from the weeds, the big diesel locomotives would come along and flatten them.

A flattened penny.

In later years, I discovered an abandoned passenger platform near Mulford Street:

C&NW Calvary Station

When had it had been abandoned? And why? Then I noticed that in old photographs of the downtown area, such as this one,

Fountain Square ca. 1900

not only was Fountain Square in the wrong place, but there were railroad tracks in the middle of the street! What sorts of trains used to run on these tracks? And where did they go? These mysteries intrigued me, so I began to explore the rich history of passenger rail service in Evanston. These pages reflect that ongoing exploration.

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