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150 Years on the Rail

The Junction Railroad Company

Things went so well for the Chicago & North Western that the main line through Evanston grew congested, with fast passenger trains intermixing with slower freight trains. In 1889, the Junction Railroad Company, a C&NW subsidiary established for construction purposes, built a bypass from a point on the C&NW main line near Simpson Street and Green Bay Road that ran southwest along the western bank of "The Big Ditch" (a predecessor to today's North Shore Channel) through wide open, unsettled land to the Mayfair Junction in Chicago; this line was known as the Mayfair Cut-Off. [Stenett, p. 104] The Mayfair Cut-Off allowed the freight traffic to be routed around populated areas and freed up the main line for passenger trains, allowing them to make better time. The line also served several industrial customers in the area. Within a couple of years, a second leg of the cutoff was constructed just south of the first, forming a "wye" at the junction with the main line (known as Canal Junction).

The wye at Canal Junction. The Mayfair Cut-Off runs down to the left; the C&NW main line runs from the lower right to the upper left.  Photo courtesy Illinois State Geological Survey,

In addition, a railcar storage and engine servicing facility called the Weber Yard was constructed just north of Oakton Street. The Weber Yard and the surrounding industrial area was named by and for Barney Weber, who owned a brick yard in the area as well as his own "railroad," the Chicago & West Ridge. The C&WR was actually a rail spur branching off the Mayfair Cut-Off near Oakton Street and continuing south, at one time as far as Lincoln Avenue, to serve Weber's brick yard and other industries. The C&NW built this track in 1896 and Weber purchased it in 1897, although the C&NW bought it back in January, 1917.

Although the Mayfair Cut-Off was intended primarily for freight trains, the Evanston village trustees knew that the new rail line would increase property values and residential settlement on Evanston's west side, and, with some urging from the various property owners along the proposed route, required the C&NW to also build passenger depots and run at least two daily passenger trains along the new line. Passenger stops were constructed at Emerson Street, Greenwood Boulevard, and the Weber yard.

According to an 1897 timetable, there were three trains over the Mayfair Cut-Off every weekday: one from Chicago in the morning, a second northbound train at mid-day, and a third train back to Chicago in the evening. These trains operated in a loop, starting from the Wells Street Station, making passenger stops at various points in Chicago as well as at Weber, Greenwood, and Emerson in Evanston, and then turned south at the Canal Junction Wye, and returned to Chicago via the north-south main line. The evening train made this loop trip in reverse.

The Weber Yard as it appeared in 1938. Main Street is at the top, Oakton is at the bottom.  The circular feature on the right side of the picture is the Evanston water tower; to the left is the North Shore Channel. Photo courtesy Illinois State Geological Survey.

Although the Evanston ordinance only required the C&NW to run one passenger train in each direction per day, the understanding was always that more trains would be added as business warranted. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The C&NW ceased serving the Emerson Street and Greenwood Boulevard passenger stops when the tracks were elevated in 1910. By 1920, the depot at Emerson Street was boarded up and abandoned. Although the tracks here were elevated, the depot was left at ground level; perhaps the railroad felt that passenger demand did not justify the expense of razing the old depot and building a new one at track level? Greenwood Boulevard also ceased to be a passenger stop at the same time, although it remained in use for freight until the 1960s. By 1943, Weber had also been discontinued as a revenue passenger stop. Two trains a day, one in the morning and a second in the evening, continued to operate via the "loop" until 1958 when Weber was discontinued as a terminal for suburban trains. These trains were for the convenience of employees working at Weber and a portion of each trip did not carry revenue passengers.  The Cut-Off through Evanston was abandoned entirely in the mid 1980s.

Canal Tower, located at Green Bay Road and Simpson Street in the center of the Canal Wye, controlled traffic entering and leaving the Mayfair Cut-Off as well as traffic on the main line. It was razed in the early 1990s. Photo by Eric Basir.

Today, little remains within Evanston of the Mayfair Cut-Off.
The Weber Yard, all the tracks, and the interlocking tower at Canal Junction are long gone. The viaducts have all been removed, although some of the embankments and retaining walls still remain. A shopping mall now stands where passenger coaches were once stored and steam engines were once serviced. Narrow, strangely-angled parking lots are scattered here and there like asphalt gravestones marking the defunct right-of-way. New condos are going up along the line, at places like Greenwood Boulevard and the former Edward Hines Lumber site on Church Street - boy, wouldn't that daily commuter rail service come in handy right about now? Little by little, redevelopment is healing the long diagonal scar across the face of the city left by the C&NW's Mayfair Cut-Off.

(Special thanks to Bob Guhr and Hank Morris for information about the Mayfair Cut-Off.)