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150 Years on the Rail

Elevating the Elevated

The Northwestern Elevated Railroad, a predecessor to today's CTA and no relation to the Chicago & North Western, reached Evanston in 1908. Like the C&ME, the "L" entered the city via the tracks of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, this time from the south via a connection at Wilson Avenue in Chicago. The line ran north to Central Street, where a small terminal and rail yard were constructed. Service began on Saturday, May 16, 1908, with trains stopping at Central, Noyes, Davis, Dempster, Main, and Calvary. Passenger stations were later added at Howard, Foster and Isabella. The fare was five cents within Evanston and ten cents for the through ride to the city. Ironically, the Northwestern Elevated wasn't - the tracks through Evanston ran at ground level. This would soon change, however.

A view to the west from Benson Street ca. 1910. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul is constructing a viaduct over Church Street which was to last almost 100 years (it was replaced by the CTA in 2006). The C&ME terminal building is visible on the right; in the distance, the Chicago & North Western's new viaduct can also be seen. (Collection J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc.)

In accordance with a new Evanston city ordinance, work was begun to elevate the tracks of the C&NW and CM&St.P through the city. It wasn't until 1910 that the Northwestern Elevated Railroad actually became elevated, and even then the elevation was not across the entire city - the tracks returned to ground level north of University Place. After the initial phase of the elevation work was completed in 1910, the C&ME was no longer able to use the St. Paul's station at Davis Street, so it built its own terminal building at ground level on the northwest corner of Church and Benson and removed the tracks between Church and Davis. Although a 1915 Evanston city ordinance required the St. Paul to elevate the "L" tracks between University Place and the city limits at Isabella Street by 1918, thanks to World War I and other delays the work was not begun until 1928 and not completed until 1931. [Moffat, p. 280]

A view to the northwest from Benson just north of Church during the second phase of track elevation in the 1920s. The C&ME's tracks are still at street level in the foreground. (Collection J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc.; M. D. McCarter photo.)

The C&NW also elevated its main line as well as a one-mile portion of its Mayfair Cut-off in 1908. [Stenett, p. 145] The main line tracks descended to ground level north of Livingston Street; the Mayfair tracks returned to grade near Evanston Township High School, just north of the intersection of Lake Street and Dodge Avenue. Click here to see the pre- and post-elevation track layout in downtown Evanston.

The Asbury Street station on the North Shore Line's Skokie Valley Route. The station on Ridge Avenue was almost identical in appearance. (Collection J.J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc.)

Just as the "L" and the North Shore Line shared trackage from Wilmette into the Loop, they also shared the NSL's Skokie Valley Route. Although "L" service to these stations was discontinued in 1948, NSL trains continued to run along the route (making no Evanston stops) until January, 1963. [Buckley, p. 6] Beginning in 1964, the CTA's Skokie Swift shuttle between Dempster Street in Skokie and Howard Street was inaugurated. Like the NSL before it, the Swift ignored the three stations in southwest Evanston; by the 1980s the bridges had been rebuilt and the unused station buildings removed.