I find it amazing that, over a hundred years ago, before the automobile was in general use, transportation to and from Lemont offered more options than today.
In the year 1905, for example, the following options were available:
- A few passengers took barges up or down the I & M Canal, still in operation at that time.
- Goods were primarily transported on the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which had opened in 1900, less on the I & M.
- The Chicago and Alton Railroad had stations at both Lemont and Sag Bridge, steam trains in operation since 1858 for both passengers and freight.
- The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, another steam train line, had passenger and freight service and a Lemont station since the mid-1890s.
- Both lines together transported passengers through Lemont on twenty trains per day, compared to today’s six.
- In 1899 an electric train (street car, or trolley) ran to Chicago from stations in Lemont and Sag Bridge, and was extended to Joliet in 1901. Electric trains ran every hour in the winter, and every half hour in the summer.
- With stops along the way in both directions …
I remember green Chicago street cars I used to ride as a child. I can still hear the rumble they made over the rails, the clang when they stopped or started, feel the shiny woven wicker seats, see the man who ran from the driver’s place on one end to the opposite end when the car changed directions. It was fun for a child, and much preferable to stinky buses.
What I didn’t know was that electric cars ran for the most part on existing rails that were laid down for horse car lines as early as 1860 or so. Using rails elevated the cars from muddy streets, made a more comfortable ride, and allowed for cars equipped to carry up to 30 passengers to be pulled by only one or two horses.
In the 1890s, after a brief fling with cable cars for a few years, the same rails were used to run trolleys that were powered by electricity—huge batteries over three feet tall, up to a hundred, stacked in rows. These sent power to overhead lines to which the trolleys connected.
First constructed was a line that ran from Lockport Street in Lemont, running a double row of rails down Main Street to Sag Bridge. This extended down Archer Avenue where passengers would transfer at Cicero and Archer to the Chicago system. It was extended a short time later the opposite direction to Joliet, following much of today’s New Avenue.
Passengers loved the electric trains. They were clean and quiet, not loud, dirty and smoky like steam trains, and they were inexpensive, with frequent departures and stops along the way. They were not mere transportation—they were entertainment, an event, a good place to take a date.
They made the trip from Joliet to downtown Chicago, transfer included, in about an hour and a quarter, for five cents. Think about that next time you’re stopped on the Stevenson in bumper to bumper traffic.
Next time: Railways as recreation.
To those of you who joined us to walk the Keepataw Trail.
It was a bit of an adventure. Hope you all had fun.
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