Chicago & North Western Railroad: History of Milwaukee line

For most of its life it was known as the Chicago & North Western Railroad. (specifically the Milwaukee Division of this railroad.) Since 1994 it has been owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, and is simply referred to today as Metra North. It is Edgewater’s first rail line and the one that forms its western boundary. Chartered in Illinois as the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad and in Wisconsin, as the Milwaukee and Chicago Railroad it was designed to link Chicago and Milwaukee, which it did.

Corporately, the two separate companies merged under the name of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad. Later in the early 1860s another railroad, the Chicago and North Western Railroad, obtained controlling interest in the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad and the later name was dropped.

There are some discrepancies as to the date of the first train on the line. The Chicago Tribune of January 13, 1855, states that a special train made a run from Chicago to Waukegan on Thursday, which would place the date as January 11, 1855. Two secondary sources place the date as December 19, 1854. Whichever date is correct, the first train did not stop in Edgewater. Later in the year the line from Milwaukee reached the Illinois-Wisconsin border and through service began.

In time, Edgewater came to have three stops on the line. The first came quite early. It was called Chittenden , named for the “town” of Chittenden, most of which was later sold to the Rose Hill Cemetery Company. We know this from the following item that appeared in the September 16, 1857, issue of the Chicago Tribune: “To-day one hundred and fifty lots are to be sold in the town of Chittenden, at Auction… Chittenden is the first station out on the Milwaukee Railroad, four miles from the city and presents many inducements to those desiring a residence near, but not in the city.”

After the Rose Hill cemetery opened on July 29, 1859, the name of the stop was changed to Rose Hill or Rosehill (the use was not consistent.) Until a stop was added at Ravenswood (Wilson Ave.) presumably in 1868, the Rose Hill stop was the only stop between downtown Chicago and Evanston. [Click here for an account of an early train trip when the stop was named Chittenden–in 1856.] [Click here for an account of funeral trains to and from Rosehill Cemetery as well as a photo of the station at ground level.]

The second stop was added in 1875 and was called Summerdale, named by the developers of Clybourn Addition to Ravenswood, which was located south of Foster and west of the tracks. The station however, was located north of Foster but south of Farragut and originally on the west side of the tracks. The first station was built by the developers who offered to pay for its construction if the railroad would add a stop. (J.L. Cochran would later do this as well on Edgewater’s other railroad.)  The origin of the name Summerdale is not known, but the son of one of the developers thought it was chosen because it sounded pleasant. [See John C. Greer interview.]

The third stop was added in 1887 or 1888 and was initially called High Ridge, named for the subdivision of the same name. Initially the station was on the west side of the tracks just north of Granville. That is where it is shown on the 1905 Sanborn map. However, it was later relocated to the east side of the tracks midway between Granville and Thome, and was renamed Kenmore. In 1929 the Northtown Kiwanis Club petitioned to have the station moved to Devon and renamed Nortown.  Neither requested was honored. The station stayed where it was and retained its Kenmore name.

Originally of course the tracks were at grade level and they remained at grade level for some time; originally too the line was but one track with extra tracks at various places for switching. Sometime in the 1890s as a result of concerns over the safety of residents who had to cross the tracks, the city enacted ordinances requiring the elevation of the tracks. On this line however, the elevation only went as far north as just beyond Foster avenue. The 1905 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the tracks descending on an incline down to the ground before Berwyn on its way north. It wasn’t until 1908/1909 that the line was elevated into Evanston. It was at this time that a new station was built at Rose Hill to match the stone of the cemetery entrance; it was also at this time that the High Ridge station was relocated to the east side of the tracks and the stop given a new name: Kenmore.

The line was originally conceived as a freight line. Passenger service did not begin immediately and then it was through service, at least initially. The concept of commuter service into the city came later and at the suggestion of one of the line’s conductors, who had originally been a conductor on one the eastern lines. He persuaded the directors of the company to offer what initially came to be called “accommodation” service. Service was infrequent at first. (The 1869 schedules shows but 10 week-day trains between Rose Hill and Chicago, and 14 between Chicago and Evanston). But the frequency increased.

Ironically, given its original conception as a freight-only line, very early on (before 1900), the Chicago & North Western built another line to the west that linked to the original line in north Evanston. This by-pass (called the Mayfair cut off) was used for freight thus leaving the original line to the east for use exclusively by passenger trains. The line was used for the premier trains linking Chicago with St. Paul/Minneapolis. Latter these trains were given the name “The 400.” With only one stop in Evanston, these trains made the run between downtown Chicago and downtown Milwaukee in an incredible one hour and 15 minutes. Today Amtrak service with three stops takes one hour and 29 minutes.

On December 1, 1958, all three of Edgewater’s three stations were closed and later demolished. The closures were part of a plan to close 22 close-in stations in Chicago and the near suburbs. While city officials, the rail unions, and neighborhood groups opposed the plan, the Illinois Commerce Commission approved it.

The number of week-day trains between downtown and Edgewater’s stations varied considerably over the years. Summerdale had as many as 56 trains in 1900 to as few as 26 in 1958; Rose Hill had 44 trains in 1893 but only 11 in 1958; and High Ridge/ Kenmore had 30 in 1916 but only 16 in 1900. Just before the stations closed in 1958, Summerdale and Kenmore had nearly the same number of trains, but Rose Hill had considerably less.

While the number of trains varied considerably over time, running time between Edgewater’s stations was fairly consistent. The 1893 schedule showed two minutes between High Ridge / Kenmore and Rose Hill and two minutes between Rose Hill and Summerdale. Thus one could travel between Granville (6200 north) and Foster (5200 north) in 4 minutes. In 1893 the longest travel time between Summerdale and downtown was 29 minutes; in 1958, it was 25 minutes. The shortest travel time was as low as 13 minutes in later years, but that was due to semi-express service; for local (every stop) trains the time was remarkably the same over the years, at least beginning in 1893. The highest average running time was 26.4 minutes in 1888 and the lowest was 16.9 minutes in 1935 based on the timetables we were able to consult.

While the Chicago and North Western was Edgewater’s first rail line and had three stops in Edgewater, its role in the development of Edgewater was quite minimal as compared to the St. Paul to the east, which had only two stops. One of the reasons was the cemetery to the west which blocked residential development. But probably the main reason was that Cochran did not develop the land along the line but instead located his development along the St. Paul.