Friday, March 2, 2018

Illinois Beach State Park’s Long Abandoned Tracks

Washed up tracks on Illinois Beach, 1997 (photo by A. Foyle)
One of the more surprising relationships between geographical features, and one that we don’t typically associate with one another, is that of beaches and railroads. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were several examples of railroads on or near beaches, either for transporting beach-goers, or for transporting sand, gravel and other minerals from the shores.

In 2014, one of these railroads became washed up in the tide.  Those tracks were used for transporting munitions during World War I.

Closer to my home, there once existed a set of beach tracks that were used in the south end of Illinois Beach State Park. While the right of way is currently buried under sand and, in the winter, snow, it's still generally still preserved in the area, despite the tracks having been torn up and made into a road not long after 1902.

A bit of history on the park. Its location next to Lake Michigan prevented it from ever being exposed to the rampant development that encompasses most of the Chicago area, however a town was platted in the area, to be called Mayville. During both World War I and World War II, the US Army used the north end of the park as a basic training facility. It should be noted that as of this time the north end of the park was still not part of Illinois Beach, and wouldn’t be annexed by the rest of the park until the 1970’s. (Chrzastowski & Frankie)

Today, the ROW of the former railroad encompasses a majority of Illinois Beach State Park Rd before turning to the south and ending in the sand. No trace of the abandonment exists, at least at the moment, it is possible that the tracks wash up again. That being said, there are a few examples in the park of where one can visually see where the tracks went.

Looking north along the South Unit Trail, this part of the path is located on or near the former right-of-way, quite close to Lake Michigan. 
Illinois Beach State Park Rd is the most obvious example of the former ROW.

A turn south occurred around here, where the road now diverges north.
The ROW of the old line goes past the road and into the wilderness to a former junction with the tracks now owned by Union Pacific
A topo map from the early 20th century. Note the existence of the now abandoned Chicago and Milwaukee Electric, later named Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee

It should be noted that this was not the only spur from the Chicago & Northwestern main line into Zion. Another existed along present-day Caledonia Blvd to the center of Zion, where Christ Community Church is today. This line is noted in the Development of the City of Zion, by James Taylor.

"Development of the City of Zion", by James Taylor, page 7. Thanks to Jill Zwicke for providing this information!

Source: Chrzastowski, M. J., & Frankie, W. T. (2000). Guide to the geology of Illinois Beach State Park and the Zion beach-ridge plain, Lake County, Illinois. doi:

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