Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Washington, Alexandria, & Mt. Vernon Electric Railway

The Washington, Alexandria, & Mt. Vernon Electric Railway connected Arlington, VA at present-day Rosslyn station with Mount Vernon, about 15 miles south, with service starting in 1892. (right-of-way)

Washington, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon Electric Railway, n.d., Visual Studies Collection, Fairfax County Public Library Historical Photographs, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
The line was granted permission to connect with the District of Columbia via a barge on the Potomac, but this was never acted upon. Its location in eastern Virginia meant that there were many iconic American landmarks along its path, such as George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. The line also used the present-day right-of-way of the George Washington Memorial Parkway in spots, and part of the line ran through Arlington National Cemetery and the campus of the Pentagon. The line merged with another interurban line, the Washington, Arlington & Falls Church Railway to form the Washington-Virginia Railway in 1913. But the combined company would not last long, as competition from automobiles and buses left the interurban in a position like many others across the United States. By 1932, the trolleys would make their last run along the route. History

Friday, December 20, 2019

STB Abandonment AB_1291_0_X

The Rockdale, Sandow & Southern Railroad connects with the Union Pacific Railroad at Marjorie, TX, running about six miles south to a smelter at Alcoa, TX.

Photo: Wes Carr via

In November 2019, its parent company Alcoa Energy Services filed a petition to abandon the line, citing no current demand for rail service and no apparent traffic prospects.

In the filing, it leaves open the potential for part of the right of way to remain open disconnected from the rest of the US rail network, which would make the line not subject to STB regulation.

The line has been in service since 1923, with common carrier service since 1952. The only real traffic came from the metals industry, as the line hauled mostly aluminium products.

STB Website: Search for AB_1291_0_X

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway

The Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway connected its namesake towns in Colorado, beginning in 1897. (right-of-way)

Image: Cathedral Park, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"The train tracks belong to the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway." Photochrom print by the Detroit Photographic Co. copyrighted 1901. From the Photochrom Prints Collection, Library of Congress.

It was built during Colorado Springs' second gold rush during the 1890's, but faced competition from many of the other railroads built to tap into the mines at Cripple Creek. Despite the rugged terrain it ran through, it was a standard gauge line.

The line changed hands a few times during the 1910's, before finally becoming part of the Cripple Creek Central Railway, who also controlled the nearby Midland Terminal Railway. By 1917, most traffic had been moved to the MTRwy, with 1919 being the last year of operations.

Almost all of the right of way today has been converted into Gold Camp Road.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Cemetery Next to a Particle Accelerator: St. Patrick Cemetery

In the early 1950's, at the height of new discoveries in nuclear energy, Argonne National Laboratory had outgrown its original campus at the University of Chicago, as well as the forest where it had conducted other experiments during the late 1940's, where currently the world's first nuclear reactor remains buried today.

The site chosen would be on 3,500 acres in unincorporated Downers Grove Township in DuPage County, IL. What was once farmland would be converted into space to develop energy, weapons, and other Cold War inventions designed to keep the United States as the premier superpower in all things technology.

However, two of those acres held cemetery land owned by a nearby church, St. Patrick's. The decision was made to keep the cemetery in its original location, as opposed to relocating it to accommodate the laboratory. “These are the only two acres the government doesn’t have anything to say about,” said Polly Hanrahan, the caretaker of St. Patrick cemetery for over 40 years.

In the red oval lies the St. Patrick Property. It is completely fenced off from Argonne National Laboratory. Image: Google Maps
While this preserved the grounds, it made traversing to the cemetery quite difficult. The cemetery is freely accessible today, but not without at least two miles of walking each way. Today's blog focuses on the history of this cemetery, and what the cemetery looks like today.

A Bit of History on St Patrick Cemetery notes that, "Most of the early settlers who are buried there were born in Ireland, came over in the 1830’s and pioneered the farms surrounding the ground."

"The two acres of farmland for the cemetery were purchased in 1849 by the Chicago Catholic Diocese from Mr. and Mrs.Nicholas Mulvey, who are both buried there."
Despite its remoteness, the cemetery appears to be well cared for and maintained.
Construction of the lab closed Bluff Rd, which was the main road through the area, and where St Patrick's was accessible from. Now, the only way to access the cemetery is via the Waterfall Glen Trail, where the old Bluff Road branches from.

Entering from Lemont Rd, follow the trail east until you make a left at this junction, where what remains of Bluff Road continues toward the laboratory.
The Waterfall Glen Trail is easily bikeable, but when crossing onto Bluff Rd, the pavement becomes quite rocky.
While one could bike this, the rocks make walking preferable, unless you've got a mountain bike.
The road then meets the laboratory and makes a hard right, where a fence separates the laboratory road from the path to the cemetery.

On one hand, the walk in the woods is quite peaceful; on the other, it feels a little creepy being on this side of the fence.
Argonne's Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System is visible from the path opposite the fence.

After about another mile of walking, pavement for the cemetery comes into view, more trees and grass dot the area as well.
Visiting on a foggy day made the perfect backdrop for this cemetery.

The cemetery itself is not large, but it is well cared for by the church. Several of the graves have names on them that would be familiar to anyone who knows the nearby streets, such as Kearney Road.

This was one of the pillars of the gate visible upon entering/exiting.

The grounds are also very peaceful; while it might be creepy to be alone in a nearly-abandoned cemetery, the grounds were quite welcoming.

I was quite glad not to see any vandalism within the cemetery. Although I was the only one there, it is obvious that the caretaker must come here frequently.

Like with most cemeteries nearby of any faith, plots are completely full here. It was proposed to add more cemetery space; however given how difficult the walk is to the grounds already, the proposal was ultimately not acted upon. 

A Bit of History closes with this on the cemetery, "Surrounded by Argonne property, Mass is celebrated here each Memorial Day and attended by many parishioners and visitors who are taken back in time to their childhoods and beyond, remembering honored loved ones; a generous faith-filled generation of souls; the founders of our country and the original stewards of our historic Parish."

For more of my work in and around Waterfall Glen and Argonne National Laboratory, read Argonne National Laboratory's Abandoned Railroad Tracks, which I first discovered in 2012, leading me to where I am now, working to map and trace each abandoned railroad in the world. Thanks as always for reading!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Unsigned Interstate Highways

Despite being the highest standard of highway in the world, the Interstate Highway System has a few highways which, despite being fully part of the system, do not carry such a signed designation. This mirrors Illinois' Unmarked Highway System, although there are far fewer unsigned Interstates.
Three miles of US-131 in Grand Rapids between I-96 and I-196 is actually unsigned I-296. Image: Bill Burmaster
Since I began learning about the Interstate System in my youth, the fact that there existed "hidden" Interstates fascinated me. Today we'll go over some of these routes, and why they aren't signed as an Interstate.

Alaska & Puerto Rico:
The Interstate Highway System at its inception was much different than it is today, with regard to funding. During the initial construction of the system, 90% of the funds for the roads were provided by the Federal Government. Most Interstate highway projects today are funded with a mix of federal, state and local funds. 

Despite existing outside the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico were included in this funding mix for upgrading and building its own highways, which is why there are Interstates in these states and territory. 

Alaska, which only has Anchorage as a major population center, has four unsigned interstates; I-A1, I-A2, I-A3 and I-A4, which do not conform to the standards of the contiguous United States. Puerto Rico similarly has I-PR1, I-PR2 and I-PR3. This practice is codified in Section 103(c)(1)(B)(ii), 23 U.S.C., which states , "Highways on the Interstate System in Alaska and Puerto Rico shall be designed in accordance with such geometric and construction standards as are adequate for current and probable future traffic demands and the needs of the locality of the highway." (FHWA)

Alaska's Interstates, All Unsigned. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Puerto Rico's Unsigned Interstates. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Hawaii, having an urban population center in Honolulu, was able to build freeways consistent with the contiguous US, and signed them as I-H1, I-H2, I-H3 and I-H201. I-H201 was initially signed as HI-78, but has been signed since 2004.

Too Short to Sign:

Back in the mainland US, there exist several Interstate highways that are so short, it is simply better to not sign them. This is generally the reasoning behind not numbering Interstate highways, as the vast majority of unsigned routes are less than four miles in length.

Examples of this include I-315 in Montana, which runs less than a mile in length in Great Falls, MT. The entire route is signed as BL-15, which runs into the downtown area, and is not Interstate standard east of Fox Farm Rd. 

Map of I-315 and BL-15 in Great Falls. Image:
I've talked before about I-878 in New York, which was planned to be much longer than it exists as today. 878 as an Interstate officially exists (or existed) for all of 7/10 of a mile near JFK airport. In this case, the State of New York created a similarly numbered route along part of the planned Nassau Expy, and thus saw no need to sign 878 as anything else but a state route.

Image: Adam Moss
Another short, unsigned Interstate Highway that was planned to be a much longer route is I-478 in New York, better known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel (or the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel). What's interesting is that New York City and State both freely acknowledge the number, and it's even signed on Google Maps, but no physical signs exist with the 478 designation.
Image: Untapped Cities
Interstate 444 is the final piece to the puzzle that is the Interstate System in Tulsa, OK, but as the road continues both north and south of the Interstate's endpoints as US-75, and with the possibility that an emergency dispatcher may confuse an incident on I-444 with one on I-44, it's more simple to keep the route as US-75.

I-444 in red. Image: Wikipedia Commons

Disagreements between Federal and State DOT's:

Occasionally, a state has a differing opinion on the numbering of a route than the Federal Government, although this is an uncommon situation. Currently, Interstate 910 exists in Louisiana from a junction with I-10 to US-90 along current Business US-90 (which ironically, is up to higher standards than US-90 itself). The FHWA approved signage in 1999, however Louisiana never acted upon it, instead preferring to wait until I-49 is extended into the New Orleans area for the route to become signed as an Interstate.

I-910 along Business US-90 in red. Image: Mr Matte, Wikipedia Commons
Changing from Signed to Unsigned:

Like with Hawaii's I-H201, a highway's status as an unsigned route is not set in stone, and various state DOT's occasionally change their mind with regard to Interstate highways. No example might be better than Tennessee's Interstate 124.

Michael Summa, 1975 via
First opening in the 1960's, I-124 runs less than two miles in the Chattanooga, TN area along with US-27. In 1986, the route began its decline toward unsigned status, as it would disappear and reappear on maps, with the reasoning being that motorists confused it with I-24. After a reconstruction project, none of the 124 shields were replaced, leaving just one along the entire route, before fully being taken off the route in 2003. While the road is no longer signed as an Interstate, it still exists on paper, just like all unsigned routes.

It Really Ought to Be Signed:

While generally unsigned Interstate highways, like the ones mentioned above, have a decent reason to be unsigned, there exists an unsigned Interstate in Maryland that is longer than a main route of the system, with which it shares an interchange. That route is I-595. 

Route of the unsigned I-595 between I-95/495 and MD-70. Image: Alchetron
At almost 20 miles in length, I-595 is about as long as the average 3-digit Interstate Highway, and two miles longer than I-97, which is by far the shortest 2-digit Interstate Highway at just 17 miles in length. I-595 runs along the well-known US-50/301, which is the explanation for keeping the route unsigned (despite that numerous US Routes and Interstates run concurrently).

The road has a pretty long history, as it was first proposed to become part of I-68 in 1975. AASHTO rejected that idea, but approved extending I-97 westward, and making the road east of I-97 Interstate 197. 

Maryland continued to push for I-68, but that never materialized, as I-68 was to be applied to a road in Western Maryland and West Virginia, from I-79 to I-70 in Morgantown, WV and Hagerstown, MD, respectively. Once the road was fully brought up to Interstate Standards, AASHTO approved I-595 for the route, but Maryland chose not to sign the route. Maybe they're waiting for an eastward extension of I-68, who knows. Their reasoning, according to a response to a 2001 email from Scott M. Kozel, was that "we did not feel that either the posting in the field or the noting on a map would serve any useful purpose for the traveling public".

Nonetheless, the designation occasionally referred to on Maryland's traffic information website, CHART.

For more information on the rest of the Unsigned Interstate Highways, maintains a complete list of all the unsigned Interstate Highways in the US. 

Thanks as always for reading!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Unfortunate Railroad History Preserved in a Cemetery Plot: Showmen's Rest in Forest Park, IL

On June 22, 1918, one of the worst train wrecks in American history occurred near Hammond, IN. 86 people lost their lives with another 127 being injured in the crash, which was caused by an engineer asleep at the controls. 
Photo: Northwest Indiana Times
Early that morning, one of three Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus trains had stopped to oil up a wheel bearing, with the rear car jettisoning out onto the mainline, when a troop train was coming up behind it at full speed. Immediately upon impact, the four rear cars of the circus train caught fire, trapping anyone inside. Unfortunately, nearby marshes were the only source of water to fight the blazes.

Sadly, they were nearly to Hammond, which was the next stop on their tour. The two other trains had made the journey safely.

Image: The aftermath of the wreck, attracting numerous people to see the wreckage. (Wikipedia Commons)
According to the Northwest Indiana Times,  Triage was done at the now-demolished Michigan Central station in Hammond. While many workers were beyond help, others were treated for burns and released. One circus worker even was back at work the next day, only suffering a shoulder injury. 

"The Show Must Go On"

The Hagenback-Wallace Circus would only miss two shows as a result of the crash, as competing circuses lent them workers until others could be hired.

Five years before the crash,  in 1913, the Showmen's League of America had purchased a cemetery plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park, IL specifically for circus performers. It would be this plot of land which would be used to bury many of the workers in the crash.

Many of the deceased workers were unable to be identified as it was common for circus workers to be employed days, or even hours, before the next performance. Working conditions and quality of life were nothing like we're used to today, as most had to share cramped quarters with one another. 

Nonetheless, the workers were buried with a dignified funeral five days after the wreck.

Image: The Funeral at Showmen's Rest, 1918. Chicago Tribune
The plot of land is marked by four elephant stones inside the Cemetery. 

One of the elephants which designates a corner of Showmen's Rest. You can see another elephant in the background.
I visited the cemetery earlier this month, and was taken aback by the sheer number of unidentified graves that occupy the site. I photographed every grave, and made it into a short video for easier viewing.

Thanks as always for reading!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Forgotten Railways of Chicago: Cemetery Spurs and Stations

If you go outside the city limits of Chicago in any direction, and you will find numerous large cemeteries occupying the land. In fact, in some cases you don't even have to leave the city.

This stems from an early Chicago ordinance that disallowed cemeteries within the city limits, meaning many located just outside the city. This is why some villages, such as Forest Park and Hillside, have a larger population of dead individuals than the living. As Chicago annexed surrounding areas and grew, on occasion cemeteries that were once outside the city were now within it, even in spite of the ordinance.

Chicago Aurora & Elgin car serving Mt. Carmel Cemetery in Hillside. Image: Electric Railway Review via GreatThirdRail
A funeral today often consists of dozens of cars en route to a cemetery, however, how did people reach cemeteries before the advent of the automobile?

Railroads provided the service, and in fact were required by law to do so. On the weekends, funeral trains were actually a boon for passenger traffic. This is partly why there are numerous cemeteries near and adjacent to railroad rights of way. In today's blog, we're going to explore some of the lines and stations in and around the Chicago area, which were used primarily by funeral trains.

According to Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries, "some funeral trains used regular railroad trackage,  but special spur tracks were also laid directly into many outlying cemeteries." Coffins and mourners traveled to the cemetery in specially built cars. Both freight railroads and streetcars served cemeteries along their routes. The predecessors to the CTA's "L" Trains all served funeral trains as well.

Waldheim Cemetery with streetcar tracks in front of the entrance. Image: Oak Park River Forest Museum
One example of this would be the Chicago Harlem & Batavia Railway, a dummy line service Waldheim Cemetery at its end, despite mostly running along Randolph St in Chicago and its western suburbs. This line was gone not much after the turn of the 20th century.

While most of these spur tracks and stations are long gone, there are nonetheless pieces of scarchitecture to be found if one looks hard enough.

Pictured: A scar of the CA&E line to Mt Carmel in Hillside between Roosevelt Rd between Mannheim Rd & Wolf Rd
Mt. Carmel Cemetery was once served by the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad. The line's primary service was for funeral trains, although it was also served as a stop between the cemetery and the main line at Bellwood, IL. Trains stopped serving the cemetery in the 1930's, yet satellite imagery still holds clues to the existence of this once gravely stop.

Some ghostly remains of stations still exist at a few of these cemeteries. For example, Rosehill Cemetery, now on Chicago's North Side once had a station on the adjacent Chicago & Northwestern line. Stairs which led down from the platform can still be seen today.

Image: Rosehill Cemetery Entrance Stairs by Gary J. Sibio

Interestingly, this was the second station built at Rosehill. The tracks that are elevated today were not always that way, and an earlier station stopped at the cemetery before the track elevation took place.

Image: The earlier Rosehill Station, spelled as two words. In reality, both are wrong, as the original plot of land was called "Roe's Hill", but got the name Rosehill as the result of a clerical error.
Elevating the tracks required installing an elevator to transport the coffin down into the cemetery at the station. That elevator still stands today. 

Image: Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries
Burial grounds have existed long before white settlers came to this land, and as such, unfortunately some development has occurred over American Indian burial grounds. One example is Haase’s Park, owned by Ferdinand Haase, an early German settler of Forest Park, who built a park on such land. To access this, a spur track was constructed by the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, in exchange for gravel necessary to build the rest of the railroad. Such gravel removal destroyed most of the original glacial ridge, leveled much of the land, and uncovered several Native American burial mounds. (Oak Park River Forest Museum). While the spur track is long gone, a wye is still quite visible today, as it is now Brown Ave and Circle Ave in River Forest.

Ultimately, funeral trains became a victim of paved roads and automobiles, as it is more convenient for the deceased and their loved ones to be transported to a cemetery and laid to rest on their schedule, as opposed to a railroad's. Chicago Aurora & Elgin last ran a funeral train in 1934, after which their Mt Carmel line was abandoned. (Chicago & Cook County Cemeteries)

Nonetheless, their memory is a great reminder of the role that railroads played in shaping our world today, and how different the world was before cars were readily available.

Finally, although Springfield is quite far from Chicago, Abraham Lincoln's legacy, as well as his funeral train, are well worth reading up on, and mentioning in this blog, especially since a spur track from the main line was built to service Oak Ridge Cemetery, his final resting place.

Image: Lincoln's Funeral Train. TIME Magazine.
I've created a map of all known cemetery stations and spur tracks in the Chicago area, as well as the spur track to Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Let me know if I missed anything or if you have further things to add to it, just like any of my other maps!

Thanks as always for reading and have a Happy Halloween! Tomorrow we will discuss a tragic piece of history at the intersection of railroads and cemeteries that occurred in the Chicago area.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Visit to the New Buffalo Railroad Museum

Today the Mrs. and I visited the New Buffalo Railroad Museum, a replica Pere Marquette Depot in New Buffalo, MI. The Depot is located near where the original PM station was for New Buffalo. 

From the exterior, the grounds appear unkempt, and the parking lot needs work. Looks are deceiving though.
This was one of the smaller railroad museums I've visited, although I highly enjoyed the little time I did spend there. There may not be any heritage operations running out of here, but they did pack a lot of history into a small space, and the potential for further renovation is quite easily visible.

Adjacent to the museum is the former roundhouse used by the Pere Marquette, which was in service until 1984. The roundhouse, and its relocated turntable served none other than Pere Marquette 1225, made famous in the book and film adaptation of The Polar Express.

Back of the roundhouse. Currently abandoned, it would be an amazing restoration project. A brewery perhaps?
Image: PM 1225 and the historic turntable, now part of the Steam Railroad Institute.
Also adjacent to the museum are the active CSX tracks. In 1869, the Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore railroad built the tracks, which later became part of the Pere Marquette Railway. The PM became part of the Chesapeake & Ohio, which became part of the CSX Railroad it is today.

Today, the museum has the station depot and three pieces of rolling stock, two of which are available for the public to enter. The caboose unfortunately had graffiti all over it.
The Chessie System Boxcar was one of the rolling stock you could walk into. It looks a lot bigger from the inside!
Both interiors were decked out with information on veterans from the New Buffalo area and beyond.
The interior of this Pullman Troop Sleeper was renovated to look like it did in the early 20th century, and the amount of troops transported per car would make anyone claustrophobic by today's standards.

Seriously, 6 people bunking in that little space. I couldn't do it!

An ex-Chessie Caboose that we couldn't walk into. Not yet at least.
On the walls of the boxcar was a map of New Buffalo from 1857. It's information like this that make museums and libraries so important, because despite believing that I'd discovered all the abandoned rights-of-way near the New Buffalo area, there were actually several I was missing, including two bridge wharfs out into Lake Michigan, which were owned by the Michigan Central Railroad.

Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any other trace of them. They appeared to have been long gone by 1930 according to USGS topo maps. 
I've made a map of New Buffalo abandonments and points-of-interest that I'm aware of. Unless there's a historical reason to do so, I don't add rights of way under a mile in length to my worldwide. abandoned railroad rights-of-way map, so a second map is necessary.

Anytime I can say I've learned something, I can always say its worth my time. That said, even if I hadn't found the map, I've saved the most entertaining part of the museum for last, a very large model railroad, which occupies most of the upstairs of the railroad depot.

Who can resist?
Quite a lot of other pieces of railroadiana can be found upstairs as well. This is what my basement would look like were I much richer!

Pere Marquette 1223, sister to 1225, and currently on display in Grand Haven, MI.
...and a steam engine I've visited before as well!
It takes about an hour to see everything here, so it's not a full-day trip, however if you find yourself in New Buffalo, I definitely recommend checking it out despite its small size. The New Buffalo Railroad Museum is located at 30 S. Whittaker St., New Buffalo, Michigan, and open weekends between April and the end of October. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Thanks as always for reading!