Wednesday, April 17, 2019

10 of Illinois' Forgotten Railroad Bridges

My project to map the abandoned railroad corridors of the world began in my home state of Illinois, and as such, I thought it would nice to revisit the area and discuss some of the many railroad bridges in the state that no longer serve any traffic, including those lost to history.

According to Bridgehunter.com, there are over 1,400 bridges that were built in Illinois that are no longer standing. And even bridges that still exist, there are many hundreds that no longer serve any traffic whatsoever, including pedestrians. Today, we're going to look at just 10 of these, which barely scratches the surface of how many lost bridges there are in this state, and indeed the rest of the country, but if there's enough interest, this can certainly be revisited in future blogs. Any other bridges you have photos or information on, please share in the comments!

10) Alton Bridge over the Mississippi River at Alton, IL (38.885, -90.18245)

Image: Clayton B. Fraser for the Historic American Engineering Record, 8/1985 via Bridgehunter.com
The Mississippi River is a dominant geographic feature when it comes to railroads. The sheer size of the river makes it difficult to cross for freight traffic, and thus it is uncommon for railroads to abandon bridges that were built over the river. Nonetheless, there exist numerous examples of bridges that were indeed abandoned, including this bridge completed in 1894 for the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad. This bridge connected the busy railroad town of Alton, IL with a railroad junction at West Alton, MO across the Mississippi.

The bridge was demolished by the CB&Q's successor, the Burlington Northern, in 1988, but not before extensive photography and documentation took place by the Historic American Engineering Record, available via the Library of Congress.

9) Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad Bridge over the Illinois River at Peru, IL (41.32161, -89.08402)

Image: Douglas Butler via Bridgehunter.com
Another lost Chicago Burlington & Quincy bridge existed in Peru, IL. This one has a more interesting history, as it was originally built in 1890, but did not include a movable span, which meant that steamships could not traverse the river. This was corrected in 1913, but the original bridge was replaced in its entirety in 1932 with a vertical lift span, pictured above. 

A nearby bridge built for the Illinois Central Railroad is still in service over the river.

This time, the railroad was abandoned in the late 1970's, and the bridge didn't last much longer, being demolished on June 17th, 1980.

8) Polly "L" Bridge, Chicago, IL (41.88841, -87.67014)

This is one of the unique uses for an abandoned bridge, as this one is still standing, but is used for signals for the railroad line it goes over!

Polly Bridge over the Union Pacific tracks, with signals installed in the middle. Image: John Marvig
The Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad began constructing elevated lines in the City of Chicago. This particular stretch was for the Logan Park branch, a line about 1.5 miles long, between what is now the CTA Green Line just west of the Ashland Station, and what is now the CTA Blue line just west of the Division Station. According to Forgotten Chicago, this line was used until 1951, with the Logan Square Branch being demolished in 1964.

Image: Forgotten Chicago
This bridge was the only remnant saved, as it was purchased by the Chicago & Northwestern to become a signal bridge, which it remains today.


7) Kinzie St Railroad Bridge, Chicago, IL (41.888528, -87.639167)

My photo, taken on a mid-February day with the sun breaking despite lingering snow showers.
We stay in Chicago for the next bridge on our list. I'm going to save myself numerous comments by stating that technically, the Kinzie St Railroad Bridge is still in service, as Union Pacific lowers the bridge and drives a hi-rail truck over it once a year. However, the line east of the Chicago River has not been used since 2000, and will not be used any time soon. It's an icon of the Chicago River, and that's why I'm including it on this list.

The first bridge in this area was built in 1848 for the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, Chicago's first railroad of what would become hundreds. A swing bridge replaced the original in 1879, and this too was replaced by the current bridge in 1907.

The bridge was used for industrial operations as far east as Navy Pier, but only served commuters for a few years, as the Chicago & North Western Station (now known as Ogilvie) was completed in 1911. It served the Chicago Sun-Times until 2000, when it put permanently out-of-service.

6) Rooks Creek Bridge - Between Pontiac and Chenoa, IL (40.81397, -88.67761)

While the Kinzie St Bridge is an icon, not every abandoned bridge can hold that status. In fact, the vast majority of abandoned bridges may not seem to be interesting at first glance, but each has a story. Here, the story is of the significant challenges interurban railways faced in the early 20th century.
Rooks Creek Bridge. Image: John Marvig
As you can see, the bridge is still standing, but you could hardly tell it was ever intended to be a railroad bridge from its condition. The bridge was built in 1909 for the Bloomington Pontiac & Joliet Interurban Railway, intended to connect its namesake cities. Ultimately, like many interurbans, it was dreamed to be more than it ever became, as the BP&J only ran between Dwight & Pontiac. The line would've directly paralleled the much larger Chicago & Alton Railroad, which still today has passenger service via Amtrak. By 1925, with the construction of Route 66, it was clear an interurban could not survive, and the railroad was abandoned. 

5) Gulf Mobile & Ohio Bridge over the Salt Creek (40.12316, -89.58891) 

Image: HAARGIS via Bridgehunter.com
This through truss bridge, located in rural Logan County, Illinois served a Chicago & Alton Railroad line between Peoria and Springfield. It later became part of the GM&O, and the Illinois Central later still after their merger. It was abandoned in the 1980's and removed before 1998 according to satellite imagery.

4) Rockford & Interurban Railway Bridge over the Pecatonica River (42.29852, -89.50655)

Here's what's left of another interurban railway bridge, this one east of Freeport, IL on the Pecatonica River.

Image: John Marvig, 2015 via Bridgehunter.com
Like the Rooks Creek Bridge, this also paralleled another railroad; in this case the Chicago & Northwestern between Rockford and Freeport. It too is abandoned, and it too had another bridge over the Pecatonica River, which is still standing and part of the Pecatonica Prairie Trail.

But this bridge was built in 1904 for the Rockford & Interurban Railway. Unfortunately, no image of the bridge appears to exist on the internet, other than John Marvig's picture of the piers that remain today. The line remained in service until 1930, with the bridge being demolished two years later.

3) Iowa Central Railroad Bridge at Keithsburg, IL. (41.1055, -90.95151)

Like the previously mentioned Alton Bridge, the Iowa Central Railroad Bridge is another abandoned bridge over the Mississippi, this time once connecting Keithsburg, IL to Oakville, IA.

Bosse, Henry Peter, 1844-1903. 1889. "Iowa Central Railroad Bridge at Keithsburg, Il. [Illinois], 1889." U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, Accessed April 17, 2019. https://reflections.mndigital.org/catalog/army:501

The original bridge, pictured above, was built in 1886, and replaced in 1909 with a lift bridge that partially stands today.

Image: Nathan Morton, 8/2007. Via Bridgehunter.com
The Iowa Central Railroad was purchased by the much larger Minneapolis & St. Louis in 1909, which itself was purchased by the C&NW in 1960. The line was abandoned in 1971, with the lift bridge permanently locked in the upright position. Ten years later, the lift was accidentally destroyed by fireworks, requiring it to be removed by the Army Corps of Engineers, as it was blocking traffic on the Mississippi River.  

2) Joliet Iron Works Flyover Bridge (41.53893, -88.07914)
This is probably the most obscure bridge on this list, but it has an interesting history, although most of the bridge is still in ruins. I visited the Iron Works in August of 2018, and noticed this bridge which once connected one side of the Iron Works with another. 

Dennis DeBruler has done some research on this bridge, indicating that it was of Santa Fe Railway origin, and led into a building on the east side of the tracks.

My August 2018 photo of what's left of the bridge.

In the background, you can see the still existing tracks which this bridge led over.

Another view of the bridge from the Joliet Iron Works/I&M Canal trail.
1) Chicago Burlington & Quincy Bridge over the Ursa Creek (40.07061, -91.3746)

Image: Ursa Creek Lodge
Much like the Polly Bridge in Chicago, this bridge is more notable for what it became after it was abandoned than when it was in service. The bridge was built by the Chicago Burlington & Quincy in 1919, for their line between Quincy and Gulf Port, IL. By 1896, the Burlington Northern tore down the structure after the line's abandonment. However, on the land once home to the bridge, the owner of the land built a lodge in the early 2000's, which is what it remains today, and open to the public.


There are many, many abandoned railroad bridges in Illinois, so there remains much to discuss on the matter, nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed today's blog, thanks for reading!

2 comments:

  1. Concerning the CB&Q bridge over the Illinois River, the "A nearby bridge" link is incorrect. The correct link is https://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/2015/03/pvtxic-illinois-river-rr-bridge.html. That bridge is still active. When Illinois Central abandoned it, a cement company bought it. They created a railroad, PVTX, that still runs cement hoppers over the bridge. The cement cars are delivered to a PVTX yard on the north side of the river by IAIS. http://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/2015/03/pvtx-private-railroad-of-buzzi-unicem.html

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  2. Another interesting topic would be the lost truss bridges over the Illinois River. I started bridge hunting in 2014, and all of the road bridges I saw were now steel girder bridges. I learned last month that we lost another truss just last year at Merdosia. https://industrialscenery.blogspot.com/2019/03/il-104-bridges-over-illinois-river-at.html

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