Chapter I: The Beginning (1899-1902)

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In 1876, a man by the name of Bruce Payne brought public transportation to the city of Elgin with the creation of a horsecar line. Six years later, in 1882, Col. Evans would undertake that very same thing in Aurora. By the end of the nineteenth century, these two companies had grown into what was essentially a network of interurban and streetcar lines connecting the towns and cities up and down the Fox River.1

Within a year of the first electrification of one of these horsecar lines, the thoughts of electric railway promoters began turning toward building an electric railway to connect the Fox River Valley with Chicago. Between 1891 and 1897 at least three attempts were made at building this connecting interurban line but none of them would ever get far.

Then, in 1899, a syndicate from Ohio entered into the picture. This syndicate, the Everett-Moore syndicate, had been active since 1895 building and running interurban lines in the Cleveland area. At the time they were the largest group building and operating interurbans in the nation and were in the process of expanding toward Toledo and Detroit when the situation in the Fox River Valley took their attention.

On February 24, 1899, they became the latest group to take the initiative to build this interurban link when they incorporated two companies: the Aurora & Chicago Railway and the Elgin & Chicago Railway.2

Yet it would seem that the Everett-Moore syndicate was not without its rivals and that its interest in the Fox River Valley didn't go unnoticed as the day after it incorporated its two new railways, the Chicago, Wheaton and Aurora Railroad was created by another group attempting to accomplish the same goal.3 This newest group, the Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicate, also happened to be based out of Cleveland and was the second largest interurban builder at the time. Their reasons for incorporating this new railroad were perfectly clear: direct opposition for the Everett-Moore lines. And if there was ever any doubt about this, it was directly stated by Andrew J. Hirschl, one of the railroad's incorporators.3

Seemingly undaunted by their new competition, the Everett-Moore syndicate went on with the business at hand and incorporated a third company, the Aurora, Wheaton & Chicago Railway, on March 11, 1899.4 This newest company was intended to be the primary—or “operating”—entity for the Everett-Moore lines while the previously incorporated railways would now be used primarily for the acquisition of franchises and right of way.

Shortly afterward, the two syndicates began making surveys of the land for their potential rights of way. The Everett-Moore syndicate was faster with the work and also more thorough. By May they had already completed two surveys of the land from Aurora to Chicago (one by way of Naperville and another through Warrenville) and were gearing up for two more. The Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicate, on the other hand, only made one survey, which they started in April.

Once the surveys were completed and a route was chosen, the next order of business was getting permission to pass through the various towns along the way. This was done through the acquisition of franchises. The syndicates obtained most of these in early 1900 and did so without much difficulty. However, getting a franchise from Cicero Township (which, at the time, included Oak Park, and the present day Austin neighborhood of Chicago) proved to be somewhat of a problem. In March, an ordinance that would have given the AW&C a franchise to operate through the township was presented to the Board of Trustees. When this ordinance was reviewed by board president Lewis, he rejected it.

“Within the territory asked by this road are two railroads, owned by different parties, and, consequently, competing for the traffic of that district. The present ordinance does not secure either a better service or a lower fare. At present the great desire seems to be for a five-cent fare. I object to the present ordinance, in the first place, because it imposes on Cicero for fifty years the burden of a ten-cent fare to the business part of Chicago. If the fare is to be fixed for fifty years it should not exceed five cents.

“In the next place, I object to the indefinite and roving commission the ordinance grants to connect with any elevated road. I do not believe an ordinance should be granted which does not provide for through service to the loop.”5

Following Board President Lewis's veto, an amendment to the ordinance was drawn up that laid out certain requirements for the line that addressed his concerns. Part of the ordinance now stated that the fare from Cicero to Chicago would be 5 cents and that an eight-ride ticket for travel between Cicero and Chicago would be sold for 25 cents. Instead of having the option to connect with either the Lake Street Elevated or the Metropolitan West Side Elevated, the AW&C would now have to connect specifically with the Metropolitan. In addition, the interurban was also required to keep and maintain five stations in town along with a union station at the connection with the Metropolitan, and that at the point where the interurban crossed any street or alley, it would keep and maintain electric lights.6

With these alterations in place, Cicero Township granted the franchise on the night of March 31.

From the time the Pomeroy-Mandelbaum syndicate announced that they were also planning a Fox River-Chicago interurban, the rivalry between the two groups was quite strong, but at some point during 1900 or early 1901 a kind of understanding occurred between the rival syndicates and the two groups began working jointly.7 Both groups had already been hard at work acquiring land for a right of way and the Everett-Moore had issued a contract to have the Aurora branch graded. Work started on September 18, 1900, in Aurora and progressed eastward.

But even with this cooperation, a problem would still emerge for the two syndicates: their right of way was potentially blocked. The east side of the Des Plaines River was home to a long, unbroken string of cemeteries. This could have proposed a major stumbling block for the project, but in February of 1901, they were able to purchase a strip of land from Concordia Cemetery that was about a half of a mile long and seventy five feet wide where Concordia butted against neighboring Waldheim Cemetery.

In addition to purchasing land from Concordia Cemetery, there was another development in February. On February 21, 1901, the Everett-Moore syndicate incorporated what was their fourth company to be involved with the project: Batavia & Eastern Railway Company.8 The purpose of this newest company was to build a railway line from Batavia that would meet up with the Aurora branch of the AW&C. Not coincidently, at the time of the incorporation of the Batavia & Eastern, a twenty eight acre tract of land just south of Batavia was already in the process being purchased for the location of a new powerhouse.

And with the incorporation of the Batavia & Eastern, there were now five companies owned by the two syndicates involved with building the new interurban to Chicago. It was decided to take care of this issue and consolidate these companies during the second annual meeting of Aurora, Wheaton & Chicago Railway Company which occurred on March 12, 1901. In addition to consolidating these companies, it was also decided to change the name of the Aurora, Wheaton & Chicago to the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway Company. The state later recognized the name change on April 10th.

The purchase of the twenty eight acres of land near Batavia was finished in early April and around this same time the railroad announced that it was closing contracts for construction of its line. On April 12th the materials for what would become the Aurora branch were delivered by the Elgin Joliet & Eastern.

And while work on grading the line had been progressing since September of 1900, the frigid winter temperatures of 1902 brought it to a standstill. On January 31st grading was halted. The ground was frozen two feet deep, rendering the continuation of further grading impossible. The cold weather that had stopped the work persisted through February and on into March. In spite of this, crews were put back on the right of way to continue grading the line.

Also in March, the railroad ordered its first cars. The order was placed with the Niles Car and Manufacturing Company for thirty new interurban cars, however at this time Niles was a very popular manufacturer and they were exceedingly busy with other orders. As a result they only ended up building the first ten cars. The last twenty were to come from the John Stephenson Car Company of New York.

The awaited springtime air finally arrived in April and as the ground thawed the pace of construction picked up. The bridge over the Des Plaines River was finished on April 5th and crews moved quickly to 52nd Avenue and the connection with the Metropolitan. On April 11th a contract was secured with General Electric to supply the generators, transformers, and converters required for the new powerhouse in Batavia.

By May much had been completed and although the power distribution system wasn't active yet, the officers of the company decided to hold an inspection trip over the line. This was on May 16th. The evening after their inspection they gathered in the Title and Trust Building in Chicago and chose July 1st as the opening day for the Aurora-Chicago portion of the line. The Elgin branch was expected to open either in October or November.

But as July 1st approached, the month of June came in and brought heavy rains with it which caused washouts on several portions of line where there was new and still unpacked fill. As a result, management pushed opening day back to July 12th as crews were sent out to repair the damage. Days later the start of service was pushed back to July 15th. The railroad's cars still had not arrived from the factory.

They wouldn't arrive until Tuesday, July 29, 1902, and even then the railroad only received six of the ten cars supposed to come from the Niles Car and Manufacturing Company.

Yet while all of this was going on, the Everett-Moore was running into separate troubles of its own. In 1901 the syndicate had begun to invest in telephones and was trying to compete with the giant Bell Telephone System. Things hit a bit of a snag when in January of 1902 one of their subsidiary construction companies went bankrupt, which started a disastrous chain of events. At least one Cleveland bank went bankrupt as a result, and the financial situation of several others was not looking too well. The syndicate suddenly found itself needing to produce fast money in order to quell the fears of its creditors. To do so, it ended up selling all of its interest in the Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway Company, thus ending all involvement of the Everett-Moore syndicate with the interurban.

But it was fortunate that the Everett-Moore was involved with the project as long as they were as the combined financial power of the two syndicates had enabled them to build a high-speed interurban that could compete with the steam railroads that were already in the area. Together they had chosen and crafted a right of way with a high quality roadbed, only a few sharp curves and changes in grade, and minimal operation of trains in the street. In addition, the spacing of local stations was to be approximately three miles apart so that normal running speed could be as high as 65 mph.

The power distribution system, which provided the trains with the electricity they ran off of, was also something revolutionary for use by an interurban. High voltage alternating current (AC) was generated at the powerhouse built in Batavia and was then transmitted to substations located at various points along the line. Alternating current had the advantage of being economical when sent over long distances but, however, was not the best option for operating electric trains. So, once the AC was sent to a substation, the substation took the high voltage AC and converted it into to 600 volts of direct current (DC)—which was good for operating electric trains. But instead of using overhead trolley wire to supply the trains with power like most interurbans, the AE&C used a third rail—just like the Metropolitan West Side Elevated which they connected with—and the third rail received the low voltage DC from the substations.

In the end, the interurban they had built had been constructed to standards the likes of which the world had never seen.

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  1. The Great Third Rail II-vi
  2. “News of the Railways.” Chicago Daily Tribune 25 Feb. 1899: 13.
  3. “To Build Electric Railway.” Chicago Daily Tribune 26 Feb. 1899: 5.
  4. “New Incorporations.” Chicago Daily Tribune 12 Mar. 1899: 7.
  5. “Vetoes Cicero Line Grant.” Chicago Daily Tribune 25 Mar. 1900: 7.
  6. “Gets Grant in Cicero.” Chicago Daily Tribune 1 Apr. 1900: 7.
  7. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 175
  8. “General News of Railways.” Chicago Daily Tribune 23 Feb. 1901: 13.