Aurora Branch route map Main line Batavia branch Chicago Golf Plamondon Weisbrook Road Warrenville Williams Road Diehl Road Batavia Junction Poss Road Aurora terminal

Aurora Branch

The Aurora branch was a 13.9-mile predominantly-single tracked line operated by the Chicago Aurora & Elgin that ran from Wheaton to Aurora. It opened on August 25, 1902 as part of the initial segment of the railway and remained in use until June 1959, when freight service was suspended.

Route

The Aurora branch began in Wheaton just west of the Wheaton station at the eastern edge of the Wheaton Yards. The line continued the double tracking of the main line as it turned to the south, running between the Wheaton and freight yards, before completing its turn just past Childs Street and heading straight south. It continued in this direction until in the vicinity of Elm Street, where it began a large curve to the west passing nearby Wheaton Cemetery and then the grounds of the Chicago Golf Club. A station was located here for the convenience of the club’s patrons. West of the golf club, the line narrowed to a single track and continued in a southwesterly direction.

Just before crossing Gary Road, the Aurora branch had its first passing siding, Gary siding, then passed under Highway 56 [Butterfield Road] and Butterfield Road [Hoy Avenue]. From there, the line passed into then-unincorporated Warrenville. Downtown Warrenville hosted the Aurora branch’s only substation/depot: the Warrenville station. After passing Landon Avenue in southwestern Warrenville the Aurora branch took another slight turn to the south to continue on heading south-by-southwest. The line then broadened back to two tracks just before the Diehl Road stop then made another curve after crossing Diehl Road to bring the line back to a southwestern trajectory. From there it crossed the Elgin Joliet & Eastern and then Eola Road. This brought the line in the vicinity of unincorporated Eola. The community (which the line did not enter) was served by the Batavia Junction station, which situated between the meeting point of the Batavia and Aurora branches. Beyond the station, the line continued as a single track. Once in the vicinity of Church Road, the Aurora branch made another large curve in a slightly southerly direction. In spite of its rural area, Church Road was the site of the only station on the long stretch between Batavia Junction and the city limits of Aurora. Just north of Hankes Avenue the line once again became double tracked. This location was also the site of a substation and was the transition point from third rail power to overhead wire. Originally, after crossing Illinois Avenue, the line swerved to the east and the tracks entered Broadway. As time went on, the railroad began rebuilding the southern end of the branch to reduce—and eventually remove—street running. In the railroad’s final years, the Aurora branch continued straight across Illinois Avenue, paralled the Fox River, and terminated at New York Street.

History

moonlight_scene.jpg

The unidentified stop pictured on this postcard was typical of the local stations on the Aurora branch in the early years.

Postcard from the collection of Don Bosan-Bruno

Construction of the Aurora branch occurred concurrently with that of the Main Line. Work began in September of 1900 and was completed by mid 1902. Service from Aurora to Chicago was set to begin on July 1, 1902, however opening day was delayed several times. Ultimately, the line began operating on August 25, 1902.1 Upon opening, stations were located at Aurora, Eola Junction, Warrenville, and the Chicago Golf grounds with stops at Ferry Road and Gary Road being added shortly afterward.2 Service over the line consisted of single car locals operating on thirty minute headways between Aurora and the 52nd Avenue terminal in Chicago. Although operational, construction of the Aurora branch had not been completed. As a result, a temporary terminal was set up in a storefront at Spring Street and Broadway, approximately three blocks north of the intended destination.

About six weeks later, the Batavia branch opened as sort of a small offshoot of the Aurora branch.3 Service over the Batavia branch consisted of shuttles running between the Batavia Terminal and the Eola Junction station on the Aurora branch where passengers transfered to and from trains operating in Aurora-Chicago service. Around the same time, in October, the southern portion of the route was completed into Aurora and the permanent terminal opened.

On May 29, 1903, the line to Elgin opened.4 Prior to this, there was no real distinction between the main line and the Aurora branch. With the opening of the Elgin branch, trains departed Chicago in fifteen minute intervals alternating between Aurora and Elgin trains. While there was no change to those stations southwest of Wheaton, they now were now only receiving half the service of those on the main line.

420 at Broadway and Benton

Until 1939, cars had their layovers and switched ends at Broadway and Benton, as car 420 is doing in 1935.

Unknown, C Scholes.

November 1904 marked the first of a series of changes to the southern portion of the Aurora branch that would continue for the next thirty five years. At that time the location of the terminal was changed to that of a different storefront, this one several blocks away at Fox Street [Downer Place] and Broadway. The terminal was then moved again in 1915, this time one block north into the Hotel Arthur on the corner of Main Street [Galena Boulevard] and Broadway. The location of the new terminal was better suited for transfers between trains of the Third Rail and Fox River Divisions of the AE&C as well as to and from trains of the Aurora Plainfield & Joliet Railway and the Chicago Aurora & DeKalb Railroad. An additional benefit was that the six-story Hotel Arthur also had ample space to house the offices of the AE&C since the previous location had burned down in 1913.

Street running is a slow process and was viewed by Dr. Thomas Conway as an operational defect. After Samuel Insull acquired the railroad from Conway, plans were drawn up to move the location of the terminal off of city streets and onto private right of way along the Fox River. By 1928, virtually all of the property for such an alignment had been purchased, however trains continued to operate down Broadway for another decade.

The following year, the Batavia Junction station was rebuilt and received a high level platform. This had the effect of reducing dwell time at the station by speeding the cross-platform Batavia transfars.5 In 1935 the twenty year lease on the Traction Terminal Building (formerly known as the Hotel Arthur) came to an end and the Aurora terminal returned to Fox and Broadway.

The riverside route consisting entirely of private right-of-way opened on December 31, 1939.6 Opening along with it was a new terminal located at New York Street with a high level platform. The old tracks in the street were abandoned and eventually removed.

During the years of World War II ridership on the CA&E soared as people abandoned their cars for the rails due to war time rationing. While rationing provided much needed patronage, it also ended up costing the Aurora branch a station. The railroad, too, sought to save materials and studied the elimination of non-essential stations and crossings. Sixteen stations were targeted for closure, but public outcry rose against the plan. The Emory stop apparently received little support for its continued operation and at some point between 1943 and 1945, the stop was closed.7 Chicago Avenue, the next stop north, was then renamed Emory.

Little changed until the abrupt cessation of passenger service in 1957. After that, use of the Aurora branch diminished to those few freight movements that occurred, and then these too ended in June 1959. The Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railway officially ceased being in 1961,8 and shortly thereafter the rails were removed as the line was scrapped. That which remained was eventually put to other uses. In 1966, most of the right-of-way became the Aurora Stem of the Illinois Prairie Path. The Warrenville station became city hall for the municipality when Warrenville incorporated in 1967. It remained in use until 2003 when it was replaced by a new facility and demolished. The high level platform of the last Aurora terminal also survived, but was not used for any purose. It was eventualy demolished in October 1991.9

Sources:

  1. “TROLLEY CARS RUN TO AURORA.” Chicago Daily Tribune 26 Aug. 1902: 11. Print.
  2. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 197
  3. “INCREASE IN "L" TRAFFIC.” Chicago Daily Tribune 5 Apr. 1903: 63. Print.
  4. “Open New Suburban Line Today.” Chicago Daily Tribune 26 May 1903: 2. Print.
  5. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 315
  6. “Aurora Interurban Trains Begin New Routing Monday.” Chicago Daily Tribune 28 Dec. 1939: 13. Print.
  7. Plachno, Sunset Lines - History 355
  8. “C. A. & E. GETS LAST O.K. TO QUIT BUSINESS.” Chicago Tribune 7 Jul. 1961: A5. Print.
  9. Weller and Stark, Living Legacy 210