Monday, July 11, 2016

A Little History Plus 2 Railroad Sites in Central Illinois

Continuing with our drive to the north and west from Eastern Tennessee toward our grandson’s home in Omaha Nebraska… We took the secondary highways up through central Illinois.

US Hwy. 51 took us through Vandalia Illinois.  I really hadn’t looked up any historic sites or railroad depots for Vandalia.  Readers will learn shortly why I didn’t have a depot highlighted in town, but why I hadn’t noted any other historical sites is a puzzle…

From 1819 to 1839 Vandalia served as the state capitol of Illinois.  The Vandalia State House as shown above was built in 1836.  Illinois’ center of population had shifted north and the state legislature led by Abraham Lincoln wanted to shift the capitol to Springfield.  The local citizenry hurriedly built this fourth Illinois state capitol building in an effort to remain the capitol.  It didn’t work and in 1839, the state government moved north!

The Vandalia State House Historic Site is owned and managed by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.  To learn more, go to

This is the reason that I didn’t have the Vandalia Illinois depot on my list of places to photograph!  This is the burned out shell of the former Pennsylvania Railroad/Illinois Central Depot. 

The exterior of this old depot had been significantly modified so the building could serve as a restaurant.  The first restaurant at this location was destroyed by fire in 2007.  The building was rehabilitated and opened its doors as The Depot Steakhouse and Lounge.  In November 2010, another fire totally destroyed the structure.

This Vandalia Railroad switcher/locomotive is former Louisville and Nashville Railroad locomotive #2271.  It was built in 1950 and its still operating!

While the burned out depot was a sad sight, this former Pennsylvania Railroad Tower across the street provided a more positive image.  It currently serves as the offices for the Vandalia Railroad.

The Vandalia Railroad is a shortline (3.5 miles) railroad subsidiary of Pioneer Railcorp.  It provides local service from a nearby CSX Transportation connection.  The railroad's principal commodities are steel pipe, plastic pellets and fertilizer.

This line is part of the original main line of the Illinois Central Railroad which was completed in the 1850s.  The line was abandoned in 1981 but the newly created Vandalia Railroad reactivated this short segment.  Pioneer Railcorp gained control in 1994.  Pioneer Railcorp operates at least 18 shortline railroad segments serving small portions of 13 states.

OK...this huge, ornate and well maintained Victorian home near downtown Vandalia is not listed anywhere as an historic home.  Still, it was too impressive to pass up and I’m sure that it has a significant place in local history!


·       For many years Vandalia was the western terminus of the National Road.  The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road and later as US Hwy. 40), was the first major improved highway in the USA that was built by the federal government.  It was built between 1811 and 1837.  It stopped at Vandalia because funding ran out.  Some things never change!  The National Road Interpretive Center is located just about a block from the old Illinois State House.  To learn more, go to

Moving on up US Hwy. 51 we passed through the town of Ramsey Illinois where we encountered an unexpected railroad surprise… This is a former Illinois Central/Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad Tower.  It sits next to an old boxcar and a “Bay Window” caboose.


·       H. L. Hunt, the billionaire oil tycoon, who was the inspiration for the 1980s television series, “Dallas”, was born near Ramsey.  Hunt traded poker winnings for oil rights, ultimately securing title to much of the East Texas Oil Field, one of the world's largest oil deposits.

·       Tex Williams, "B" movie star and old time western swing musician well known for his “talking blues” style was born in Ramsey.  His biggest hit was in 1947 with “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”.  To hear this song and to marvel at how much has changed in music and popular culture, you can listen to this song at

The Ramsey Tower with its accompanying railcars apparently once served as a local railroad museum.  That’s according to a notation about the tower on the “Significant Extant Railroad/Railway Structures of North America” website. ( I was unable to learn anything else about a museum or this structure.


·       At its peak, the Toledo, St. Louis and Western Railroad, (known as “The Clover Leaf”), served Detroit, Toledo, Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City with 451 miles of track.   The Clover Leaf became part of the larger New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, (aka, the "Nickel Plate"), in 1922 and that railroad eventually became part of Norfolk Southern.

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for joining us on our drive!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos as always! I've always wanted to do one of the Amtrak excursions, but I've been told that they are very unreliable in terms of keeping on schedule.