Winnetka earns Train Town distinction
Village President Jessica Tucker holds a sign given to the village as Winnetka was recently added to Union Pacific's Train Town USA registry. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
The Winnetka Historical Society’s museum and headquarters is located at 411 Linden Street and their Schmidt-Burnham Log House is located at 1140 Willow Road.
More information about train history in Winnetka and hours for the museum and log house is available at winnetkahistory.org or by email at email@example.com.
Updated: September 27, 2012 12:24PM
WINNETKA — The village was recently recognized for more than 150 years of history with the railways by being added to Union Pacific’s Train Town USA registry.
Winnetka earned the distinction through its left-handed system, depressed tracks and, at one time, its own train turntable.
Just as railroads helped build the country, railways helped form Winnetka. During construction of the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad rails, Charles Peck and Walter S. Gurnee, president of the railroad, created the original subdivision of Winnetka. Construction of the line was completed in 1855 and the first train stopped in the village on its inaugural trip to Waukegan.
According to a 1996 Winnetka Historical Society Gazette article, early Illinois train service ran on a single track and rotated on a turntable at Spruce Street and Green Bay Road.
“They had two guys push the train around (on the turntable),” said historical society executive director Patti Van Cleave. “The train system was much more local then. My mother says she remembers getting on it to take down to New Trier High School.”
The same article looks into the beginnings of Winnetka’s, “left-handed,” train service and cites convenience as to why the trains run on the opposite track.
According to the story the Little Galena and Chicago Union Railroad Company built their first station to the north of the track, where most residents lived. As more rails were installed to the south the company decided to run the east-bound service on the old track so riders would not have to risk crossing the tracks to board.
“An electric train ran along the other trains from 1899 to 1959,” Van Cleave said. “It was very much a local train that would stop every 100 yards or so. They were kind of like buses. In 1959 we developed bus service and that stopped.”
Safety had always been a concern with the trains and another Gazette story reveals grade separation had been talked about in Winnetka since the 1890’s.
The article states Winnetka officials believed track depression would solve the town’s, “most serious and urgent problem,” and the project was included in the 1921 Plan of Winnetka.
During the previous 11 years 44 people were killed or seriously injured in train accidents, including two prominent residents in 1937, who were killed at the Pine Street crossing.~.
Grade separation was favored 2 to 1 by a community referendum and former Winnetka resident and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes proved to be a great supporter of the project.
Grade separation work began in 1938 and was completed in 1943. Ickes was able finish the project under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Federal Works Project Administration program. The federal government pledged a grant of $1.5 million, the railroads $900,000 and the village $1 million to complete the excavation, bridges and new train stations.
Because of World War II a special request had to be made to President Roosevelt to release enough steel to finish the project, which eliminated 10 railroad crossings, added seven bridges and excavated 915,000 cubic yards of dirt.
Winnetka remains home to three train stations and 3.51 miles of depressed track. Union Pacific merged with the Chicago & North Western railroad in 1995.