Monday, May 10, 2010
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History of railway celebrated in Lincoln

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[May 10, 2010]  May 8 was celebrated all over the country as the third annual National Train Day.

HardwareThe special day, founded by Amtrak, is dedicated to celebrating and educating the public on railway history and the significance of rail travel to the history of America as well the role trains will play in the future.

Wanda Lee Rohlfs of Main Street Lincoln put together a daylong event that was held at the Amtrak station on the corner of Broadway and Chicago streets.

Inside the shelter was a display poster commemorating the history of the railway in the city of Lincoln as well as the role that rail played in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Those who were boarding or exiting the trains on Saturday were given "goody bags" by volunteers and had the opportunity to visit with local officials such as Mayor Keith Snyder, Alderwomen Marty Neitzel and Joni Tibbs, Rohlfs, and other members of the community.


At the first train stop of the day, Snyder, Neitzel, Tibbs and Rohlfs saw off about a half-dozen riders heading for Chicago. Throughout the day, a variety of volunteers came and went at the station, offering meet and greets to rail passengers, and sharing in their knowledge of the history of rail in Lincoln.

Rohlfs said that acknowledging the day was especially important to the city of Lincoln, as the only train stop in Logan County. She wanted to speak to the public and to Amtrak about the importance of the stop to the community and the strong desire she has to see the stop continue throughout the coming years.

The mayor also commented that based on 2008 data presented by Amtrak, that year approximately 19,000 passengers boarded or departed from Amtrak trains in Lincoln.

In searching out special people to help commemorate the day, Rohlfs found an expert on trains in a very surprising place.

Young Lincolnite David Hepler III, at 17 years of age, has spent well over half of his life being fascinated by and learning all he could about trains.

Hepler has been volunteering at the Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello literally since he was a child.

The museum commemorates the history of rail with an open yard collection of engines, cars and cabooses. They offer train rides on weekends and hold special events throughout the year, such as Mother's Day and Father's Day events, a fireworks special on July 3, a Ghost Ride in October, and this year a Polar Express ride in late November and early December.

The village of Monticello, located to the east of Lincoln in Piatt County, does have a historical connection to the city of Lincoln through the railways.

On Feb. 21, 1861, the Monticello Railroad Co. was chartered. Construction began in 1863 and was completed in the 1870s. The Monticello Railroad consolidated with the Havana, Mason City, Lincoln and Eastern Railroad in June of 1872.

In 1879, this line would become the Champaign, Havana & Western Railway. In 1880, the CH&W was consolidated and absorbed by the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railway.

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The Wabash system, facing bankruptcy, sold its interest in the "Havana Division" to the Chicago, Havana & Western Railway, which was incorporated in October 1886.

In 1888, the Illinois Central Railroad leased the line, and on Dec. 15, 1902, purchased it for "$1.00 and other valuable considerations."

The Illinois Central Railroad later merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio to become the Illinois Central Gulf. It has since returned to its original name, the Illinois Central Railroad.

Rohlfs also noted, drawing from the history of Abraham Lincoln and the city of Lincoln, that on the day the city was christened by the would-be president in 1853, the train depot, which was then located on the south side of Broadway and the corner of Sangamon Street, was under construction.

She noted that Lincoln traveled by rail a great deal and visited his namesake city via that conveyance.

In addition, the president's last ride passed through Lincoln, when after his assassination his body was brought home via train to Springfield for burial.


Hepler during his talk also commented on the train cars that have been incorporated into the Depot Restaurant.

The restaurant, which is only open periodically, has incorporated into its structure two vintage cabooses and two rail cars: a dining car and a lounge car. Hepler said that as time goes by, these vintage cars are becoming extinct, and it is a pleasure for him to see a few that are being preserved rather than having them rust to nothing in a rail car cemetery.


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