As early as the year 1850, J. M. Ruggles began the talk for this road, and, after the removal of the county seat from Bath, he become actively engaged in the enterprise, hoping thereby to make amends for what Bath had lost in the county seat. In the year 1852, Mr. Ruggles was elected to the State Senate from Sangamon, Menard and Mason, and at the first session in 1853, he prepared and secured the enactment of the charter under which the road was built. Under this charter, J. M. Ruggles was made the chief corporator, and immediately went to work and procured subscriptions of over $100,000, unaided by a single individual, and organized a company under the charter. Almost every man on the line of the road in Mason County made liberal subscriptions, and among the subscription was one of $50,000 by the county, as will be seen in the county records, as follows: "December 5, 1853. This day came J. M. Ruggles and presented a petition for the court to order an election in the county for taking $50,000 stock in the Illinois River Railroad, bonds to run twenty years and draw 8 per cent interest. The court ordered an election to be held on the second Saturday in January, 1854." At this election, the vote for subscription was carried by a very decided majority, and the organization was completed some time afterward.|
At the first election, Judge William Thomas, of Morgan County, R. S. Thomas, of Cass County: J. M. Ruggles and Francis Low, of Mason County, and Joshua Waggonseller, of Tazewell, were elected Directors, and R. S. Thomas was elected President: M. H. L. Schooley, Secretary, and Thomas Plasters, Treasurer. With some changes, not now remembered, this directory continued until the road changed it name and ownership. Mr. Low was President for a short time, and also Treasurer, and James H. Hole was also Treasurer. B. S. Prettyman was a Director in the later years of the Company, and H. O'Neal for one year.
On the 25th of December, 1856, the county of Mason took $50,000 additional stock in the road. In July, 1857, the town of Havana took $15,000 stock in the road and the town of Bath took $10,000 stock about the same time. Cass County took $100,000 stock in the road, and Morgan County took $50,000 stock. The city of Pekin also took stock. The building of railroads in those days was hard work, and every body had to do their level best.
W. G. Wheaton, of Peoria, was the first engineer employed, and soon developed a disposition to locate depots and speculate in town lots. He contracted for land a mile south of Manito and a mile south of Forest City, and proceeded to lay out towns of large proportions at these places, with a view to speculation. This led to a fierce conflict between him and J. M. Ruggles, as the newspapers of that time will show, and finally ended in the discharge of Wheaton and the employment of another engineer.
The selection of depot grounds and stations in Mason County was afterward put into the hands of J. M. Ruggles, who located the depot at Manito and gave the name to the town. He also located the depots at Forest City, Topeka, Havana and Bath, and the towns which Wheaton had laid out were obliterated and wiped out so effectually that their names are no more remembered.
The contract was let in May, 1857, for grading, bridging and furnishing cross-ties between Pekin and Jacksonville, a distance of about seventy miles. Allen & McGrady, of Indiana, became the contractors, and the work began at Bath in September, 1857, and was pushed forward rapidly until completed from Pekin to Virginia, in 1859. Te section from Pekin to Peoria was completed in 1864, and from Virginia to Jacksonville in 1869, since which time the road has done a heavy business.