Rails Across the Prairie
During the 1830s and into the early 1840s the
settlers had high hopes that the Sangamon River
would become navigable. Then boats from the East
could deliver the needed merchandise and haul away
the farm commodities from nearby towns on the river
This would eliminate their hauling to and from Beardstown,
some thirty-five long hard miles away. As time passed
the settlers hopes faded and they began discussing
the possibility of a railroad through the area.
In 1852 a charter was granted the Springfield and
Northwestern Railroad Company to build a tract from
Springfield through Keithsburg to Rock Island on the
Mississippi River crossing Menard County from the
southeast corner to the northwest corner. It was voted
$50,000 by Menard County, 5% of which was collected
to defray survey expenses. Sangamon County did not
vote her share of stock, and with other problems
discouraged the company. The enterprise was
Then on March 24, 1869, the Illinois Legislature
revived the old charter, granting power to a new company
to build the railroad according to the original survey.
To this the county voted $100.000 and the town of
Work began late in the fall of 1870 at Havana.
By 1871 it had reached the northern sector of Menard
County. During the year 1872 construction continued
and reached Petersburg.
Where the railroad bisected the Morgan County
line to miller's Ferry road. William Oakford operated
a commissary for the crews providing groceries
By 1874 the railroad was completed as far as
Cantrall and later on into Springfield. Eventually
the road was extended south to St. Louis and was
then known as the CP & St.L Railroad. The railroad had several successful years during the early 1900s.
Clarence Stroh and early station dispatcher and
operator states for awhile there were twenty to
twenty-four trains passing every twenty-four hours.
Oakford was a busy station with operators working
around the clock.
The big hill south of town with its reverse curves
provided may problems for the steam era. Finally
for years a pusher engine stayed at Oakford to assist
during the long hauls up the hill as far as Atterberry.
As the traffic increased, a casing well was drilled. A
water tank was built to provide a watering point along
As the years passed, the rail business failed and
was filed into bankruptcy. In 1926 the road was taken
over by a new company and became the C&IM.
C&IM carried coat from Peabody coal fields south of
Springfield to the Commonwealth Edison Power Plants
at Powerton and Chicago.
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