Williamsville in Sangamon County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
Illinois Terminal System
The Road of Service
The Historic Village of Williamsville, Est. 1853
Called the Illinois Traction System until 1937, the Illinois Terminal System was 550 miles of electrified railroad, linking farm communities of central Illinois to the bigger cities of Peoria, Springfield and St. Louis.
The Corn Belt Line
The Springfield, Lincoln, Bloomington, Pekin & Peoria Electric Railway Company was incorporated on March 7, 1904 to build track from Springfield through Lincoln to Bloomington, the "Corn Belt Line." By October of that year grading of the right of way had begun and by December 1904 the name was shortened to Springfield & Northeastern Railway Company. On September 10, 1905 work stopped due to lack of funds and on April 28, 1906 William B. McKinley took ownership, allowing the road from Springfield to Lincoln to reach completion.
Construction of the railway encountered a short delay at Williamsville. The track crossed a small plot of ground owned by the school board, which felt it was unlawful to sell the ground to the traction company. A friendly condemnation suit was filed and in a few days
Service Stops June 5, 1955
Passenger service in Williamsville was discontinued on June 5, 1955 and the line completely dieselized. The railroad was reorganized by purchase of 11 railroads, inaugurating a program of abandoning track in favor of operating over a parallel railroad. The second line through Williamsville was abandoned on March 31, 1962.
Serving from 1895 to 1981
The Illinois Terminal served Illinois and St. Louis, Missouri from 1895 to 1981, successfully making the transition from a collection of street railroads to one of the Midwest's premier interurbans, the Illinois Traction System. Later, as it continued to grow and absorb several St. Louis area switching railroads, it evolved into the well-run Class 1 railroad, Illinois Terminal. Over its lifetime, it survived two World Wars and the Great Depression to evolve from an electrically operated interurban closely associated with the electric utility industry to an electric, steam, battery and diesel powered railroad and finally to a completely dieselized freight-only railroad.
Father of the Illinois Interurban
The Illinois Traction System was the legacy of founder William B. McKinley, who sought to link the larger cities of central Illinois to the major commerce center of St. Louis, Missouri. Born near Petersburg in 1856, McKinley began building his traction empire by the age of 28, when he first linked the Danville and Champaign-Urbana streetcar lines. McKinley's vision would be fully realized in 1910 when he led construction of the McKinley Bridge over the Mississippi River, allowing the electrified railroad access to St. Louis.
McKinley was both entrepreneurial and active in politics, having served as a United States Senator and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the greater part of two decades. He entered politics to protect his investments in 1904 and remained involved until his death in 1926.
To the Square of Every Town
Talk of an Interurban first occurred in 1903, when well-known citizens of central Illinois, including local business man J.F. Prather, gathered to consider joining various towns and cities through an electrified railway. Prather helped private incorporation of the Interurban in March 1904. By December of 1906, passenger service on the newly completed railroad system began in Williamsville, with a car passing through every two hours.
Once hitting the bigger cities, the Interurban rolled along the streetcar tracks right into the business district. This perpetuated the railroad's motto: "Taking you to the square of every town." The Interurban first rolled through the center of downtown Williamsville until after World War II, when it was moved to the west; the original route on Main and Pine Streets rendered handling of freight cars difficult. One building was razed to permit the new location.
The Interurban Depot
The Illinois Terminal Depot in Williamsville, a converted residence, was located at 128 North Pine Street. The passenger station was a combination depot and residence where the Stationmaster lived. John E. McClure was Stationmaster from 1907 to 1937 after which time his son Jacob served as Stationmaster through the 1940s. After passenger service was discontinued, the building was sold and returned to a residence. The building fell into disrepair and was torn down in the early 1960s.
Electrified Rural Areas
Because the Illinois Terminal System electric railways ran through tiny towns, they also helped bring electricity to many rural areas. In fact, the Illinois Traction System would evolve into a subsidiary of the Illinois Power & Light Company by 1923. Electricity was turned on in 60 Williamsville homes on April 1, 1914. Electric street lights were not installed until 1916.
The Interurban attracted throngs of riders until after World War II when more families owned cars and America's highway system had become well developed. While this photo shows the Illinois Terminal train rolling through Williamsville on an October afternoon in 1954, the last Interurban ran through Williamsville on June 5, 1955.
Commonly referred to as the Interurban, the Illinois Terminal evokes emotions and memories in everyone who remembers it.
During Williamsville's horse and buggy days, farm families would ride to town, leave the horses of the livery stable and take the Interurban to Springfield or other towns on the line for shopping, movies or visiting family and friends. Williamsville area men rode the Interurban to Peoria to be examined for World War II military service. The Interurban was an invaluable form of transportation during the War years, when new cars were no longer being built and gas rations were introduced. Local students took the Interurban to colleges in Bloomington, Champaign and Peoria. Many residents visited the Illinois State Fair on the Interurban. Local merchants depended on Illinois Terminal freight trains for their merchandise, machinery, appliances and supplies.
Ensuring Secure & Reliable Service
George "Ernie" Caldwell began his work for the Illinois Terminal in 1923 as a Brakeman, making 35 cents an hour. By 1924, he was promoted to Conductor, making 60 cents an hour. One of Ernie's coworkers said that he was able to easily memorize the complete daily switch list and then direct the crew to make all the switches without referring to the list. At the end of the shift, Ernie was able to record all the switches by memory again. Ernie was the only Conductor allowed to work the railroad without a Pilot, who is assigned to a train when the engineer or conductor is not acquainted with the rules or the portion of a railroad over which the train is to be moved.
A section of the Interurban between East Peoria and Morton had a particularly challenging grade and is famous in railroad lore. Known as "Caldwell Hill, " family legend suggests it was named as such due to Ernie's capable leadership. Caldwell Hill has a gradual incline, barely perceptible to the eye. Locals could tell which way the train was headed just by the sound; it wasn't necessary to look and see whether or not it was huffing and puffing up the grade toward Morton or breezing downhill into East Peoria. More than one train nearly missed the curve at Caldwell Hill as it breezed into East Peoria and all of them dreaded the uphill climb into Morton. The uphill climb became unnegotiable when a heavy snow storm suddenly hit during one of Ernie's runs early in his career. The train was unable to climb the hill and sat for nearly a day and a half. Ernie's unflappable confidence and humor kept the passengers intact, thus christening the incline Caldwell Hill.
Delivering the News
Billy D. Turner was a paperboy in the mid-1940s, delivering the Illinois State Register on his bicycle. The Interurban delivered the evening papers wrapped and tied in a bundle around 4:30 p.m. If the train stopped at the depot to pick up or drop off passengers, the conductor would typically deposit the package on the station's porch. Otherwise, the bundle was kicked off onto the concrete platform as the train rolled by, even in the snow and rain. The Interurban was rarely on time coming from Springfield because of connections to and from the Illiopolis defense plant. After the bundle of newspapers was retrieved at the station, Billy rolled individual papers, secured them with rubber bands and placed them in the bag that rested on his bicycle handle bars. When it was cold, he would head inside the station to complete his work near the warm pot-bellied stove. During the summer months it was usually cooler to roll the papers outdoors, Billy completed his route in a little over an hour. After earning $150 one summer, Billy "thought I was in hog heaven."
Serving the War Effort
Within three months of the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government had settled on a site for a massive munitions plant. Built near Illiopolis, the Sangamon Ordnance Plant was one of the largest munitions factories of World War II and the largest employer ever in Sangamon County.
An estimated 65 percent of the workers were women known as "WOWs" or Women Ordnance Workers. To encourage women to work, part-time shifts were offered and a federally supported child-care center was opened. It was often the first, and sometimes the only, job outside the home the women ever held.
Although munitions workers could get generous gas rations, many workers commuted from Decatur, Springfield and the surrounding area by Interurban train. To conserve materials, 55 wooden streetcars taken out of service in New York were brought to Illiopolis for these "Victory Special" runs.
Maintaining Safe Tracks
Leonard Dennison worked for the Illinois Terminal and what later would merge into the railroad from 1943 to 1970; maintaining the section of track between Williamsville and Lincoln. The job required Leonard to lay rail and install or replace railroad ties, a constant task required to keep the tracks level for safe transport. Workers used a track jack to lift and retain the railroad tie and then used a tamping pick, built with a wide flat head on one end, for driving ballast under the railroad ties. Four or five guys in the section gang would maintain the line with a gas-driven motor car. Leonard noted that he often chose to forgo the motor car, preferring to walk the line instead. He was glad to be working on the Terminal because work at the C&A Railroad was twice as hard, requiring a lot more pick handle work.
(photo captions, top to bottom:)
-Having worked for the Illinois Terminal for 35 years, Ernie retired in 1958 after serving as official Conductor for the Interurban's last passenger train between Springfield and St. Louis on March 3, 1956, shown here. L-R, Brakeman Roy Folkerts, Trainmaster D.B. Hill, Brakeman Seth Wallace, Superintendent McOwen, Conductor George E. Caldwell, Passenger Agent (unidentified), Engineer Harry Bortmess.
-Billy D. Turner, thirteen years old in 1944, proudly displays his bicycle and newspaper delivery bag at the corner of Harpole and Walnut Streets. The C&A Railroad section house and stockyards are in the background. The pens were used to corral and load stock for shipment on the railroad.
-Taken at the Sangamon Ordnance Plant at Illiopolis in 1944, outside the Melt and Pour Building is Bay Leader Helen Black Neavill, front row, second from the right. Locals remember her as "Tootie." She, along with others from the area, rode the Interurban to Springfield where special trains gathered workers for transport to and from the Illiopolis defense plant.
-Leonard Dennison tried to enlist in the military during World War II three separate times, at three different locations. He was turned down each time due to the health of his eyes. Leonard finally resolved to work at home in support of the war effort, explaining "I couldn't do my part over there, but I could do something to help over here," as the military "hauled a lot of equipment over the railroad." Leonard is shown here in 1945 with his wife Lucy and two of their three children, James and Thomas. Daughter Linda was born two years later.
With an unfaltering determination, early settlers met the challenge of hostile tribes, wildlife, desperadoes, and the elements that had ruled the domain.
Williamsville's early settlers arrived in covered wagons pulled by oxen to stake out claims, build log cabins, turn the unbroken prairie and cut the virgin timber. The poor facilities for transportation abetted by bottomless mud did not dissuade the pioneers from establishing small communities and trading centers. Despite the fact that most of their needs came directly from the soil, they found time to establish community, governmental, social, educational and religious movements which have grown into our present modern institutions.
1818 - Illinois achieves statehood. Settlers began arriving from Kentucky in the 1810s via the Ohio River which resulted in the population growing from south to north.
1820 - Among the earliest settlers in what is now Williams Township were the families of James Stewart and his widowed mother-in-law, Mrs. Abigail (Benjamin) Stillman, who came here in 1820. William Proctor settled in the same area around this time, but later left for Fulton County, selling his place to Isaac Constant. Other early settlers in the area were Oramel Clark in 1819, who was noted as the third man to have settled north of the Sangamon River. He settled in the Fancy Creek area, where Evans E. Brittin also settled when he arrived in the spring of 1820. Other early settlers include Meredith Cooper, John Sampson, Jacob Yocom, John Taylor and David Riddle, all of whom settled in what is now Williams Township through the 1820s.
1820 - The first marriage to take place north of the Sangamon River in what is now Williams Township was that of Philo Beers to Miss Martha Stillman in November of 1820. The local minister for the occasion was Rev. Stephen England who resided near what is now the village of Cantrall. Mr. England wore, like most frontiersman of the time, well-known buckskin Indian moccasins. Thinking they were not the most proper attire to wear at an occasion of such importance, he passed by the field where his brother-in-law Evans Brittin was plowing and persuaded him to exchange his leather plow shoes for the moccasins until his return. Feeling more appropriately dressed, the minister went happily on to the wedding. As for the guests, it is said all the neighbors were asked to the wedding, which probably meant those residing about ten or twelve miles away, since few residents were to be found any closer.
1820 - The first mill in Williams Township for grinding grain was a band mill run by horsepower, put into operation by a Mr. Herbert in 1820, but continuing for only two years. It is claimed by some to have been the first mill north of the Sangamon River.
1825 - David Riddle built a water mill on Wolf Creek in 1825. The mill was a combined saw and grist mill, having two runs of burrs, one for corn and the other for wheat. Up until about 1854 when it was demolished by John Johnson, the mill had been managed at different periods by Thomas Constant, Alexander Edmonds, John Simpson and George Fisher.
1830 - In 1830 Isaac Constant came to Williams Township with his son, George W. Constant, who became one of the prominent landholders in Williams Township.
1830-31 - The Winter of Deep Snow blanketed southern Illinois and perhaps the entire state to a depth of three feet on the level with drifts of four to six feet. Storms with high winds continued for 60 days; many families were snowbound in their homes and travelers remained wherever they happened to be when the heavy snow started. The Winter of Deep Snow became a daring point in pioneer folk lore. Residence in Illinois before the Deep Snow was qualification for members in "Old Settler" associations and special designation as a "Snow Bird." Among those who qualified was Abraham Lincoln. He came from Indiana with his family in 1830 and tells of spending the "celebrated 'deep snow' of Illinois" at a spot 10 miles southeast of Decatur in Macon County.
1836 - The first attempt to start a village in Williams Township was recorded April 15, 1836 under the name of Cicero by Archibald E. Constant; it had no growth and passed out of existence. The location would have been on Keenan Lane, about one mile east of the Sherman Road and Williamsville Road crossing.
1853 - What is now the village of Williamsville was platted on land owned by Abraham V. Flagg, surveyed on August 25, 26 and 27, 1853. The first public sale of lots was offered on September 14 of that same year. The town was first called Benton, in honor of Senator Thomas H. Benton of Missouri. Upon application to the post office that name was already taken and instead was renamed in 1854 for Colonel John Williams, a noted local pioneer and businessman of Sangamon County. While the post office was given the name of Williamsville, the town would remain Benton until February 16, 1865; when by special act of the Legislature, the town of Benton officially became the village of Williamsville.
Erected by Williamsville Community Foundation and the Sangamon Historical Society.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & Commerce • Railroads & Streetcars • Settlements & Settlers • War, World II. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #16 Abraham Lincoln series list.
Location. 39° 57.267′ N, 89° 32.896′ W. Marker is in Williamsville, Illinois, in Sangamon County. Marker is on Pine Street south of East Main Street (County Route 2), on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 100 W Main St, Williamsville IL 62693, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Early American Farming Community (within shouting distance of this marker); The Williamsville Depot (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Golden Years (about 400 feet away); When the Wagons Rolled (approx. 0.2 miles away); Abraham Lincoln (approx. 5.3 miles away); Illinois Remembers POW/MIA (approx. 5.3 miles away); Elkhart, Illinois (approx. 5.4 miles away); Lincoln With John Dean Gillett (approx. 5.7 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Williamsville.
Credits. This page was last revised on December 15, 2020. It was originally submitted on December 10, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois. This page has been viewed 46 times since then and 7 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on December 10, 2020, by Jason Voigt of Glen Carbon, Illinois.