From Horses to Horseless


Includes excerpts from, "Centennial History of Decatur and Macon County, Illinois", 1930

The coming of the railroads brought more to Macon county than the wildest dreams ever fancied. Agricultural development was now assured. Industries started could find markets for their products. Material advancement could be made in any direction. The railroads brought more people. More people meant more business. The United States census figues tell the history of the county's increase in population. In 1850 there were only 3,998 people in the entire country. By 1870 that figure had risen to 26,481. In Decatur alone there were probably 1500 people before 1834. In 1860 there were 3,839. By 1870 the population was 7,161.

That first locomotive which made the trip to Decatur was called "The Frontier." It was well named, for the county might have been classed as frontier before that time. When Decatur turned out en masse that April 1854 day to greet its first train, it really had to go to the country. Decatur did not extend as far north as the Wabash track. It didn't take the city long to expand that far, however, after the railroads came. Before the road was built, three surveys were made for the right of way. One came in through the old fair grounds and east over what is now Eldorado street. Another was almost the same as the one selected.

Sullivan Burgess, who afterwards was Decatur's city engineer at various times, was a busy man in the days of building railroads. He located the line from Springfield to Decatur to East St. Louis, and was in charge of the construction work of the latter line from Decatur to Taylorville. He located railroads in various other sections of the country, also. Afterwards he was a partner in business with Charles A. Tuttle, who had been division engineer with the Illinois Central when its line was under construction.

The railroad track was finished between Springfield and Wyckles quite a while before it came on in to Decatur. The delay was caused by the long fill at Stevens creek. Work on the fill had to ve done by man power, as there were no steam shovels. The men used picks to loosen the ground in cuts further west. Then the dirt was shoveled by hand into cars, and wheeled in to where the fill was being made.

It took large gangs of men and much time to make this fill. It was difficult to secure labor, and men employed were rather a rough class. Many were the tales told of troubles in the labor camps. Two gangs were at work most of the time, one composed of Irish and other of German, fresh from the old country.

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