Thursday, December 06, 2007

Forgotten Chicagoland electric streetcar archaeology. Bridge piers over Salt Creek in Brookfield. A remnant of the Chicago & West Towns Railway.

This photo was taken in late November of 2007, in west suburban Brookfield Illinois. These concrete bridge piers are located approximately 2 city blocks north of the Washington Street bridge over Salt Creek. This view is looking east from the west bank of Salt Creek on a cloudy late November day in the greater Chicagoland area.

Prior to April 10th 1947, this was the electric railroad right of way from the La Grange Line of the Chicago & west Towns Railway. Electric 1920's era city style electric streetcars, travelled this line daily from the east terminal at Cermak Road and Kenton Avenue in Cicero Illinois, passing through Berwyn, North Riverside, Brookfield and La Grange Illinois, terminating at the intersection of Hillgrove and Brainard Avenues on the north side of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad tracks in La Grange Illinois. The ride was very rural interurban like, as it passed through the Cook County Forest preserves enroute, plus the fact that the Chicago area suburbs weren't built up back then like they are now. It was a much simpler time in Chicagoland history.

The Pace predecessor Chicago & West Towns Railway, had began a program of bus conversion during the 1940's. The La Grange line was the last West Towns line to go, ending streetcar service on April 10th 1947, and quickly converting to bus operation immediately afterward.

A small number of West Towns remnants exist today. Electric Streetcar # 141 built in 1924 by the Mc. Quire Cummings Company, is under restoration at the Illinois Railway museum in Union Illinois, an operable late 1940's era ACF bus is privately owned by Pace and used for special occasions. An inoperable 1947 Mack Bus, an operable 1950 GM TDH old look bus, and
an inoperable 1964 GM Fishbowl windshield bus are owned by the Midwest Transit Bus Museum in Cresthill Illinois. The Bridge Piers over Salt Creek, and the concrete and grass islands in the middle of Des Plaines Avenue in North Riverside, as well as the ones on Monroe Street and Lincoln Avenue in Brookfield Illinois, is the old right of way where the streetcar tracks were located on the La Grange Line.

Could You imagine taking the streetcar to the south gate of the Brookfield Zoo?

Long Live the Chicago & West Towns!


m said...

What a coincidence: about the time this picture was posted I was using low-angle aerial photographs on to circle this spot to confirm that only the piers of the bridge remain. After the West Towns was abandoned there was a footbridge on the southern I-beam. Living on Jefferson, we walked a short block north to Monroe and then east, over the bridge, through the woods along the zoo to Riverside-Brookfield High School.

The bridge was one of our hangouts during the long, lazy summers. East of the creek you could ride your bike down the steep embankment into the woods. You could ride through the woods south to Washington and through more woods to Kiwanis Park near the CB&Q downtown; I did that only a few times before I got tired of the tires punctured by hawthorns. On the northeast side you could sneak under the fence into the woods west of the zoo grounds proper. One time home from the University of Illinois for the summer I sneaked in and walk east until I encountered a wolf, but quickly discovered he was in an enclosure. The bare north beam of the bridge was always tempting - I walked it a few times. Bob (now in Glenview) says some boys claimed to have ridden their bikes across on it: he is skeptical and so am I. From the picture it looks to be less than 20 feet above the creek, but it seemed twice that. The creek is shallow there most of the time – the problem would be hitting the bottom. What fools children are: I assume the bridge has been removed after an accident.

E.M. Frimbo, known as the Curmudgeon to readers of The New Yorker, traveled this line shortly before it was abandoned and declared it “a gem.” It was indeed. As I recall, the LaGrange station was on the north side of the CB&Q tracks, just west of LaGrange Road. After the grade crossing at LaGrange Road the line continued east for a block and then turned north and crossed Ogden Avenue at grade as Ogden climbed from its viaduct under the CB&Q. It angled down the face of the moraine that LaGrange sits on with a grade that was impressive by Illinois standards. At the bottom it turned east through LaGrange Park, crossing the many tracks of the IHB yard at grade. At Kemman it crossed into Brookfield in the center of Lincoln. In Brookfield the line was in the center of the streets with a line of traffic on each side; in the 1950s the ballast and a few tie fragments and spikes remained. Three blocks east at Madison the line turned northeast onto Broadway, past our Gross School, through Eight Corners to Monroe, where it turned East. Then it was over the creek and through the woods to the South Gate of the zoo and through woods again to the grade crossing at First Avenue. Then it was through woods again and over the Des Plaines River. After that I don't remember, but Riverside was lovely and I presume it still is.

The ride over the creek was short, but the longer ride over the river was a thrill for a little guy who couldn't see out the window well enough to see any support below – we might as well have been flying.

Mal, Stockton CA

Christopher Z said...


I grew up right down the street from this. My house backed to Salt Creek so this was right down a block & practically in my back yard.

I never new anything about it until now.


Margaret said...

How nice to see this photo. My father used to drive one of the old streetcars in Brookfield in the 1930s and later the West Towns buses. We lived not to far from the site of this photo. Thanks for sharing.

rwilson said...

It may be barely visible in Google Earth. Any chance you can dig up a map of that streetcar route at least from 22nd street?

Patrick Meyers said...

I think your geography may be a little off. If I'm right this train line crossed the Des Plaines by Park Avenue one block north of the Forest Road bridge in Riverside. I know for a fact that there were bridge footings there back in the late '70's since I was delivering the Suburban Life in that area. I can only guess that the train then turned north on Woodside until it turned into Des Plaines and then turned east on 26th. The other indication was rails that were visible underneath Park Ave. I haven't been there for over 20 years so I don't know if either the road or footings have been touched since then.

charles said...

Does anyone remember the street cars with "Pot Belly" stoves for heat ?? I can't remember what year it was ....."but i do remember them""

da43vov said...

As a youth, in the 30's and 40's I rode this street car line and it was known, affetionately as
"The Yellow Peril" for the way it swayed from side to side when running at top speed..
Robert Klima, Western Springs, IL.

ZooGuy said...

There is a lot of information online; search "Chicago and West Towns Railway. There is a book; $60 for new--used on Amazon.

I walked this bridge numerous times
from 1959-63 when I attended RBHS and worked at the zoo during summers.