The Bloomington-to-Peoria interurban line was one of the more charming railroad jaunts in all of Central Illinois. In the first half of the twentieth century, handsome electric-propelled cars trundled over the Mackinaw River and through a landscape dotted with ridges, creek valleys and woodlands.
Bloomington was one of six Central Illinois cities (Peoria, Springfield, Decatur, Champaign and Danville being the other five) served by the interurban Illinois Traction System (ITS). In the early 1900s, interurban transportation was all the rage. Whereas electric streetcars connected neighborhoods within a city or metropolitan area, interurbans crisscrossed regions to connect cities. Powered by the electric lines strung overhead, "traction" cars, as they were also called, were quieter than their steam counterparts, as well as soot and ash free.
Illinois Traction, with the slogan "The Road of Good Service," ran from Danville to Champaign and then Decatur. From there, one line headed north to Clinton and Bloomington, and then westward to Mackinaw and Peoria. The other line from Decatur went west to Springfield. The system's main route connected Peoria with Springfield and St. Louis.
Bloomington's first full interurban service dates to 1906 with the completion of the connection to Decatur. The Bloomington-to-Peoria line formally opened some six months later, in April 1907. At the time, The Pantagraph noted that the Bloomington-Peoria run would become the "scenic route" for the entire system.
The driving force behind the ITS was William B. McKinley, a cousin of the U.S. president by the same name. As early as 1911, the "McKinley System" ran a daily schedule of 165 trains. In addition to passengers, the 644-mile rail network handled freight, including coal, gravel and grain.
Interurban cars, though they lacked the brute power of iron and steam, often proved equal to the task in competing with traditional rail. It was much easier to stop and start an electric car than a steam engine, so interurbans excelled at offering local service marked by frequent stops. In downstate Illinois, traction lines were used by two generations of rural folk traveling to and from larger communities for everything from county fairs to a day of downtown shopping.
A 1948 list used by Illinois Terminal employees shows 48 stations and stops on the 37-mile run between Bloomington and Peoria. Most of these were not listed on passenger timetables, but were rather "flag" stops where one could wave a cloth or flag telling the oncoming car to "stop when you get to me." You could wave any color except red-that meant "stop right now.'
Unlike communities such as Champaign and Decatur, the Illinois Traction System never built a beltline to bypass Bloomington's downtown. From the west, interurban cars came into the city along Market St., turning south on N. Madison St. and through downtown and the warehouse district. There was also an around-the-block loop encompassing Madison, Monroe, Center and Jefferson streets. In the postwar years, Bloomington offered the anachronistic sight of interurban cars navigating the sharp turns and crowded streets of a central business district.
Bloomington's passenger station was at 220 N. Madison St. The freight station was located five blocks south in the warehouse district. In 1941, passenger service moved to that building, which in the post-interurban era became the site for the Capodice produce business.
With the emergence of the automobile and the "Hard Road" movement of paved state and county highways, interurban traffic rapidly declined. Despite a bold attempt in the late 1940s to introduce blue streamlined trains on longer runs, the ITR found itself in the postwar years unable to compete with the American love affair with the car. "The damn autos came along and spoiled it all," was how one former traction passenger put it in a 1983 Pantagraph article.
The end of Bloomington's interurban era came in February 1953, when Illinois Terminal abandoned operations on 67 miles of track between Mackinaw Junction and Forsythe, just north of Decatur. In March 1956, one last train running between Springfield and St. Louis marked the final hurrah for the system's interurban passenger service.
Illinois Terminal survived as a dieselized freight hauler until 1982, when Norfolk & Western purchased the railroad and shutdown its operations for good.
The first car on the Interurban at Morton, Illinois, April 13, 1907.
"A three car streamlined interurban train, purchased new in 1949 by the Illinois Terminal Railroad. Photo by Herbert Georg Studio, Chicago; Postcard distributed in 1971.
Postcard of Illinois Terminal System Station in Bloomington, Illinois.
This is a not-to-scale map showing the route of the Illinois Terminal System from Peoria to Bloomington to Champaign to Decatur to St. Louis. The map shows the stops along to system.
This is a close up image of Central Illinois providing the stops between Bloomington and Peoria and Bloomington and Decatur.
This is the map which appears on the back of the 1926 timetable.
The Peoria, Bloomington, Decatur South-bound and North-bound schedule.
Also available as downloadable PDF.
Illinois Terminal 1953 Trust Cert.
|Illinois Terminal Railroad Equipment Trust Series C; 2% Serial Equipment Trust Certificate, July 1, 1953, issued from the St. Louis Union Trust Company|
|1.1||"Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Progress Report, 1970," includes letter from E.B. Wilson, President, pictures, and a map of tracks|
|1.2||"Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Annual Report, 1973," includes financial information, list of board of directors and officers, letter to stockholders|
|1.3||"Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Annual Report, 1974," includes financial information, list of board of directors and officers, letter to stockholders|
|1.1||Correspondence from Jack Keefe to Bill Kemp, April 2009, includes copies of maps and timetables, list of stops between Peoria and Foulk|
|1.2||Illinois Terminal Railroad System map of Illinois and the St. Louis area, no date|
|1.3||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company, no date|
|1.4||Opening Dates of ITS Passenger Lines and Dates of Discontinuance of Passenger Service map, no date|
|1.5||Illinois Traction Society 2003 Meet, Bloomington Line Tour Map, Bloomington map with Illinois Terminal line, steam railroad lines, and the street car system (2 copies)|
|1.6||Illinois Traction Society 2003 Meet, Bloomington to Mackinaw and North Jct. (Decatur) to Bloomington map|
|1.1||Illinois Traction System Book of Trains, March 1926, timetables between St. Louis, Edwardsville, Staunton, Litchfield, Hillsboro, Carlinville, Springfield, Peoria, Decatur, Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Lincoln, Bloomington and Intermediate Points|
|1.2||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Time Tables, April 1939 (2 copies)|
|1.3||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Time Tables and Fast Through Freight Service, September 1946|
|1.4||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company, Peoria, Springfield, Decatur, Champaign, Bloomington, Danville, St. Louis, February 1949|
|1.5||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Timetables, April 1950|
|1.6||Illinois Terminal Railroad Company Timetables, April 1951|
|1.7||Time of Arrival of Trains at Danvers, photocopy|
|1.1||Illinois Terminal ticket for daily excursion and coach (3 items)|
|1.2||Receipts for Illinois Car Fare W.B. Carlock and Milo Custer from Bloomington to Danvers and return, May 1916|
|1.3||Illinois Traction System way bill receipt signed by Spafford, May 1913 (2 items)|
|1.1||Letter from Jack Keefe to Bill Kemp, January 2009, list of newspaper articles which mention the Illinois Terminal|
|"Danvers Line Opened," Pantagraph, January 7, 1907, p. 9, c. 5-6|
|Advertisement, Pantagraph, January 9, 1907, p. 10|
|"The First Cars Through," Pantagraph, April 15, 1907, p. 10|
|"Peoria Line Duly Opened," Pantagraph, April 22, 1907, p. 6, c. 5-6|
|"Brought $100,000 to Illinois Since 1900," Pantagraph, March 14, 1914, p. 7 (?), c. 3- 4|
|Advertisement, Daily Bulletin, May 11, 1919, p. 5|
|"Interurban dead in its tracks for 30 years," Pantagraph, February 20, 1983|
|"Bloomington once a stop on electric railway system," Pantagraph, April 12, 2009, p. B3|
|Flyer for car preservation fund, 1962|
|Illinois Traction Society Membership Roster 2004|
|"The Phone Booth, A Publication of the Illinois Traction Society," v. 18, n. 1, 2004|
|Illinois Terminal Railroad Company, "The Flyer," Illinois Traction Society membership application|
|"The Flyer," v. 18, n. 1, Spring 2004 (the magazine of the Illinois Terminal Railroad History)|
|Changnon, Stanley A. "The Famed Electric Railroad of Illinois' Past." Historic Illinois 26 (2004): 8-15.|
|Fortney, Mike. "The Rise and Fall of the Bloomington Line." The Flyer 22 (2008): 32-45|
|Johnson, Dick. "Abandonment of Interurban Railroads [research paper]. Illinois State University (?): 1-18|
|Middleton, William D. The Interurban Era, "The McKinley Lines." Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing, 1961.|
|Steventon, Wm. A. "Bloomington- A Model City." Traction and Models 9 (1973): 12-16|
|Illinois Terminal Railroad System. The Illinois Traction System, Illustrated; A Written and Pictorial Review of This Great Interurban System and of the Cities Connected Thereby. California, 1906.|
|Jenkins, Dale. The Illinois Terminal Railroad: the Road of Personalized Services. Hart, MO: WhiteRiver Productions, 2005|
|Jenkins, Dale, Mark Barnett and James Reese. Illinois Terminal Railroad Spotter's Guide, Volume I: The Diesels. Illinois Traction Society and Brueggenjohann/Reese, Inc., 2001|
|Johnson, James D. The Lincoln Land Traction. Wheaton: Traction Orange Co., 1965|
|Lloyd, Gordon E. Illinois Terminal: In Color Volume I. Scotch Plain, NJ: Morning Sun Books, 1998|
|Scott, Thomas William. Geography of the Illinois Terminal Railroad [thesis]. University of Illinois, 1951|
|Stringham, Paul H. Illinois Terminal: The Electric Years. Glendale, CA: Interurban Press, 1989|
|Volkmer, William D. Illinois Terminal: In Color Volume II. Scotch Plain, NJ: Morning Sun Books, 2001|