Bloomingdale Trail (The 606) Itinerary

Illinois

At a Glance

Name: Bloomingdale Trail (The 606)
Length: 2.7 Miles
Trail activities: Bike, Inline Skating, Wheelchair Accessible, Walking
Counties: Cook
Surfaces: Asphalt, Concrete
State: Illinois

A Brief History

What is today Chicago’s Bloomingdale Trail, or “The 606,” was formerly a segment of the storied Milwaukee Road. Long known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific, this railroad once stretched from the Midwest to Puget Sound but disappeared as a result of mismanagement during the 1980s. The Bloomingdale Trail right-of-way was only a small part of the company’s expansive trackage that radiated throughout the Windy City and serving local industries. The line’s history dates back to the 1870s when trains first navigated over what was then Bloomingdale Road. The tracks were later elevated to alleviate accidents and mishaps occurring along the numerous grade-crossings. As the years passed, the local business was lost, and a successor railroad discontinued service entirely during the early 2000s.

The fabled Milwaukee Road disappeared in 1985, purchased through bankruptcy by the smaller Soo Line system. Before its unglamorous end, the company was once a mighty and powerful transportation system, spanning more than 10,000 miles from Indiana to Seattle (it also reached as far east as Louisville, Kentucky, thanks to trackage rights). The Milwaukee began like most of the best remembered railroads—with humble roots. One of its earliest predecessors was the Milwaukee & Waukesha Rail Road, chartered in 1847 to construct a 20-mile line west from the new city of Milwaukee along the shores of Lake Michigan. In February 1850, its name was changed to the Milwaukee & Mississippi (M&M), and the first rails were laid later that September. By 1857, tracks had reached across the state to the Mississippi River. A series of bankruptcies and takeovers followed, and the M&M would eventually become part of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul (CM&StP) in 1874.

The CM&StP expanded across the Midwest throughout the late 19th century, largely by acquiring smaller roads, with lines reaching from northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa to Nebraska, Minnesota, and South Dakota. The railroad’s management felt that to effectively compete with the surrounding competition, a transcontinental route was needed to the Pacific Northwest. The audacious plan was accomplished in 1909 when the railroad boasted service to Seattle; subsequently the name was changed to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific. However, long before these events transpired, during the company’s formative years, it acquired what became known as the Bloomingdale Line.

The route’s history largely began as the Chicago & Pacific Railroad (C&P), formed in 1872 to construct a route from near downtown Chicago to Savanna along the banks of the Mississippi River. The line would extend from the North Branch of the Chicago River near Goose Island, travel along what was then known as Bloomingdale Road, and reach the community of Elgin before extending farther westward. Local residents opposed the construction of a rail line down the middle of their road, and the financial Panic of 1873 further hampered efforts. However, by that year much of the C&P had opened as far west as Elgin.

Unfortunately, continued financial problems precluded farther westward construction, and the railroad slipped into receivership during 1876. In April 1880, the C&P’s assets were acquired by the CM&StP, and by 1886, new ownership saw the line double-tracked along what is today Bloomingdale Avenue. This part of Chicago grew into a bustling industrial area. Here, rail service steadily increased to the point that accidents between trains and the public became relatively common. As a result, pressure by local citizens to see a measured improvement in safety prompted the City Council to pass an ordinance on June 27, 1910, requiring the tracks be elevated above street level for a distance of about 2.6 miles. The CM&StP’s assistant engineer, Robert Middleton, was assigned the task. He gained wide acclaim for his work, which used concrete throughout the construction process and raised the track 20 feet above street level. The entire project was completed by 1915 and contained a number of spurs and short sidings to serve the neighborhood’s many customers, similar to New York Central’s “High Line” in New York City (now the High Line Trail). The Bloomingdale Line’s customers ranged from the Northwestern Yeast Company and Churchill Cabinet Company to the Samuel Olson Manufacturing Company and H.N. Lund Coal Company. As the years passed, business on the line slowly disappeared or was lost to trucks, particularly following the end of World War II when highways were improved and the Interstate system was developed.

During the 1960s, the city took steps to rezone the area for residential use, which drove out much of the remaining industry by the 1990s. The Milwaukee Road declared bankruptcy in late 1977 and was eventually acquired by the Soo Line. The Soo had been a long-time subsidiary of Canadian Pacific, which acquired full control of the railroad in 1990. It continued serving remaining customers on the Bloomingdale Line until 2001 when operations ceased entirely.

There are several railroad attractions in Illinois, including the Amboy Railroad Museum in Amboy; Chicago Great Western Railway Depot Museum in Elizabeth; Chicago History Museum located at 1601 North Clark Street; Depot Railroad Museum in Rossville; Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin; Galesburg Railroad Museum in Galesburg; Historic Greenup Depot in Greenup; Historic Pullman Foundation in Chicago (11141 South Cottage Grove Avenue); Illinois Railway Museum in Union; Kankakee Railroad Museum in Kankakee; Monticello Railway Museum in Monticello; Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago (57th Street and Lake Shore Drive); Rochelle Railroad Park in Rochelle (popular train-watching location); Silver Creek & Stephenson Railroad in Freeport; Union Depot Railroad Museum in Mendota; and the Wheels O’ Time Museum in Dunlap.

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