Sandburg's Hometown

January 19, 2015

Fulton County Narrow Gauge at Galesburg, Illinois, 1900
The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway - Galesburg - 1900

Photo from the Knox College Special Collections and Archives 

The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway

by Barbara Schock

As a youngster Carl Sandburg played “hide-and-seek” and “follow-the-leader” under the turntable of the Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway. It was located east of South Seminary Street and south of East Knox Street. When the train came into Galesburg, the engine had to be turned around to travel back the way it had come.

There was grass and weeds growing under the beams of the turntable. The shadows were good places to hide. Some older boys and girls found hiding places under the turntable for a different kind of play. There were whispers of gossip about goings-on at the turntable, but parents quickly put a stop to whatever might have taken place, or so they thought.

The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway came into being on October 9, 1878. Business leaders in Lewistown hoped to gain the support of farmers in the northern part of Fulton County in the contest with Canton for the location of the county seat. The first train traveled from Fairview to Lewistown on August 19, 1880. Service to Galesburg began in 1882. As coal mines in the area developed, spurs were constructed to serve the mines. Passenger service was also provided into the early part of the twentieth century.

The railroad was built for less than $3000 per mile. The rails were only three feet apart and were of a light weight. There was no ballast under the rails in the early days. A “devious” route was constructed through the Spoon River Valley. This strategy was employed to avoid moving great quantities of earth and building bridges over obstructions. As a consequence there were 183 curves and the line covered 61 miles. It was affectionately known as “the peavine.”

The rolling stock of the company included five locomotives, four coaches, several box cars and many coal cars. Water for the steam engines was provided at four locations along the route. Ticket stations were available at Galesburg, DeLong, Ellisville, London Mills, Fairview, Fiatt, Cuba, Lewistown and West Havana.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad acquired the narrow gauge in 1908. In 1910 the line was converted to standard gauge. The C.B. & Q. requested abandonment from the state regulatory agency in 1934 and the tracks were removed. During the Great Depression, there may not have been enough business to cover the expenses. There were many people along the line who thought the little railroad was still in good enough condition to continue operation.

The depot of the Narrow Gauge still stands at the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets in Lewistown. It was recently purchased by the Lewistown Historical Society and is maintained as a museum and tourist attraction.

Addendum: I found a map of Galesburg in 1895 showing the Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railroad entered the city on Pine Street. Between Second and Third Streets, it paralleled the Peoria tracks. At Knox Street it turned north to the depot near Seminary Street and South Street. It does not show the location of the turntable. I have searched  Always the Young Strangers and Sandburg mentions the turntable near Pearl Street and the Peoria tracks.  --Barbara Schock (2/12/2015)


Sandburg's Hometown
Date Title
January 19, 2015 The Fulton County Narrow Gauge Railway
January 12, 2015 The Four Corners
December 22, 2014 Swedish Christmas
December 8, 2014 Christmas 1878
December 1, 2014 Bunker Boots & Shoes
November 24, 2014 Galesburg, Illinois
November 17, 2014 It was Buffalo Bill's Day
November 10, 2014 The Election of 1896 (A follow-up story)
November 3, 2014 The Election of 1896 (continued)
October 27, 2014 The Election of 1896
October  24, 2014 The Rissywarn
October 20, 2014 The Parlor Stove
October 13, 2014 Ashes to Ashes
October 6, 2014 Jesse James
Sept. 29, 2014 Lester T. Stone, Public Servant
Sept. 22, 2014 It's Who You Know
Sept 15, 2014 Mother of the Illinois Flag
Sept 8, 2014 The Scissors Grinder
Sept 1, 2014 Baseball
August 25, 2014 Howard K. Knowles, Capitalist
August 18, 2014  Alcoholic Beverages
August 11, 2014 Soda Water
August 4, 2014 Sweet Corn
July 28, 2014 Marching Through Georgia
July 21, 2014 The Knox County Fair
July 14, 2014 The Panic of 1893
July 7, 2014 The Rev. T. N. Hasselquist
June 30, 2014 The Knox County Courthouse
June 23, 2014 The Family Photograph Album
June 16, 2014 Parades
June 9, 2014 Lingonberries
June 2, 2014 Where We Live
May 26, 2014 Old Main
May 19, 2014 Rhythms of the Railroad
May 12, 2014 Spring Tonic
May 5, 2014 The Milkmen
April 28, 2014 Gray's "Elegy..."
April 21, 2014 Off to War
April 14, 2014 Swedish Easter
April 7, 2014 A Father's Face
March 31, 2014 Secret Societies
March 24, 2014 George A. Murdock, Merchant
March 10, 2014 Trade Cards
March 3, 2014 The Demorest Medal
February 24, 2014 Rip Van Winkle
February 17, 2014 Cabbage Soup
February 10, 2014 Lincoln's Birthday
February 3, 2014 4  The Colonel
January 27, 2014 The Lincoln Penny - A Little History
January 20, 2014 Walking to Work
January 13, 2014  A Small Abode
January 6, 2014 Birth of a Poet
December 30, 2013 Christmas 1880
December 23, 2013 Swedish Christmas
December 16, 2013 The Reporter Sees Santa
December 9, 2013 The Coming of Christmas
December 2, 2013 The Fire Boys Talk
November 25, 2013 Galesburg Will Feast on Turkeys and Cranberries - Thanksgiving 1893
November 18, 2013 Mary Sandburg Johnson
November 11, 2013 Carl Sandburg's Bicycle
November 4, 2013 Lace Curtains
October 28, 2013 The Front Room
October 21, 2013 A Warm Breakfast
October 14, 2013 Marion D. Shutter
October 7, 2013 Cigars and Consumption
September 30, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke & August Sandburg
September 16, 2013 Forrest F. Cooke, Mayor
September 9, 2013 Dusty Streets
September 2, 2013 Typhoid Fever
August 26, 2013 Coffee and Water
August 19, 2013 A Horse! A Horse!
August 12, 2013 Gaddial Scott
August 5, 2013 The Racetrack
July 29, 2013 John Peter Algeld - Part II
July 22, 2013 John Peter Altgeld - Part I
July 15, 2013 Tramps, Tramps, Tramps
July 8, 2013 Lady Liberty
July 1, 2013 Galesburg's Fourth
June 24, 2013 John H. Finley
June 17, 2013 The World's Columbian Exhibition
June 10, 2013 Fruit Short-Cake
June 3, 2013 Horatio Alger, Author
May 27, 2013 Memorial Day, 1887
May 20, 2013 Professor Jon W. Grubb
May 13, 2013 Beginnings of Lombard University
May 6, 2013 Young Sandburg’s View of Lombard College
April 29, 2013 Thinking
April 22, 2013 Robert Colville, Master Mechanic
April 15, 2013 The Galesburg Opera House
April 8, 2013 Grocery Stores and Sample Rooms
April 1, 2013  A Hearty  Breakfast 
March 25, 2013  The Lost Wallpaper Legend 
March 18, 2013 Martin G. Sandburg
March 4, 2013 The Edison Talking Machine
February 25, 2013 Joe Elser, Civil War Veteran
February 18, 2013 Remember the Maine...
February 11, 2013 Lincoln's Birthday
February 4, 2013 Curiosity