Two railway systems were prominent players in the development of Grayslake in the late 1800s and early 1900s: The Wisconsin Central Railway, later to become the Soo Line; and the Milwaukee Road, originally named the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway.
The railroads provided an economical and efficient means to transport agricultural, commercial and industrial products to and from the community as well as providing convenient transportation to passengers to and from Grayslake to jobs and recreation.
All Aboard: A History of Railroads in Grayslake explores the role of the iron horse in the creation of Grayslake and its importance to local businesses and residents.
In 1885, Grayslake became an established station on the Wisconsin Central Railroad through the efforts of company representatives who sought the help of "Messrs. Hawley and Whitney ... to secure the right-of-way through the (Gray's Lake) Farm," according to Grayslake: A Historical Portrait published by the Grayslake Historical Society.
The company sought to extend the railroad from Stevens Point, Wis. to transport lumber into Illinois. Other products transported by the railroad included livestock, agricultural produce, ice and tile. Passenger service was soon to follow.
Ticket to ride
Because the line extended into Chicago, commuters took the train into Chicago for their jobs and shopping. And Chicago residents seeking summer fun on the lakes came to Grayslake and the surrounding recreational area of Lake County.
One publication advertised a round-trip ticket to the Chicago Exposition in 1888 for $1.85. With the development of the automobile and trucks, the railroad boom in Grayslake waned beginning in the early 1920s. The milk train ended its run in 1922 after service of 32 years.
Railroad business surged in World War II with the transportation of supplies, equipment and passengers across the country. With gasoline rationing and restrictions on tire sales, many Grayslake businesses including the Gelatin Company, Rouse stockyards, Wilbur Lumber Company and Grayslake Feed relied on the railroad, according to Grayslake: A Historical Portrait.
In 1961, the name was changed to the Soo Line and passenger service was soon eliminated. The railroad was renamed Wisconsin Central again in 1987 and continues to provide freight service through Grayslake.
In the late 1990s passenger service resumed with the development of the Metra commuter line, including another track, providing passenger service to and from Antioch and Chicago and the many communities in between.
The Milwaukee Road has been providing passenger service to Grayslake for more than 110 years. The company began in 1880 with a line between Rondout and Libertyville. In 1899, the line was expanded and Grayslake became one of its original stations.
Despite the booming auto industry and the war years, the railroad continued to serve the commuting public. Following the war, commuter traffic increased, but there was concern in the early 1950s by the railroad owners of declining profits.
There was a move to abandon suburban commuter service, but public opinion prevailed with the result of commuter service continuing; however, with higher fares and eventually a charge for depot parking which had been free for many years.
Throughout the years there were numerous improvements at the depot including a paved and striped parking lot and a new depot with many remodeling improvements.
The railroad show at the museum will include rare images and artifacts from the collection of the Grayslake Historical Society, as well as items loaned by local collectors.
A working model train, with a Soo Line engine and cars, will be on display. Hands-on learning opportunities related to the history of the railroad will appeal to the younger visitors.
The exhibit will run through Feb. 23 next year in the museum at 164 Hawley St. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and during downtown activities.
For more information, contact Dave Oberg, executive director, at (847) 543-1745 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about the Grayslake Historical Society Society, call (847) 223-7663 or e-mail email@example.com.