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History of the Depot

1847- 1947

In 1834 a few visionaries in Springfield, Illinois, including a young legislator named Abraham Lincoln, proposed laying tracks to connect Sangamon County with the Mississippi River. Nothing happened until a six-man Alton group, led by the town's most prominent businessman, Benjamin Godfrey, received a charter on February 27, 1847 for the Alton & Sangamon Railroad.


Despite difficulties faced raising capital, the incorporators witnessed the laying of the first rails at the City of Alton Public Landing in 1850.  Two years later on September 9, 1852 the first train made its 72-mile maiden run. Then in October 1853 under the name Chicago & Mississippi, the line was extended north to Bloomington, Illinois, then in July 1854 to Joliet, and finally in March 1858 to Chicago over the leased rails of the Joliet & Chicago Railroad. By then the company had been renamed the St. Louis, Alton, & Chicago Railroad.


After a scandalous period caused by Henry Dwight Jr. of New York, the company was returned to the courts, and emerged in February 1861 as the Chicago & Alton Railroad. East St. Louis was reached in 1864 through the lease of the Alton & St. Louis Railroad. The St. Louis, Jacksonville, & Chicago Railroad was leased in 1868 adding a route from Godfrey to Bloomington. A branch was added between the Missouri town of Dwight and Washington in 1869.


Finally, an extension to Kansas City, Missouri was laid in 1879, completing the railroad's famous "Triangle" of service between the Midwest's three
great cities Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City.


The Chicago & Alton Railroad was reorganized on April 3, 1900, under Edward H. Harriman, and renamed the Chicago & Alton Railway. The famous name Chicago & Alton lasted for 70 years until 1931 when the Baltimore & Ohio took possession of the company out of receivership and renamed it the Alton Railroad.


In 1942 the B&O Railroad returned the company to the courts and on May 31, 1947 the Gulf Mobile & Ohio Railroad added it to its system, exactly 100 years after the first rails had been laid at the Alton Public Landing.


The Independence C&A Depot, constructed in 1879, employed distinctive architectural and design features standard to the company's station at that time. Today it is thought to be the only restored, two-story, frame station and one of the oldest depots in the state.


The depot employed standardized architectural designs utilized by railroads beginning in the 1870s. This was also an efficient advertising device, a corporate symbol easily recognizable to the traveling public. The paint scheme used on this depot is more colorful than was normally used by other railroads.


In towns where rail traffic required around the clock staffing, railroad companies erected depots with second floor accommodations for the agent and family.


The station plan with second floor living quarters was selected for Independence. By this time the Stick Style ornamentation was standard for the Company. Stick Style is considered by some authorities to be the wooden version of the High Victorian Gothic.


The first floor consists of a waiting room, station agent's room, and a baggage room. The second floor is divided horizontally by the stairway opening. The three south rooms are a kitchen, dining room, bedroom, and a parlor. Each of the rooms is now furnished in the period circa 1879. On the north side is the artifacts room, originally used as a bedroom and storage room. There are hundreds of original C&A and railroad objects found here and throughout the depot.


One depot agent's wife, at the turn of the century, had a piano in the parlor to entertain the traveling guests in the waiting room below.


In April 1960, the depot was closed to passenger and freight traffic. Thereafter, only telegraph operators manned the station until it was abandoned in 1972.

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