How a Railroad Company Helped Create a City

Railroads have been a large part of the Illinois landscape for nearly two centuries. They have reshaped the terrain, commerce and even towns and cities. One such location completely transformed by railroads was the city of Champaign.

Before the advent of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, Champaign did not exist. Instead, it was the small outgrowth of Urbana called West Urbana. Yet, the Land Grant Act of 1850 set in motion events that would lead to the creation of an entirely separate city. The Land Grant gave the state thousands of acres of land to use to forward the growth of railroads. Illinois would then award this land to the Illinois Central Railroad Company with the stipulation that a railroad must be built within the next few years. Soon, track was being laid and by 1854 the railroad stretched from Chicago to West Urbana.

Upon the completion of the Illinois Central line, West Urbana began to quickly develop. New businesses sprouted up, attracted to the possibilities created by the railroad, families made homes and the swampy land was filled. As the village expanded, West Urbana felt the need to forge its own identity and petitioned to become an independent city. By 1860, the city of Champaign was born and that is how the Illinois Central Railroad helped created a city.

Photographs are of the Illinois Central Station circa 1913. LC