Railroads and Rail Stations in Peoria
The first railroad in Peoria was the Peoria and Warsaw, incorporated in 1838. Unfortunately, it encountered financial problems and not a mile of railroad track was laid. However, by November 9, 1854, the first passenger train began serving Peoria; it was the Peoria and Bureau Valley Railroad. Not all welcomed the coming of the railroad. Some were concerned that the "locomotive and the cars would injure the crops, pollute the atmosphere, produce earthquakes, and cause weather disturbances."
In spite of these concerns, fifteen railroads were soon located in Peoria. In 1882 Union Station opened at the foot of State Street. The brick, two-story building, measuring 404 feet by 55 feet contained a kitchen, dining room, rest rooms, mail rooms, storerooms, emigrant rooms, and an express office complete with vaults and safes. There were also forty-two offices in the building.
Numerous people, the famous and the not so famous, actors, musicians, statesmen, and presidents passed through these doors. At one point, there were 120 trains leaving Peoria's Union Station on a daily basis. Trains reached nearly every city, both large and small, like Pekin, Toulon, Buffalo, St. Louis, and as far away as New York and Denver.
In 1899 the Rock Island Railroad's depot was built in Peoria. It was considered one of the finest stations in the Midwest. By 1923, though, passenger trains had dropped to eighty trains daily in and out of Peoria Union Station.
With the beginning of World War II and the need to move troops and their families, passenger service increased for the last time. As World War II drew to an end, so did passenger service out of the once stately Union Station. On June 25, 1955, the last passenger train, the Peoria Eastern, departed. Within a few years, Union Station was used as an overflow warehouse for the post office. In August 1961 it was destroyed by fire.
The Rock Island Rocket ran to Chicago and back to Peoria in only two hours and forty-five minutes. Due to lack of track maintenance, the Rocket's speed fell, and its run lengthened into four hours. Soon the number of passengers also fell. The last Rocket left the depot in 1967. The Rock Island Depot was empty until 1968, when it was turned into a park and training center for the handicapped. In spite of a new, but very small, lackluster station, the last Rocket departed Peoria on May 29, 1978. The Rock Island Depot is now a restaurant that has maintained the distinctive architecture of its heyday.
Though Peoria no longer has a passenger train and has a greatly decreased freight business, the railroad served its purpose. It provided farmers, distillers, and manufacturers a quick and inexpensive means of transportation to market their products.— [From: C. Ballance, History of Peoria, Illinois; Jerry Klein, Peoria; "The New Depot," Peoria Daily Transcript (Dec. 1882); Dal Sweeny, Peoria Notebook.]