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Great Western Railroad Depot

The Chicago Great Western Railroad Depot on Myrtle Street in downtown Elizabeth, Illinois was constructed in 1888 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

The Chicago Great Western was nicknamed "The Maple Leaf Route" since its three main lines with their branches took on the appearance of a maple leaf. The stem of the "The Maple Leaf Route" ran from Chicago, Illinois, through South Freeport, Pearl City, Kent, Stockton, Woodbine, Elizabeth, and North Hanover to Dubuque, Iowa, and then on to the railroad's hub city at Oelwein, Iowa. From there, the railroad ran north to Minneapolis, Minnesota; West to Omaha, Nebraska; and Southwest to Kansas City, Missouri.

The Elizabeth depot serviced the Winston Tunnel, located down the line to the West. At over one-half mile in length, this tunnel is the longest in the state of Illinois. In the days of coal-burning locomotives, smoke built up in the tunnel to such an extent that engineers wore gas masks. A huge fan was installed at the West End of the tunnel to blow smoke out. When the fan broke down, a call would be made to the Elizabeth station. A repairman would ride a small gasoline-powered rail car out to the Winston Tunnel known locally as "The Speeder".

It was, in fact, the costly repairs to the tunnel that contributed to the Great Western's decision to sell out to the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad Company. In 1972 the Elizabeth Railroad Depot closed. The Village of Elizabeth purchased it and then sold to the Jo-Carroll Electric Co-operative, which used the station as a storage building. In 1984, the depot was sold back to the Village of Elizabeth, and in 1997 the Elizabeth Historical Society opened the local history museum.

Just as in the past, the depot was the center of activity in Elizabeth, focusing on the railroad's business with freight and passengers. So it is expected, the new depot museum will once again make this building the center of activity for the village, focusing now on residents and tourists, re-discovering the historic past.

The Elizabeth Historical Society has opened the old passenger waiting room in the depot as a local history museum. Hours are from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays and from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays during the summer months, or by special appointment. Admission is free.

Copyright 1998,99 Tom Tolstead
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