| As West Chicago celebrates its
sesquicentennial, a look back at its history reveals that almost every important event was
connected in some way to the railroads.
In fact, West Chicago was the first Illinois community created by railroads. The city came into being in November12, 1849, with the arrival of the "Pioneer" locomotive, the first engine of the Galena & Chicago Union (later the Chicago & North Western and now the Union Pacific). The original name of West Chicago was Junction when John B. Turner, President of the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad laid it out in 1855.
The name was a logical choice for the families who first settled this area as the community sprang up around the intersection of three railroad lines.
The second oldest part of town was created as the Village of Turner in 1857 by Dr. Joseph and Mrs. Mary McConnell who chose that name to honor John B. Turner even though he never actually lived in town.
With one area known as Junction and another as Turner, the community became informally referred to as Turner Junction until formally incorporated as the Village of Turner in 1873. Junction also was the birthplace of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (today's Burlington Northern-Santa Fe).
The final name of West Chicago was chosen in 1896 by the residents' votes. They and village officials chose the new name in order to give the village a more metropolitan flavor and to convey a stronger impression of its proximity to Chicago. The village was reincorporated as the City of West Chicago in 1906. The period from the 1870s through the turn of the century was a period of tremendous growth for the
community. Again, the railroads were instrumental in the construction of the many new homes and schools. The 1900 census indicated that 40 percent of the workers employed in nonagricultural jobs worked for the
Chicago & North Western Railway.
Another major railroad influence was the attraction of an impressive roster of diverse manufacturing enterprises. For example, in 1X88, a feeder railroad named the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern (EJ&E) laid tracks to the junction with the Chicago & North Western. The success of the new venture was dependent on attracting industry along its right-of-way. The railroad offered factory sites at no charge to companies willing to relocate to the area.
As one 1853 map proclaimed: "The Village of Turner has electric lights, asphalt sidewalks, two wide-awake newspapers, fine schools, prosperous churches, good society and numerous nourishing factories." Although the original factories attracted by this advertisement no longer exist in West Chicago, the city remains with an impressive roster of diverse industry. These include the DuPage County Airport, Jel-Sert, General Mills, the Ball Seed Company and Liquid Container. All together, with 2,200 acres of improved office and industrial land, West Chicago is home to more than 1,000 businesses.
West Chicago has been fortunate in that much of its 150 years of history has been preserved in several historic buildings. Chief among these is Turner Town Hall, 132 Main Street Constructed in 1884, this building served as a political and social center for 92 years. When listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, it was noted that it had 92 years of continuous public service, more than any town in the western suburbs. On July 4, 1976 the building was dedicated to its present use as the site of the West Chicago City Museum.
The new City Hall is located adjacent to Heritage Commons, 495 Main Street This railroad park contains the original 1890s Chicago Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) railroad depot, an 1890s CB&Q caboose, a handcar and a one-quarter scale model of a C&NW steam locomotive. Inside the depot is a scale model of the C&NW roundhouse facility.
The Wayne and Helen Fox Community Center, 306 Main Street, originally served as the C&NW passenger station when opened in l912. Acquired by a citizen's committee in 1980, it reopened as a community center in 1983. Today, it serves as a meeting hall for many organizations and as the offices of the West Chicago Chamber of Commerce.
Today, railroads continue to play an important role in the life of the city's 17,000 residents. The Metra Commuter Train system takes many residents to and from their daily jobs. Three major railroads -- tile Union Pacific, the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe and the Elgin