Illinois has a rich railroading history that began in 1842 with a fifty nine mile track that ran from Springfield to Meredosia. From that humble beginning the next 40 years would see that original trackage grow to an astounding Eight THOUSAND miles! By 1856 That one small railroad had been joined by Nine others as well.
One of those railroads was the Chicago & Aurora that came to Mendota in 1853 along with the Illinois Central. The Illinois Central was a 'land grant' railroad, the first of its kind. The term meant that the right of way for the trains to run on had been granted by the government rather than purchased by the railroad itself. The land grant was made possible thru the actions of Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, who was working as an attorney for the Illinois Central at the time.
Mendota soon become a major rail roading town with hundreds of passengers and freight cars moving through every week and in 1854 a large brick freight house was built which still stands today. The advent of the Civil war saw rail traffic increase dramatically and by 1870 a total of thirty nine trains a Day were stopping in Mendota.
There's reminders of that glorious past everywhere in town. The old freight depot is today called the Whistle Stop cafe (Currently up for sale). The current depot houses the railroad museum and Amtrak waiting room. Even Lake Mendota was once known as the railroad pond because water from there was brought in to service the old steam locomotives.
On a recent drive I went up to Mendota, IL. where they have a nifty railroad museum both inside and outside. Inside they have artifacts of the towns long association with railroading as well as a scale model layout of how the rail yard would have looked in the 1930's. Outside they are fortunate to have several actual pieces of rolling stock including:
*A locomotive & tender of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy built in 1923
*A caboose built in 1911
*A Milwaukee Road passenger car built in 1938
*And a Golden State dining car built in 1949
They even have a motorized car used to inspect the tracks
So if you ever find yourself in need of something to do, consider driving up to Mendota one weekend and soak in a little of Illinois railroad past. The museum is open Sat and Sun from 12-4. Admission is a suggested donation of $3.00 for adults and 2.00 for students.