Our last stop on our way home was the Monticello Railway Museum, 992 Iron Horse Place, PO Box 401, Monticello, IL 61856 (217/762-9011 or 877/762-9011; http://www.mrym.org/index.html ). This is an all-volunteer organization in central Illinois with an operational railroad yard open to the public. They offer train rides on weekends and holidays from May through October, regardless of weather conditions, as well as a number of special events throughout the year.
Also they collect, preserve, interpret, and exhibit materials and artifacts from throughout the fascinating history of trains and railroading. Anyone can come and explore their many rail cars and other equipment, and view the museum displays at either the Wabash Depot station in downtown Monticello or the Nelson Crossing station north of town, or both. The museum is open weekends and holidays May through October. and visitors may walk through the museum cars to view many pieces of rolling stock at the museum site, as well as visit the gift shop.
The Monticello Railway Museum, a not-for-profit educational organization, was founded in 1966 as “SPUR” (Society for the Perpetuation of Unretired Railfans). Its goal at that time was to maintain and operate steam powered passenger train excursions. In 1969 the name was changed to the Monticello & Sangamon Valley Railroad Historical Society, Inc., and then in 1982 the name was again changed to the present day Monticello Railway Museum.
The first land purchased was about five miles of former Illinois Terminal right of way between Monticello and White Heath. This right of way had only ballast in place. A former popcorn field was purchased for the yard area. The volunteers prepared the yard area for the arrival of #1, the first engine acquired by the museum. Through the years track was laid toward White Heath until approximately 2½ miles was completed. A run-around was put in place at the north end (Blacker’s). (A run-around enables an engine to “run-around” it’s train to pull it in the reverse direction.) In 1988, this portion of the track became known as the Terminal Division.
In 1987, the Museum purchased 7 ½ miles of Illinois Central Gulf trackage between Monticello and White Heath which parallels the Illinois Terminal right-of-way. A crossover track connecting the two lines was installed in two weekends, and the first run into Monticello was made. The Alco RS-3 #301, led the way, followed by Davenport #44, and finally by steam locomotive #1. This became known as the Central Division.
Today the ride takes place on the Central Division, using the Terminal Division only when pulling into the depot at Nelson’s Crossing. The station names used on both the Central and Terminal Divisions were used by the original railroads.
On February 21, 1861, the Monticello Railroad Company was chartered. Construction began in 1863 and was completed in the 1870″s. Since then, trains have operated on this line. The Monticello Railroad Company consolidated with the Havana, Mason City, Lincoln & Eastern Railroad in June of 1872. That same day, there was a consolidation with the Indianapolis, Bloomington, & Western Railway and it became known as the Extension Railway. There was a default on the payments and the Champaign, Havana, & Western Railway was incorporated in February, 1879.
In March 1880, the C, H & W was consolidated and absorbed by Jay Gould’s Wabash, St. Louis, & Pacific Railway. The Wabash system, facing bankruptcy, sold its interest in the “Havana Division” to the Chicago, Havana & Western Railway which was incorporated in October, 1886. The new C, H & W was controlled by Edward Harriman, who was involved with the Illinois Central Railroad.
In March, 1888, the Illinois Central Railroad leased the line, and on December 15, 1902, purchased it for “$1.00 and other valuable considerations”. The Illinois Central Railroad later merged with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio to become the Illinois Central Gulf. It has since returned to it’s original name, the Illinois Central Railroad.