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ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911

A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives


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DOCUMENT 48
LETTER FROM R.E. ORR TO THE CANAL COMMISSIONERS CONCERNING LEASING LAND FOR RAILROAD PURPOSES
March 7, 1901




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Explanation

The I and M owned the canal itself and that land which extended ninety feet out on each side of it. Through a legal technicality the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad Company had obtained a right-of-way along the canal line in 1851. Although the railroad originally was to have compensated the canal for the resulting loss of tolls, a court battle determined otherwise. And by the summer of 1854 the railroad was fully operational between Chicago on Lake Michigan and Rock Island on the Mississippi River. Almost immediately passengers and goods of small bulk gravitated to the railroad which was fast, cost effective, and open to traffic year round (see document 39 and document 42 explanations).

Over the succeeding years the railroad and the canal competed mainly for bulk goods. When railroad rates were lowered canal tolls went down as well. But increasingly over the years the I and M's usefulness was in decline. In 1900 only 60 boats remained on the line. Together they transported 121,759 tons of freight over a total of 99,409 miles. But tolls generated only $13,868. Total revenues (including tolls, canal land sales, and water power, ice, and land leases) amounted to $69,279 while expenditures came to $88,317. For an early argument opposing railroads, see document 9.

Points to Consider

What was R.E. Orr requesting?
Why had the I and M commissioners rejected this offer?
Describe the I and M in March of 1901.
Even by 1901 standards, R.E. Orr's tone was exceedingly deferential in this letter. Why was that?


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