From Third Rail to Bike Trail

A short history written by Jeffrey S. Obarek

Next time you enjoy the Illinois Prairie Path let your mind think of another time in our not so distant past. This path that we use for riding our bikes and for walking was the domain of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railway. Clintonville Station is located along the Elgin branch which is on the north part of the wishbone extending from Wheaton. The southern part of the wishbone runs from Wheaton to Aurora. The mainline ran east from Wheaton to Wells Street Terminal in downtown Chicago. Part of this run went into the city via the Garfield Park elevated line. In September of 1953 the railroad’s new east end terminal was located at Des Plaines Ave. in Forest Park. At Forest Park riders transferred to CTA rapid transit cars for the trip into Chicago. The trains of this high speed interurban line first incorporated as the Aurora Elgin and Chicago in 1902 began operating past this building on May 29,1903. The name of the railway was changed to the Chicago Aurora & Elgin Railroad under the reorganization of 1925.

Clintonville Substation was built in 1902 and put into service as a power distribution center to convert AC power to 600 volt DC needed to operate the trains which received this electric current via a third rail. Chicago Transit Authority “L” trains use this same electrical pick-up system to power their trains today. Electric power converted at this facility was also sold to several of the electric railroads in the area such as the Fox River Electric and the Elgin & Belvedere. Located on a lot south of the station was a small bungalow which served as the home for the station operator, who was responsible for making out train orders and maintaining the substation. A portion of the substation also served as a passenger waiting room from May of 1903 to the end of passenger service on July 3,1957. The electric generating equipment was located in the area now occupied by the club layout. The lower level of the building also housed electrical equipment. The passenger waiting area was located along the south wall and the doors onto the boarding platform were located on the east wall in the area now occupied by the club office. In 1949 the electrical generating equipment was relocated from Clintonville to a new facility in downtown Elgin along the CA&E right of way near the terminal at Chicago Ave. This left much of the main floor vacant. The Valley Model Railroaders moved into this building in 1953 leasing from the CA&E the portion which once housed the power generating equipment. Installation and enlarging of the layout that was started in 1949 at a smaller location in Elgin continued at Clintonville.

Clintonville Station in the middle 1950’sTo View More Historical Photos of Clintionville Station and the Chicago Aurora And Elgin click on the photo above. 
The model railroaders shared Clintonville Station with CA&E passengers until the 1957 passenger service abandonment. Freight trains continued to rumble past powered by electric locomotives until June of 1959 when all rail service was suspended. At that time all CA&E properties and assets where placed under the management of the Aurora Corporation of Illinois. The model railroaders paid the rent to this corporation until the station was placed under control of the Kane County Forest Preserve District sometime during the 1960’s. Part of our lease agreement with the forest preserve district is maintaining the building and payment of the utility bills. Look around and you will be able to see where the large windows were located. These were bricked in during the 1950’s as a security measure.

1999 saw dramatic change within the walls of the station. The old layout was dismantled and the interior was painted by the club members to match the last exterior paint scheme applied to the CA&E cars in the early 1950’s. The club also installed new light fixtures and a drop ceiling at this time. By 2000 much of the new bench work was installed and the track and scenery was started. So we enter the 21st century and 100 years of history has passed into our personal and collective memories. And the next time you find yourself passing this old station platform let your minds eye wander and listen for the next train along the path going back.

Resources: Sunset Lines; The story of the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad: vol. I-Trackage (1986) and vol. 2- History (1989) by Larry Plachno, Published by Transportation Trails, Polo, Illinois 61864

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