Illinois Central Railroad Depot, Ullin Illinois
Ullin is located about 18 miles north of Cairo, Illinois where the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers occur. It is located in northern Pulaski County, which was formed on March 3rd, 1843. Pulaski County is named after the Revolutionary war hero, General Casimir Pulaski, who was killed in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. As early as 1702 the French government issued charters to protect the junction of the two rivers and control all commercial transactions into the territory. After the French and Indian War which began in 1756 all possessions of the French east of the Mississippi River were transferred to the English. In 1776 the war for American Independence began and the land was taken from the British. In December 1778 the state of Virginia created the first civil government for what was called a new county of Virginia. They named it "Illinois County." In 1784 the United States government took control over the area and it became known as the Northwest Territory. In 1787 it was divided due the increasing population. It became the Indiana Territory. Finally in 1809, Illinois was separated from Indiana and became known as the Illinois Territory. In 1818 Illinois became the 21st state of the Union. Several county divisions occurred before Pulaski County was named in 1843.
Prior to the arrival of white settlers, this area was home to tribes of Shawnee Indians. The Shawnee National Forest now preserves many of the areas where these tribes made their home. Local farmers still discover small artifacts of the Indian tribes that once inhabited the hills and fields near Ullin. For the same reason the Indians made their home here, settlers arriving via the Ohio River made their way into the rich fertile lands of Southern Illinois. The settlers were not always welcomed with open arms and many lost their life at the hands of hostile Indians who saw the new arrivals as their enemy.
In the Fall of 1832, Alexander Jenkins, a forward-looking statesman and Speaker of the Illinois House, from Murphysboro, proposed during a general assembly session at Vandalia, a railroad to run the length of the State of Illinois. Jenkins found among his many supporters, a young 23-year-old candidate for the state legislature from Sangamon County named Abraham Lincoln.
On February 27, 1837 the Internal Improvement Act was passed. Included in this Act were provisions for the Central Railroad. Work on the Central Railroad included 40 miles of surveying and grading from Cairo north. This would have included the area later to be named Ullin (in 1840, the project was suspended due to lack of funding).
On March 4th, 1847, Stephen Douglas, known as the "Little Giant", became an U. S. Senator from Illinois. Senator Douglas joined in the support of the Central Railroad Plan. On the same day, Abraham Lincoln took his seat in the U. S. Congress. Both men supported land-grant aid for the proposed Central Railroad "connecting the Upper and Lower Mississippi Rivers with the chain of lakes at Chicago". On September 20th, 1850 President Millard Fillmore signed the Central Railroad Bill. The dream of a railroad from Cairo to Chicago was a step closer to becoming a reality. On February 10th, 1851, after two decades of work, the Illinois Central Railroad was born.
In seven years, on September 15th, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Steven Douglas would use this railroad to meet in Jonesboro, Illinois and debate each other for one of the United States Senate Seat. Douglas spent the night before the debate in Cairo, Illinois and then traveled to Anna, Illinois by a special Illinois Central train the morning of the debate. A flat car was attached to the train on which a small brass cannon was positioned. As the train passed through Ullin and the other small towns between Cairo and Anna, the cannon was fired drawing the attention of many bystanders.
News of the new railroad spread rapidly. Many merchants seeing the opportunity of new business ventures came to Illinois. It is estimated as many as 10,000 men were employed on the construction of the new railroad. Laborers received $1.25 dollars per day. Over the next five years between 1851 and 1856 the Illinois Central Railroad brought 100,000 men to Illinois. Many of these men stayed in Illinois and made families after the construction project was done. The heritage of many African Americans is directly tied to the Illinois Central Railroad as they were employed and made homes in the railroad towns, such as Ullin. Several of those who helped build the railroad found permanent jobs with the Illinois Central Railroad. Some of the African American families still living in and around Ullin came to the area as their ancestors took jobs helping to build the new railroad. For those who did not work directly for the railroad, many bought farms or opened businesses in the new founded towns along the Illinois Central Railroad Line. The dream of the Central Railroad had become a reality. Ullin became part of this dream.
The question of how Ullin received its name has remained a mystery for years. Folklore has it that it was named after Samuel Ulen who was born in Wheeling, Virginia in 1798. Ulen moved into Pulaski County in 1851 where he was a very respected politician. It is told that through a spelling error, the name Ulen was transposed to Ullin when it was being recorded. No such record could be found in the Pulaski County Clerks records or with the State of Illinois. A historian with the State of Illinois researched this issue and advised there was no spelling mistake in the state capital. In fact, the historian provided copies of Ullin's request for incorporation. This incorporation occurred in 1900 when Ullin citizens voted 38 to 28 for incorporation. The State of Illinois then officially recognized Ullin as a legal municipality. During the research of Ullin's name, some senior members of the Ullin community advised that as a child they had heard the village was named after a poem, or a poet. Through research of this subject, a publication dated 1884, which explained how towns along the ICRR received their name, was discovered. This publication indicated the Village of Ullin's name was taken from poems written by the 3rd century Gaelic poet Ossian. James Macpherson (1736-1796) who was a Scottish poet and scholar translated these poems. Ullin is one of the eight heroes named in the Ossian poems. Ullin was a positive character in many of the poems. In one of the poems, Ullin is a place or city where, "the nations gathered and blessed the king...from the land of Selma". Ullin most likely earned its name from these poems. These poems were extremely popular during the early 19th century. Napoleon 1 (1769-1821) of France, was an admirer of these poems and kept a copy of them in the breast pocket of his jacket. It is conceivable a person with a passion for these poems named the area, which would later become the community of Ullin. This is all consistent with Illinois Central Railroad Company financial records of 1855, which describes the depot between Pulaski and Wetaug as "Ullin". This was two years before Ullin was officially platted as a village. Records from the Pulaski County Court House written in 1857, when Ullin was founded, are clear; the name was Ullin and spelled exactly as it is today. It does not appear Ullin was named by mistake.
A single Illinois Central Railroad track was laid from Cairo to Carbondale during the period from 1851 to 1854. The ICRR company, who owned 100' feet either side of the track, chose to place freight houses and depots about every five miles or so to make it convenient for farmers to reach in one day, ship their goods and still return home before sundown. The reasoning for the 100' feet of property on each side was so when large trees on private land fell, they would not block the railroad. The location of Ullin was a good choice because of the Cache River, which the ICRR crossed and took on water from. The bottomlands around the Cache offered an abundant supply of timber.
A freight house, wood shop and passenger depot was constructed at Ullin in 1854. The freight house was constructed about 500 feet north of the ICRR Cache River Bridge on the west side of the single track. A wood shop and water well were built just south of the freight house. Both structures were located across from today's Ullin Park and Village Hall. Both structures are noted on records filed with the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk when Ullin was founded in 1857. This is further supported by the ICRR Financial Statement of 1855 which revealed income from both passenger and freight business at Ullin. A water tank for filling the steam locomotives was located on the east side of the track about 100' feet north of the ICRR Cache River Bridge. A document in the Illinois Central Historical Society Archives in Paxton, Illinois states, "a framed passenger and freight house 24' X 100' foot were built (in Ullin) about 1863". This indicates today's depot is Ullin's third ICRR Depot.
According to the records on file with the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk's Office, the first and probably the second Ullin Railroad Depot were built on the east side of the railroad directly across from the freight house which was on the west side of the main line. This would have been located about 75' feet south of the current Illinois Central Railroad Depot built in 1897. The Village of Ullin now owns the property on which the old depot(s) sat and where the current depot rests. The old location is part of the parking lot for the current depot. None of the old structures built in 1854 or 1863 exist. It is unknown how the old depots met their demise, but fire claimed many of the old structures. The concrete pier foundations for the water tower are still in place.
The first actual train, including locomotive and passenger cars, to travel the Illinois Central Railroad passed through the little settlement of Ullin during the morning of July 4, 1854. The wood burning steam locomotive and a small number of VIP passenger cars were en route to a celebration in Carbondale organized by Carbondale's founder Daniel H. Brush.
The first financial record of the Illinois Central Railroad reveals the first freight handled by the Ullin ICRR Depot was in February of 1855. The ICRR received $38.92 that month. The same record indicates 1,388 passengers boarded at Ullin en route to cities as far north as Sandoval and as far south as Cairo during 1855. 663 passengers came to the Ullin Depot from other destinations during 1855. This record also reveals the village was known as Ullin at least two years before the first Platt was filed with the Pulaski County Circuit Clerk's Office (thus disproving Ullin was named by mistake).
Joseph F. Ashley and David L. Phillips founded Ullin on January 12, 1857. Phillips, who resided in Anna, Illinois, was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, Lincoln stayed with the Phillips family during the Lincoln-Douglas Debate on September 15, 1858. Lincoln and Phillips had become friends while they were both employed by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1854. Lincoln was an attorney for the ICRR while Phillips was a land agent. Ashley and Phillips platted the first city blocks parallel to the Illinois Central Railroad. First North Street was platted on the east side of the track running east and west. The location where First North Street (now named Ullin Avenue) intersected the Illinois Central Railroad is where today's depot sets. Other sections of town were platted over the next few years. Eventually, the town was built on both sides of the railroad. The Ullin ICRR Depot was placed in the middle of the village.
Many famous personalities have passed or maybe even stopped in Ullin as they made their way down the Illinois Central Main Line. In July 1859, a group of state officers and appraisal experts made a 9 day daytime tour of every mile of the Illinois Central Railroad for appraisal purposes. The host of this group was the lawyer of the Illinois Central Railroad, Abraham Lincoln. There is nothing to document Lincoln and his group stopped in Ullin, but it is interesting to note such a noble man, who would be the sixteenth president of the United States, would have passed through the middle of Ullin. In addition to Mr. Lincoln, not famous at the time, were his wife, Mary, and their sons Robert and Tad. As mentioned, Illinois U. S. Senator Steven Douglas who would go on to beat Lincoln in his re-election bid during the election of 1858, rode through Ullin on the morning and evening of the Lincoln-Douglas Debate in Jonesboro on September 15th, 1858. Joining him for the trip through Ullin and onto Anna was John A. Logan and George B. McClellen (who would both later be Union Generals in the Civil War). Lincoln stayed in Anna and did not make it through Ullin during the debate.
Another well known Illinois Central Railroad celebrity that passed through Ullin on November 1st, 1893 and maybe many other times was John Luther Jones, better known as "Casey Jones". Casey became famous after he was killed at Vaughan, Mississippi in the wreck of the engine #382 (also known as No. 1 or the Cannonball) on April 29, 1900. The famous ballad titled "Casey Jones" profiles the wreck that killed the famous engineer.
When the Illinois Central Railroad was built, it erected a telegraph line from Cairo to Dunleith, Illinois. The Illinois Telegraph Company operated this line. The contract between the two companies allowed the ICRR free use of their 1200 miles of telegraph line. The Illinois Central Depot telegraph became the first location for communication to the outside world in Ullin. The new depot built in 1897 was also equipped with a telegraph. News of the Civil War and later in 1865 the news of Abraham Lincoln's assassination would come to the residents of Ullin via the telegraph at the Ullin ICRR Depot. During the early morning hours of November 11th, 1918 every telegraph operator along the Illinois Central Railroad had been advised an important message would be forthcoming. All operators waited in anticipation for this important message. At 9:40 A.M., the message came that the Armistice had been signed ending World War I. Ullin residents learned the news from the telegraph operator at the Ullin Depot.
Many businesses existed in and around Ullin after the Illinois Central Railroad completed the track. Blue limestone was excavated form the hills north of Ullin as early as 1848. Lime kilns operated at a capacity of 300 barrels a day by 1869. The lime was shipped by rail to all parts of the country. It was used by farmers in their fields and by factories in the manufacturing of glass and building purposes. The main source of business in the Ullin area was logging. The Cache River flowed under the Illinois Central Railroad on the south side of Ullin. The James Bell Saw Mill was located in Ullin on the southwest side. The first generation forests provided many large trees, which were cut from many locations around Ullin. Most were cut near the Cache Bottomlands and hauled to the river by horses or oxen. From that point they were floated to the mills for sawing. James Bell, who lived in Cobden, owned lumberyards at Du Quoin, Tamaroa, Ashley, Centralia, and Ullin. In 1869, an average of 20,000 feet of lumber was being cut in an 11 hour run at Bell's Saw Mill. The mill used saw dust and shavings to fuel the steam engine, which drove the saws. About 8,000 native hardwood logs were being sawed annually. Another saw mill known as St. Leger Rood & Co., which was located about one mile west of Ullin (near today's new Crossroads United Methodist Church), utilized over 4 miles of wooden railroad for conveying logs and lumber to and from their mill. Over the next several years, many spur railroad tracks would be built to serve the businesses of Ullin.
The Illinois Central Railroad Directory of 1869 stated, "In 1867 the Illinois Central Railroad shipped about 4,000,000 feet of lumber, 3,500,000 shingles, and 3,500 barrels of lime from Ullin". All of this business was transacted at the old Ullin Depot. The directory went on to say, "the soil is rich in this vicinity, and farming is beginning to look up as the timber is clearing off. Winter wheat is almost a sure crop. Fruit growing is getting to be quite a considerable business".
Due to the increasing exports from Ullin, the population continued to increase as more laborers were needed and other businesses were created in town. In 1869, Ullin supported about 300 people.
After the Great Chicago Fire on October 8-9, 1871, the saw mills in and around Ullin were called on to send lumber to help rebuild the city. Hundreds of thousands of feet of Ullin area timber was purchased and sent by train to help rebuild Chicago.
On October 29th, 1889 the Illinois Central Railroad Bridge spanning the Ohio River was opened. Most of the rock used to build the approach on the Illinois side came from the Ullin Limestone Quarry. This allowed trains to move from Chicago to New Orleans without being barged across the river.
A photograph of the Ullin Depot taken in the early 1900's depicts a sign on the west side
of the depot indicating the distance north and south to major cities. It read:
Chicago 344 miles - Ulllin - New Orleans 568 miles
As predicted in 1869 by the Illinois Central Railroad, farming joined the other occupations as a significant industry in the Ullin area. During 1896 and 1897 the Illinois Central Railroad began to lay a double track from Carbondale to Cairo. In the fall of 1897, the double track was completed in Ullin. Many other significant improvements were made along the way. One of them was a new depot in Ullin (the focus of this application). The wooden structure built was (is) 60' feet long and 24' feet wide. The stationmaster's window tipped out 3.5' feet. The Ullin Illinois Central Railroad Depot was located at mile 345 on the main line. By 1897, the population of Ullin stood at about 400. At the turn of the century, the small village was busy. In 1910, the population increased to 670 citizens. In 1940 the population of Ullin peaked at 827 and by 1950 the population began a decline and was counted at 773. Ullin's best years of commerce were in direct correlation to the rise and fall of the village's population. This occurred during the first fifty years of the depot built in 1897.
The Ullin Depot was built in the middle of the busy little community. The depot built in 1897 continued to be the hub of commerce for Ullin and the surrounding area just as the old depot had been. Farmers involved in raising produce of all kinds would bring their products in to be shipped to various destinations. Many older citizens recall the loading of strawberries picked from Ullin farms, brought to the Ullin ICRR Depot, iced and loaded onto a northbound freight train, so they could arrive at Chicago markets by morning. Livestock was received and shipped out at the Ullin Depot by local farmers until trucking took over in the middle 1900's. William Echols, who was born at Ullin in 1919, remembers coming to the Ullin ICRR Depot as a young boy with his Grandpa William Henry Crippen and picking up a crated live pig, which had just been delivered by an Illinois Central Freight Train. That was many years ago but it is still vivid in his memory.
In the early 1900's photography came to this little community. Many of the older photographs know of Ullin were staged around the Illinois Central Depot. The photographs reflect the very busy Ullin Depot. The Ullin Depot was the center of local transportation. Several passenger trains would stop daily, both north and southbound. For over 100 years mail coming to this community came via the train. Many people recall seeing Mrs. Ruth Payne push a wooden mail cart from the depot to the Ullin Post Office located across the street. Ullin's Postmaster of many years Delbert "Tip" Britt recalled that a hook located just to the south of today's depot served as the method in which the train would "catch" the mail. Mail coming into the community sometimes as many as four times a day would be "thrown off" at the same location. Many bags of mail through the years bounced back under the train and would have to be pieced back together by the postmaster.
In 1899 a second railroad laid tracks through Ullin. The Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad (C&EI) chose to locate an east-west track through the north side of Ullin. This railroad connected Marion to Thebes, Illinois. A massive wooden trestle measuring about 500' feet long and about an average of 65' feet tall was built to clear the Illinois Central Railroad. The center structure crossing the ICRR was made of iron. This trestle was located about 700' feet north of the ICRR Depot. Several photographs depict the ICRR Depot with the C&EI Trestle in the background. The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad also built a depot on the east side of Ullin along the Butterridge Road (Ullin Avenue). It provided passenger, freight and mail service to Ullin from Marion, Illinois to Thebes, Illinois where it connected to several other routes. Some passengers would disembark at one depot and were taken by railroad employee Mr. Thornton (first name not remembered) to the other depot so they could catch a different train. Mr. Thornton would also transfer mail from one railroad to the other. The C&EI Depot was abandoned in the 1940's and razed. The Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad continued to use the line for freight trains until the mid 1970's. The trestle was removed in the early 1980's. All that remains of that railroad is the mounds of dirt that once supported what was called the "high track". As you come into Ullin from the north, on U. S. Highway 51, you pass through the concrete walls of what was once the C&EI Railroad overpass.
There are still several of Ullin's older citizens who have fond memories created in and around the Ullin Depot. Glenn "Bull" Kesler remembers playing marbles after school with other young boys during the 1930's along the south wall of the depot. Hundreds of school children from Ullin and the surrounding area remember catching "Engine number 25" at the Ullin Depot and riding it to Cairo where a school bus or family cars would bring them back. For most this was their first train ride and for many this was the only train ride they ever took. Other memories involve going to the Ullin Depot with grandparents, which are now gone, as are the old steam locomotives. One memory from the old depot involved a prank by the stationmaster Alonzo "Lon" Dale and a friend of his. They pretended to have a gunfight inside the freight area of the Ullin Depot while a frightened witness looked on. Only after the shooting stopped, and the smoke cleared, did the victim of the prank realize blank pistols had been used. This story drew laughs for years at the expense of the unsuspecting victim of the prank.
From the Civil War to the Korean War, many Ullin, and Ullin area boys left their home via the Ullin Depot. Groups of family members would gather around their son, brother, or grandson and bid them farewell as they traveled to all parts of the world. To those who were lucky enough to survive and come home, the Ullin Depot was a beautiful sight. Once the train slowed and they stepped off at the Ullin Depot, they knew they were finally home. There were some of Ullin's sons who were not so lucky. A few of Ullin's sons were brought home to the Ullin Depot via the railroad for their final resting-place.
A monument is now erected only a short distance away from today's depot, paying tribute to those who were killed in war. Many tears of both sorrow and joy were shed in and around the Ullin Depot during these terrible days of war.
Sometimes, when bad winter weather struck, the Ullin Depot Station Master would allow school children who lived in the country, and could not get back home, to spend the night inside the passenger area. A coal burning pot belly stove was always stoked keeping the inside toasty warm. The depot made a perfect meeting place for many whom needed a place out of the environment to wait for a date or a friend.
On June 3, 1922 a young handsome couple arrived by train at the Ullin Depot from Makanda (just south of Carbondale). The two were married in a quiet ceremony by the local justice of the peace. They spent their honeymoon night across from the Ullin Depot in the Newell Hotel. The next day the newlyweds purchased their tickets back to Makanda and boarded a passenger train at the Ullin Depot, to begin their lives together. The couple was Wayman and Tressie Presley of Makanda. Several years later, Wayman become famous for his part in the creation of the Bald Knob Cross near Alto Pass and his founding of the Presley Tours business. Wayman was also featured on the Ralph Edwards show, "This is Your Life" in the 1960's. Fifty years later, on June 3rd, 1972, the couple and their families would return to Ullin for supper at Porky's Restaurant. This time the trip was made by car. That night, family members presented a skit re-enacting the 1922 train ride to Ullin and other highlights of the successful couples life.
During the winter of 1937, Southern Illinois and several other Ohio Valley States experienced some of the worst flooding this area has ever witnessed. All women and children of Cairo and other areas of Southern Illinois were evacuated to safer areas. Ullin suffered the worst flooding ever as the Cache River backed up because of the overflowing Ohio River. History has it that during the evacuation of people who lived the lower areas of Southern Illinois; two babies were born inside the Ullin Depot. Water did flood Ullin and damage several businesses in 1937, but the depot was positioned on high ground and survived. The depot (after being moved in 1972) would witness and narrowly escape two other floods in 1973 and 1986 before it would return to its original location.
By 1967, the Illinois Central Railroad chocolate and orange painted passenger trains stopped passenger service for Ullin. By this time, U. S. Highway 51 (built in 1924 as Illinois Route 2) and Interstate 57 served Ullin. The choice for personal transportation had shifted to the automobile. The end of an era had arrived for Ullin and several other communities. Since 1855 passenger trains had served this community and its citizens proudly. The Ullin Depot was closed a few years later and eventually sold to Wilborn Goines of Wetaug. In 1972, Goines sold the depot to William Bruchhauser who owned and operated the Phoenix Flour Mill. The Phoenix Flour Mill was located (west) just across the railroad tracks from the depot. The Kennedy, Kennedy and Kennedy Moving Company was contracted and moved the depot intact. It was placed at the north end of the mill as a warehouse, with the east side of the depot facing the railroad. No painting or structural changes were made on the building.
In the early morning hours of Labor Day of 1979, the Phoenix Flour Mill was set ablaze by an arsonist. The mill itself was an old structure that stood about 5 stories tall. It had served the farmers around Ullin since the turn of the century as they brought their corn, wheat, soybeans, and milo to market. The mill then shipped the grain by rail car to Chicago, New Orleans, and other markets. The structure was covered with corrugated galvanized metal, which made fire fighting almost impossible. The Ullin Volunteer Fire Department was assisted by several area volunteer fire departments. During peak of the fire, the south gable of the old depot caught fire. The fire was put out immediately and the damage was limited to the gable. The slightly charred wood is still visible today. The Phoenix Flour Mill was a total loss. William Brauchhauser moved his business across town where the old Myers Hotel (later known as the O'Hara Hotel) and Restaurant had once stood. Moving the old depot to the new location was too expensive, so it was abandoned.
During the late 1980's an effort was inquiry was made by the Ullin Civic Club to purchase the depot from Brauchhauser. A price was never agreed to and the subject was dropped. In August of 1997, the Illinois Central Railroad declared the depot abandoned since it was still upon their property (that had been leased by Brauchhauser but the lease had expired some years ago). The ICRR notified the Village of Ullin of their intent to destroy the structure. A group of concerned citizens from the Ullin Civic Club and members from the Ullin Village Board grouped together and petitioned the ICRR to defer its destruction of the historical building until financing could be arranged to move it.
The Illinois Central Railroad finally agreed to give the depot a reprieve from destruction for one month. A former Ullin resident and retired Ohio businessman, William H. Echols (who was last in the depot after WW II in 1945) loaned the Village of Ullin $17,000 dollars to move the building. In the meantime the Village of Ullin entered into a purchase agreement to buy the frontage property where the depot had been built in 1897. This purchase also included the area where the first two depots (1854 and 1869) had been built. The Ullin Depot (built 1897) had once again been given new life.
On December 3rd, 1997, the Ullin ICRR Depot was carefully returned to its original spot. The same company, Kennedy, Kennedy and Kennedy Moving Company, that moved it the first time, was hired to move it again. Moving the depot across an active railroad was a tedious job that involved perfect coordination by the contractor and the ICRR Company. The old depot was built with large hardwood timbers in 1897 and they held fast during the move. No damage was suffered during the move. Just minutes after the depot was placed back onto the property on which it was originally built, Illinois Central Freight Train, led by locomotive #6132, passed on the west side of the depot. It had been 25 years since a train passed on that side of the depot.
About two hundred yards south of the depot, the Illinois Central Railroad still serves the Ullin Fruit Belt Service Company via a spur rail line. This is part of the spur line that once served the sawmills.
On September 16, 1997, the Ullin Village Board of Trustees passed city ordinance 97-9 titled, "An ordnance for the protection and preservation of the Ullin - Illinois Central Railroad Depot." In Ordinance 97-9 and Resolution 97-10, the Ullin Village Board recognized the significance of the depot and designated it as an Ullin Community Landmark because of its contribution to culture and heritage of the surrounding area.