The first railroad to reach Chatham was the Alton & Sangamon Railroad, chartered by the Illinois General Assembly February 27, 1847 to build a railroad from Alton to Springfield through Carlinville to New Berlin. At New Berlin, it would connect with the Northern Cross, Illinois’ first railroad, and use their tracks to enter Springfield. In 1851, the General Assembly authorized the construction of the railroad on the most direct route from Carlinville to Springfield, through Chatham.
The first train from Alton to Springfield went through Chatham September 9, 1852; by then, the railroad’s name had been changed to Chicago and Mississippi. After a few more changes, on February 14, 1861, it became the Chicago and Alton until 1931 when it became known as the Alton Railroad and was owned by the Baltimore and Ohio. In 1947, it was purchased by the Mobile and Ohio and became the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio. Currently, it is owned by Union Pacific and is the main line from St. Louis to Chicago for both freight and Amtrak passenger trains.
In 1904, Chatham’s second railroad came through town, the St. Louis and Springfield Railway, an electric powered interurban. In 1912, the tracks were relocated from the east side of the square to parallel the Chicago and Alton. At that time, a small wood framed station was built, diagonally across from the Chicago and Alton station. In 1922, it became the Illinois Traction System until 1928 when it became the Illinois Terminal Railroad. Passenger service ended March 3, 1956, the electric wires came down, and the road was dieselized. By 1968, the tracks were abandoned in favor of trackage rights on the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio. The rails were removed and the station demolished in 1969. The Illinois Terminal ceased to exist in 1981 when Norfolk and Western, now Norfolk Southern, purchased it. The former Illinois Terminal right of way is now the Interurban Bike Trail from Springfield to Chatham, passing in front of the museum.
The current building was built in 1902, just south of the earlier station that burned down. After 70 years of service, the station was closed; a few years later, it was purchased by the Village of Chatham and restored by a local group. In 1996, the C&IM chapter NRHS, began meeting in the building and in 1999 they signed a Management Agreement with Chatham to create and manage the Chatham Railroad Museum. If you count all the artifacts, photos, documents, etc. on display plus all the documents, photos, timetables, etc. that are accessible for viewing, there are well over 3,000 items in the museum.
The museum is open the 2nd and 4th Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., except holidays. Contact us to arrange other times to visit.