Hinsdale landed on the right track

Series: Hinsdale 150 | Story 8

The last century and a half would have unfolded much differently in this town had it not been bisected by a train line. So thank you, Aurora.

Back in the mid-19th century, the Kane County outpost was thriving and petitioned for direct rail to Chicago to boost commerce. Settlements in between hopped on board with the idea.

A question remained: Would it traverse Fullersburg (and present-day Ogden Avenue) or be routed one mile to the south through Hinsdale forerunner Brush Hill?

"The first required a heavy cut through the high ground from York Road to Downers Grove. The second required tremendous fill because of the swamps and peat bogs," the Fullersburg Historical Society chronicles.

The deal was sealed for the latter when Brush Hill farmer Alfred Walker agreed to sell the railroad a 50-foot-wide right-of-way from County Line Road to Garfield Avenue for $1 in October of 1862.

Despite challenges posed by the raging Civil War and a labor strike, the new 35 and 1/4-mile line of the C. B & Q was completed in May of 1864. Consequently the real estate gambles of William Robbins and others paid off, as the backwater of Brush Hill was suddenly on the fast track to development. Within nine years Hinsdale would be incorporated.

In his 1949 book "Village on the County Line," Hugh Dugan notes that regular suburban passenger service started in 1869. Conductor Billy Cummins was remembered for "a penchant for adding large words to his vocabulary, and would glow like a clear morning whenever he acquired a new one."

As Hinsdale's population grew, so did its social scene, to the point that special trains were enlisted to shuttle partygoers to and from Chicago. An newspaper ad for a masquerade ball hosted by prominent resident O.J. Stough and his wife provided these details for their city-dwelling guests:

" 'A train will leave at Central Depot at 7 o'clock in the evening, stopping at State and Canal Streets, and returning, leave Hinsdale at 2 o'clock in the morning. The cards of invitation will pass gentlemen and ladies upon the train both ways,' " Dugan relays. "Can we not picture the train, or a few special cars, waiting on the siding at about 1:50 a.m. for those night owls to finish their dance?"

The original 1865 train depot on the west side of Washington Street served as the nexus for the central business district layout.

It was replaced in 1899 with the classic structure on the north side of Hinsdale Avenue still in use today. The fact that a village the size of Hinsdale can boast three stations - with Highlands and West Hinsdale - speaks to the influence of its early leaders.

These days, the BNSF Line, called "The Racetrack," is Metra's busiest. And while ridership continues to recover following the pandemic, there's no question access to this rolling resource has helped make Hinsdale the desirable community it is today.

But don't count on a 2 a.m. train to get you home.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean