End of an era: the Illinois Central depot demolition

Brian Landis, co-author of Rockford Area Railroads (Arcadia Publishing, 2010), brought in some photos of the demolition of the old Illinois Central Railroad building on South Main Street. He gave The Rock River Times some information about the passing of this piece of Rockford’s history.

TRRT: How did you happen to find out about the demolition?

Brian Landis: “There were always plans to tear it down for a new one. It was in the Rockford Register Star… but it only said ‘next month,’ which would be April. I knew that the railroad had always meant that it would be torn down. Most of the guys were down there working on the tracks. But I knew there were plans to build a new Amtrak station… I think they should have kept the original building and fixed it up before tearing it down. The railroad obviously didn’t want it, so the city ended up purchasing it, and they had it torn down. The building was built in 1954.

“I wanted to find out the exact date so I could be there when they tore it down. I called the Register Star, and they weren’t helpful… They just gave the month, which was April. They told me to contact City Hall, so I went down [note: he was referred to a man who said it would be April 12]. By the time I got down there, they had already started tearing it down. They had torn down a big section, but they still had a lot of it up when I came. But the building north of there had been a warehouse and was already knocked down. There was a warehouse that was close to South Main; they were tearing that down. But the day I went there, there was only a small portion of that building standing.”

TRRT: Did you talk to any of the workers there?

BL: “I didn’t really talk to them because they were busy working. I talked to a guy from Canadian National, who was in a pickup. The railroad used to be Illinois Central. Now it belongs to Canadian National… I was talking to him [about] how sad it was that they were tearing it down. He asked if I wanted to take a couple bricks home. I said no. I have some bricks from the freight house that caught on fire several years ago.”

TRRT: How did you discover the hole on the premises?

BL: “The hole was [uncovered] when that big machine with the pinch claw [later identified as a Hipachi 450-LC with “shears” on the end for pick-ups] drove up on the floor of the depot and broke through the floor. I don’t know if they actually called it a basement or not, but there was no stairwell. I just walked up to the hole when the guys that were working on it were there. They went down into it to look around… I don’t know how people have gotten down there to work if they needed to repair electrical wiring. There is no stairwell. They were kind of puzzled because they didn’t know it was hollow underneath.

“When they got that big machine out there, the four of them went down there, and they saw the original footing of the first depot that was built around 1880. That’s one of the last railroad buildings in Rockford. The other two stations are still standing, one on Seventh Street. [That] depot was the Chicago Northwestern; now it’s the Union Pacific, and the trolley depot is standing by the ice house. The freight house on Cedar Street is still standing.”

According to information from Northern Illinois Service Company, Landis said, “They had a crane with a scoop bucket called a Komatsu PC-300. It grabs the metal beams. They also have an excavator backhoe that was scooping up a lot of brick and debris. The one with the shears was taking down the platform; it also broke through the floor.”

As for possible future plans, he said, “All I know is that the Illinois Central came to Rockford around 1888, and they tore down the original depot around 1950 and built the new depot, and they tore this one down last month. I doubt very much if they will build another depot there.”

From the May 11-17, 2011 issue

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