018. Plank Road: "The railroad killed us"

Photograph of James Hunt
James Hunt
Jim Hunt, a successful merchant in town, was one of the investors in the plank road project. Later in his life, he reflected on Naperville’s initial opposition to the railroad in favor of the plank road: “Naperville was a busy place for a few years. But it didn’t last. No. The railroad killed us, or rather we killed ourselves by refusing to admit the railroad…. She sunk from the busiest, merriest town in Illinois to the pokiest and deadest. And all because we couldn’t see the difference between a plank and a rail…. We said that we wouldn’t have their railroad, if we could help ourselves by any available law…. We would cause them no end of trouble and expense by letting our cattle run loose, thus compelling them to fence in their tracks. They went to Wheaton instead. We were content but low. One morning, we woke up to the fact that we had our plank road but we had no traffic. The wheat was rolling into Chicago over the rails. Imagine our feelings when we could hear on clear nights the shriek of the locomotives up there at Wheaton….” When the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad pushed west in 1864, Napervillians were ready to have their town as a stop on the line. Supplies for the Civil War traveled by rail, and towns on the railroad were booming. The financial loss of being inaccessible by train was apparent to Naperville’s businessmen. The plank road was torn up, and the chapter of the “farmer’s railroad” came to an end, in favor of the iron horse.