The last tiny bit left, Wilmington's depot district

Sandy Vasko

    There is not a single of you gentle readers who has not at one time cursed it, used it or wondered about it
    I am of course talking about the elevated railroad tracks at the west end of Chicago Street and that giant “hump” on Kankakee Street where the depot used to be.
    The work being done now on the tracks may wipe out entirely those very things, the last tiny bit left of Wilmington's depot district.
    This story, like many, starts with the Kankakee River and her many cantankerous rampages. In February of 1867 a tremendous ice jam formed against the railroad bridge creating one of the most disastrous floods Wilmington had ever experienced.
    Houses and businesses all along Water Street were damaged or destroyed. The two story grain elevator that had been on the island was found three miles downstream. The lumber yards that were on the island were nowhere to be seen.
    The C&A Railroad also experienced significant losses. The depot that had stood on the banks of the river was wiped out entirely. The bridge was significantly damaged. A decision was made that this kind of loss was unacceptable and engineers converged on the city.
    The engineering recommendations included building the railroad bridge higher over the river to minimize loss to the rails and to rebuild the limestone supports in a sturdier manner.
    Since the bridge was built higher, the tracks on the shore also needed to be elevated to accommodate that. By the time the tracks crossed Kankakee Street they were still a bit elevated, hence the “hump.”
    Immediately after the depot was erected other buildings sprang up around it, some catering to the shipping trade, some catering to the traveler.
    We read on June 10, 1871 in the People's Advocate, “Nearly 5,000 bushels of corn was received on Thursday last, at the warehouses near the depot, in this city.”
    And on Aug. 19, 1871 “Apollo Hall - Two doors west of Chicago & Alton Depot Joseph Braun, proprietor Lager Beer Saloon and Restaurant! Rhine and California Wines, Liquors and Cigars of all kinds. Meals served at all hours of the day.”
    By 1872, “Stewart & Quinn have erected a neat sign at their coal yard, near the depot. The boys keep the best quality of coal and sell at the lowest notch. Reader, when you want coal look for the sign of the White Star.”
    1873 brings us, “George Cottom is doing a land office business in the carpenter and joiner line. George is prepared to give estimates for building and furnish material at short notice. Shop near the railroad depot.”
    In 1874 we read this which indicates that a long time earlier there was a hotel built at that location. “The old “City Hotel” has been lately put in trim, and leased to Jas. A. Douglas, who proposes to “keep hotel” in first class style. The location is immediately near the depot, and will be found quite convenient for travelers.”
    New in 1875, “Ed. Hurley has established a wine cellar near the depot, in the McManus building, where may also be found a choice line of foreign and domestic cigars.”
    By the 1880's the canal boats were no longer running and all shipping was being by train. This only increased the traffic in the depot district.
    June 12, 1885 “Wilmington is again to have a grain market. W.H. Odell has purchased the elevator at the depot and placed it in charge of Mr. Jerry Quinn. It is being put in good repair and will be ready for business within ten days, when the best ruling prices will be paid for all sorts of grain.”
    Another factor in the 1880's was the tourist trade that had sprung up on the island. River excursions, dance pavilions, picnics all brought in happy travelers from far and near.
    And so we read in 1886, “The Central Hotel - W. H. Speese, Prop'r - This Hotel, within one block of the depot, has been thoroughly refurnished and offers every home convenience and at moderate rates.  Give us a call.”
    And “John Roan has opened a sample room (saloon) in the Dorsey building, near the depot.”
    The last entry of new construction I can find is from April 27, 1917 in the Wilmington Advocate, “John B. Warner's new grain and coal office near the depot is nearing completion. The stucco work is about done and then for the finishing touches on the interior.”
    Where did all these buildings and businesses go? The wrecking ball of course. The only thing to survive was built too sturdy to be demolished - the elevated tracks at Chicago and Water Street and the infamous Kankakee Street “hump”.