Monday, January 30, 2017

C&NW Wells Street Yard and Freight House

When the Galena and Chicago Union first built from Chicago, they had to start west of the North Branch because river men and warehouse owners influenced the Chicago governing body to pass a law that kept the G&CU west of the river. But when they realized that farmers were going to the railroad anyhow, they quickly changed their mind and allowed what became the C&NW to cross the river. In addition to building a railroad along the north side of the river, they built a passenger terminal and freight facilities between Wells Street and the bridge across the North Branch.

Excerpt form 1915 Smoke Abatement Report, p. 328
Another map indicates they had dock facilities on Wolf Point. I included the State Street Yard as well since it easily fits on this page even though this excerpt is at full resolution.

Excerpt from Engineering Diagram
Back then, the Kinzie bridge over the North Branch would have been very busy because most trains, passenger and freight, terminating in Chicago crossed that bridge. By 1938 there was not enough land to handle the traffic, so they built a new passenger depot west of the river. The Wells Street Depot was torn down to make room for the Merchandise Mart. But the freight house still stood. And tracks went through the Mart to serve the State Street Yard, Sun Times Building, Ogden Slip, and Navy Pier.

1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP

C&NWHS posted
How did all those Christmas present orders get to those small C&NW communities across the road's service area? Part of the answer is here at the C&NW's Wells Street transfer shed. Boxes, barrels and crates either came or went through here (see posting below). This is how things got done before FedEx and UPS. The building in the background is, of course, the newly opened Merchandise Mart.
[Looking East. The bridge and the mainline to Navy Pier are to the right of this photo.]

C&NWHS posted
This is an interior photo of the C&NW freight transfer station at Wells Street where it connects to the Merchandise Mart. This photo dates from the mid 1930s. These guys were the FedEx and UPS of their day. The photo is held at the archives of the C&NW Historical Society.

C&NWHS posted
This is a photo of the Wells Street Chicago freight transfer shed. This is how Christmas orders got shipped in the mid 1930s. Note the box car which will be either loaded or unloaded at the right of the photo. If it is being loaded, it will be sent out to the community were all the orders came from. This was the modern product shipping facility of it's day.
ChicagoSwitching (source)

David Daruszka commented on a post
The North Western maintained a freight yard at the Mart, which was originally designed as a warehouse.

Jeff Bransky posted two images with the comment:
There once was a freight yard under the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. You can see the outline and support columns of the Mart and loading docks in the first photo. The second image shows the yard before the Mart existed.The Wells Street Station and the old RR swing bridge are also shown. The second photo shows that, at that time, the Kinzie Street Bridge was also a swing bridge, as was, the Wells Street Bridge.


Jon Roma posted
This is something I had the great fortune to stumble onto at a swap meet some 20+ years ago – a track plan diagram of the interlocking for Chicago & North Western's Wells Street station.

This station sat on the site now occupied by the Merchandise Mart, and served as C&NW's headquarters and downtown passenger and freight terminal until the new Chicago Passenger Terminal at Madison and Canal was opened in June 1911. That terminal is now known to the public as Ogilvie Transportation Center.

There are PDFs of this map on my website at  The old passenger terminal must have been a challenge to operate, with only a two-track lead, the movable bridge, and the Milwaukee Road crossing at grade immediately west of the river. That crossing appears not to have been part of the interlocking depicted here, so it would have involved every train making a statutory stop.

David Daruszka commented on Jon's post
Here's a signal diagram for the station and tracks leading out. It appears that crossing was signaled.
[I think David is referring to the Milwaukee Road crossing that Jon mentioned in his comment.]
Jon Roma I have not been to the library yet to find the original, but I did grab across the Google scanned articles – there are two, one covering each of the two divisions!

Apropos of the Milwaukee Road crossing on the west bank of the Chicago River, I found the following:

"This tower controls all possible movements into and out of the yard from all approaches. The drawing shows the crossing on Canal street, which is that of the Evanston division of the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Road provided with signals and derailing switches. While this is incorporated in the plan of the signaling, it is not the intention to at the present, put this into service."

I've extracted and put the PDFs onto my website:
Part 1:
Part 2:

Patrick McNamra commented on Jon's post

Xavier Quintana posted a February, 1977 photo of Wolf Point. You can see the Holiday Inn that replaced the freight house.

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