Kane County History: From Train Wrecks To Teddy Roosevelt, Geneva Is a Railroad Town

Kane County History: From Train Wrecks To Teddy Roosevelt, Geneva Is a Railroad Town

Train wreck at the Geneva Depot, March 7, 1907.

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum

All aboard!

The birth of the railroad marked a new era in transportation. By the 1850s, railways were moving westward, criss-crossing the United States. Ambitious communities vied for the honor of becoming a railroad town, hoping for profit and prestige that trains brought.

In 1853, our community joined that list when commuter rail service connected Geneva to Chicago by the Galena and Chicago Union Railway, later known as the Chicago & North Western Railway.

In 1857, a depot was built west of Third Street and south of the tracks. By 1889, the depot had fallen into disrepair and could no longer accommodate the large number of passengers.

Victoria-Era Gem

The Geneva Improvement Association lobbied the railroad company to build a larger, more elegant depot. The magnificent Victorian era gem was constructed in 1892 in anticipation of the Chicago Worldʼs Fair of 1893.

The local newspaper noted it as “a handsome structure in the latest style with [an] ample covered platform, and all modern conveniences.” These conveniences included a baggage room, separate menʼs and ladies waiting rooms, a ticket and telegraph office, and indoor bathrooms.

The Geneva Republican reported that, the exterior was a Tiffany dark buff brick, terra cotta trimmings were on the gables and the caps and sills were a dark pink stone …The floors were of white maple and the woodwork of red oak rubbed and varnished.”

Teddy Visits Geneva

The depot would serve the community for the next 68 years and would bear witness to many community events. On May 10, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Geneva on one of his whistle-stop tours of the country.

From the back of his train, Roosevelt gave a brief, but heartfelt speech to the eager Genevans who crowded the depot platform.

The depot has also been the scene of numerous accidents. One of the worst accidents occurred on March 7, 1907 when a freight train slammed into a switch train, killing two and injuring three.

By 1960, the beloved and once-elegant depot had become dilapidated, unfit for use and beyond repair. It was demolished and replaced by a building that was contemporary and utilitarian in design.

By 1986, the community, unhappy with this small structure, lobbied for the present day depot to echo the Victorian grandeur of the 1892 structure.

Geneva could once again take pride in its share of the railway history and honor its treasured past.

Let’s Play Railway!

The Geneva History Museum is continuing to celebrate the city’s connection to the nation’s railway system with the children’s exhibit Let’s Play Railway!

Chicago & North West Railway ticket, October, 1884.

Little engineers can enjoy a pretend ride in a life-size engine, cattle wagon and caboose in this traveling exhibit that was developed by the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Milwaukee, WI. It is sponsored locally by the Fabyan Foundation.

The hands-on activities in Let’s Play Railway! promote early math and literacy. They encourage children to solve problems and interact with others as they communicate, share and take turns.

This exhibit features buttons, sound effects, puzzles and much more! Let’s Play Railway! is open through Aug. 17 and is recommended for children ages 3 to 8 years old with parental supervision.

Join us at the Geneva History Museum as we host special story times in partnership with the Geneva Public Library on July 19 and Aug. 6.

Each reading will feature a different theme featured in Let’s Play Railway! and is followed by an activity, as well as free admission to the exhibit.  No registration is required.

For more information, please visit our website, www.GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or call 630-232-4951.

Read The Kane County History Series!