The Illinois Prairie Path trail is probably the second rail-trail in the country, and was created on the right of way of the abandoned Chicago, Aurora and Elgin electric railroad. The CA&E has a long history; it was built in 1902 and the railroad was abandoned in 1958. In 1963, the entire length was converted to a bike/pedestrian trail running from Chicago to the Fox River cities of Aurora and Elgin.
The CA&E ran from the Chicago loop, and my mother often took us to downtown Chicago on the train, not the car. Riding the big third rail electric cars from Elmhurst to the city along the private right of way and on the L (elevated) tracks made a lasting impression on me.
In an unparalleled display of municipal short-sightedness, the railroad went bankrupt in 1957, and no government entity took it over. A judge signed an order authorizing abandonment just before lunch, and all of the trains were recalled to Wheaton by noon, leaving many stranded – and angry and frustrated – commuters with no way to get home. It made the front page of the Chicago papers. I remember it.
The abandoned right of way was converted to a trail in 1963, so it’s actually been a trail almost as long as it was a railroad. We had hoped to ride from Wheaton east at least to beyond Elmhurst, and perhaps beyond, but the 80% chance of precipitation proved too accurate. Being obsessed with this ride, I forced my cousin Mike to ride in the rain a few miles from the Villa Park station to York Road, where we’d caught the train years ago. The station is located near the old Ovaltine factory:
(Thanks to Glen Brewer, whose web page has a lot more on the CA&E http://RailroadGloryDays.com/cae.)
Only a few miles east we crossed York Road. I recall that my dentist’s office was on the second floor of the building on the corner, above a drug store, and I could watch the trains roll by while getting my cavities filled.
It’s now an art gallery
It’s ironic that the adjoining property owners bitterly resisted the conversion of the right of way to a trail (they wanted the property to enlarge their back yards); the path has apparently substantially improved their property values, and the tiny WWII crackerbox houses along the way have been converted to Illinois McMansions.
So the Prairie Path remains on my list of must-ride trails. It is even possible to ride from Elmhurst to my cousin Bob’s house in Plainfield in less than 4 hours, almost entirely on bike trails. Next time ….