The "Ghost Train Line" and the 1900 Train Station: Creating and Now Renewing Downtown Lake Forest

Monday, September 25, 2017
7:00 PM

The Lake Forest Library, in conjunction with the North Shore Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the Lake Forest Preservation Foundation, is hosting an historical slide show and talk by Arthur Miller, former president of LFPF and emeritus archivist at Lake Forest College on Monday, September 25, at 7 pm at the Lake Forest Library.  Mr. Miller’s talk will focus on the fascinating tale of the two train lines, almost side-by-side, that led to the development of downtown Lake Forest. 

In the late 1890s when a light rail interurban line, later the  North Shore Line wanted to connect its tracks from Waukegan to Evanston through Lake Forest, the City of Lake Forest used its bargaining power to license the line for a $10,000 fee to operate the light rail line through its downtown.  Coincidentally, the current City Hall, then library, was built in 1899, soon after, for a cost of $10,000—a structure that today would cost millions to build!

1899 to 1955 there were two train lines running within a hundred or so feet  of each other in downtown Lake Forest – one on each side of the current train station, built the next year, in 1900.  The first, and still operable, line was built by the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad in 1855. The second light rail line served Lake Forest with 7-8 neighborhood stops in town and then continued on to Waukegan.  The light rail line, or “ghost train line,” lasted only 62 years and is now the McClory bike path.

Because downtown Lake Forest developed around these two train lines, the impact of the long-forgotten light rail or “ghost train line” can still be felt, indeed still “haunts” the town today.  Downtown Lake Forest is now an historic district, so the City and other private groups, such as the Preservation Foundation, work unceasingly to preserve and rehabilitate the buildings, such as City Hall, Gorton, the 1931 Library, and the train station.  

The City recently completed exterior renovation of the train station. Work is underway now to restore the station’s interior through a public/private partnership between the City and the Preservation Foundation. New flooring in the waiting room, ticket area and east entry has been partially funded by the efforts of the North Shore Chapter of the DAR who secured a national, DAR grant.  The new flooring will be in the same terra cotta color and octagonal shape of the 1900 floor and promises to be just as durable, which was not the case with the current, deteriorating second tile floor installed in the 1980s.

Last November, the Preservation Foundation kicked off a special fundraising drive for the train station’s interior renovations, seeking to collect dollars needed.  To date, many local individuals and some groups have contributed or pledged their support, and much of the money has been raised.  The Foundation will keep this fund drive open through 2017 in the hopes that the goal can be met and all renovations can be funded to restore the interior to its former glory with historic accuracy.  Tax-deductible contributions to this important project can be made on the Foundation’s website, www.LFPF.org, or by contacting the LFPF office at  847-234-1230.

The slide show and talk by Arthur Miller is free of charge and open to the public.  To register for this special event call the LF Library at 847-810-4610.