Illinois Central Railroad
During the 1830’s, Illinois began a program of internal improvements to expand the market for Illinois farm products and encourage settlement. The effort nearly bankrupt the state but had one major successful achievement, the building of the Illinois Central Railroad. The railroad was chartered in 1851 and received a land grant, signed by President Millard Filmore, of nearly 2,600,000 acres. The initial development of the road began in the extreme north-western part of the state and terminated in the southern tip at Cairo, Illinois, a distance of 704 miles. Following the Civil War, the road expanded south, until by 1882 it provided direct passage for goods and people between Chicago and New Orleans. With multiple connections to smaller railroad lines, the Illinois Central significantly improved transportation in the Mississippi delta. Beginning in the 1900’s, the rail line became a major source of transportation for African Americans choosing to migrate from the rural south to search for employment in the more industrialized north. It was also known as the Main Line of Mid-America.
There were also significant lines which connected Sioux Falls South Dakota and Omaha Nebraska with Chicago. These lines took many western pioneers to the places where they would outfit for the trek west, or to settle the midwestern plains.
Location of Illinois Central stations.
First person accounts and educational materials on the Great Migration are provided by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.