Many people might not know or remember that in the past this area had its own regional railway. The story of the M.I.&L. Railway Company illustrates a time before paved roads were prevalent in this region and the only reliable transportation was the railroad. West Central Illinois depended on rail transport, for not only moving people, but also goods.
This certificate is for the Macomb, Industry & Littleton Railway, which was a small, locally owned and operated railroad that ran from Macomb to Littleton, and was first known as the Macomb and Western Illinois Railway.
In the early years of the 20th century, two prominent Macomb businessmen, C.V. Chandler and William Compton saw a need for a railway line to connect farmers from south of Macomb to Littleton. At that time, there was no railroad line from Macomb to Littleton.
In 1901, Chandler and Compton organized the railway and called it the Macomb and Western Illinois Railway. Compton eventually opted out and Chandler became the sole developer. Train service began in 1904, but there was trouble with equipment failure and other issues from the very beginning. Derailments were common. In 1910, Chandler went bankrupt and the railroad closed and was purchased by a wrecking company.
In 1913, a group of local citizens decided to purchase the railroad from the wrecking company. They formed a stock company and sold $100 shares to interested locals, in order to raise the necessary money to buy the railroad from the wrecking company. The certificate on display at the museum is one of those shares. This $100 certificate on display is dated December 23, 1913, and is for two shares and is made out to Edward Stocker.
This certificate’s date marks a pivotal moment in the life of the M.I.&L. Railway. The local residents had been struggling to raise the necessary money to purchase the company. On December 23, an organizing meeting was held at the Industry Opera House. At this meeting, in a frantic last ditch, all-out effort, organizers pleaded desperately for those in attendance to buy more stock certificates. After a two years effort to save the railroad, many attending this meeting, reacted to the dire situation and bought certificates. They raised about $5,000 in about five minutes. On December 23, 1913, days before Christmas, the final amount of funds was raised to make it possible to purchase the railroad from the wrecking company and put the railroad back in local hands.
From that fateful night, this certificate on display bought by Edward Stocker, and many other stock certificates that were purchased that evening, made it possible to save the railway from destruction and get it back in business. The organizers went forward and set up operation anew and they named the railroad the Macomb, Industry & Littleton Railway. For 15 years, the M.I.&L. served residents who otherwise had limited access to transportation.
By the late 1920s, paved roads were more common in the area and people did not depend on rail transportation. Obsolete, the railway shut down in 1928 and the tracks were removed.
Kenneth Morgan, a long-time resident of Macomb, donated the stock certificate to the museum last year, because he realized the historic significance of this artifact. Morgan was given the certificate by Max Gregor, the proprietor of a jewelry store that was located at 109 South Side Square on the historic Macomb Courthouse Square. From the 1870s to the 1940s, this building had been the location of the Stocker Jewelry Store.
In the mid-1970s, Max Gregor was going out of business and was cleaning out the store and that is when he came upon the railway certificate. The certificate presumably had been stored in the Stocker jewelry store for many years. Gregor had planned to throw the certificate away, but when Morgan heard about this, he intervened. Morgan was a friend of Gregor and asked if he would give it to him. Gregor complied. Morgan kept the certificate for many years and placed it in its present frame. He would often show the certificate to others who shared his interest in local history.
Not only a document that records a significant moment in local railroad history, this document is also an artifact from one of Macomb’s important early families. Edward Stocker, the original owner of the certificate, belonged to a family that has been a part of Macomb history from the early years of the city.
Lorenz Stocker, who was Edward’s grandfather, was one of the leading citizens in the early history of Macomb. A native of Germany, Stocker came to Macomb in 1854, and established a jewelry store; it eventually became the largest jewelry store in the county. Being so successful enabled Stocker to build his own two-story brick building on the Macomb square in 1878. Stocker’s brick building is still at 109 South Side Square, presently occupied by the Li’l Stitches store.
In 1890, Lorenz Stocker retired and his sons, Edward and Herman took over the business. Edward was born 1852, and was a well-known Macomb resident, trained as an optician, watchmaker, as well as a jeweler. In 1880, he married Samantha Ellen Forrest, and they had one child, Edward Leroy, born in 1882. Edward Leroy Stocker eventually took over his fathers’ jewelry store and it was he, who bought the M.I.&L. railway stock certificate, and stored it at the Stockerewelry store. Edward Leroy Stocker’s certificate remained in the Stocker Jewelry Store, only to be discovered many years later and now it will be preserved at the museum for future generations.
The full story of the M.I. & L. Railway can be found in The Little Road: The Story of the Macomb Industry & Littleton Railway by Frank G. Hicks published in 2006 by Western Illinois University. The entire book has been digitized and can be read completely online.
For those who are interested in seeing exactly where the M.I. &L. line was, there is a very detailed and complete map with impressively extensive notes available for viewing at Google maps.
There are also many historic photographs of the M.I. &L. Railway available for viewing at the Western Illinois University Digital Image Collection.
From an essay by Heather Munro