One County In Illinois Owns Tiny Railroad
Six Miles of Track Built to Give Pittsfield an Outlet to the World, Proves Good Investment,
Quincy and the people of this neighborhood will be interesed in knowing that there is one governement owned piece of railroad within the boarders of Illinois. Time and again designing capitalists have attempted to secure it, but the people have always put up so strenuous an opposition that their efforts failed.
It is located in Pike County and is owned jointly by Pike County and Pittsfield and Newburg townships, the county owning a majority of the capital stock and controlling it. Its full value as fixed by the state board of equalization is $211,140, and it is only 6.2 miles long. The assessed value, upon which it pays taxes, is one-fifth of the full cash value, or $42,238.
Article 9, section 3, of the constitution of Illinois, provides that "the property of state, counties and other municipal corporations, both real and personal * * * may be exempted from taxation, and as a rule they are exempted. Yet here is an instance where the property of a county brings into the county treasury $1,600 as rental every year, and an additional $1,800 annually as taxes.
Last fall William Jennings Bryan, during his tour of the state, discovered a small railroad owned by one of the southern states and leased to one of the large railroad systems.
Illinois also has the same distinction.
The Louisiana and Pike county railroad has a president, secretary, treasurer, general solicitor, auditor, and a full complement of directors. But it issues no passes, pays no rebates, owns no equipment, its salary list is insignificant, and a bond never was plastered upon its franchise. As a governement operated line it was a lamentable failure.
Supervisors Control Road
"This road," reports its president to the state railroad and warehouse commission, "is leased to the Wabash Railroad Co., but has a board of nine directors to look after the Interests of the stockholders. The directors are elected by a railroad committee composed of five supervisors appointed annually by the chairman of the board of supervisors of Pike county, together with the supervisors from Pittsfield and Newburg townships."
Louis Hersheimer of Pittsfield, member of the state board of equalization, remembers when the road was completed and the first train ran into Pittsfield. It was strictly a local affair and the incident occurred in 1868. There were bonfires and speeches from prominent men and the county turned out to do honor to the occasion particularly that part of the county adjacent to Pittsfield.
"In those days," said Mr. Hersheimer, "everybody was crazy about railroads. Counties and cities and townships were bodning themselves to the point of bankruptcy to acquire them. Pike county voted bonds for the Hannibal and Naples, which has always been operated by the Wabash, and the people believed this line would touch Pittsfield, the county seat. When it became apparent that it would not, there was trouble. But Pittsfield had to have a railroad and if private capital wouldn't build it then Pike county and Pittsfield would do it alone. Pittsfield and Newburg started the ball rolling by voting a tax of $50,000, and Pike county delped with a promite by a vote of the people to take $100,000 of the stock.
Used Up All the Money
"There was talk of running it from Louisiana, Missouri, to Mount Sterling, but the money ran out when it was built from Pittsfield to a junction with the Hannibal and Naples, now known as Maysville. I am afraid that some of the politicians, in order to secure votes for the $100,000 from the county led the people of New Salem and other places to believe the line would be built to those places. But the road serves its purpose of giving the people of Pittsfield an outlet to the world. The service of the Wabash is perfect. The line is well equipped, in as good condition as any part of the Wabash system, and the rates are fair. The people of Pike county regard the lease with the Wabash as a good business proposition.
There are now 1,320 shares of capital stock with a par value of $132,000 or $21,290 per mile. The board of directors are: President: M.F. Godwin, Pleasant Hill; Secretary: Joseph M. Bush, Jr., Pittsfield; Treasurer: John Siegle, Pittsfield; General Attorney: W.H. Crow, Pittsfield; Auditor: W.T. Reynolds, Perry; A.R. Forman, Pittsfield; H.T. Shaw, Summer Hill; Dr. S.B. Peacock, Baylis, and W.H. Heldloff, New Canton, complete the directorate.
The agent in Illinois for the transfer of stock, a legal joke required by the Illinois statutes, is the board of supervisors of Pike county, Illinois. The salaries paid in 1905 amounted to $49.50, and other deductions from income amounted to $431.25, a total expense of $390.75.
Old Friend Saves Road
Colonel Asa C. Matthews of Pittsfield has been one of the foremost friends of the project since its inception, forty years ago. According to Mr. Hershelmor it was Colonel Matthews' eloquence that saved the railroad from the grasp of Chicago capitalists in 1904, when the lease to the Wabash was renewed.
"It was the most eloquent speech I ever heard," remarked Mr. Hershelmer, and he has listened to many. "It was full of emotion and pathos, and I tell you when he concluded ther was nothing left for the board of supervisors to do but keep the stock of the county in the county treasury."
The question before the board was: Shall the stock be sold or shall the road be leased to the Wabash? It appears that the Wabash was well aware of the value of the line, but did not care to appear too anxious for it, and for weeks showed little interest in a renewal of the lease. The Wabash officials probably argued that there was nothing for the county to do but renew the lease, as there was no other railroad with which it could make a junction except the Alton at Nebo, and it would cost half a million or more dollars to do this.
Talk of Purchase
:The lease was renewed on the same terms in 1884 for twenty years, and in 1904 a syndicate was organized to buy the road, and the county was offered $40,000 for its stock. The announced intention was to build an interurban line, issue bonds on the L. and P. C., and extend it to several points in the county and also form a junction with the Chicago and Alton at Pearl. As soon as this proposition was made, local capitalists at once offered $80,000 and another very influential element in the county bitterly opposed selling at any price. A committee of the board of supervisors went to St. Louis to interview the Wabash management, and went back home, it is alleged, with annuals over the Wabash and a proposition to pay $1,600 a year in quarterly payments, for twenty years, to keep the road in first class repair and to pay all taxes.
A large majority of the voters in Pike county swear by William J. Bryan and they believe in his theories of government. Consequently they opposed selling the road. Colonel Mattews, a Republican, wouldn't agree with Bryan on any principle of governement, at least as long as the republican party is in existence, but he was heart and soul against disposing of Pike county's interest in the Louisiana and Pike County railroad. He regarded it as far too valuable an asset to sell.
Judge Jeff Orr, present mayor of Pittsfield, spoke in favor of selling the road, but his fervid eloquence was failry outdone by Colonel Matthews, who maintained that the line should be retained as a sacred legacy "for our children and our children's children." No lawyer ever made a more touching appeal to a jury to save the life of his client than the address of Colonel Matthews before the supervisors' committee of Pike County, September 18, 1904, for the life of Pike County's railroad. The board, by an overwhelming vote, rendered a verdict for Colonel Matthews.
Profitable for Wabash
The road is said to be the best paying proposition on the Wabash system, mile for mile. There are only two stations, the terminal - Maysville - and Pittsfield - with a sidetrack about midway between the two. The largest shipper is Dow and King flour mill, one of the largest in Illinois, with a capacity of 2,000 barrels a day. It is located at Pittsfield, which is a beautiful little city of 6,000. Newburg township is really a part of Pittsfield, being the wealthy residence section. Most of the Dow and King flour is exported or taken by the cracker trust. Maysville is a mere hamlet, with one store, a postoffice and four houses.
There is only one locomotive and a combination coach on the line, which is operated to the entired satisfaction of the patrons. But as a governement operated line it was a failure, and the voters of the county apparently did not care to experiment with its operation in 1904. There was no sentiment whatever in favor of the county assuming the responsibility of operating the property. The road's gross revenue amounts to $100,000 annually.
Men Who Made It
The original charger of the company recalls a list of names of men long since dead - heroes of Pike County and Western Illinois. It was a special act of the legislature, passed in March, 1867, and declared: "That William A. Grimshaw, Joseph M. Bush, Benjamin F. Westlake, William Steers, E.M. Seeley, Scott Wike, James S. Irwin, John S. roberts, Robert A. McClintock, Gilbert J. Shaw, Thomas Fesler and C.L. Higbee, their associates, successors and assigns, be and they are herby created a body corporate by the name and style of the Louisiana and Pike County Railroad Company, and by such name and style shall have perpetual succession, and is hereby empowered to build, construct, maintain, use and operate a railroad from a point on the Mississippi river, opposite or nearly opposite the city of Louisiana, in the state of Missouri, through the town of Pittsfield, to the Hannibal and Naples railroad at Phillips Ferry, or New Salesm, or any interimediate piont on said Hannibal and naples railroad between said Phillips Ferry and New Salem, with power to extend the same north from where it intersects said Hannibal and Naples railway to Mount Sterling in Brown County; with power to fix the amount of capital stock of said company, * * * To consolidate its franchise and capital stock with any other railroad company, and to contract, bargain, and agree with any other party or railroad company for the construction, use and maintenance of said railroad or any part thereof; to receive subscriptions to the capital stock of said railroad company from individuals, companies, counties, towns, and cities * * * and any county or town through which the said road may pass is hereby authorized and empowered to subscribe stock to such railroad."
New Salem is still on the map, a hamlet with 300 people, but Phillips Ferry cannot be located except in the hazy memory of old residents. At least it is not on the map.
Eighteen years from now, when the lease with the Wabash expires, will Pike County take charge of the property and operate it according to the principles laid down by Bryan?
Who can tell?
arictle found in The Quincy Herald Whig, January 31, 1907, Page 5.
Pike County, Illinois Newspapers