An article written by Akron Railroad Club President Craig Sanders was recently published in The Mid-American, the quarterly magazine of the Illinois Central Railroad Heritage Association. The article, titled “Mattoon’s Million Dollar Trench,” is about the cut that the Illinois Central Railroad built in 1914 in Mattoon, Illinois.
Sanders is a native of Mattoon and lived there for nearly 30 years. He also is the author of Mattoon and Charleston Area Railroads, which was published by Arcadia Publishing in 2008.
The cut through Mattoon was one of three that the IC constructed in Illinois in the early 20th century. The others were at Paxton and Monee.
Sanders’ article is illustrated with 14 photographs, most of which appeared in his book on the railroads of Mattoon and Charleston. Many of these photographs were borrowed from the collection of the Mattoon Public Library. A photograph that he took of an Illinois Central Gulf freight train in Mattoon on May 7, 1979, graces the cover of the the issue (shown above) containing his story.
Construction of the cut through Mattoon, which local wags dubbed the Million Dollar Trench because of its cost, began May 5, 1914, and ended March 6, 1916. As part of the project, the IC also built a new passenger station, which opened January 21, 1918.
The Mattoon IC station still stands and is used today by Amtrak. The City of Mattoon owns the depot and plans are moving forward to convert it into a museum to be operated by the Coles County Historical Society as well as to enhance its role as an Amtrak station.
Before opening this station, IC had shared a Union Depot located in the Essex House Hotel with the Big Four. The Big Four also built a new Mattoon station, which opened May 15, 1917. That former Union Depot was then demolished and a Railway Express building was constructed on its site.
The former Big Four depot, which served New York Central passenger trains until March 18, 1968. The former Big Four depot was subsequently used for storage by a local drug store, but stood vacant for several years. It was razed in April 2004.
Conrail removed the former Big Four tracks through Mattoon in May 1983 and the Big Four bridge over the ICRR was removed in early 2002.
The former Illinois Central tracks through Mattoon are today owned by Canadian National. Six Amtrak trains a day serve Mattoon including the City of New Orleans, Saluki and Illini.
For more information about the ICRHA, visit the organization’s web site at www.ichra.com.