No. 103: Illinois Central’s Belleville, Ill. Station Area

Thanks to work and family there hasn’t been much modeling happening lately–none, in fact.  To keep the discussion going here is a story on a nice modeling site near my adopted hometown of O’Fallon, Illinois. –

Near my adopted hometown of O’Fallon, Illinois is the small city of Belleville, Illinois.  Illinois Central’s busy St. Louis main line ran through Belleville, and while I was visiting St. Louis this summer I spent a few hours railfanning around the old station area.  I’ve always thought IC line through Belleville would make an interesting one-town layout. 

Belleville grew up as a small industrial center and coal mining town in the shadow of East St. Louis.  Three big railroads made their way through Belleville: Louisville & Nashville, Southern, and Illinois Central. 

The nice view of Belleville’s Illinois Central station was taken by my buddy Loren Casey in 1992, long after the depot was sold off by the IC.

IC Belleville Station 1992 6

A few shortlines moved Illinois coal through Belleville too, most notably the St. Louis, Belleville and Electric–which ran under wire–as shown in the photo below.  The StLB&E is one of my favorite electric roads, with odd-looking engines and gritty, suburban coal mines.  The photo below is provided courtesy of John Carty.

RICH'S PHOTO'S 070.jpg

Illinois Central’s main line to St. Louis is now operated by CN, and it’s still busy.  IC’s ornate brick station still stands on Illinois 159 just south of downtown, and near the depot there were a number of rail-served industries and a lot of main line action.  I’ve always thought this area would make a great one-town layout, or LDE as it’s called–a Layout Design Element.

Here’s an aerial view captured from Google, showing Illinois 159 running north-south right down the center of the photo.  The depot is just to the right of IL 159 at lower center and the large freight house is across the highway on the left.  A few of the old industries are still there, and the remnants of a few short sidings can still be seen.


Here’s a circa 1970 view of the depot after it was sold off by IC.  I included this view because it’s the only one I have that shows the large coal dealer that existed behind the depot.

Belleville, IL May 4, 1969

Below.  Here’s a Sanborn map, circa 1920s of the depot area.  In the World War I era IC had a small depot on the west side of IL 159 closer to the freight house.  This depot was removed in the 1920s and a larger depot as seen above was built across the street.  In addition to the coal dealer there were a few more tracks behind the depot that reached freight customers closer to downtown.   


Here’s a nice view of an eastbound train at the new depot, circa the mid-1960s.  This photo is from the Kohlberg Consortium Collection, courtesy John Kohlberg.  Love that slant nose!

Belleville, IL 7-66a

A few hundred yards south of the depot and just out of view of the Sanborn maps, a short branch left the main line and turned north to reach a couple of plants.  And these are plants of great modeling interest too–an iron stove foundry and a brick plant.  


The large brick freight house on the other side of IL 159 can be seen in the background of the photo above.  Here’s another view provided by John Kohlberg.

1001 Belleville, IL; freighthouse and depot

The depot was sold off by the railroad around 1970 and the freight house became the depot for IC as far as freight operations were concerned.  An operator was stationed there in the 1960s, hence, the order board and train order stand.

Belleville, IL at Illinois Ave.-Route 159 crossing; looking west; 1966 ICRR Photo

Below.  Here’s a view of the freight house from July, 2018.  It too was sold off in the early 70s.  


Here’s the other half of the Sanborn map from the World War I years.  This view is a few hundred yards west of the depot.  Things get interesting behind the freight house.  There was a water tower next to the freight house, and behind it were a number of tracks that reached team tracks and commercial customers. 

The tracks heading off to the left of the photo, according to John Kohlberg, are the “southbound main”.  IC had two mainline routes running south out of St. Louis that met here in Belleville.  “When IC installed CTC here in the 1960s”, John told me, “they pulled up the southbound main.”


Here’s an aerial view of the same area today.


Behind the depot is this cool grain elevator.  If you look closely in the views of the freight house posted above you can see this building in the background.  It had a large red and white Purina checkboard painted on the track side of the building.


Half a block north is this more modern silo complex.


Here’s another view, below, looking west.


Below.  A closeup of the loading machinery. 


Across the tracks from the grain silos is this structure.  It’s unlikely this exact structure was standing in the 50s or 60s, but there is plenty of evidence that there was once a siding here, and there are remnants of concrete bins everywhere, plus old telephone poles and other things, that indicate there was a once a thriving industry in this spot.


Just across the tracks is the huge St. Elisabeth’s Catholic Hospital complex.  One of my daughters was born there in 2004.  IC delivered coal to the hospital’s powerhouse for decades.  


An update.  After I posted about the siding to the power plant at the hospital, Loren Casey wrote and corrected the record:

Just a quick note about something I found out from the old IC crew guys I meet with once a month.    That spur next to St Elizabeth’s hospital was not for coal delivery to the hospital.   It actually went past the hospital to an Illinois Power facility a couple blocks further north.  Coal and other things were deliverd.   The old heads were talking about delivering long poles that had to be carried on two flats and that they would groan going around a curve up that spur.   


So there it is–a neat little place to model with a neat depot and freight house at center stage, plus plenty of industry in every direction.  Plus there’s lots of run-through opportunities too.  I hope to find more photos and also find out if and where the IC line interchanged with the Southern and electric roads, as that would add a lot more  modeling interest.  – John G

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