Book delves into Sycamore’s railroad past

Local attorney and history buff Ron Klein helped to unpack the "Five-Mile Spur Line" books to be made available to the public at an open house Sunday, June 8.
Local attorney and history buff Ron Klein helped to unpack the "Five-Mile Spur Line" books to be made available to the public at an open house Sunday, June 8.

SYCAMORE – Every generation has its bold ideas, ideas so powerful that they can change the destiny of an entire town. Long before Northern Illinois University was a glimmer in the region’s eye, DeKalb and Sycamore were locked in a heated race over which town would bring railroad service to the county.

When DeKalb secured the railroad first, Sycamore’s leaders had a bold idea of their own. They would build their own five-mile spur line to connect their town to the main line through Cortland, thus linking Sycamore to Chicago, the expanding western frontier, and the world.

That decision and the 125 years of railroad history that followed are the subject of a new book, "Five-Mile Spur Line: A Railroad History of Sycamore, Illinois," by writer and historian Clint Cargile. The book will be available to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 8, during a release open house at Sycamore’s historic railroad depot, 475 DeKalb Ave., now home to the DeKalb County Community Foundation. Cargile will be available to sign books and answer questions. He will give a short talk on each half hour, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The book is available for $30, which includes sales tax. The proceeds of the sales will benefit the DeKalb County Community Foundation, Joiner History Room, and Sycamore History Museum.

Cargile recently earned his master’s degree in history with a specialization in public history from Northern Illinois University. He started researching the history of the Sycamore Depot as part of a public history internship.

“I set out to write a short history of the depot building itself, but after researching its link to the Sycamore & Cortland Railroad, and then exploring the railroad’s link to the evolution of Sycamore from a small rural community to a thriving county seat, I realized it would take a whole book to do the story justice,” he said.

The success of the Sycamore & Cortland Railroad attracted new settlers, businesses, and manufacturing interests, which, in turn, attracted more railroads: the Chicago & North Western, the Chicago Great Western, and the short-lived electric railroads of the early 20th century.

“Clint’s book puts the Sycamore depot into its historical context,” Dan Templin, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Foundation, said. “Not only is this a great building, but it was such a significant part of the lives of people in the county. People got their news from the depot, they got packages delivered to the depot and shipped goods to markets around the region from here. When soldiers left Sycamore to fight in the Civil War, World War I and World War II, they started their journey at the depot. We’re honored to continue to play a part in the building’s story and to learn more about its rich history from the book.”

“There is more to history than dates and facts," DeKalb County Historian Sue Breese said. "The book does a good job of sharing stories of how the railroad affected everyday life in and around Sycamore."

After June 8, copies of the book will be available for purchase at the community foundation, the Joiner History Room in the Sycamore Public Library, and the Sycamore History Museum.

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