After the Civil War, Chicago's population boomed, and the city became the railroad hub of the nation. Railroad lines stretched out from the city like tendrils, reaching and connecting a myriad of small towns, and an entire nation.
The first railway into Lake County was the Chicago & Milwaukee Railroad which arrived in Waukegan to much fanfare in 1855. (right)
By the 1870s and 1880s, many towns in Lake County had railroad depots, including Grayslake, Gurnee, and Lake Villa. Though Wauconda seemed forgotten, the townsfolk dreamt of having a railroad come through its borders to connect Cook County to Wisconsin.
Finally, in 1911 work on the Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda (PLZ & W) Railroad began. The last obstacle to making the dream a reality was purchasing land on Lake Zurich Golf Club property.
Golf Club founder Charley Wood and other members of the club learned that the railroad could not condemn cemeteries. Doctors who were also club members went to the county morgue for the unclaimed bodies of four deceased men. They buried the men and put up a sign to mark the “ad hoc” cemetery and stop the railroad from acquiring the land. Fortunately for Wauconda, this only caused a short delay while the railroad rerouted its tracks.
In 1913, an 1885-built engine named “Old Maud” was purchased from the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and the new line was in business.
Real photo postcard of the dedication of the new railroad with the first train arriving in Wauconda. (above)
PLZ&W abandoned depot in Lake Zurich, photographed about 1965.
Unfortunately, the railroad struggled for many years, never attracting passengers during the winter months and losing customers to the growing popularity of automobiles and trucks. In 1924, only 11 years after its promising start, the dream of the PLZ&W Railroad came to an end.
A PLZ&W Railroad overpass in disrepair, photographed about 1965.
There are no remains of the PLZ&W to be found. The site of the Wauconda depot is now home to Wauconda's Police Department.
Map showing the PLZ&W Railroad line. Created by Richard Whitney and used in his book, "Old Maud: The Story of the Palatine, Lake Zurich & Wauconda Railroad." 1992.
Nationwide from the 1950s and 1970s, enormous amounts of rail heritage were abandoned and ripped up, including railroad lines and New York's original, legendary Pennsylvania Station. Nostalgia for railway history has sparked an interest in preservation. Though it's too late for the PLZ&W, other aspects of railway history are being saved from demolition or preserved in museums.
The nation's largest railway museum is located in Union, Illinois. The Illinois Railway Museum’s mission is dedicated to preserving the history of rail operations in and around Chicago (including the area’s extensive trolley operations), as well as the entire country.