West Chicago is the first Illinois community created by the debut of the railroads. Early records show that a few settlers owned property in the area of present day West Chicago as early as the late 1830s. In 1849 a town began to form when the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad (predecessor of the Chicago & North Western, now the Union Pacific) arrived from Chicago.
That same year the St. Charles Branch Railroad connected St. Charles with the Galena & Chicago Union (G&CU) here, followed by the Aurora Branch line in 1850. These connections formed the first railroad junction in Illinois and gave West Chicago its first name, Junction.
Because of the number of trains passing through town, water and fuel facilities for locomotives and a roundhouse were built here, as well as an early eating-house and hotel for travelers. As a result, a number of new employees and their families located to this community. The original settlers were primarily English and Irish, with Germans arriving in the 1860s and Mexican immigrants by the 1910s.
John B. Turner, president of the G&CU and a resident of Chicago, owned several acres of land in what is now the center of town. As more people settled in Junction, Turner recognized the chance to make a profit by platting his land and selling off lots. He therefore recorded the community’s first plat in 1855 under the name of Town of Junction.
The community continued its growth, and in 1857 Dr. Joseph McConnell and his wife Mary platted a second portion of town just north of John B. Turner’s plat. They recorded their plat as the Town of Turner in honor of the railroad president. These two “towns” became informally known as Turner Junction.
By 1873 the community had taken on a substantial and permanent character, so the residents incorporated as the Village of Turner. In 1888 a new railroad, the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern built a freight line through town. It offered free factory sites for any industry willing to locate along its right-of-way. As part of the effort to attract industry, the community changed its name in 1896 to the Village of West Chicago. Area businessmen, particularly Charles Bolles, reasoned that the new name sounded more cosmopolitan, and would help draw prospective factory owners.
In 1888, the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad laid tracks through town and gave away free factory sites along its right-of-way. As industry located in West Chicago and new jobs opened up, the population increased. By 1910 the population was 2,378 and several new industries had located here including the Borden’s milk condensing plant, the Turner Cabinet Company and the Turner Brick Company. The community continues to attract quality business and residential development that contributes to the culturally diverse community that exists today.
*Photos courtesy of the West Chicago City Museum.