Crowd recalls once-popular North Shore Interurban line at Lake Forest talk
Norman Carlson, president of the Shoreline Interurban Historical Society, speaks at a Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society lecture commemorating the 50th anniversary of the closing of the North Shore Line. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 30, 2013 3:02PM
LAKE FOREST — When the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Historical Society on Sunday commemorated the end of the line for the North Shore Interurban, about 75 people braved sleet and ice to relive warm memories about it.
They almost filled the Lily Reid Holt Memorial Chapel at Lake Forest College to renew the good times they associated with riding the train throughout the North Shore and farther.
Norman Carlson, railroad consultant and historian, presented “The Open Steel Highway” — a look at the closing of the North Shore Interurban almost a half a century after it took its final trip.
“The North Shore line still raises emotions today, 50 years after it stopped running,” Carlson said. “There are reminders. The bike paths that run through Lake Forest and Lake Bluff were once the tracks of the North Shore Interurban.”
The Shore Line Route, the train service along the original route from Waukegan to Highland Park through downtown Lake Bluff and Lake Forest, began in 1898, with the extension to Evanston following the next year, Carlson noted.
The railroad owners built Ravinia Park in 1904 to increase passenger traffic. Then they extended the railroad from Lake Bluff to Mundelein in 1905 and to Milwaukee in 1908. And in 1916, Samuel Insull, a business magnate whose empire collapsed in the 1930s, took over and transformed the company into a legendary electric interurban railway, Carlson said.
The Skokie Valley Route, which later become the U.S. Highway 41 corridor, started June 5, 1926, to provide faster service between Chicago and Milwaukee. The streamlined Electroliner Train, which offered dining cars and parlor cars, traveled up to 80 miles per hour on the route.
“It was Americans’ choice of the automobile as the preferred method of travel that doomed the railroad. That choice came before the public subsidy of suburban transit became an accepted practice,” Carlson said.
The Shore Line Route stopped operating July 24, 1955, and the Skokie Valley Route ceased operations on Jan. 20, 1963. After all these decades, affection for the North Shore Lines still remains.
Roger Mohr, a Lake Forest resident, said he was stationed many years ago in Chicago by the Army and decided to stay.
“The North Shore was a very convenient way to go to Milwaukee, where I had family, because I didn’t own a car,” Mohr said. “And I met my wife at a party in Milwaukee, so I traveled back and forth for big dates on weekends.”
Ronald Dal Ponte, a Lake Bluff resident, remembered the cars had potbelly stoves in them when he was a young man riding from Highland Park to Evanston. Bob Bresse-Rodenkirk, a railroad buff from Wilmette, recalled how as a child he wanted to work for the railroad, but that his father correctly predicted that the railroads wouldn’t be around that long.
However, Carlson noted that freight railways are in the best shape they’ve been in for 80 years, and passenger rail once again is gaining acceptance.
“We’re experiencing a comeback. What we don’t have here is the building of light rail lines and the old street car technology,” Carlson said. “They are building them in Los Angelos, Dallas, Seattle — everywhere in the U.S. — but here.”