The Illinois Railway Museum—which is located about an hour outside of Chicago—was founded in 1953 by 10 avid train lovers who each forked over a bit of their hard-earned money to save a retired train car from ending up in a junkyard. Since its inception, the Illinois Railway Museum has been a labor of love which is staffed entirely by volunteers. Engineers, teachers, and preservationists with a passion for trains work together to restore historic locomotives and educate the public about the evolution of railways in the United States.
The Illinois Railway Museum features an extensive collection of historic trains. One of the oldest locomotives on display is Illinois Central 201, which was constructed in 1880. Illinois Central 201 is a steam locomotive which helped transport passengers to Chicago’s grand 1893 Colombian Exposition. Famed conductor Casey Jones spent time at the helm. Casey Jones was celebrated for his impeccable punctuality, and for once saving a little girl from certain death by swooping her off of the tracks seconds before a large train thundered past.
The Illinois Railway Museum offers guests plenty of opportunities to ride various trains. Starting in late November, the museum offers a Happy Holiday Railway which gives visitors the opportunity to meet Santa, munch on cookies, and view holiday lights and decorations from the comfort of a chugging train.
If you’re a train enthusiast, strolling among rows of historic trolley coaches, street cars, and steam locomotives is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Visitors can take endless train rides and spend hours exploring the grounds of the museum. Several knowledgeable engineers and preservationists are always standing by to answer questions. You may find the history of American railways so captivating that you enter the Illinois Railway Museum as a curious visitor, and leave as a dedicated volunteer.