Rails in the Roadway: On the Track of History

Have you ever wondered about those rails embedded in the sidewalk and street along East 7th Street between Calhoun Street and Grove Street downtown?

Those rails are all that remain of a track that was laid after 244 voters turned out in January 1907 (as the 124-word Telegram sentence tells us) to give the Chicago, Rock Island & Gulf railroad permission to lay a spur west to Rusk (now Commerce) Street from its tracks near Pecan Street east of downtown.

The voters may have been profoundly neutral about the issue, but Rock Island knew what it was doing. Soon the south side of those four blocks of 7th Street would be lined with buildings of companies that needed a way to ship goods:

Nash Hardware (1910). The Nash company used this building until 1967. (Nash Elementary School on Samuels Avenue is named for owner Charles Nash.)

Hunt-Hawes (1911) grocery company and Montgomery Ward catalog sales (1911). Montgomery Ward not would move to West 7th Street until 1921. The two buildings share a wall. The Trinity Railway Express passes through the Hunt-Hawes Building. (Could this be the world’s shortest railroad tunnel?)

Axtell windmills (1914). By 1926 Axtell had a warehouse along the tracks on 7th at Jones Street in addition to a warehouse around the corner on 8th at Grove Street. Both buildings are gone now. Fred Axtell made windmills into the mid-1950s.

Binyon-O’Keefe storage (1916). Building designed by Sanguinet and Staats.

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