The Street Railways of
Urbana and Champaign, Illinois

Chapter 15


H. George Friedman, Jr.

Copyright © 2001, 2011, 2020, 2022 H. George Friedman, Jr.  All rights reserved.
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This chapter discusses the car barns, shops, depots, and power houses that supported the streetcar system at various times in its history.  The structures are numbered for convenience of reference to them.  They are listed approximately in the order in which they were put into use for streetcars.

1.  Horse Car Stables and Car Barn

This first streetcar structure was built some time prior to 1869, perhaps as early as the establishment of the horsecar system in 1863, and was in use for streetcars until about September 1891.  It was located on Main Street in Urbana, four doors east of Walnut Street, on the north side of Main, at 206 E. Main Street.  It was near the middle of the block, just west of the alley between Walnut and Vine.  The tracks extended from the south side of Main in front of the courthouse across Main Street into the car barn.

After electrification, the streetcar system moved down the street, and this building became the Renner Brothers Livery Stable, beginning in the winter of 1891-92.  Renner Bros. continued to occupy it until around 1905, when the Shobe Livery Barn took over the building.  After about 1908, it was the Renner and Page Livery Barn.  The structure was torn down in 1909, and the site was occupied by Illinois Motor Car Sales.

In all the pictures in this article, click on the picture for an enlargement.
Picture 15-1.
This is the Renner Brothers Livery, Feed and Sale Stable on Main Street, Urbana, about the turn of the century.  This was probably the building which was the horsecar barn and stable until about 1891.  Unfortunately, no pictures are known showing it in use for horsecars. — Urbana Free Library Archives

2.  Urbana Car Barn

This structure appears to have been in use as a barn for electric streetcars, and perhaps briefly for horsecars, from about 1891 to about 1902.  It was located in downtown Urbana at the southeast corner of Main and the alley between Walnut and Vine Streets (later called Bennett Avenue), on the first lot east of the county jail.  Mrs. Sylvia Hadden, who was interviewed around 1970, recalled playing on the site as a child about 1900.  She recalled the location precisely, and remembered a high roof and the tracks, although she had the impression it was little used at that time.

Streetcar schedules published in the period 1895-99 imply that at least one car laid over the night in Urbana, presumably at this car barn.

City directories show that the site, at 207 E. Main, was occupied by the business of R. Gilmore & Co. in 1904.  So the car house was presumably removed or converted at some time between 1900 and 1904.  Something must have remained for a while, because the Urbana Courier of 9/6/1916 reported that the owner of the site, B. F. Harris, Jr., had been ordered by the city to remove the “old stone foundations” of the former Urbana car house.

No pictures of this structure are known.

3.  Water Works Power House

In 1890, with electrification of the horsecar line coming near to reality, William McKinley set up the first Champaign-Urbana electric power house in the water works building on Park Street east of Eads, just north of the Big Four railroad tracks.  The tract, still in use today as a water works, is bounded by the railroad, Goodwin, Church, and Lincoln.  The power house was located here from its creation in mid 1890 to about August 15, 1891.

4.  Sugar Factory Power House and Car Barn

The story of the sugar factory is told in Chapter 3.  This was an old factory located in Champaign in the block bounded by Tremont, Walnut, North, and Hickory Streets.  It was used as a car barn and power house beginning about August 1, 1891.  It was well served by steam railroads, with the Illinois Central having both its north-south main line and an east-west branch line very near the site.  Even though the building was no longer a sugar factory after this date, the Illinois Central referred to a curved siding serving the site as the Sugar House siding, right down until its removal in the second half of the twentieth century.  One suspects that most people who talked about the “sugar house siding” had no idea why it was so called.

The sugar house ceased to be used as a car barn after the Tremont Street barn (building #5) was built in October 1892.  It continued in use as a power house while its successor (building #6) was built over it, and then was torn down within the new power house building.

An 1884 “bird's eye” map of Champaign shows the sugar house with a smokestack.  It is not known whether the first smokestack on the permanent power house (#6) was the sugar house smokestack or was a new one.

5.  Tremont Street Car Barn and Shop

In October 1892, the street railway erected a handsome new brick car barn in the vacated right-of-way of Tremont Street just east of Hickory Street.  The building was 50' by 100', and had a single door with one track.  There was a transfer table just inside the door, providing connections to five interior tracks.  A one-car-length pit was installed under two tracks to provide for car undercarriage inspections.  The building housed the system shop and provided storage for the car fleet.  Many changes were made to this building in later years.

Some time in the 1890s, an addition, referred to as the “car barn annex,” was made to the building by constructing a 138' long, 20' wide addition on the south side, adding two more storage tracks to the barn's capacity.

In 1902, the transfer table was removed and additional doors were installed, so that all five tracks connected outside.  The building was lengthened by 50' at this time.  The shop area was moved from the front (west side) of the building to the northeast corner, where it occupied a 49' by 20' area.  There was a small sand room, 18'2" by 8'6", on the outside of the north wall, and a 16' by 10'9" armature room within the barn just west of the shop area.  By 1905, the main building had only four tracks, with the second (counting the most northerly as first) extended outside through a door in the east wall.

After completion of the Hickory Street car barn (building #8) in 1906, the Tremont Street barn was converted completely into a shop complex, with car storage taken over by the other barns.

According to Illinois Power Co. records, the building was considered “beyond repair” and was retired and dismantled in 1945 by English Brothers contractors of Champaign.  The records mention that by that time, a two-track scale had been installed near the building.

Picture 15-2.
The Tremont Street car barn is seen here in its initial form in 1894. — C. Trego and O. E. Goldschmidt, Tests of Efficiency of the U. & C. Electric Street Railway, University of Illinois thesis, 1894
Pictures 15-3 and 15-4.
Two interior views of the Tremont Street car barn in the 1890s.  At the right in the upper picture, we see cars 24 and 22, and at left-center, car 18.  (The car next to no. 18 is not no. 1; that's the headlight bracket.) — Melissa Chambers (Harris family collection)
Picture 15-5.
An 1890s view of the well equipped shop area.  One shudders to think what modern regulatory agencies would think of those open belts! — Melissa Chambers (Harris family collection)
Picture 15-6.
The Tremont Street car barn and the power plant, some time in the 1890s.  Car 17 is on the lead track to the transfer table inside the car barn, and what appears to be a closed trailer (probably one of the 18-20 group) is parked along side. — Melissa Chambers (Harris family collection) (This is the same picture as Picture 4-7.)
Picture 15-7.
Open car no. 29, sister to car 28, poses in front of the original Tremont Street car barn.  Trailer no. 24 sits in one door of the two-track “annex” built onto the south side of the barn.  Car 24 might have been built in 1894, but it has the appearance of an unconverted horsecar. — Don T. Thrall photo, William C. Janssen collection (This is the same picture as Picture 14A-12.)
Pictures 15-8, 15-9, and 15-10.
These three pictures all depict the same car barn.  It is thought that they show the Tremont Street barn (or shop) after its 1905 or 1906 remodelling, but this is not certain.  If this is the Tremont Street barn, it appears that the “annex” has been removed.  The two top pictures are not dated; the bottom picture dates from June 1921.  In the top picture, track no. 4 is being installed or replaced.  Car no. 33, at the left, and no. 42, in the center, are both American or Brill Car Co. products, built just a few years apart (about 1902 and about 1906, respectively).  No. 33 is signed for the Neil Street line, which provided local service on the ITS interurban tracks from the city limits on W. John Street to the Wabash tracks on N. Neil.  No. 42 is signed for the New & John branches of the main line, meaning that its western terminus was at Green and Prospect on the New Street route, and that it used E. John to get to the University campus before going to downtown Urbana.  The cab-on-flat work motor at the far right was probably no. 207, which was built in the company shops about 1902. — Don T. Thrall photo, William C. Janssen collection (same as Picture 14A-35) In the middle picture, cars of three generations pose with some of the men who worked on them.  Car no. 47, at the left, dates from 1909; no. 33, center, dates from about 1902; and tower car no. 1, right, from the 1890s.  No. 1 sports archaic add-on vestibule windows and a roof-mounted headlight.  No. 33 has a roof-mounted route sign, while no. 47 has its route sign in a vestibule window.  Notice also how no. 47 has a larger, wider body and clerestory roof.  The men marked X are, left to right: John Key, Ora Patterson, Walter Hall, and Charley Bartley. (Same as Picture 14A-34) In the bottom picture, dated June 1921, owl car no. 701 is sunning away the day.  Part of an ITS class A steeple cab locomotive, probably no. 1551, can be seen to the far right.  Note also the addition built onto this car barn, seen at the right side of the picture. — Illinois Power Co. Archives

6.  Champaign Power House

As has been noted above (see building #4), the original power house in Champaign was set up in the old sugar factory, and a new power house built around the old building.  The new power house opened in November 1893.  The building was to be added to and modified many times over the coming years.

The building constructed in 1892-93 was variously reported as 72' by 60', or as 72' by 54', had a slate roof, and had one smokestack 137' high and 8' in diameter.  The original boiler house was a frame structure, later rebuilt in brick.  By 1905, when the power house was described in a University of Illinois thesis (B. Cohen, Review of the Illinois Traction Company's Power Plants), it had grown to be 192' by about 70', with some appendages on the southwest corner, and had two more steel stacks 150' high, one being 7' diameter, the other 6'.

Major work was done on the power plant in 1906, primarily consisting of the addition of steel work around the existing building.  The construction work was tricky, involving the lowering of heavy steel columns into place in a narrow area surrounded by 15 kilovolt transformers.  New steel girders were placed to form support for a new concrete roof.  Inside the building, two new 1000 hp. generators were installed, having direct connections (i.e., no belts) for additional safety to the workers.

Work done in 1910 included the replacement of two smoke stacks by one new one and rebuilding of the boiler room.  Again in 1915, a new steel smokestack replaced an older stack.  Pictures over the years show varying numbers of smokestacks; the maximum this author has seen was four.

The Sanborn insurance maps of 1924 show that the structure at that time consisted of these segments:

This building served for a great many years to generate electricity for the street railway, for the Champaign-Danville interurban line, and for city lighting and power.  In addition, steam was piped into the city, especially the downtown area, and used directly for heating.  The power plant outlived the street railway by quite a few years.

Picture 15-11.
The power plant in 1894.  This is probably its original form.  The building seen partially at the left in this picture is the Tremont Street car barn. — C. Trego and O. E. Goldschmidt, Tests of Efficiency of the U. & C. Electric Street Railway, University of Illinois thesis, 1894
Pictures 15-12 and 15-13.
Generating equipment in the power house in the 1890s. — C. Trego and O. E. Goldschmidt, Tests of Efficiency of the U. & C. Electric Street Railway, University of Illinois thesis, 1894 (upper), Melissa Chambers (Harris family collection) (lower)
Picture 15-14.
The steam boilers in the power house in the 1890s. — Melissa Chambers (Harris family collection)
Picture 15-15.
The power plant in 1905.  The original smokestack (in the center here) has been joined by two more.  Eventually, a fourth would be added. — B. Cohen, Review of the Illinois Traction Company's Power Plants, University of Illinois thesis, 1905
Picture 15-16.
The power generation machinery in 1905. — B. Cohen, Review of the Illinois Traction Company's Power Plants, University of Illinois thesis, 1905
Pictures 15-17 and 15-18.
The AC (above) and DC (below) switchboards in the power house, unknown date. — Champaign County Historical Society, W. T. Burnett archive
Picture 15-18.5.
The remnant of the power house in November 1971, out of service.  Note the “Illinois Power Company” sign over the boarded-up door.  Even this shell is no longer standing. — Photo by the author

7.  Neil Street Car Barn

Early in 1903, the Danville, Urbana and Champaign built a car barn on Neil Street between North and Tremont Streets.  It was 50' by 100', and appears to have been of brick construction.  It had four tracks, and was intended to house eight 42' interurban cars.  The building was completed and opened for use about February 7, 1903.

After the construction of the more substantial Hickory Street barn (building #8), interurban cars were housed there.  The Neil Street car barn thereafter seems to have housed local streetcars.

Picture 15-19.
The Neil Street car barn in June 1921.  This barn was on the east side of Neil Street, back-to-back with the Hickory Street car barn (building #8), which can be seen at the left rear.  A track curved across the vacant lot in the left part of the picture.  (See also Picture 15-22.) — Illinois Power Co. Archives

8.  Hickory Street Car Barn

The largest of the Champaign car barns was built in 1906 at 803 Hickory Street between Tremont and North Streets.  It was on the west side of Hickory, with the doors facing east.  Construction was carried out by the Kerr Murray Manufacturing Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana under the supervision of F. D. Smith.

The building was about 200' by 200', and was 12' high on the north and south sides, reaching to 18' at the center of the peaked roof on the east and west elevations.  There were three large roll-up steel doors, of which the ones at the sides accomodated two tracks, and the center door three tracks.  The roof was concrete, supported by steel truss construction.

The Hickory Street barn housed both interurban and city cars.  Photographs typically show the interurbans on the most southerly two or three tracks.

This car barn actually outlived the street railway.  At the end of streetcar service in 1936, it was paved and leased to Champaign-Urbana City Lines as a bus garage until that company built its own garage at the corner of Fifth and Washington in Champaign.  The building is still standing and in use in 2011.

Picture 15-20.
Exterior view of the Hickory Street car barn in June 1921, facing west.  The three left (south) tracks reveal ITS interurbans.  The next two show city cars 46 and 42.  We also have a good view of the track switches in the lead tracks.  Hickory Street crosses the picture from left to right immediately in front of the builiding. — Illinois Power Co. Archives
Picture 15-21.
Interior view of the Hickory Street car barn in December 1910.  We see ITS observation car “Champaign” on the left, with city open car no. 652 to its right signed “Church & John.”  At the far right, two more open cars are seen, with no. 616 at the rear of the barn.  We see inspection pits under at least the two tracks in the foreground. — Illinois Power Co. Archives
Picture 15-21.5.
Here is IT car 248 resting in the Hickory Street car barn on one of the three center tracks, beneath the highest section of the roof.  The photo is not dated, but was taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s, after the interurban system took the name Illinois Terminal, and prior to the 1936 closure of the city streetcar system.
Picture 15-22.
This view is looking west across Neil and Randolph Streets, probably from the top of one of the smokestacks at the power house.  In the right foreground is the roof of the Hickory Street car barn.  Just beyond that is the Neil Street car barn, fronting on that street, with a line of streetcars next to it.  In the right front, we see the track in Tremont Street.  To the left are the tracks of the east-west railroads: from left to right, the Wabash, the Big Four, and an Illinois Central branch line, plus the Wabash and Big Four Champaign depot buildings.  The Wabash depot would eventually become shared with the interurban line.  (The vertical black line is from a crack in the original glass plate negative.) — Champaign County Historical Society, from Urbana Courier archives
Pictures 15-22.3 and 15-22.6.
The Hickory Street car barn in November 1971 (above) and in May 2001 (below).  Although the doors have been extensively modified, and the interior even more, the distinctive roof line still marks the building as the same one that once saw streetcars and interurbans under that roof.  However, the circular window in the upper facade has been bricked in.  Note that some of the doors have been replaced by windows, which don't match the original windows on the south side (to the viewer's left). — Photos by the author

9.  J. B. & W. B. McKinley Offices

An office building was constructed on the northwest corner of Walnut and Main Streets in downtown Champaign by E. A. Harmon, probably in 1872, for his law offices.  The original building had three stories.  Later, a one-story addition was built onto the back.  Eventually, this building was occupied by the J. B. & W. B. McKinley partnership.  As W. B. McKinley expanded his activities in the street railway, the electric power and gas utilities, and later the ITS interurban, parts of the building were taken over for the use of those businesses.

In 1903, when the interurban from Danville was extended from Urbana to Champaign, the McKinley offices became the public depot for the new railway.  Initially, an old city streetcar was placed at the end of the track in front of the office building.  As soon as possible, part of the building was remodelled into a more permanent depot.  By 1911, except for two stores on the west side of the ground floor, the entire building was in use by the ITS and the street railway.

Picture 15-23.
A busy office!  The ITS calendar on the wall says 1909.  This is possibly the office of the Urbana & Champaign Railway, Gas & Electric Company.  If it was the Champaign office, it was the old J. B. and W. B. McKinley office at the corner of Main and Walnut Streets.  Notice the electric irons, apparently for sale, and the sign at the rear carrying a “free trial offer” for the irons.  There are two telephones, one for each of the two competing phone systems in the community: a standard Bell candlestick phone, on an extender, and an Automatic early dial phone on the next desk. — Champaign County Historical Society, from Urbana Courier archives

10.  Illinois Traction Champaign Freight Depot

The history of this freight depot is rather vague.  What is known is that there had been a grist mill, the Kenard Mill, on the property at the southwest corner of University and Market in Champaign, probably since the 1860s.  At some point, the ITS began to use the old mill as a freight depot, and in February 1905, they built a brick addition on the side of the mill, with a siding alongside.  The addition was 20' by 40' and one story high.  The nature and history of the rest of the structures on the site during this time is not known.  The old mill was razed beginning about April 16, 1913 to build the Champaign passenger depot (#11, below).  Part of the demolition included the toppling of an old landmark smokestack, 85' tall, on May 2.  The old stack had been built around 1867.

Freight was handled for the rest of 1913 from a temporary depot in the Daniels Livery Barn just to the west at the corner of Walnut and University.  The Daniels Livery was itself demolished about a year later by George Inman to build the Inman Hotel on its site.

11.  Illinois Traction Champaign Passenger and Freight Depot

In November 1911, the Champaign Daily News reported ITS plans to build a three-story depot and office building on the Kenard Mill site (see #10 above).  Construction actually began after the old mill was razed, beginning in April 1913, and was completed in December.  The architect was Joseph W. Royer of Urbana.

Freight service from the new depot began on Wednesday December 31, 1913.  Offices were moved over in early January, and passenger service from the new depot started on Monday January 12, 1914.

Passenger sidings were built on the west side of the new depot for the use of local cars, with limited through cars stopping in the street (University Avenue) in front of the depot.

Freight was handled on the south side of the new depot, using a siding than ran from University to Walnut to Bailey, ending at Market.  There is also at least one picture known showing a freight car on one of the sidings west of the building.

In 1937, when all street trackage was abandoned in Champaign, this building was necessarily abandoned as a depot.  Passenger service was transferred to the Wabash depot, between Randolph and Neil Streets, north of the downtown area.  The building continued in use as an office building for the company, which by this time was the Illinois Power and Light Co.

Around 1985, Illinois Power Co., the successor company to IP&L, moved out and sold the building, and it was remodelled into an office building with a few ground-floor stores.  It continues in this use, under the name Illinois Traction Building, in 2001.

Picture 15-23.5.
The ITS depot, apparently just after it was built in 1913.  The freight section shows as a shadowed sketch at the back of the building (on our left), making one wonder whether it was added after the main part of the building had been completed, or whether the postcard publisher simply wanted to deemphasize it.  The Daniels Livery Barn shows to the right, on the west side of the depot building, in a similar shadowy sketch style; this structure would be torn down soon to make way for Mr. Inman's hotel.
Pictures 15-24 and 15-25.
These two postcards show the ITS depot and its next-door neighbor, the Inman Hotel, on University Ave. in Champaign between Walnut and Market Streets.  Both pictures show the alley between the buildings, which had sidings for local interurban cars.  The lack of shadows in the upper picture suggests that the Inman Hotel had not yet been built, so this is a very early view of the depot.  In the alley to our right (the west side of the depot), we see a self-propelled freight car.  The lower picture shows a local car in the alley, waiting for passengers to board. — C. T. Photochrom (upper) (These pictures are the same as Pictures 11B-4 and 11B-5.)
Pictures 15-26 and 15-27.
These two views were taken in June 1921.  There were two tracks in University Ave. at this point: a through track in the center of the street, and a depot siding to the south of that track, on which the cars in these pictures are standing.  In addition, there were the sidings in the alley between the depot and the Inman Hotel.  Note the electric light “flag” on the roof of the depot. — Illinois Power Co. Archives (These pictures are the same as Pictures 11B-6 and 11B-7.)
Picture 15-28.
The interior of the office portion of the building.  The two calendars seem to disagree whether it is Thursday May 19 or Friday May 20, 1921. — Illinois Power Co. Archives
Picture 15-29.
The rear of the depot, on the south side, at the corner of Bailey and Market Streets.  The track on Bailey, on which the ITS boxcar is standing, was connected to the University Avenue tracks via Walnut Street.  There were sidings in the alley between the depot and the Inman Hotel, but these sidings did not connect to Bailey Street because of the difference in elevation.  Note the slope in Market Street, to the right; the alley had no such slope, but was level. — Illinois Power Co. Archives
Picture 15-30.
The former depot in November 1971, when it was still in use as an office building for Illinois Power Co.  The alley between this building and the neighboring Inman Hotel has been paved and is used for private automobile parking.  To the left rear of this picture is the long-standing fish market, for many years a downtown Champaign landmark of sorts. — Photo by the author
Pictures 15-31 and 15-32.
The same building in May 2001, as remodelled in 1985.  The Inman Building, no longer a hotel but a downtown residence for senior citizens, is still to the west (the right in the upper picture).  In the left background of the upper picture, it can be seen that the fish market has been replaced by the Illinois Terminal building, a multi-modal transit center for city buses, intercity buses, and passenger trains.  The lower picture shows the Illinois Traction Building from the southeast corner; compare it to Picture 15-29 above. — Photos by the author
Pictures 15-33, 15-34, and 15-35.
An extensive file of blueprints and specifications of this building has survived the many remodelings and the recent changes of ownership.  This author is most grateful to the current owner, Paul Kane, and to his predecessor for their preservation, and to Mr. Kane for the opportunity to inspect and copy these documents.  Most of the blueprints are too fragile to scan or copy, but several exist in more robust copies and are reproduced here.  The top plan shows the first floor in 1926, the middle view is of the same floor in 1938 (after the ITS had abandoned the building as a depot), and the bottom plan is of the basement in 1938.  The building is set on an angle to north, parallel to Walnut and Market Streets; the 1938 views include an arrow pointing north.  The ITS waiting room was in the northwest quarter of the first floor, with doors to the platform for local cars on the west side of the building (top of the diagram).  The freight section was in the area to the left in these plans (south), with the boiler room in the basement below; this part of the building is only one story high.  (The two rectangles in the boiler room with an X across them represent the actual boilers for heating the building.)  After removal of the depot, the waiting room became Division Accounting, with a new counter built at the north end of the room.  The freight area became Non-Divisional Accounting.  The earliest blueprints show nothing much besides the boiler room in the basement, but eventually a room on the east side of the basement was designated as a carmen's room.  The 1938 plan shows this room as a Billing Room.  Unfortunately, no plans of the second or third floor are suitable for scanning.  It may be of interest to note that the office on the northwest corner of the second floor was designated for W. B. McKinley in the original blueprints, dated 4/28/13; this office was the only one to have a private restroom within.  A curious feature of the building is that each floor, including even the basement, has a vault located at the southeast corner (north of the freight area on the first floor), with all the vaults one above the other.  CAUTION: These pictures total almost 5 megabytes, and may take a while to download. — Compliments of Paul Kane

[This chapter is currently under construction.  Watch for additions.]

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