Northern Cross route sparks controversy in Jacksonville

With an appropriation of $1.85 million, the construction of Illinois’ first railroad was expected to ignite a great economic boom.

Though construction on all of the projects in- cluded in the Internal Improvements Act were to start in 1838, in reality work began only on the Northern Cross. Legislators had turned a blind eye to the fact that frontier Illinois lacked the technical expertise and manpower to take on these massive projects. Furthermore, the Panic of 1837 made internal improvement financing difficult at best.

Northern Cross construction commenced near the Illinois River at Meredosia. Construction standards were abysmally low. Management opted for low standards to cut costs. Instead of importing solid iron “T” shaped rails from England, the contractor used strap-iron rails. These consisted of strips of iron nailed to wooden stringers. However, the ends of the iron straps would curl upwards until they rose higher than the center of the wheels. These ends, called “snake heads,” could be forced upward through the floor of a passenger car, sometimes impaling a rider. Not good for business. &nbsp;&nbsp;<ahref=""><spanstyl... 13px; color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">To view more, please log in or subscribe to the digital edition.</span></a></p>