Rivers and Railroads

Ohio River at Shawneetown
Ohio River at Shawneetown
Photo by David Cantrell

Railroads in southeastern Illinois were constructed to connect major waterways including the Illinois, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was the owner of the line from Flora to Shawneetown for the longest period of time.  The second railway in the area was the Louisville and Nashville segment from McLeansboro to Shawneetown.  Each railroad had main lines at the northern points.  The B & O crossed Illinois from East St. Louis through Flora to Vincennes, Indiana.  The L & N went from East St. Louis through McLeansboro to the Wabash River near Maunie, Illinois.  The L & N connected with other railroads through Mt. Vernon and Fairfield to Mt. Carmel.

Southeastern Illinois Railroads

Freight and passenger service was provided by both railway companies with freight service lasting the longest on both.   Both railroads had depots in Shawneetown with connections to the Norfolk and Washington, DC Steamboat Company Steamers on the Ohio River that were part of the Evansville, Paducah, and Cairo Line owned and operated by the Tennessee and Ohio River Transportation Company.

The proximity of the Ohio River to the railroads in the southeastern Illinois provided many benefits to the area.  The trains carried passengers, freight, mail, and connected residents with professional services like doctors that may not have been available in every town.  The railroads also brought a mechanism of communication between stations.

The Ohio River and tributaries overflowed the banks frequently.  The most devastating years included 1883, 1898, 1913, and 1937.  Railway employees would alert authorities and localities when communications were lost at Shawneetown.  The railroad tracks were used as an evacuation path by foot.  Relief supplies came by rail through McLeansboro and Flora.  Steamboats and other craft came via Ohio River from Evansviile, Mt. Vernon, and Cairo with supplies and served as rescue platforms for those trapped by the rising water.

The Decatur Herald in Decatur, Illinois shared on Tuesday, Apr 5, 1898 that the B & O tracks were submerged under five feet of water for five miles north of Cypress Junction.

The Daily Sentinel newspaper in Woodstock, Illinois, reported that on February 4, 1937, water at the Omaha depot was up to the eaves of the structure.

According to the IllinoisHistory.com article titled Bob Anderson and the Flood of 1937, the book Calling CQ: Adventures of Short Wave Radio Operators by Clinton B DeSoto describes how Bob Anderson traveled from Harrisburg via boat with his amateur radio gear.  With the help of local residents, he made it to a nearby coalmine that had a phone wire connection to Shawneetown.  It was the first word of how dire the situation was there.  He traveled on to Junction and found thirteen people marooned on the B & O tracks.  In below freezing temperatures, he set up his radio equipment and attempted contact with his friend at WEBQ radio.  The "skip effect" prevented continuous contact with Harrisburg so operators in Louisville and West Virginia relayed the messages.  The signals traveled over a thousand miles to reach people 17 miles east.  The WPA also sent 250 men via a special train on the Big Four to Norris City.  It traveled to Ridgway via the B & O rails where the men and supplies traveled via boats to sandbag the levee at Shawneetown.  As a result of the courage and heroism of Bob, the survivors at Junction, the assistance of people from Harrisburg to Junction, and amateur radio operators, a rescue ship was dispatched to provide assistance.

The SS Patricia Barrett steamboat was operated by the Barrett Line of Cincinnati, Ohio.  She was dispatched to Shawneetown from Memphis and traveled upstream to rescue over 500 residents on January 24, 1937.  The steamboat also evacuated over 700 residents of Cairo from the floodwaters.  The Barrett was constructed by the Howard Ship Yard and Dock Company of Louisville, KY in 1926 according to a historical logbook on the museum site.  She was named after the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Patterson B. Pogue.  Dorothy Pogue's maiden name was Barrett.

SS Patricia Barrett 1937
SS Patricia Barrett at Old Shawneetown 1937 Flood

Ghosts of Old Shawneetown

Additional photos and information are welcome and would be appreciated to make the coverage as complete as possible.  Those that provided photos and information are credited at the end of this page.

Links to information sources can be found here:

Railroad links

Baltimore & Ohio

B & O Logo

The Baltimore & Ohio railroad linked the Illinois River at Beardstown with the Ohio at Shawneetown.  

B&O Railroad History

Springfield Division South Mileposts

Springfield Division North Mileposts

St. Louis Division Mileposts

In Memory of Wilson Mayberry

Wilson Mayberry Railroad Truck

The B&O railroad did not run through Mayberry Township but my grandfather, Wilson Mayberry on the right in the photo above, worked on the route between Flora and Shawneetown from 1941 to 1977 when he retired as a foreman.  Having traveled from Flora to Shawneetown and seen first hand the geographical challenges of keeping the trains running down these rails, a much deeper appreciation for his efforts has been gained.

Louisville & Nashville

L & N Logo

The Louisville & Nashville railroad joined the Mississippi at East St. Louis with the Ohio River at Shawneetown.

L&N Railroad History

St. Louis Division Mileposts

Shawneetown Branch Mileposts

Aerial view Flora B & O Railroad Yard
Aerial view Flora B & O Railroad Yard
Illinois Historical Aerial Photographs 1938

Aerial view McLeansboro L & N Main Line Connection
Aerial view McLeansboro L & N Main Line Connection
Illinois Historical Aerial Photographs 1938

https://www.cantrellcrossing.com Aerial view Ohio River and Shawneetown Railroad Terminal
Aerial view Ohio River and Shawneetown Railroad Terminal
Illinois Historical Aerial Photographs 1938


These webpages on southeastern Illinois railroads would not be possible without the kindness of the following individuals and organizations:

Aunt Dorothy (Mayberry) McMahon, my grandpa's sister, spent many hours sharing stories of our family, Mayberry Township, and the local area including the railroads. The Baltimore and Ohio Historical Society and Duane Carrell provided several of the Flora to Shawneetown depot photos and approved use of content from their Sentinel Magazine. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum and Allison provided several of the Shawneetown to Flora depot photos. Classic Trains magazine provided Philip Hasting photos of B & O locomotives at Junction, Illinois Edward Oliver provided photos of Norris City, Broughton, and McLeansboro depots.  A photo of the store at Feakeyville and information on the War Emergency Pipeline were shared. Doris Nelson provided several photos of the McLeansboro depots. Bob Dagg shared recollections of his time working with my grandfather on the B & O Railroad. Jean-Denis Bachand and Diesel Shop provided illustration of Santa Fe 2319 James Gholson of Broughton shared his Broughton railroad information from the Gholson brother's web site. The Wayne County Historical Society and Judith Puckett helped identify Fairfield Depot photos, shared depot and train photos, and information on communities of Hubbard and Barn Hill. The Gallatin County Historical Society and Christy Short provided old photos of the L & N Depot at Shawneetown, 1872 Directory of Shawneetown pages for the Springfield & Illinois Southeastern Railways and St. Louis and Illinois Southeastern Railways, and other helpful information. Ghosts of Old Shawneetown provided the map layout of the town of Old Shawneetown and several photos including: 2 of the Equality depot during 1937 flood, 1969 L & N New Shawneetown Depot, and the USS Barrett at Shawneetown during the 1937 flood. Jim Pearson and The West Kentucky Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society provided the McLeansboro 1965 depot photo from the Bill Grady Collection. Jarrod Kohn of Kohn Funeral Home in Flora, IL provided the Flora depot and locomotive photo. UW La Crosse Special Collections authorized display of the SS Patricia Barrett picture from their Historic Steamboat Photographs collection. The Norris City Library staff provided assistance with researching their collections: Tullyne, Denise, Jodi, and Judy. The Flora Depot Museum provided an excellent tour of their depot and historical collection. In Omaha, Andy Pritchett and Omaha Furniture Company employees spent a few minutes sharing possible resources of information about the Omaha railroad past. The Shawneetown Library staff assisted with the Shawneetown flood, maps, and photos. The Gallatin County Courthouse assisted in locating local resources and provided directions to them. Jon Musgrave at IllinoisHistory.com approved using the Bob Anderson and the Flood of 1937 article. The Decatur Herald-Review, Chris, and Ashley provided a photo of the Junction B & O depot during the 1937 flood. CSX Retirees Website provided assistance with locating railroad book authors. Keith Jordan from PatchRailroad.net approved using information from the Alco High Hood content. The Harrisburg District Library provided access to their historical information on railroads. The Eldorado Memorial Library provided access to their maps and railroad information.