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Illinois is a place of wide open spaces, and getting from one of them to another has always vexed its people. For decades after settlement its rivers were shallow and twisty, its roads were mud, and its early railroads unreliable. Illinois's struggle to build and maintain an efficient up-to-date transportation system constitutes a substantial and often interesting part of its history. 

Good histories have been written about the railroads and aviation industries in Illinois, but no single volume history of transportation per se has been published. While you wait for such a book to emerge, you might find things to enjoy in this grab bag of pieces from the Reader and Illinois Times and the magazines Chicago Enterprise and Illinois Issues; also included are lengthy historical sketches of the  terrestrial transportation systems that serve the Chicago metropolitan area that I wrote for my never-published guide to Illinois history and culture.. They deal in the usual way with public transit, intercity trains, and streets and highways, but writing about transportation also leads one inescapably to walking, traffic engineering, commerce, and roadscape design, among other interesting topics. 

 Interested readers also should know that I devoted a chapter in my history of mid-Illinois—"Roll-over Territory"—to transportation as it affected that part of the state.  See Corn Kings & One-Horse ThievesSee also the informative 83-page "History of the Illinois Department of Transportation 1903–2013," published by IDOT.

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Nature's Metropolis

An econo-environmental history of Chicago

Illinois Times December 11, 1991

How Illinois Was Settled

In a word, “steamboats”

Illinois Times  November 18, 1977

How Chicago Became the Gateway to the West

A review of Cronon’s Nature's Metropolis

Chicago Enterprise  October 1991

Coming or Going

Reinventing Illinois passenger rail

Illinois Issues  October 2005

Stopped By a Train

Why Springfield is helpless  to stop the UP

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 17, 2009

Going ’Round and ’Round

Can a roundabout stop accidents at Lawrence and MacArthur?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December 3, 2009

Flattened Houses

State government makes Springfield safe for cars

"Forum"  Illinois Times  January 15, 1976

Getting There in a Hurry

Why Springfield street improvements seldom were

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 13, 1992

A Great Concrete Dagger

Building highways out of habit

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 30, 1979

Bombed-out Springfield

Cars wage war on buildings in the capital city 

Illinois Times  November 12, 1976

All Aboard

Will a transit center take Springfield where it wants to go?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times March 29, 2012

Stuck in Carlinville with the Springfield Blues Again

What does it really cost to commute?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 25, 2011

Getting There from There

Might an informal “street” network help heal South MacArthur?

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times October 18, 2012

Has Another Public Project Gone Off the Rails?

The Springfield Rail Improvements Project gets stuck on a siding

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times October 11, 2012

Daley's Trolley
Why the Loop circulator derailed

Reader  October 18, 1991

The Pleasures of Walking

Getting around in Chicago’s Loop

Chicago Enterprise  October 1989

How Mass Transit Can Serve the Masses

Chicago thinks new thoughts about running the CTA

Chicago Enterprise  January 1992

Honest, Officer, I Didn’t See It Coming

How to make Illinois drivers better drivers

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times November 26, 2014

Slower Than a Speeding Bullet
Nearly high speed rail moves down the track
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 5, 2010

Transportation and the Government's Uneven Hand

State intervention in the transportation marketplace

Illinois Issues  October 1981

Catering to Pleas for Parking

Would Ruin Chicago Ave. Character

Ruining the "park" in Oak Park

Wednesday Journal  November 27, 1911

Missing Links

Illinois roads are not demanding. Neither are its driving laws.

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 7, 1980

Damning Transportation

Illinois waits for the trains

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  March 29, 1990


The bane of banal Illinois roadscapes

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 4, 1989 

City of Big Waters

Chicago’s maritime history

See Illinois (unpublished)  2004

Footloose Commuters

Chicago sidewalks as transit system

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

Aviation City

Chicago takes to the air

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Riding Around Town on a Rail

Train-based public transit in Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

The City That Rides

Chicago’s railed past

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007

From Trails to Traffic Jams

The automobile eats Chicago

See Illinois (unpublished) 2007

Red Brick Roads
Bringing brick streets back from the grave
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 19, 2017


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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