Victoria is like a thousand other Illinois farm towns, solid red brick buildings settled gently into an arbor surrounded by fields of crops. But if you stop a moment and quietly take it in, Victoria soon shows its texture and patterns. Like so many other farm towns, Victoria exists to support the lives of farmers in the nearby fields. They sow and till the black Illinois earth, wresting an agricultural bounty from the ground. The corn grows tall here, and this place yields a wealth which helps feed the world. As you sit and quietly look around, the town comes to life. People have made their lives here and prospered; many of their children and grandchildren have gone out into the world.
On the south side of Victoria sits an empty building, worn with age, and it is this building which draws our attention. It is the remains of a railroad station, the home office of the Galesburg & Great Eastern. The railroad is long gone, but it has left faint wisps of its presence here and there. This station is the most obvious. People came to this place to make a life, to seek an opportunity yet undeveloped. We come here to tell its story. This is the G&GE's world.
The Railroad's Life
The Galesburg & Great Eastern brought Victoria prosperity, and the railroad's character would change over the passing decades, often as a reflection of the larger world outside. This ten mile shortline started life connecting the farm and mining town of Etherly to the outside world at Wataga. There, the G&GE interchanged with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (the CB&Q or Burlington). Etherly was to ultimately fade into the ethers, strip mined for the coal underneath and surpassed by the nearby growing town of Victoria. But Victoria was not an isolated place, and the railroad's role in Victoria was to change.
Originally, the G&GE hauled both freight and passengers, charging riders the traditional 3 cents per mile; children rode at one half fare. The construction of Illinois Road 167 was to change that, with the passenger traffic dwindling away as more people chose to drive rather than ride the train. The train only ran a few times per day, yet the automobile was ready at any moment. This force was irresistible, and the G&GE soon became a freight only railroad. These same forces changed the freight traffic of the railroad, with farmers driving their crops to delivery rather than to use the G&GE. By the 1930's, the G&GE was moribund. Only the arrival of a coal mining operation would save the Galesburg & Great Eastern. And that, too, was to be temporary, extending the railroad's life only thirty more years to the early 1960's.