One of our readers writes, “The 141 crossing the IHB tracks at Oak Street in LaGrange Park. The car is headed westbound, the train is southbound, possibly entering the sidings that are just south of Oak. The trolley turned south and paralleled the IHB down to the CB&Q tracks where it turned west along Hillgrove. The home under construction in the background is the second or third house north of Oak on the west side of Beach.” (Or, perhaps the steam train is backing up and the trolley waited for it to clear the crossing, based on the lingering smoke near the streetcar.)
The Chicago & West Towns, while not an extremely large streetcar operator, played an important role in the development of many of Chicago’s western suburbs in the first half of the 20th century. You can see a map of the West Towns car lines here, and a list of important dates in its operations here.
We have written about the Chicago & West Towns Railways before on the CERA Members Blog (see these posts here and here) but nearly all those photos were in black-and-white. Since streetcar service was abandoned in April 1948, color pictures are scarce.
Color film was expensive in 1948, and most fans did not have a 35mm camera to shoot it with. So we can be thankful for those railfans who did have the wherewithal to shoot Kodachrome slides, which give us an idea of what life was like in an earlier and simpler time.
Today we offer you rarely seen color pictures of West Towns streetcars. Even better, several of them show car 141, the sole survivor of the fleet. You can read about how this car was preserved and lovingly restored here. The Electric Railway Historical Society bought the car body in 1959, after it had been used as a storage shed, and donated it to the Illinois Railway Museum in 1973. You can ride that car at the museum.
While we are not sure of all the exact locations in these images, most of them seem to be on the line that ran between LaGrange and Cicero. Perhaps our keen-eyed readers can help identify some of these areas.
In a few cases, we have presented “then and now” photos, so you can see that while a lot has changed in the nearly 70 years that trolleys have been gone, but there are still a few things that remain from the old days.
When the Chicago Transit Authority was just getting started, they looked into the possibility of purchasing the West Towns, and I believe they entered into negotiations, but it never happened. The West Towns completed its conversion to buses in 1948 and remained a private operator until 1981. These services are operated today as part of the Pace suburban bus system.
The corner of Lincoln and Beach as it looks today in LaGrange Park. Lincoln ends in a cul-de-sac near the railroad tracks at rear. We are not far from where image 471 was taken.
Chicago & West Towns Railways car 112 heads south at Harlem and Cermak on August 17, 1947.
If the building at right is a car barn, this may be Harlem and Cermak. If so, car 112 would be turning east onto Cermak.
This may show the 111 heading west, preparing to cross First Avenue to reach the Brookfield Zoo.
The 159 may be on on the LaGrange line, heading east towards Cermak and Kenton.
The 111 at the Brookfield Zoo parking lot.
The 141 somewhere along the route between LaGrange and Cermak Road.
The corner of Lincoln and Blanchan in Brookfield as it looks today. This is the approximate location of image 466.
The apartment building at 9436 Lincoln in Brookfield. It can be seen in image 466 to the right of the West Towns streetcar.
This house is visible in image 466. Our approximate location is 3528 Cleveland in Brookfield.
The 141 at Cermak and Kenton, the border between Cicero and Chicago. Here riders could change to the Chicago Surface Lines route 21 streetcar for points east. In the background, we see the Western Electric plant.
Car 128 near Cermak and Kenton.
Cermak and Kenton as it looks today.
The 141 may be heading east, crossing the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem. The streetcar briefly diverted from the roadway to make this crossing.
This shows where the West Towns crossed the Illinois Central near 26th and Harlem.
Car 128 in zoo service, heading south on Woodside at 31st in Riverside. Further north, this street becomes DesPlaines Avenue.
DesPlaines and 31st as it looks today, looking north. The West Towns streetcar ran where the grassy median is today, and continued a few blocks further south, before turning west to cross the DesPlaines River and First Avenue before reaching the Brookfield Zoo.
This may be Harlem and Cermak, looking north, with the car barn to the left.
I believe this view looks to the northeast along Woodside in Riverside, between 26th and 31st.
The 141 heading west, crossing Salt Creek.
An aerial view showing where the West Towns crossed the DesPlaines River (just north of Park Place).
30 thoughts on “West Towns Streetcars in Color”
The top photo is in La Grange, where the line crossed the Indiana Harbor Belt. The photographer is facing NE, and the line is curving across the IHB, soon to run in center reservation down Oak in La Grange Park and then Lincoln in Brookfield.
Great job on this!
The home under construction farthest North, is 617 Beach Ave., purchased in about 1948 by the Maddox family who raised five sons there.
Sorry, that’s a WB car, soon to run south along the IHB to downtown La Grange.
The bottom photo shows a WB car crossing Salt Creek, not the Des Plaines River. This is just east of the intersection of Monroe and Prairie in Brookfield. The cement footings for this bridge still stand. You can tell this is Salt Creek because this bridge was curved and shorter. The bridge across the Des Plaines was long and straight.
Sorry for the numerous posts here… The 2nd to last pic is SB on Harlem Ave, south of 22nd St.
The one south of the zoo lot photo looks to be an EB car along Lincoln in Brookfield.
Sorry–that’s a WB car on Lincoln in Brookfield.
The photographer is standing on the corner of Lincoln and Blanchan. The Apartment building to the right of the trolley is 9436 Lincoln. The houses to the left are on Cleveland.
The top picture shows the 141 crossing the IHB tracks at Oak Street in LaGrange Park. The car is headed westbound, the train is southbound, possibly entering the sidings that are just south of Oak. The Trolley turned south and paralleled the IHB down to the CB&Q tracks where it turned west along Hillgrove. The home under construction in the background is the second or third house north of Oak on the west side of Beach. You can see it today on Google StreetView.
Never rode the system and only have read about it in my CERA book. This has been a great insight to this little known, to many of us, system. It gives a great meaning to the railfan/s among us. Many thanks for sharing.
2nd streetcar pic at top: The building on the NW corner of Harlem and Cermak was not the carbarn. I can’t remember what it was. A power station? The carbarn was a little bit further north of Cermak on the west side of Harlem. This shot is looking west. Car 112 is turning off of Harlem and about to be EB on Cermak.
3rd picture (the caption says 141, but it’s car 111): Definitely WB at 1st Ave.
4th picture: Car 159 is EB. I believe this shot is between Salt Creek and the zoo stop because of the fence on the right side of the shot. It’s also possible that this was between the zoo stop and 1st Ave. I’m not sure.
9th streetcar picture shows 141 EB crossing the IC. Note that to the right of the IC’s Harlem Branch spur, there is a C&WT spur buried in the weeds with overhead strung. I believe this went to a location that sold fresh flowers.
The 11th streetcar picture shows 112 crossing Cermak SB on Harlem. This car is likely to be just entering service, as it is not turning off of Cermak. The C&WT carbarn (aka Siberia) is seen behind the car on the right.
I’ve corrected the car number error, thanks.
I remember as a kid in the 1950s my dad telling me that that building on the corner was indeed the old power station. He said there was a cooling pond behind it that he and friends use to swim in because the water was warm from cooling the generators (or whatever it was that needed cooling in the building).
[…] ran a color feature on the West Towns sometime back (February 10) and here are several more classic C&WT shots in […]
I remember vividly the thrill of taking the streetcar with my mother from 22nd & Laramie to Eight Corners in Brookfield every day during Sept and Oct 1944, my first days in Kintergarten at Gross School. Our Brookfield house wasn’t ready for us until Nov so it was an exciting two month commute from Cicero for me.
Thanks for sharing that.
[…] photo has been added to our post West Towns Streetcars in Color (February 10, […]
[…] Dodger, or to the CERA Members’ Blog. In particular, a few pictures were used from our post West Towns Streetcars in Color (February 10, 2015). Also in the West Towns segment of this piece, were several photos that I took […]
This is way off the topic, but anyone have a link to an authoritative source regarding the issue dates of some West Towns transfers I have?? There are rather large numerals “22” and “23” superimposed on the body of transfer which shows direction of travel, month, route etc but no date or day of week!! If I had day of week and date could look at calendar and approximate year. Thanks.
I am a little confused about how the West Towns crossed the Illinois Central at Parkway. In the photo there is a switch track which I presume is the Forest Park Branch Line that used to run through North Riverside Mall. The streetcar is crossing at the same angle 26th street follows now. Parkway was a private right-of-way away from 26th. The Google Earth photo appears to be facing in the opposite direction. Did the ROW cross over 26th from one side to the other? I’d be interested to find out. Would a satellite view with an overlay of the line be possible? Thanks.
Glad you like it!
The streetcars were gone before I was born, but, as a kid, my Dad talked about the line. I remember the old generator building and the guy selling flowers on the corner. I visited the old train barn on my bike just before it was knocked down. My friend and I got inside and we had one last look. When I was very young, I bounced my bike across the old ties that remained in the middle of Harlem Avenue. The old rails use to show in Des Plaines Avenue where the line turned west to go over the river. Even though the line was long gone before I was born, the old street car line line lives on through these pictures and brings it back to life.
So, the two old shelters at Harlem and 26th and Des Plaines Avenue just south of 26th Street – They have been there all my life (I am 65). Are they original shelters from the La Grange Line?
A friend says they are reproductions, but I can try to double-check that, thanks.
Hey, I’m writing a novel and have my character commuting on the C&WT from La Grange to the Hawthorne Works in 1922-23. Some details are hard to find. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out how the cars got turned around at the end of the line (Hillgrove and Brainard in LG). Was there a turntable or something there? Also I’m unclear on what bridge they crossed the Des Plaines River. 31st Street? Thanks.
These were double-ended cars, so they didn’t need a loop… they simply changed ends. The line to LaGrange had its own bridge over the DesPlaines River. This was straight east from the area in the south parking lot of the Brookfield Zoo where the streetcar line stopped. The line was on private right of way through the Forest Preserves. After crossing the river, the line passed some apartments on Park Place before turning north on Woodside (aka DesPlaines Avenue) to 26th Street. From there, it went east to Harlem Avenue, then onto 22nd Street (Cermak).
Thank you so much. One last question: I think I can see on a google satellite image where it crossed Salt Creek at Monroe. (I once kayaked Salt Creek and it’s crazy how the history is accidentally preserved by failure to remove so many old dams and bridge piers!) Between Salt Creek and the zoo entrance, did it follow Rockefeller or did it go northeast through the forest preserve where you can see a power line right-of-way on the satellite view? Other than this, I think I’ve got the path figured out. Thanks again!
I took a picture from an old street map for you, showing the path the streetcar took: https://thetrolleydodger.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/20211104_215845.jpg
It might also be useful for you to purchase the two books that have been published about the Chicago & West Towns, which you can find on the used market: Chicago & West Towns Railways by Robert W. Gibson, published in 1952 by the Electric Railway Historical Society, and another book by the same name published by Central Electric Railfans’ Association in 2006, written by James J. Buckley.
Thank you so much and thanks for keeping the history alive! I will check out the book — looks like Brookfield Public Library has it.