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 A 21-mile recreation and nature trail in northeastern Illinois



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OPRT Time Line

Before 1600

Native Americans develop and use an extensive network of water routes for canoe travel. Two routes in the area of the OPRT include the short portage connections between the Chicago River and the Des Plaines River and the connection in Michigan and Indiana between the St. Joseph River and the Kankakee River.

Before 1600

Native Americans develop and use and extensive network of paths and trails including the Great Sauk Trail which crossed Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and provided a route from Toledo on Lake Erie to Rock Island on the Mississippi. The Sauk Trail skirted the southern edge of Lake Michigan and closely paralleled the route of the OPRT. The trail followed the lay of the land while the OPRT was surveyed to be a straight line without regard for terrain.


Virginia charter grants it all the land from Lake Erie to St. Louis.


Massachusetts charter gives it, "the mayne landes from the Atlantik... on the East Part, to the South Sea [the Pacific] on the West parte."


France cedes Louisiana to Spain


French explorers Marquette and Jolliet travel through the Illinois and DesPlaines river valleys


Jolliet notices that a canal could be cut from Lake Michigan to the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers because the terrain is almost flat.


Henri de Tonty, Louis Hennepin, and La Salle explore the St. Joseph, Kankakee, and DesPlaines river valleys searching for a portage to the Illinois River.

1681 to 1691

Henri de Tonty operates a trading post, Fort St. Louis, opposite Starved Rock.




French settlers travel up the Mississippi and Illinois rivers to settle at Fort St. Louis.


French settlers move south to Kaskaskia on the Mississippi river.


French cede territory between the Mississippi and the Appalachians to the British after French and Indian War


King George III of England prohibits surveys, warrants, and pass patents for land beyond the headwaters of rivers that flow to the Atlantic


The British surrender the interior country to the United States.

March 1, 1784

State of Virgina relinquishes its claims to western territory

May 20, 1785

Congress passes an ordinance for disposing of lands in the western territory. It provides for a standard survey with townships six miles square

July 13, 1787

Congress passes an ordinance describing the future government of the Northwest Territory


Anthony Wayne wins the battle of Fallen Timbers leading to the treaty of Greene Ville.


Jay treaty signed, British agree to evacuate Detroit. Treaty of San Lorenzo with the Spanish grants Americans free navigation on the Mississippi and use of New Orleans.

August 3, 1795

The Treaty of Greene Ville is signed by 80 chiefs and by Anthony Wayne. The U.S. Government gets most of Ohio and 16 strategic tracts of land including 6 square miles at the mouth of the Chicago River and forts at Peoria and the mouth of the Illinois River. The tribes are to receive $20,000 plus an annuity of $9,500 per year.

May 18, 1796

Congress passes an act for the sale of land of the United States in the territory nortwest of the River Ohio, and above the mouth of the Kentucky River. A Military Reserve was set aside for veterans while 3.5 million acres were set aside in the Western Reserve as compensation to the state of Connecticut for giving up its charter claims in the area.


the "National Road" is constructed across Ohio and Indiana.


France regains Louisana from Spain in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso. Napoleon envisioned a revived French empire in the New World, and hopes to use the Mississippi Valley as a food and trade center to supply the island of Hispaniola.


Census shows 2,458 residents in Illinois with most in villages along the Mississippi River. About 90 people were counted at Fort Massac while about 100 Frenchmen carried on a fur trade at Peoria.


Slaves under Toussaint L'Ouverture seize power in Haiti.


A large army under Napoleon's brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, invade Haiti. Despite some military success, the French lose thousands of soldiers, mainly to yellow fever, and Napoleon abandons Hispaniola.

April 30, 1803

Because of the French loss of Hispaniola and troubles in Europe they decide to sell Louisana. Jefferson negotiates the Louisiana Purchase (land west of the Mississippi) from the French for $15 million.


Fort Dearborn is constructed at the mouth of the Chicago River.


U.S. land offices are established at Kaskaskia and Vincennes. For a minimum down payment of $160 a man can purchase a section of land for $2 an acre.


Illinois is granted status as a territory of the second class, holds an election, and in October Shadrach Bond is elected at the Illinois delegate to Congress.

June 18, 1812

U.S. And England at war. It ends on December 12, 1814.


John M. Forbes is born. Future president of the Michigan Central Railroad and the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad.


Fort Dearborn rebuilt.

August 24, 1816

An Indian Land Cession along a proposed canal route between Chicago and Ottawa was secured by a treaty with the allied Tribes of Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. It was negotiated at Portage des Sioux, Missouri, in August 1816 by William Clark, Ninian Edwards, and Auguste Chouteau.


Illinois is admitted to the Union as a state.


In a report to congress, John C. Calhoun, U. S. Secretary of War, urges the construction of a canal across the Chicago portage.


The Erie Canal opens in New York State.


Congress grants alternate sections of land, in a five-mile strip along either side of the proposed canal, to the state of Illinois for the purpose of raising funds for construction.


George Stephenson's trial run of the "Rocket" on the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad is considered by many the first operating railroad.


Aaron Friend and Joseph Brown settle on Hickory Creek. First settlers in Will County.


The Illinois legislature creates a canal commission with three members. The commission lays out the towns of Ottawa and Chicago at the ends of the proposed canal route.


Chicago lots are offered at public auction.

Fall, 1830

Liverpool and Manchester Railroad establishes the world's first railway passenger service.


James M. Bucklin, Chief Engineer for the I & M Canal surveys two routes; one for the canal (estimated to cost $100,000 per mile, and one for the a railroad (estimated to cost $25,000 per mile). Bucklin urged abandonment of the canal in favor of a railroad.


Black Hawk War, the last Indian contest east of the Mississippi.


Michigan territorial legislature grants a charter to the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad to build a railroad from Port Lawrence (Toledo) to Adrian and then to a point on the Kalamazoo River.

June 29, 1832

Detroit and St. Joseph Railroad Company (D&StJRC), chartered in Michigan. It later became the Michigan Central Railroad.


Town of Chicago incorporated with 24 voters.


The National Road reaches Columbus, Ohio.


Illinois Legislature authorizes a railroad (not a canal) on the recommendation of Governor Reynolds and the I&M Canal commissioners.


Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad begins operation on first ten-mile section from Toledo with horse drawn cars.


Illinois Governor Duncan opposes the railroad plan authorized in 1833 and construction is started on the Illinois & Michigan (I&M) canal instead.


John M. Forbes returns to Boston as a wealthy young man after a stay in China. He becomes banker.


Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad extends the first ten-mile section another 23-miles to Adrian.

March 3, 1837

Chicago incorporated as a city with 4,000 residents.


A financial panic sweeps the United States.


The Illinois Legislature passes an ambitious internal improvement plan including a charter for the Northern Cross Railroad. $10 million is appropriated to build the line from Quincy through Springfield and east to the Indiana state line.

April 22, 1840

D&StJRC property and franchises revert to the State of Michigan and the Central Railroad Company of Michigan is created.


Chicago's first census shows 7,580 residents.

February 2, 1846

The Central Railroad was completed between Detroit and Kalamazoo by the State of Michigan.

Spring 1846

In Boston, John Murray Forbes joins with James Frederick Joy, and John Woods Brooks to put together a company to buy the failing Michigan railroads. Forbes prepares a report on Michigan railroad investment opportunities for eastern capitalists.

March 28, 1846

The State of Michigan passed an Act granting a special charter to The Michigan Central Railroad (MCRR) Company with John M. Forbes as President.

Summer 1846

The State of Michigan passed an Act authorizing the sale of the Central Railroad. John M. Forbes from Boston, buys it for $2,000,000.

July, 1846

The first plank road in the U.S. Opens in New York.

September 25,1846

Michigan Central Railroad Company was organized, paid the consideration and took possession of the property. Daniel Webster writes the new company's charter.


The Michigan Central Railroad was extended and operated to Niles and New Buffalo, Michigan.

Spring, 1848

The Illinois & Michigan (I&M) Canal is completed and opens.

February 12, 1849

"An Act to Construct a Plank Road from Oswego, in Kendall County, to the Indiana Line, by way of Joliet, Will County" was enacted by the Illinois General Assembly.

The Peoria and Oquawka Railroad is chartered on the same day.




The National Road reaches Vandalia, Illinois, it's western terminus.

September 1850

President Millard Fillmore signs a bill granting over two million acres of public land to aid in the construction of a north-south railroad in Illinois.


Slightly than 100 miles of railroad were in running order in Illinois at the start of 1851.

December 3, 1851

Surveys and grading begins on both ends of the Illinois Central Line from Cairo to Chicago.

May 21, 1852

The Michigan Central Railroad was extended to Kensington, Illinois and trains were run to Chicago, Illinois, over the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad from Kensington.

1852 & 1853

Forbes and his Boston associates get involved in the financing and operations other Illinois railroads in order to extend the Michigan Central on across Illinois to the Mississippi River.

May 11, 1852

Indiana Legislature approves "An Act to Provide for the Incorporation of Railroad Companies"

February 23, 1853

Indiana Legislature approves, "An act to authorize railroad companies to consolidate their stock with the stock of railroad companies in this or in an adjoining state, and to connect their roads with the roads of said companies, and to authorize railroad companies to construct their roads on the routes which they may have heretofore surveyed and located, and to use and occupy the same when completed."

March 4, 1853

Indiana Legislature passes an act to clarify the February 23, 1853 Act and assure that it applies to companies organized after, as well as before, the act was passed.

January 9, 1854

Joliet & Northern Indiana Railroad Company (J&NIRC) Incorporated, under the laws of Indiana.

February 28, 1854

Illinois Legislature approves, "An Act to Enable Railroad Companies and Plank Road Companies to Consolidate Their Stock"

June 29, 1854

J&NIRC and Oswego and Indiana Plank Road Company stockholders both pass resolutions of approval and consent to consolidate.

July 1, 1854

J&NIRC consolidated with the Oswego and Indiana Plank Road Company of Illinois

September 7, 1854

The J&NIRC is mortgaged with the New York bond firm of Julius Wadsworth and Theodore Sedgwick to raise $800,000

September 7, 1854

The J&NIRC and the Michigan Central Railroad (MCRR) sign "Articles of Agreement." The MCRR promises to provide rolling stock and to run and manage the railroad while the J&NIRC builds the 44½-mile railroad at an estimated cost of $25,000 per mile. The MCRR agrees to pay the Joliet and Northern Indiana Railroad Company $2,000 per mile per year to lease the line.

September 26, 1854

A further agreement stipulated that the MCRR had the right to use the J&NIRC name, that the MCRR would keep the J&NIRC harmless from any actions related to upkeep of the railroad fences, crossings, etc., and that the J&NIRC would not build its railroad with iron rail or chairs that were lighter than the MCRR standard.

February 14, 1855

The Chicago and Aurora Railroad changes it's name to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad Company.

May 30, 1855

Huge celebration held in Burlington, Iowa to celebrate the linking or rails across Illinois via the CB&Q and the Central Military Tract Railroad.


Joliet cutoff is used as mainline south out of Chicago until other routes are finished.

December 28, 1856

The Illinois Central Railroad is completed from Cairo to Chicago just 3 days before the legislative deadline.


A financial panic leads the U.S. Into a depression cutting commodity prices and lowering demand for railroad services.

August, 1864

The first railway postal cars are placed in service on the Chicago & North Western Railroad between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa.


The first refrigerated railroad shipment of fruit in the U.S. Is from Cobden, Illinois to Chicago, Illinois.

August 13, 1868

Railroad bridge over the Mississippi opens at Burlington.

November 9, 1868

Railroad bridge over the Mississippi at Quincy opens.

June 14, 1871

Under an agreement with the Illinois Central Railroad Company the Michigan Central Railroad Company has perpetual running rights between Kensington and Chicago.

October 1871

Chicago fire. 90,000 homeless and 7,450 buildings destroyed.


The worst financial crash to date in the U.S.


A new depot is built at Frankfort. The 1855 depot was believed to have been destroyed by fire.

May 1886

Police gunfire kills six strikers outside the McCormick Reaper Works. The next day 7 policemen were killed by a bomb thrown during a worker rally in Haymarket Square.


The Michigan Central Railroad comes under the financial control of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad but continues to operate as a separate railroad.


The World's Columbian Exposition brings millions to Chicago Midway.


Country gripped by a depression


Chicago Industrialist George Pullman cuts workers wages. Workers strike and join American Railway Union led by socialist Eugene V. Debs. President Cleveland sends in troops to break the strike.


John M. Forbes dies.




The special state charter of the MCRR was repealed by Act 2 of the Public Acts of Michigan, extra session.

December 4, 1901

At a meeting of the stockholders, the MCRR Company, subject to the provisions of Act 2, resolved to surrender its charter and to continue its incorporation under the general railroad law of Michigan.

December 30, 1901

The certificate of surrender and incorporation was filed in the office of the Secretary of State.


The Joliet and Southern Traction Company inaugurates trolley service parallel to the Joliet and Northern Indiana Railroad. The trolleys run between Joliet and Chicago Heights.


The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad consolidates with three other roads to become the New York Central System.


The Joliet cutoff had heavy freight traffic during the war interchanging with the Santa Fe, the Rock Island, and the Alton railroads in Joliet; with the Wabash at New Lenox, and the Illinois Central Railroad in Matteson.


Frankfort depot is closed


Frankfort depot is demolished.



February 1, 1968

New York Central Railroad merges with Pennsylvania Railroad to become PennCentral Railroad.

June 21, 1970

PennCentral Railroad files for bankruptcy.


Frankfort Grain Company goes out of business. Deliveries to the Frankfort Lumber Yard continue.


Without maintenance, the track deteriorated, and trains were limited to 10 miles an hour. All service was discontinued by the end of 1972.


U.S. Congress passes the Regional Rail Reorganization Act creating the Conrail System.


U.S. Congress passes the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 with provisions for technical, financial, and educational assistance to local governmental entities for ROW conversion projects.


PennCentral Railroad petitions to abandon rail operations between Chicago Heights and Joliet. All rails and some ties are sold.

April 1, 1976

The PennCentral Company's rail assets are bought by the Conrail System.


The Illinois Natural Areas Inventory brings to light the extent of original prairie remnants along the OPRT corridor.


Will County Forest Preserve District and Frankfort Park District file unsuccessfully for federal grant to use the abandoned right-of-way.

September 1980

A Penn Central sales agent contacts the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission about possible trail usage for the line from Griffith, Indiana to Joliet, Illinois.


A Trail Association is formed by a group of Park Forest citizens. Carl Glassford, a Homewood resident, is elected the first director.


CorLands (an affiliate of the Open Lands Project) is asked to prepare a joint purchase bid on behalf of various governmental agencies affected.

November 1980

The Frankfort plan commission appointed a fact finding committee to gather information on the proposed bike trail including opposition views and information on similar completed facilities.

January 26, 1981

The U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission informs the Will County Forest Preserve District that it doesn't have jurisdiction to impose "public use" conditions on the Penn Central abandonment.


The Penn Central Corporation declines an offer of $350,000 for 256½ acres. Penn Central reveals that it could not guarantee clear title.


Craig Hullinger (planning consultant) and Bob Sullivan (Orland Park) create a plan for the corridor and coin the name "Old Plank Road Trail," to replace the phrase "abandoned Penn Central Railroad ROW."


Tom Hahn, Executive Director of CorLands asks Chicago Title to do a title search. They discover that some original deeds include reverter clauses stipulating that property would revert to adjacent landowners if not used as a railroad.


The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) contracts with the Open Lands Project to work with local governmental units to create a bikeway connect with the Illinois & Michigan canal (I&M) Heritage Corridor. The state will research land titles and prepare offers to owners of record along the route (Transfers might take up to 7 years to complete). Maps, impact studies and management agreements are prepared.


The Nature Conservancy appoints George Johnson as steward to care for the prairie remnants along the OPRT ROW.

April 1, 1985

Twenty-five people attend an organizational meeting at the Thorn Creek Nature Center and vote to restart the OPRT Association.

Spring 1985

The State of Illinois completes its appraisals of the Penn Central right-of-way.

Spring 1985

OPRT Association publishes newsletter, schedules naturalist prairie walks, and advertises for volunteer stewards.

June 1985

George Johnson, OPRT steward, surveys prairie remnants along the ROW with Gerould Wilhelm of the Morton Arboretum and Steve Packard with the Illinois Nature Conservancy. Johnson says of one section, "It's an almost perfect fragment of our original mesic prairie. As a plank toll road, established at the time the area was settled, it was never plowed or grazed and; even though small, is very close to what explorers saw when they entered the territory."

October 1985

Some property owners along the proposed trail start a petition drive to "show the lack of support for the nature trail."

November 4, 1986

A Rich Township advisory referendum on the OPRT project passes with 67 percent voter approval.


A group is formed in nearby Kane County calling itself STOP, which stands for "Stop Taking Our Property." STOP is opposing condemnations of property along the Fox River by the Kane County Forest Preserve District.


Groups opposing the OPRT trail appear and formally organize.


Will County voters pass a referendum for a $50 million bond issue for forest preserve land acquisition.

February 1988

Old Plank Road Management Commission formed to develop, manage and coordinate activities of five government agencies that own portions of the trail (Park Forest, Matteson, Frankfort, Rich Township, and the Will County Forest Preserve District).


IDOT appraisal for 6-miles of ROW in Cook County is $2.5 million.


Will County appraisal for 15 miles of ROW is set at $200,000.

April 1990

CorLands offers Penn Central $350,000 for the whole property.

February 1991

Penn Central gets it's own appraisal and announces it wants $4.2 million for the property.

March 1991

CorLands offers $1.7 million to Penn Central for land.


Penn Central accepts offer of $1.7 but wants to keep air and underground rights.


CorLands offers $2 million for property including air and underground rights.

June 1991

Trail opposition group, STOP lobbies state legislature to curtail county forest preserve (FPD) district's ability to acquire land.

September 1991

Illinois Governor, Jim Edgar, moderates language and signs a compromise bill making it tougher for FPDs to acquire greenway lands.


CorLands approaches the Illinois Department of Conservation (IDOC) about possible Bikeways grants which could pay up to half of purchase price.


IDOC responds positively to OPRT idea.

Fall 1991

CorLands offers Penn Central $3.4 million contingent upon receipt of matching grant from IDOC.

January 1992

Penn Central accepts $3.4 million offer.

January 1992

OPRT Association sponsors event for state legislators.


CorLand attorneys work with Chicago Title and Trust as they do title searches to insure that reverter clauses are not a problem.

October 1992

IDOC announces approval of $1.7 million grant.

November 1992

The 20.1 miles of ROW are surveyed. Escrow accounts to hold the grant funds are setup for the 6 governmental units along railroad ROW.

December 22, 1992

CorLands bought Penn Central's 20.1 miles of ROW for $3.4 million and respective sections were sold to local governmental units.


An Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ISTEA) grant of $1,662,935 was awarded for trail development costs by IDOT.


An Illinois Department of Conservation grant of $200,000 was received from the Bikeways program.

Summer 1996

Ground broken on trail construction.

March 1997

Application made for additional 3.7 miles.

Spring 1997

First 12-miles are paved.

April 3, 1997

120-foot Corten steel bridge is installed over U.S. Route 30 to connect the OPRT to the Hickory Creek Preserve.

July 19, 1997

Old Plank Road Trail opens for use with a progressive ribbon cutting along the trail and a grand celebration in Frankfort featuring a 23-foot long cake.


Additional 1.9 mile section scheduled for acquisition.


Award winning Arrowhead Bridge is completed to carry the OPRT over U.S. Route 45.





May 2002

OPRT Web site on the Internet

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Maps | History | Nature | Events | Get Involved | Management | Links