Lead Us Not Into Temptation
This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
When the Reverend George Gale and his followers built their Eden on the Illinois prairie in 1836 as a place to train poor young men for the ministry, they took every precaution to keep the devil outside the gates. Unfortunately, this time the devil chose a much more devious disguise than a serpent. He called himself "Chicago."
At first, things went well for the little community of 232 visionary Yankees. Log cabins gave way to a handsome community of five hundred acres surrounded by small farms. Barter and cooperation took the place of money. Social activities such as corn husking, apple-paring, logrolling, and house raising combined work and play.
But in 1849, the town fathers watched as the tracks of the Peoria and Oquawka Railroad bypassed Galesburg on the north and on the south. Galesburg decided it must have a train of its own, to keep up with the times. Galesburg investors wheeled and dealed, they built tracks out to existing ones, they combined several small railroads, and by 1854, a new, large rail company, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy, was headquartered in Galesburg.
The railroad seemed to make Galesburg an even more prosperous Eden. The route to Chicago opened up a large market for farm produce and manufactured goods. Soon, the streets were lit by 135 gas lights. Reservoirs replaced cisterns, piping water to homes and fire hydrants. A municipal library was erected, along with an outstanding educational system.
Too late, the Eden on the prairie realized that the traffic with Chicago was two-way. From Chicago came hundreds of new immigrants, many of them laboring class, 3,000 of them Swedes who soon took over the Yankee town. New ideas came in by rail with these immigrants; strikes, communists, fiery anti-monopolists, speculators, agitators, railroad police. By 1888, strikes in Galesburg amounted to civil war, pitting citizen against citizen.
The railroad made it difficult for small family farms to compete against the giant farming operations needed to pay exorbitant rail shipping rates, and there went the husking bees and the house raisings. Corn and hogs replaced vegetables and other produce.
Galesburg has since recovered somewhat from that first shock, but the Reverend Gale's dreams were gone. The devil is a fast learner. This time, he didn't stop with an apple.
Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.