Birth of the Illinois Traction

McKinley buys Streetcar Systems 

Just two years after pioneering inventor Frank Sprauge created in the first electrified street railway system in Richmond, Virginia, William McKinley of Champaign purchased and electrified the small horse-drawn Urbana Railway. This single line was constructed in 1863 and connected downtown Champaign and downtown Urbana. On October 25, 1900, the new electrified Urbana and Champaign Street Railway began. McKinley sold his interest to local banker B.F. Harris Jr. in 1892, but later repurchased the line in 1899 to begin a more ambitious dream of connecting distant cities across Illinois and beyond.


Champaign County Courthouse in downtown Urbana

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The Doane House in downtown Champaign

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Urbana-Champaign Street Map, 1913

His first step in achieving that dream was acquiring the Danville Street Railway and Light Company from William P. Cannon and his brother Joseph G. Cannon on July 18, 1900. A year later, McKinley purchased a franchise for the defunct Danville, Paxton, and Northern Railroad between Danville and Westville. He connected his first cities on November 19, 1901, and the Illinois Traction System was officially born.

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Champaign to Danville 

Following Danville's connection to Westville along a short line route, McKinley began to connect the first major cities of the system. The line between Danville and Champaign was officically dedicated on Wednesdady, October 7, 1903. Mayors, council members, business leaders, and special friends departed each city at 2 PM for St. Joseph. Here they assembled to celebrate the connection of the railway.

The cars then traveled east together toward the National Soldiers Home in Danville, stopping at each small town along the route. They gathered for lunch with the home's Governor, Isaac Clements. The event featured speeches, entertainment, and special band performances.