From the River to the Rails by Dave Petri

In the mid 1800s, railroads were soon to replace river travel that had until that time, been the best mode of travel. In 1850 it was announced that Senator Stephen Douglas had persuaded Congress to grant 4,000 square miles of land in Illinois for a railroad that would be built connecting Chicago with Centralia. Shortly thereafter, construction had started in earnest on the Illinois Central line. The first building constructed in Okaw was the Illinois Central Depot constructed on the west side of the tracks in 1853-54. Later, in 1855, the Illinois Central Railroad surveyed and plotted a tract of land along both sides of the newly completed rail line in order to build the town of Okaw. After applying for a post office, railroad officials were surprised to hear that the state of Illinois already had a town named Okaw, so a new name had to be found. After asking for suggestions for the new name of the town, James Kearney, a local citizen, proposed that the new city be called Arcola, and so the railroad town of Okaw became the city today known as Arcola.

A tiny town was located along the banks of the Kaskaskia River, called “Kawkaw” by the Indians, 4 miles west of the railroad. Business boomed in Arcola and in 1853-54 a Depot was built on the new line to serve the community. In the winter of 1854-55 the residents of Bagdad loaded the entire town, buildings and all, on wooden sleds and moved the entire settlement, except for a brick factory, from the river to the new railroad. The original depot was later lost in a fire in 1882, but was soon replaced by a new brick Depot on the east side of the tracks where it still stands today and serves as the communities Tourism Information Center.

A native of Wisconsin, Dave Petri has operated Flying Peach Custom in Green Bay. Dave is a veteran painter with 20 years experience in painting murals and was the event coordinator for the Walldog Wave meet held in Algoma, WI in 2007. While his formal education is in Communication Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Dave’s interest is with American History and the preservation of historical information. Dave was a natural pick to serve as the project leader for the River to the Rails mural.