Chicago and North Western Depot

Also known as: Sycamore Cortland & Chicago Railway Depot, Northern Illinois Railroad Depot, ITT - Holub Industries Warehouse
Sacramento and DeKalb Sts., Sycamore, Illinois

Best known to most today as the old Chicago & North Western Railroad Depot in Sycamore, IL.


C & NW Depot in Sycamore IL

Today it is best known as the old Chicago & Northwestern railroad depot but that wasn't always the case. The railroad was built in 1859 by the people of Sycamore to connect with the C & NW at Cortland IL a few miles south of here. The railroad line was known as the Sycamore, Cortland & Chicago Railroad. A wooden depot was built at that time but but apparently unsatisfied with it, they replaced it with this one in 1880.

Photo taken by Wayne DeMunn November 30, 2013




According to some sources, the actual name of the railroad that this depot came to be known by, was named was the "Chicago and North Western Transportation Company" though it can also be found in many historical documents as the Chicago & North Western Railway. Other names, or aliases: The North Western, CNW, C & NW, C&NW.

In the Essay section of this page sourced from the Sycamore City Council history of the railroad and depot, a bit of history was overlooked. The C & NW probably did purchase the Sycamore, Cortland & Chicago railway in 1883, but some of the info on the line from Spring Valley, IL to Belvidere is slightly inaccurate.

In a confusing bit of history, the C & NW built the line from Spring Valley IL to Belvidere IL but officially it was known and operated as the Northern Illinois Railroad, at least for the first few years. The line was built presumably for the coal barons of Spring Valley, IL from Spring Valley, through DeKalb and Sycamore to Belvidere. The total distance of approximately 70 miles from end to end was built entirely during the year of 1885.

According to a history of the line published in the DeKalb Centennial in 1956, the Chicago & North Western Railroad took over the Northern Illinois Railroad on June 9, 1888. Even so, the C & NW operated it as a branch line or subsidiary under the name of Northern Illinois line for many years after they took it over. The C & NW owned it but the ticket schedules were advertised in the paper under the name Northern Illinois line.


From the Sycamore City Council regarding proposed restoration in 2010.

The present Depot was completed in 1880 and replaced a smaller wooden depot completed in 1859. Initially, the present Depot served the Sycamore, Cortland & Chicago Railroad which was for a time managed by Chauncey Ellwood, a Sycamore lawyer and stockholder. Mr. Ellwood organized local funds to replace the lineís original engine with a new Baldwin in 1875.

The present Depot was built in an Italianate style that was popular in Sycamore in the late nineteenth century. It was finished with brick pilasters, a string course of stone beneath the second floor windows, and segmental arches over the windows and doors to dress out what was
actually a very utilitarian building. The headhouse was approximately 36 feet by 35 feet and included a large waiting room and ticket office on the first floor, and four offices on the second floor. The rear freight room had freight doors on the west and north end and is about 33 feet by
72 feet in dimension, featuring massive wood beams and hand-hewn rafters supporting the roof.

The Chicago & North Western Railroad purchased the SC&C Railroad in 1883 to get a right-of-way through Sycamore and its agricultural market. It also connected northern Illinois with coal PITS (mines) in Spring Valley, about 55 miles south of Sycamore. In time, the new mainline passing on the west side of the Depot connected Spring Valley with Belvidere and industrial centers in southern Wisconsin, avoiding the rail congestion closer to Chicago.

The Depot underwent some modernizing and remodeling in the decades that followed, including the installation of menís and womenís toilets on the first floor, and a separate smoking area. Electricity replaced the original kerosene lamps and a wooden extension was added to the north end of the brick freight room. The last through passenger train stopped at the Depot in January 1931, but a short run between Sycamore and DeKalb remained in service until 1937. For a brief period, the Depot was used as the Sycamore bus station. In 1942, the extension from Sycamore to Belvidere was abandoned, and in 1963 the C&NW sold the Depot to a local lumber dealer and the wooden freight extension was demolished.

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on December 8, 1978
Reference number
NR name
Chicago and Northwestern Depot
Architectural style
Victorian: Italianate
Area of significance
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Historic function
Current function
Period of significance
Significant year
ca. 1865

Update Log 

  • April 9, 2018: Updated by Wayne DeMunn: Added Northern Illinois Railroad history to description.
  • April 8, 2018: Updated by Wayne DeMunn: Alternate names added, minor changes to discription
  • October 24, 2014: Updated by Wayne DeMunn: Explenation of the railroads name.
  • October 8, 2014: New photo from Wayne DeMunn
  • October 7, 2014: Essay added by Wayne DeMunn
  • October 7, 2014: Updated by Wayne DeMunn: Correct text in photo description, add known year built.
  • October 7, 2014: New photo from Wayne DeMunn