The Rapid Rise of Railroads
Southern Michigan’s population was steadily increasing in the early nineteenth-century, as easterners purchased land in hopes that it could be profitably resold. Encouraged by eastern land speculators, Michigan legislators in 1836 began funding the construction of three railroads which would cross the state, the Michigan Northern, Michigan Central, and Michigan Southern. The Michigan Central began in Detroit in 1837 and was eventually to connect to Chicago. The line arrived in Kalamazoo in 1846 to great fanfare. In that same year the state of Michigan, struggling to fund further rail construction, sold the Michigan Central for $2 million to Boston investors. The now privately owned Michigan Central Railroad completed a line from Kalamazoo to Chicago in 1850, and Kalamazoo quickly became the transshipment point for surrounding villages and rural areas seeking access to Chicago or Detroit. A second railroad, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern reached Kalamazoo in 1867, connecting it to Schoolcraft, Three Rivers, and the Michigan Southern line.
Encouraged by the state of Michigan and the federal government through land grants, a number of private firms began constructing railroads in Southwest Michigan. Kalamazoo’s rail connections steadily grew between 1870 and 1900. The Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad Company, funded by investors seeking access to northern timber, connected Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids and Mackinaw City by 1882. Equally desirable to Kalamazoo businessmen was access to a Lake Michigan port; hence, the Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad Company connected Kalamazoo to Lake Michigan in 1870. By the latter part of the nineteenth century, no town equivalent in size was handling as much freight as Kalamazoo.
Though these early railroad connections were usually conceived by Kalamazoo businessmen, they were owned by outside investors. The first locally financed railroad began operations in 1889 as the Chicago, Kalamazoo, and Saginaw Railway. Traveling northeast and connecting to the Pere Marquette Railroad in Woodbury, the line received most of its income by providing passenger service for the numerous resort communities it traveled through.