Backstory and Context
The Lisle Depot
The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (the Burlington, or the Q) was established in 1856 from the original Chicago-Aurora Line railroad. A depot station was built in Lisle in to transport locally produced agricultural products to the relatively new city of Chicago. The first train through Lisle Station was May 20, 1864. Almost 10 years later, a spark from a train passing through caused a fire and the building was destroyed. The Burlington completed this building in 1874. It served as the railway station in Lisle for over a hundred years, transporting people and goods to and from Lisle.
In the 1970s, the Burlington started planning to build a new station. Local residents began raising awareness of this building’s historical significance and gathered support for saving the structure. A partnership between the Lisle Heritage Society, Lisle Park District, and Village of Lisle worked with the Burlington to move the building and turn it into a museum. On October 14, 1978, it was moved to its current location and was opened to the public for tours in 1984.
Built to Ship
The 19th century invention of the railroad allowed for large quantities of goods and freight to be sent over long distances. Building rails, trains, and cars was very expensive and many large projects failed early in their development. Smaller rail lines were built throughout the country and later connected by junctions or business mergers. These large systems linked communities of all sizes and encouraged regional commerce. In Lisle, farmers produced large amounts of raw milk, hogs, wool from sheep, peony flowers, and more that were sent to Chicago. Individuals sent and received packages to and from their family members who lived or went to school in other towns. Local business owners purchased goods from businesses outside of Lisle and had them shipped to the Depot. People paid shipping fees to send items by rail and picked up items delivered by train.
This is the Lisle Depot’s original Waiting Room. Railroads were initially used to transport goods and freight, not people. This room only would have needed to hold a few people at a time, mostly those who chose to escort their items during shipment to make sure they were secured and sold at market for the correct price. A standard issue potbelly-style stove sat in the center of the room and was likely smaller than the model you see on display now. Passenger travel became more common in the early 20th century as railroad technology became more affordable and comfortable. People were able to live in areas like Lisle that surrounded urban centers and take the train each day to the city for work or business. In the 1970s, the living quarters on the other side of the building was turned into a waiting room to accommodate the growing need for affordable transportation. Museum volunteers restored the Waiting Room to appear as it originally did. It looked like this well into the 1930s until the Burlington renovated it.
Layers of Change
The Burlington Railroad made indoor and outdoor renovations to the Lisle Depot over the years. Rooms were changed based on the needs of staff, patrons, and families living here. Over the years, the Burlington added drop ceilings, covered up the original flooring with tile, and put a layer of Stucco on the exterior walls. Electricity was installed in the 1940s and running water in 1966. Families continued to use coal and gas for heating as well as the outdoor hand powered water pump and outhouse for decades.
Most of the Burlington’s renovations were placed on top of existing work, so much of the wood in the flooring, walls, and ceiling you see are original to this building. During the museum restoration process in the 1980s, volunteers removed layers of materials to reveal original 19th century build materials. Some structures in this building were recreated by volunteers because the Burlington had the originals removed to make room for modern bathrooms and more.
The floor in the Waiting Room is mostly original to 1874, and if you look closely at the wood you can see nail holes and event coal burned into it. The ticket bench and cage were reconstructed by a carpenter based on clues located on the walls and ceiling. The wall separating the Waiting Room and Baggage Room, flooring in the Baggage Room, second floor and basement stairs, and some other interior structures were rebuilt using reclaimed local wood. The Baggage Room doors are both original, with some worker signs from early 20th century still visible and hanging in position.
Many of the artifacts in this building were from various stations and trains along the Burlington. Standard issue railroad items used were stamped with each company’s letters or logo. This can help determine where each artifact was used. The stoves in the Waiting Room and Kitchen are probably larger than the type that would have been used on the Burlington. The painted floor sorting box and yellow painted Y-shaped train order holder were recovered from the Lisle Depot in 1978 when it became a museum and are original to this building.
The station master was the only railroad worker located in the Lisle Depot, they completed all kinds of transactions in the depot and acted as the representative for all actions here. Individuals and families purchased train tickets to move or vacation to see other parts of the country. Letters were sent through the United States Postal Service on train cars throughout the region and the country. Packages were sent to friends and family using the Railway Express Agency (REA). Businesses and individuals purchased money orders from the station agent to buy items for their stocks or even send money to children away at school.
The Burlington had replaced the original ticket bench and cage with other office structures by the time this building was received as a museum. Volunteers looked at evidence on the walls for original spacing and attachments, then had a carpenter replicate the original ticket cage and doorway.
This was the main work space for the station’s manager and only worker, called the Station Master or Agent. The space features a bench for completing transactions at the ticket window with a Railway Express Agency (REA) branded scale for weighing express mail packages. The Burlington supplied a case for filing blank copies of tickets for passenger trips, sending freight, and more. The work desk area was used for completing paperwork, telegram messages from the railroad superintendent for the station and incoming trains, and a large bay window to monitor the tracks. Many of the items the station master needed or requested from the railroad were stored here, from work items like lamps to typewriter to forms.The ticket office here is organized as it would have been during the late 19th century and early 20th century before the Burlington began its first round of major renovations.
The Stationmaster (Station Agent)
The main manager of a Burlington Railroad station was referred to as the stationmaster or the station agent. They were in charge of keeping the station clean, orderly, and comfortable for all station patrons. Locals were able to rent spaces adjacent to the railroad for living and working, and the station master acted as their landlord on behalf of the Burlington. Railroad workers on incoming and outgoing trains understood that the station master was the ranking staffer when entering the depot area and received orders from them. As trains entered Lisle, the station master accounted for freight, baggage, and mail to be picked up by Lisle residents. They made sure that outgoing items were put onto the proper trains to arrive at their correct destinations. Accounting and log books were kept meticulously to track the station’s activity.
A Fixture of the Community
Although the station agent was a middle class railroad worker, they were considered a prestigious and important person in the local community. They provided many types of services for the resident families and businesses in Lisle. Lisle’s farmers relied on the station agent to pay them for the gallons of milk they shipped by train to Chicago each morning. Local businesses purchased money orders for food and supplies to be shipped into Lisle. Livestock animals like hogs and sheep were counted and shipped on consignment to places like the Union Stockyards in Chicago.
The station agent worked with local farmers shipping their products out of Lisle by weighing milk cans, counting livestock, and writing consignment agreements and receipts among other tasks. The Burlington shipped goods on consignment on behalf of local people, so the station master collected shipping fees just like a modern shipping service does. Some people and businesses purchased verified money orders from the station agent to send money securely or buy goods from other businesses along the Burlington. One popular business was the Aurora Brewing Company.
When Lisle’s post office was located in the depot, the station master received incoming letters and packages from a train’s mail sorting car. Lisle residents picked up their mail from the ticket window. After the post office was moved to other buildings in town, railroad mail cars continued to drop off mail at the depot. Each day, the station master was responsible for hand delivering incoming mail bags to the local post office and bringing back any letters that needed to be mailed on the next train.
The daily milk train arrived in Lisle first thing each morning. The station fired up the Waiting Room stove, opening the building, and stood ready on the platform to receive the dairy goods being shipped from Lisle that day. Others arrived throughout the day to talk to the station master about sending and receiving packages, getting the daily train schedules, shipping hogs or sheep on consignment to the stockyards in Chicago
Known Lisle Stationmasters and Agents
Charles Shoger began working as the Station Agent in the Lisle Depot in 1894 after he was injured while working for the Burlington. He and his wife, Caroline moved into the Depot just before the birth of their first born child, Olive. According to the museum’s research into money order booklets and other artifacts, it appears that Olive and second born, Esther, were helping their father to run a newspaper distribution business in the Depot as early as 1903. The Shogers moved out of the Depot and into an apartment down the street as their family continued to grow. Charles worked as the Lisle Station Agent until 1934.
In 1939, Ralph Scroggins became the first Station Agent to live in the Depot since the Shogers. This apartment had been vacant since the Shogers moved out. Ralph identified some concerns and petitioned the Burlington to make renovations to the apartment, including a new outhouse and gas line to supplement the coal heating and cooking stoves.
The museum is continuing to research the lives the station agents and families that lived here.
Station Master to Postmaster
The United States Postal Service upgraded their delivery service during the 19th century by using railroads to more effectively send mail. Trains were outfitted with mail cars and workers who were responsible for sorting mail by towns along the train’s route. The Lisle Post Office was located inside the Depot from 1874 to 1885. The Lisle Station Master was the acting local postmaster responsible for sorting mail for Lisle residents to pick up at the station. After the Lisle Post Office was moved out of the Depot, the station master continued to walk to the post office each day to deliver bundles of mail from incoming trains and pick up mail for the train to deliver out from Lisle. This was the normal routine until Lisle instituted a local mail delivery service.
The mail post outside on the Depot platform was used to hang bags full of mail going out from Lisle. Train workers in the waycar’s top cupola section would scoop up the bag while the train was leaving Lisle. Incoming mail was delivered by dropping it off of the mail car onto the platform with other incoming package. The mail post currently located at the Depot is a replica of the original Lisle mail post.
This large room was used as a temporary holding room for things being shipped into and out of Lisle. Its main features are the two large baggage doors located on either side of the room. These doors hang on roller tracks at the top and can be moved sideways to create wide openings to the front and back platforms. These openings are large enough to fit a rolling baggage cart inside carrying passengers’ trunks. Baggagemen and the Lisle Station Agent were responsible for moving incoming and outgoing items from one platform to another through these openings.
Local people dropped off their items onto the front or back platforms and paid the station master. Baggagemen working on incoming trains unloaded the items shipped into Lisle by dropping them onto the platform and Baggage Room. They then moved the items left by locals from the platform onto the proper train cars to be shipped out for departure.
Large and busy stations typically employed more staff to do the various tasks in the Depot while the station master acted as a supervisor. Although Lisle was a busy train stop, the station master was the only employee working in the Lisle Depot for most of its history. Once incoming items were on the platform and in the Baggage Room, the station agent sorted through them and brought them out to people picking them up.
Most of the walls here are original. The wall between this room and the Waiting Room was removed by the Burlington to create modern bathrooms for the station. Lisle Heritage Society volunteers reconstructed this wall using wood from a Lisle business during museum restoration. Reclaimed barn planks cover the floor and the wall between this room and the apartment. The baggage doors are original to the building. You’ll notice a few Burlington informational and safety signs from the early 20th century still hanging on one of the doors and under plastic for protection.
Apartment Living Quarters
Many Burlington Railroad train depots contained a one-floor apartment for the station master’s family or others to rent. When the Lisle Depot was rebuilt in 1874, it was outfitted with a two-story apartment, which was relatively luxurious and uncommon.
This spacious setup included:
- Formal parlor room for entertaining guests
- Kitchen for cooking and eating
- Standard railroad issue coal heating and cooking stoves, gas lines added later
- Pantry for food storage with access to a cellar
- Two full bedrooms upstairs
- Upstairs side storage and playroom
- Hand powered water pump outside of kitchen
- Outhouse with two seats
Families and individuals lived in this apartment on and off for over 80 years. The Burlington turned the original living quarters into a second waiting area in the 1970s. Lisle Heritage Society volunteers restored the space back to its original apartment configuration after it became a museum.
Formal parlors were very common in the front areas of houses during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This type of space was used only for hosting guests and for special family events – children were not permitted to play in this type of space. The practice of formal parlor entertainment became less common as the 20th century progressed. Later families living in the Depot used this parlor as a living room for casual family time. Photos of these families show couches, rocking chairs, toys, holiday decorations, and family members of all ages spending time.
This museum space shows furnishings typical of the 1910s-1920s. Some highlighted features here include a fine china cabinet, yellow loveseat-style sofa, “crazy quilt” style blanket made from various colorful material pieces, oak Morris Chair with tiny red flowers for reclining, secretary’s rolltop desk with sets of books and encyclopedias, and a modest potbelly style coal stove. One personal account from someone who lived in the Depot recalls a piano and pet bird in this space.
The pantry was used for bulk food storage. Families could buy food ingredients and store cooked meals in ceramic crocks like the ones you see here. The Depot’s current basement was added when the building became a museum in the 1980s, but this doorway used to lead to the apartment’s cellar. Temperatures underground are much cooler and more stable than temperatures on the surface, so foods could be stored without spoiling much longer than in the pantry. It was commonplace to chop blocks of ice in the winter months and bring them into cellar spaces to further chill foods. These food safety methods helped prevent more sensitive and wet food items from spoiling before electricity and refrigeration was installed in the Depot.
This common area was used for daily activities such as food preparation, family meal time, and even completing homework. The back door led outside to access the hand-powered water pump to the right and the outhouse to the left. The outhouse was shared with everyone at the station: the family used one side of the outhouse while the station patrons and passengers used the other side. The original outhouse was replaced in 1939 with another outhouse and used until running water was installed in the 1960s.
This museum space shows typical late 19th century furnishings. The coal stove shown here is a bit ornate and not a typical Burlington potbelly style, but the family living in the Depot may have been able to afford their own stove. A dry sink, like the one below, was used before running water was installed in the building. Members of the household fetched water from the outdoor hand pump using a bucket, then poured the water in a removable wash basin on the top of the sink to use for washing and cooking. Used water was dumped outside, sometimes into garden spaces to water plants. The cabinet spaces underneath were used to store utensils, bowls, and more.
Living in the Depot
The Burlington offered the apartment living quarters to the station masters and their families for a reduced rent. There were times, however, when Lisle Station Agents chose not to live in the Depot so another family could apply to rent the Depot apartment. The Burlington typically offered a reduced or discounted monthly lease rate and asked the tenant family to maintain the Depot apartment as well as the public station spaces and outdoor grounds. These “Custodians” were responsible for sweeping the floors, lighting the coal stove in the Waiting Room each morning, mowing the grass, and other related tasks. Some even had to buy their own coal from the Burlington to heat the apartment. A few Custodians worked other jobs for the Burlington while others were local Lisle residents.
We have some lease documents from various years detailing who rented the Depot’s indoor and outdoor areas. In addition, we have a few personal accounts from people who remember living in the Depot or visiting friends who lived here. The museum is actively researching the information in these accounts to complete our understanding of the Depot’s stories.
The hallway alcove was another common area for the family’s daily activities away from the formal parlor and busy station. A parent could complete chores while monitoring the children sleeping or playing. It also provided another area for storing items away from children’s reach. Items that were commonly found in this type of space were sewing machines, potty training chairs for young children, and more.
The second floor features two full bedrooms for sleeping, clothes storage, and washing. These spaces show typical “turn-of-the-century” 1900s style furnishings. The room on the left is set for parents with a matching bed and dry sink wash cabinet as well as a crib for newborns. The room on the right is set as the children’s room to sleep all together. Featured here is a rope bed with cannonball style posts and a rope trundle bed, the precursors of the modern slat bed and boxspring also on display. Clothing was stored in trunks located in each room since closets were not very common for many working folks at this time. Chamber pots were common features since going downstairs and outside at night made using the outhouse inconvenient. Household members could use these porcelain containers to relieve themselves during the night and dump it outside in the morning.
This side room was an all-purpose type of room and used by families living in the Depot as a playroom, extra storage, or even a second bedroom for children. Ray Schmidt, the son of a Lisle Depot Custodian and first paid police officer in Lisle, writes in his memoir that he slept in this same bedroom as a child.
Toys were very practical in addition to being leisurely. Play-based learning was the prominent way that children learned household skills and social conventions. For example, tea sets taught children how to participate in adult afternoon tea times. Children sewed letters, numbers, and their names onto sampler pillows to practice their letters and learn to hand sew.
Resources collected and researched by The Museums at Lisle Station Park (MLSP) staff and volunteers