Wesley, it hasn't always looked this way

Sandy Vasko

    Those of us who live near the “town” of Ritchie have grown accustomed to the way things look now.
    Very few question the location of flood water, the placement of roads or the location of the old Wabash railroad bed now known as the Wauponsee Glacial Trail.
    Today we learn how flood waters, a railroad and an opportunistic town board created what we see now.
    Before 1880 and the coming of the railroad Forked Creek had a natural way of moving flood waters. During times of heavy rains a small branch of water left the Creek and found its own way back. This path of least resistance was called Dry Run Creek.
    In 1880 the Wabash built the railroad into Ritchie, but without much forethought as to drainage, infrastructure, etc. In fact, they built the railroad bed at ground level except where it crossed the bed of Dry Run Creek.
    There the bed was raised to the level of the banks of Dry Run. It was built without a culvert to allow the flood waters to pass beneath.
    Of course, that caused problems. We read on Feb. 23, 1883, “Dry Run has been on the rampage for four or five days, it being impossible to cross it for that number of days on account of the ice gorging against the railroad bank.”
    That wasn't the only problem. The trains crossed what is now Route 102 and blocked the roadway for hours. We read on Aug. 11, 1882, “Some of our subscribers residing at Ritchie station think it high time for the highway commissioners to see that the railroad officials pay some degree of respect to the rights of citizens at the railroad crossing in Ritchie.”  
    “It is alleged that trains are often allowed to obstruct the crossing for half an hour at a time, much to the annoyance of teamsters. If remonstrance is made to the train men, the answer is only profanity and abuse.  We are told that 10 minutes is the outside limit of time allowed by law for the obstruction of any highway by railroad trains.”
    These problems continued until 1904 when the Wabash took steps to solve the problem. They moved the entire roadbed north and elevated it from the banks of the Kankakee to east of Forked Creek. This is the roadbed that we see now going over 102.
    The railroad also moved the station out of Ritchie. We read on Feb. 10, 1905, “The Wabash Railroad Company will on April 1st move their depot from Ritchie to a point about two miles north, near John Linton's.  The new station will be known as North Ritchie. The building of a new grain elevator and other new buildings will be commenced in the spring.”
    This certainly was a blow to the small little hamlet of Ritchie. We read on Nov. 24, 1905, “Ritchie, the first station on the Wabash south of Symerton, has no postmaster. Fred Loudon resigned some time ago, his tenure of office to expire Oct. 1. Owing to the fact that the grain elevator and railway station have been moved to the new station on the Linton farm, the job of postmaster is an empty honor and nobody will take the position vacated by Mr. Loudon. It is presumed that the business interests of Ritchie will find headquarters at the new location on the Wabash railway.”
    And, of course that is exactly what happened. But the Township of Wesley decided to make lemonade out of lemons.
    They appropriated the elevated portion of the old railroad bed that ran through Dry Run Creek and turned it into a road, what we now know as portions of Wesley Lane and Wesley Road. Of course they installed a culvert, and have been replacing culverts there ever since.   
    And what of Dry Run Creek? It still runs, lately almost all the time. We fondly call the part of it near the grain elevator Lake Ritchie.
    For further proof of the old railroad bed, if you walk south along Forked Creek just opposite from the Wesley Church you can still see the limestone pillars that used to support the old bed that ran south of the present one.