New book celebrates Sycamore’s lost railroad history

Book-signing, open house planned June 8 at historic railroad depot

Clinton Cargile. Photo by Jeff Threewitt.

Clinton Cargile. Photo by Jeff Threewitt.

Every generation has its bold ideas, ideas so powerful that they can change the destiny of an entire town

Long before Northern Illinois University was a glimmer in the region’s eye, DeKalb and Sycamore were locked in a heated race over which town would bring railroad service to the county.

When DeKalb secured the railroad first, Sycamore’s leaders had a bold idea of their own. They would build a 5-mile spur line to connect their town to the main line through Cortland, thus linking Sycamore to Chicago, the expanding western frontier and the world.

That decision and the 125 years of railroad history that followed are the subject of a new book, “Five-Mile Spur Line: A Railroad History of Sycamore, Illinois,” by recent NIU graduate Clint Cargile (Spring 2014).

The book will be available to the public Sunday, June 8, during an open house at Sycamore’s historic railroad depot, now home to the DeKalb County Community Foundation, 475 DeKalb Ave. in Sycamore.

The event takes place from 1 to 4 p.m., and Cargile will be available to sign books and answer questions. Cargile will give a short talk on each half-hour beginning at 1:30 p.m. The book is available at a cost of $30, which includes sales tax. Proceeds of the sales will benefit the DeKalb County Community Foundation, Joiner History Room and Sycamore History Museum.

“I set out to write a short history of the depot building itself,” Cargile says, “but after researching its link to the Sycamore & Cortland Railroad, and then exploring the railroad’s link to the evolution of Sycamore from a small rural community to a thriving county seat, I realized it would take a whole book to do the story justice.”

Book cover of “Five-Mile Spur Line: A Railroad History of Sycamore, Illinois”Cargile recently earned his master’s degree in history with a concentration in public history from Northern Illinois University. He started researching the history of the Sycamore Depot as part of a public history internship.

“In the history department, we are focused on student career success,” says Anne Hanley, director of Graduate Studies for NIU’s History Department, “so it was exciting to see Clint’s project evolve from a one-semester public-history internship to a full-blown published book.”

“Clint’s book puts the Sycamore Depot into its historical context,” says Dan Templin, executive director of the DeKalb County Community Foundation. “Not only is this a great building, but it was such a significant part of the lives of people in the county. We’re honored to continue to play a part in the building’s story and to learn more about its rich history from the book.”

Sue Breese, director of the Joiner History Room, DeKalb County’s archives, assisted Cargile in finding historical documents throughout the process of writing the book. “There is more to history than dates and facts,” Breese says. “I was very excited to see that Clint shared the personal stories of how the railroad affected everyday life in and around Sycamore.”

Cargile worked closely with the book’s graphic designer, Steve Anderson, product manager for NIU Outreach Communications, who oversaw the book’s production.

“It was such a unique experience,” Cargile says. “Not many writers and historians get to be involved in the production end of their books. It’s great to have experts with such a wide variety of skills right here at NIU. Steve’s work really brought the stories to life.”

After June 8, copies of the book will be available for purchase at the DeKalb County Community Foundation, the Joiner History Room (in the Sycamore Public Library) and the Sycamore History Museum.

For more information, email publishing@zeamays.com.

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