Niles - A Transportation Center

Niles - A Transportation Center (HM1AQ5)

Location: Niles, MI 49120 Berrien County
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Country: United States of America
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N 41° 50.098', W 86° 15.542'

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Opening Southwestern Michigan to the World

The St. Joseph River and the Sauk Trail (now U.S. 12) were major transportation routes for Indians, French voyagers, missionaries, military and early settlers through Niles. Nile's first railroad, the Michigan Central Railroad arrived October 1, 1848. Community leaders recognized immediately that Niles was fortunate to have one railroad but to prosper it was imperative to have a second competing railroad to lower passenger and freight fares. Niles representatives promoted the project for the second railroad. In 1871 after pledging bonds in the amount of $100,000 Niles had a second railroad, the Airline Railroad which ran from South Bend, through Niles's depot at Barron lake and on to Jackson, Michigan. Competition was not to be! The Airline was immediately leased to the Michigan Central Railroad. Individuals continued to promote a competing railroad. MANY HAD WORKED SO HARD FOR THIS JOYOUS DAY - FINALLY JUNE 29, 1882 THE ARRIVAL OF WHAT BECAME KNOWN AS THE BIG 4 RAILROAD ENDED A THIRTY-FOUR YEAR EFFORT FOR A COMPETING RAILROAD; THE FINAL PIECE OF THE "RAIL HUB". The flag draped train, whose route was northwest from Elkhart, Indiana into Niles, was greeted with a tremendous celebration. Citizens of Elkhart were aboard, coming to Niles where the train "parked" at the foot of Main Street Bridge. Festivities included a band, cannon firing, speeches, and dinner for several hundred.

THE "BIG 4" NORTH-SOUTH RAIL SERVICE AND THE MICHIGAN CENTRAL EAST-WEST RAIL SERVICE EXPLODED THE AGRICULTURAL, COMMERCIAL & INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT OF NILES. One such business was Hunter Ice that harvested ice from Barron Lake. Hunter Ice was stated to be pristine and was used exclusively on the MCRR and the Big 4. Before refrigerated rail cars farmers drove wagons over mud or plank roads to bring their fruits and produce to Niles's Michigan Central Railroad where Hunter Ice cooled the cars. Hunter Ice was replaced by the Federal Ice Company who manufactured synthetic ice whose plant was part of the MCRR Classification Yard. The Big 4 was extended to Benton Harbor in November, 1882, its northern most point enabling both manufacturers and farmers to load rail cars almost on site of their plants and farms. Cars could be pre-iced to further protect delicate seasonal crops. In 1905 Berrien County shipped a million bushels of peaches which included 266,400 bushels shipped by the Big 4! The quarter of a million bushels of peaches were brought to Niles's Big 4 yard to be shipped to markets south, east and west. The Big 4 hauled over 100 cars of seasonal fruit daily through Niles into the 1920s. As a result of Niles's transportation facilities, industry flourished with the arrival of companies like Kawneer, National Print & Engraving, Simplicity, Garden City Fan, Tyler Refrigeration, National Standard and others whose products brought Niles into national and international prominence.

(Photo Caption)
2005 "birds-eye" view of Riverfront Park, where Niles's railroad hub was once centered. Niles's railroad complex where there was only 2,800 feet between the three train depots. The red dashed line shows the original route of the Big 4 and the Skate park is now where the Big 4 Depot was located. The blue dashed line shows the original route of the Interurban. Riverfront Park converted over two miles of what was the "old" Big 4 railroad tracks along the river.
HM NumberHM1AQ5
Placed ByFort St. Joseph Historical Association
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Thursday, September 18th, 2014 at 6:04pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)16T E 561523 N 4631718
Decimal Degrees41.83496667, -86.25903333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 41° 50.098', W 86° 15.542'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds41° 50' 5.88" N, 86° 15' 32.52" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)269
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 798 Front St, Niles MI 49120, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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