DeKALB – While Joseph Glidden may have made the barbed wire a signature patent for DeKalb, he also helped the area prosper by allowing a railroad to pass through.
In 1853, Glidden allowed a railroad from the Galena and Chicago Union railroad to have the right of way through his nearly 800-acre property, said Marcia Wilson, executive director of the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center. The railroad tracks then became an important development for the burgeoning city.
"If there was a small settlement or community that had started and the railroad ended up coming up a couple of miles away, then that town died out and another town grew up around the railroad," Wilson said. "Glidden knew the importance."
As part of the 200th anniversary of Glidden's birth, the Joseph F. Glidden Homestead and Historical Center is holding a series of programs on the railroads in the DeKalb and greater Illinois area. The center displayed a model steam HO train from the early 20th century, along with educational videos and appearances from railroad enthusiasts.
"I think there a lot of railroad buffs of all ages in the area," Wilson said.
The railroad became a way for farmers to send their crops and merchandise to Chicago, Wilson said. Soon, the railroad became a customer of Glidden by using barbed wire wire for fencing. The fencing would mainly be used to block wandering livestock.
"There was a real problem with animals roaming the tracks," Wilson said.
One enthusiast who was at the event Sunday was Rich DeMink from Downers Grove. DeMink is the husband of Sarah Glidden DeMink, who is the great-grandniece of Joseph Glidden. DeMink has worked in the railroad industry for nearly 30 years and retired in 2001 after working for Amtrak.
The railroad that Glidden allowed to pass through his property was the first railroad west of Chicago, DeMink said. As far as DeMink knew, Glidden donated the land.
The railroad industry has changed a lot since the late 19th century, DeMink said. The carrying capacity of trains have increased and trains can travel at 90 miles per hour instead of 12 miles per hour. The railroad industry now accounts for about 15 percent of interstate traffic, he said.
"It's like going from a World War I biplane to a Boeing 777," he said.
For the next presentation July 28, railroad music from the band Mike and the 3Ds will be played from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. A video on the founding of the railroad also will be shown at 1 and 2:30 p.m.