Railroads have served an important purpose in this country and have been known to make or break opportunities for communities based upon track locations by the railroad companies. Westmont, Illinois is no exception to this rule. The Burlington Northern (BN) Railroad (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe -BNSF) has been a great benefit to the community. In the early days of the community the railroad brought new residents to the area where they constructed their new homes while continuing to work full time jobs in the City (Chicago) to earn enough money to finish their dream living quarters.
Before that the Westmont area, known as Gregg’s Milk Station (the railroad stop designation) was ideally suited on the highest point of the BN tracks between Chicago and the Mississippi River. After the Great Chicago Fire this fact combined with plentiful good clay soils for brick manufacturing meant that the railroad was used to transport rebuilding material into the City.
Today, the Westmont commuter stop on the METRA line into the City of Chicago is one of the busiest in the Western suburbs.
When I came to Westmont in 1982 the “ultra modern” tube style train station was over due for replacement. While the design showed the “progressive” side, in keeping with the community’s long time slogan, it had to be retro fitted after, initial construction to “cap” the ends of the tubes. Apparently the designers did not take into account that the prevailing winds tend to blow from West to East. The wind tunnel affect had to be corrected and end walls were added.
The next problem that was identified with the design was the “plastic” panels were not easy to clean. The many commuter and freight trains traveling daily through town created a “reddish” brake dust. This made cleaning of the panels difficult. Removal of the dust caused scratches that made it difficult to see through the panels. Not very aesthetically attractive either.
So one of the projects I began to work on was a Federal Grant application to rebuild the station to return to a brick style (see photo to the right).
Once the Federal Grant was secured the new station (picture below) was designed to sit on top of part of the foundation of the old Tube Station. This saved taxpayers money. The new station (the one we have today) was designed to have about 900 square feet for commercial retail. For a variety reasons the space was initially used for other purposes. At one time it housed the Village’s Chamber of Commerce office, and when it was eventually vacated it had become cost prohibited to use for retail. Building codes and Federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made updating the space too expensive.