Kewanee, IL (KEE)
The new, strikingly modern depot is a welcoming gateway for travelers. Kewanee is widely known for its Hog Days Festival, featuring the "World's Largest Outdoor Pork Barbecue."
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): 6,588
- Facility Ownership: City of Kewanee, BNSF Railway
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Kewanee, Jacoby Enterprises
- Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
- Track Ownership: BNSF Railway
Located a few blocks west of Main Street, the Amtrak depot opened on April 13, 2012 as a replacement for a small brick shelter that was constructed after the historic Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) station was demolished by the Burlington Northern Railroad in 1985. In attendance at the dedication ceremony were numerous local, state, and Amtrak officials, including Kewanee Mayor Bruce Tossell, Illinois Department of Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider, and Thomas Carper, Chairman of the Amtrak Board of Directors. The party arrived at Kewanee early in the morning aboard the eastbound Illinois Zephyr.
Designed by the Peoria-based Farnsworth Group, the new $485,000 facility is strikingly modern, with a dramatic sloping roof and great expanses of glass that allow natural light to bathe the waiting room. A large neon sign, placed high on the waiting room wall, spells out “KEWANEE” and beckons to travelers at night while casting a soothing blue hue over the room. A regional office of the Henry County Tourism Bureau is also located in the depot so that travelers can learn about local attractions or browse through a variety of tourism brochures. Community State Bank donated a computer terminal to allow passengers to print tickets, as well as a flat screen television that shows the news and local area information.
The destruction of the former CB&Q depot, a handsome red brick structure with light stone trim, struck a nerve with townspeople, and many longed to see a new station rise in its place. Plans were put forth in the early 2000s, but funding was not immediately available. In 2009, town officials resurrected the idea and set aside $300,000 for the project. City and business leaders believe that the improved depot will act as a welcoming portal to Kewanee and attract visitors interested in a day out among the town’s restaurants and shops. Kewanee officials are also seeking state assistance for other redevelopment projects that will strengthen the historic city core.
When construction bids came in over budget in 2011, Kewanee decided to transfer money from its economic development fund to cover the cost increase and move the project forward. The city later applied for two state grants to help cover approximately half of the depot’s cost. $163,000 was gained through “Illinois Jobs Now!”, a six year, $31 billion statewide capital program supported by 20 year state bonds and federal and local matching funds. An additional $75,000 came through a grant obtained by State Senator Darin LaHood and State Representative Don Moffitt, both of whom were at the dedication ceremony.
Kewanee was born of the railroad, but had its origins in the settlement of Wethersfield about a mile-and-a-half south of the present right-of-way. Originally home to the Pottawatomi, Winnebago, Sauk, and Fox American Indians, by the 1830s most of these groups had been pushed west of the Mississippi River by government forces in order to open up the fertile land for settlement by European-Americans moving in from the east. As a result, farming colonies such as Wethersfield were established, in this case by a group that had come from a town of the same name in central Connecticut. Known as the Connecticut Association, the group was already associated with the founding of nearby Andover; for the new town, it chose a site on the edge of a wood called Barren Grove. The village was laid out in 1836 and within two years it boasted 130 people.
The community cultivated the land and prospered until the coming of the Military Tract Railroad in 1854. Many towns recognized the value of obtaining a stop on a rail line as a means to attract residents and enhance their reputations as trading centers, and Wethersfield was no different. Unfortunately, despite the best attempts, the town lost out to topography—the railroad decided to build to the north so as to avoid having to bridge a slough on the western edge of town.
To take advantage of the connections offered by the Military Tract Railroad, many townspeople purchased land near the right-of-way. Much of it was owned by the Potter brothers, who decided to sell out and seek farmland elsewhere. Their house remains standing on Park Avenue, where it was moved in the early 20th century to serve as the chapter house of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Wethersfield’s population plunged and a new town was born overnight as people picked up their wood frame houses and moved northward. Historic accounts recall that settlers wanted to name the town “Berrien” after the engineer involved in the construction of the rail line, but apparently he refused and suggested that it take the name “Kewanee,” the Winnebago word for the common prairie chicken. In 1856, the CB&Q absorbed the Military Tract Railroad and eventually came to dominate the Midwest.
Coal was plentiful in the area, and mining became a significant source of employment for Kewanee in its early days. Great quantities of the black rock were shipped from the depot, and grain storage bins and a stock yard were constructed on the north side of the tracks. As the town grew in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the CB&Q erected a more permanent combination depot that included passenger and freight functions under one roof. The structure’s horizontal orientation—long and low to the ground—was contrasted by projecting bays on the track and street facades. Their curvilinear gabled fronts, with light Arts and Crafts detailing, featured small circular windows. From the northern bay, the station master had an unobstructed view of the tracks from his office so that he could monitor traffic on the line.
The placement of the bays also provided a visual clue as to the functional arrangement of the interior spaces. The station master’s office and the ticket office were located in the bays, while the passenger waiting room was to the east and the baggage and freight rooms to the west. These latter spaces were easy to identify—large, wide doors accommodated wagons loaded with baggage, crates, and parcels, while small windows set high on the wall helped deter theft. Beneath the overhanging eaves of the hipped, red clay tile roof, passengers sought shelter from inclement weather while they waited outside for the arrival of the train.
In 1970, the CB&Q, Great Northern, Northern Pacific, and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle railroads merged to form Burlington Northern Railroad. It in turn joined with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway in 1996 to form Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which currently owns the right-of-way staked out by the Military Tract Railroad a century-and-a-half ago.
Kewanee gained national fame as the home of the Kewanee Boiler, which was produced by a company of the same name founded by William Haxtun. The works were built adjacent to the CB&Q and spurs entered the factory grounds to facilitate shipping. Period advertisements touted the machine’s ability to “burn soft coal smokelessly…and cut heating costs.” Kewanee steam boilers can be seen in both the Blues Brothers and Cannery Row films and were manufactured up until 2001. There are so many of these boilers yet in service that replacement parts are still sold.
A manufacturing town in the midst of productive grain farmland, Kewanee distinguishes itself not only by its industries, but is also a smaller version of the ethnic melting pot that is Chicago. The city borders, which expanded during the boom days of the early 20th century, now contain old Wethersfield, although the townships remain separate.
People come from all around to attend Kewanee’s Hog Days Festival, which has been held, for the most part, since 1947 to celebrate Henry County being declared number one in national pork production by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that year. It features the World’s Largest Outdoor Pork Barbecue—serving more than 30,000—a carnival, fitness run, golf tournaments, garden tractor pull, flea market and craft show, free stage shows, cooking contest, and more.
The Carl Sandburg and Illinois Zephyr are financed primarily through funds made available by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- Accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- Accessible waiting room
- Accessible water fountain
- Same-day, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available
Station Waiting Room Hours
|Mon||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Tue||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Wed||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Thu||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Fri||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Sat||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|
|Sun||08:00 am - 09:00 pm|