While a trolley ride is a new occurrence for many of the museum's young riders, the Fox River Line itself is not new, dating back to 1896. At the turn of the century this interurban line was part of the Elgin, Aurora and Southern Traction Company and ran about 40 miles along the Fox River from Carpentersville to Yorkville. It also included and was connected to the streetcar systems of Elgin and Aurora. In 1906 the EA&S itself became part of the high speed interurban, the Aurora, Elgin and Chicago Railroad. This line ran west from its connection with the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad Company and had four branches with western terminals along the Fox River in the same towns that the Fox River Line served. Even though the two divisions were part of the same company from 1906 - 1919, they were always operated separately with different equipment, repair facilities and employees. In August of 1919, the AE&C went into receivership, both divisions emerging from bankruptcy in the early 1920's. They were separated and renamed. The third rail division to Chicago (former AE&C) was renamed the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad (CA&E) and the Fox River Division was renamed the Aurora, Elgin and Fox River Electric Company (AE&FRE).
The AE&FRE on its own began again in 1924, acquired new one man cars, cut costs and modernized its track, signalling and operations. Business was good through most of the 1920's but as more people purchased automobiles and the roads in Kane County were paved, ridership began to drop. First to go were some, then all of the streetcar routes in Elgin and Aurora with the last one being retired in 1934. All of these were torn up and replaced by company owned bus routes with the interurban line between Aurora and Elgin (including our right-of-way) being the final one in March of 1935.
As you can see, not all of the track was torn up. A short 3.5 mile segment was retained from the interchange with the Illinois Central at Coleman north along present day Route 31 to the State Mental Hospital in Elgin. Two home made flatcar motors were retained to handle the freight only business which was chiefly coal and other supplies for the hospital and a few other customers along the route. Carload freight tonnage was high, the overhead low and the AE&FRE even dieselized in 1946.
Things were going well for the freight operator until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told the hospital in 1971 that they would have to stop using coal (from Southern Illinois) for its power plant because of pollution. This was the railroad's last and only customer and the loss of it would force the AE&FRE out of the freight business.
The Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railway went out of business in 1961, but a small group of loyal railfans struggled to keep the memory of the line alive. Starting first as the Railway Investment Club in August of 1959 and then incorporating as Railway Equipment Leasing and Investment Co. (RELIC) in September of 1961 they began what would become the Fox River Trolley Museum. RELIC first acquired several CA&E cars saving them from scrapping. Next was finding a suitable place to store and someday run them. RELIC worked out an agreement with Bob DeYoung, the owner of the line to store their cars of his mainline and later operate them on weekends when there were no freight operations. Our present day museum property was purchased from a family on the line and our substation was purchased from Commonwealth Edison and reassembled on our site.
A new electric railroad literally had to be brought in and assembled. All this by a group many of whom had never worked a day in their life for an actual railroad. Finally, all was in place and the RELIC TROLLEY MUSEUM opened July 4, 1966! The first rides were 50¢ and only went about as far as the present day car barn which was as far as the trolley wire had been strung! Over the next few months the wire was extended to the present day southern end of the line, other cars acquired and ridership increased.