Michigan Transportation History

Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad

Public MichiganRailroadCompanyThing

The Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad was started in 1837 to build a line between Detroit and St. Joseph paralleling the Territorial Road.


See also
D&StJ 1832 Charter

As early as 1830, James Kingsley of Ann Arbor began agitating for a state-sponsored canal or railroad connecting Detroit with the mouth of the St. Joseph River.1 Kingsley was responsible for pushing the incorporation of the Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad to the legislature. The incorporation was approved on June 29, 1832.2 However, the railroad did not get started within the two years authorized by the act, and with further petitions to the legislature, the legislature in 1835, extended the time for starting. Thus in July 1836, John Biddle again solicited for subscriptions in the office of Bates & Talbott? which was located in the basement of the Bank of Michigan. Biddle led a committee composed of John R. Williams, Eurotas P. Hastings?, De Garmo Jones, James Abbott?, and Oliver Newberry. George C. Bates was appointed secretary, and John L. Talbott? was appointed treasurer.3

The first four stock subscribers were, for each $25,000: Lewis Cass, John Biddle, Robert Smart? and Dr. Brown?


The first board of directors placed John Biddle as president and A. H. Adams as secretary/treasurer. Charles C. Trowbridge, Oliver Newberry, E. A. Brush?, Shubael Conant, Henry Whiting?, J. Burdick?, H. H. Comstock?, Mark Norris, and C. N. Ormsby? as directors. Lt. John M. Berrien served as chief engineer, which meant also that he was responsible for the survey. Alex I. Center? was his assistant.

The line was so broke at its incorporation that Kingsley and Biddle had to solicit friends and associates for even the $400 necessary to survey the right-of-way.4

Michiganians along the way were proud that they were funding and building the road without outside help. "Everyone who had a hundred dollars at command, present or prospective, subscribed" to the stock of the D&StJ.5 Investors in Ann Arbor reportedly bought $9,000 of stock. Detroiters bought $70,000, and Ypsilanti investors subscribed $100,000. Despite these grossly disproportionate subscription rates, Alvin F. Harlow called Kingsley and Ann Arbor the "father" and "mother" of the Michigan Central Railroad.6

The company was also authorized to operate a bank.

Construction & Sale

The route of the railroad was surveyed by the U.S. Department of War in 1834 under the direction of Lieutenant John M. Berrien. His remarks on the location of the line were given at conventions in Detroit and Ann Arbor in early September 1834, but little progress was made. Promoters such as John Biddle decided for one more convention, to be held around Christmas (thus called the Christmas Eve Convention), to decide on whether or not to pursue Federal aid in construction. After the new year, the convention submitted a petition to congress for a land grant for the construction of the line identified by the Berrien Survey and for a branch to Monroe. 7

when we ask the aid of Congress to prosecute a work, which all admit to be of the highest importance to the commerce and prosperity of this Territory; a Territory in which your constituents are still the owners of nine-tenths of the soil and over which the powers of your honorable body embrace the widest circle of legislation It will be seen upon reference to the Treasury reports that the average sales of public lands in this Territory, have for several years past, amounted to nearly half a million of dollars. Much of this sum has been received for lands lying in the direction of the proposed rail road; and while the productiveness of any portion of the public domain is not urged as a claim upon your honorable body, the fact referred to, will be received as some evidence that the time has arrived, when a long cherished scheme of internal improvement may be commenced with a reasonable hope of success.8

Congress demurred, but nonetheless sufficient private investment came forward, mainly from the directors, that the railroad started construction in 1836. Progress was slow. In the first year, the company had built only nine miles to Dearborn. People complained about the slow pace of construction. They wanted a railroad, and their impatience soon became a political imperative. The success of the Erie & Kalamazoo only added to their sense of urgency for a working railroad. The company expended $139,702.79 for all capital outlays for construction, motive power, and rolling stock.9

Both Illinois and Indiana had started state-sponsored internal improvement programs. And it seemed that state ownership would advance to railroad, and other projects, faster than individual enterprise would.

See also
Michigan's Passion for Internal Improvements

The Michigan legislature passed on March 20, 1837, the Internal Improvements Act?. The law authorized five-million dollars in bonds to finance (among other projects) the purchase of the D&StJ and to finish its construction. By this time, in addition to the track to Dearborn, the D&StJ had graded the route mostly to Ypsilanti and had bought a right-of-way almost to Ann Arbor. The state bought the entire works for $139,802 and renamed the line the "Central Railroad of Michigan."10

The depression following the Panic of 1837 "would thwart the state from finishing the road in spite of making a profit each year on what was completed."11


1. Michigan Free Democrat (Detroit), August 7, 1855, p. 3.

2. Nicholas A. Marsh, The Michigan Central Railroad: History of the Main Line, 1846-1901 (Ann Arbor: by the author, 2007), 3, but check this with Meints.

3. George C. Bates, By-Gones of Detroit (Detroit: Free Press, 1877-1878), p. 348

4. Marsh, MCRR, 4

5. Ray Haddock, "The Railroad of Michigan," Atlas of the State of Michigan (1873), 17.

6. Alvin F. Harlow, Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central (New York: Creative Age Press, 1947), 214.

7. Petition to Congress by Inhabitants of the Territory, Referred January 15, 1835, [LC: HF, 23 Cong., 2 sess.:DS], Territorial Papers XII, 851.

8. Petition to Congress by Inhabitants of the Territory, Referred January 15, 1835, [LC: HF, 23 Cong., 2 sess.:DS], Territorial Papers XII, 852-3.

9. Robert E. Roberts, Sketches of the City of Detroit, State of Michigan, Past and Present, 1855, (Detroit: R.F. Johnstone & Co., 1855), 50.

10. Parks, Democracy's Railroads, 91.

11. Marsh, MCRR, 7.


State of Michigan, Laws of the Territory of Michigan. (Lansing: by Authority, 1874), III, 960.

Lew Allen Chase, "Michigan and the Early History of Transportation East and West," The Magazine of History 13, no. 4 (April 1911), 165-179.

Kehl, Donald. "The Origin and Early Development of American Dividend Law." Harvard Law Review 53, No. 1 (Nov., 1939), pp. 36-67.

Harlow, Alvin F. Road of the Century: The Story of the New York Central. New York: Creative Age Press, 1947.

Marsh, Nicholas A. The Michigan Central Railroad: History of the Main Line, 1846-1901. Ann Arbor: by the author, 2007.

Martin, Joseph G. "Twenty-One Years in the Boston Stock Market; or Fluctuations Therein from January 1, 1835 to January 1, 1856 ... with Copious Notes." Boston: Redding & Co., 1856.

Short history of the D&SJ.

September 3, 1834, citizens of Ann Arbor held a similar convention in aid of the new road.

Citation: When referencing this page please use the following citation:

R. D. Jones, "Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad," Michigan Transportation History (Ypsilanti, MI: 2020), www.michtranshist.info/.

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Page last modified on February 24, 2020, at 06:29 PM EST

Page last modified on February 24, 2020, at 06:29 PM EST