Amboy, Illinois

Christopher Gregory and Margaret Downey were married on 6 Jan 1814 in Crossmaglen, County Armagh, Ireland. They had ten children, of which only four have been traceable. Francis Gregory, born in February, 1820 and his brother James both came to this country in about 1846. They resided in New York till at least 17 Sept 1850, when Congress authorized the first United States government land grant to a railroad to the Illinois Central Railroad Co. The company then sent employment agents to the Eastern United States and overseas for men to build the railroad. Over a 5-year period some 100,000 railroad workers swarmed into Illinois. One agent brought 1,000 directly from Ireland. James and Francis Gregory, enticed by the promise of inexpensive farmland and steady railroad work, relocated from New York City to the town of Amboy in Lee County, IL. The two brothers became farmers and worked for the Illinois Central until their deaths at the turn of the century. The third brother, John, probably preferred boats to trains and became a shipbuilder in Chicago. Another brother, Edward, remained in Ireland, and the family still thrives in the home townland of Crossmaglen.

The first settlers in Amboy Township arrived around 1837. In the spring of 1854, the year the Illinois Central Railroad Company’s first engine steamed through town, Amboy consisted of six farm houses and three shanties. The following spring about 100 homes had been built and the population reached 1,000. Amboy had become a bustling railroad town. Amboy, Illinois is also the home of the first store opened by two Scotsmen, Samuel Carson and John T. Pirie. Their success in Amboy caused them to move their business to Chicago in 1865. Their magnificent flagship store, designed by Louis Sullivan in 1903 on the busiest corner of Chicago, was closed in February, 2007 and renamed the Sullivan Center.

James Gregory, who was a foreman in the Illinois Central machine shop, was probably typical of the “Irish railroader.” Most of the Irish settled west of the tracks between Main Street and the Green River. James Gregory was also one of the men who helped build one of the two locomotives in Amboy. Recently discovered info says that the Gregory brothers may have run a theatre in Amboy.

The evidence of the railroad’s influence remains. Only one piece of track now stands at the big station at Amboy, but there were as many as eleven tracks passing the west side of the station. Mason Street is one of the four in Amboy named for Illinois Central figures, all of whom were civil engineers. Col. Roswell B. Mason was engineer-in-chief who directed the building of the original Illinois Central and who later became a mayor of Chicago. Three of the young engineers he brought out with him from the East also have streets named for them in Amboy – Timothy Blackstone, Henry B. Plant and B.B. Provost. Amboy has a population of about 2,000, but the station building is larger than many in cities of 25,000 to 50,000. The explanation for the two story building is that once Amboy was headquarters for the Northern Division of the Illinois Central between Centralia and East Dubuque, IL. The building erected in 1876 originally housed the division superintendent and his force.

An in-depth article about the construction and importance of the Illinois Central Depot in Amboy was published in the January, 10, 1877 edition of The Amboy Journal. This article provides a complete listing of all the Illinois Central Amboyites who were employed at the new depot. A downloadable Adobe Acrobat (PDF) transcription of this article can be obtained by request. The transcription is missing the names of several employees due to an unreadble copy.

By 1910 most of the Gregory’s had left the Amboy area. Noteworthy was after the unfortunate and early passing of James’ son, Joseph, who was living in Rockford, his wife packed up and went west to settle in Seattle and took her youngest sons, Paul and Edmund with her.