This collection consists of the correspondence of railroad surveyor Samuel B. Reed between himself and his wife, family, acquaintances and business associates. Reed also kept some financial records which are included in the collection.
Samuel Benedict Reed was born in Arlington, Vermont; November 18, 1818, to Thomas B. and Esther (Benedict) Reed, natives of New Hampshire. When he was a small child his parents settled near what is now Ottawa, Canada. But not liking that country they returned to the States, locating in western New York state. In 1842 he was present at a celebration in honor of Lafayette. His education was obtained in public schools and an academy.
While yet a boy he was employed as a rodman on the Erie Canal. In 1844 he accompanied the family to Joliet (Illinois) and soon afterward settled on a farm west of the city. His first railroad experience west of New York state was on the Detroit & Pontiac Railroad. Afterward he was with the Michigan Central system, Inter with the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern, which road he constructed in the city of Chicago, connecting that town for the first time with the east by rail. He was chosen civil engineer of the Rock Island railroad, which he located out of Chicago on the Old Oswego & Indiana and plank road charter. In selecting the route through Joliet he chose a line crossing Eastern avenue near Osgood street, but the people clamored for a railroad in the center of the village; consequently the line was changed as now located. From the eastern division of the Rock Island road he took up the construction of the division ending at the Mississippi River, thus completing the first railroad from the east to that river, and he also built the first bridge across the river, it being at Rock Island. He engaged in constructing the Washington branch of the Rock Island and the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, which was the first to reach the Missouri River.
In 1864 Mr. Reed was commissioned to go to Salt Lake City and secure the aid of the military commander and Brigham Young in selecting a feasible route for a railroad through the Rocky Mountains. After two years of hardship and dangers he reported the route along which the Union Pacific road was later built. In 1866 he was made superintendent of construction of the last-named road. Under his supervision the work of building was pushed with remarkable energy and swiftness. The record of construction was eight miles and three thousand feet of railway in one day, a feat which has never been surpassed. Mr. Reed afterward stated that had he been permitted, the railroad could have been completed as far was as the Humboldt Mountains instead of Promontory Point, one thousand and one hundred miles west of Omaha, where the two roads met in 1869. In this very respondible work, Mr. Reed was entrusted with millions of dollars. To this trust he proved most faithful. Only one man ever attempted to bribe him (although bribery was rampant at the time) and this man met with such serious consequences that he at once retired from business.
After the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, Mr. Reed had charge of the bulding of the Illinois Central Railroad from Memphis to New Orleans. Afterward he was receiver of the old Chicago, Pekin & Southwestern Railroad. In 1883 he took charge of the work for the Canadian Pacific Railroad from Winnipeg west, but was compelled to give up the contract on account of illness. However, in 1884, when sixty-five years of age, he traversed on foot three hundred miles of almost trackless forest in British Columbia and reported upon what he regarded as the best route for the Canadian Pacific in its crossing of the Rock Mountains after the work had been abandoned by the British engineer. His report, when published in Canada, was the target of the most violent newspaper attacks and it was the consensus of public opinion that his route was impracticable. In spite of that, the road was built as laid out by him and has been in successful operation ever since.
For some years Mr. Reed has spent his time in Joliet, where he is a most honored citizen. In the care of his far, in the supervision of his financial interests, and in indulging his fondness for the study of plant life and natural history, the afternoon of his busy life is being happily passed. He was married at Geneseo, Illinois in 1855, his wife being Miss Jane E. Earl, who died in August, 1896. They became the parents of three daughters, one of whom is the wife of Col. Fred. Bennitt of Joliet, another married L.H. Hyde, and the third is Mrs. Jennie Dwight, of Denver, Colo.
Edited from ”Samuel Benedict Reed” from Genealogical and Biographical Record of Will County Illinois: Containing Biographies of Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. Biographical Publishing Company, Chicago. 1900. P.593-594.