Friday, February 22, 2008

John Brough: More than Folly

John Brough was a very busy man. It’s not just that he was running the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad, and preparing to make his name a symbol of failure with the construction of Brough’s Folly, the attempt to run the railroad through what is now Clifty Falls Park.

No, Brough (pronounced Brough) was very busy because he was running more than one railroad company while he lived in Madison and headed the M&I.

In 1851, Brough attempted to get a charter for the Atlantic & Mississippi Railroad, which was to run from Terra Haute to Saint Louis via Vandalia. That was denied after $500,000 was subscribed; another charter application was denied in 1853. In fact, the account, published in 1884 in the book, "Counties of Cumberland, Jasper and Richland Illinois" says he tried and tried, but was always denied. One of these efforts was apparently the Terra Haute and Saint Louis Railroad, whose board elected him as president, sometime before an account was published, also in 1851. An Illinois history said he tried to pursue the line, despite the lack of sanction of law. Illinois kept him from building any line.

That determination, and his physical appearance, were well known. After the train engine, the John Brough, arrived in Madison on May 10, 1850, the next day’s Madison Courier commented, We are told this engine is called the John Brough on account of its great weight and for the great amount of business it is capable of doing.”

The weight made itself known in his life as a politician, in the following verse.

“If all flesh is grass, as people say

Johnnie Brough is a load of hay.”

And there was a joke, when he challenged Madison’s Michael Bright to a dual that Bright would have been at a disadvantage because the bullet would have trouble penetrating Brough.

His energy did not come from clean living. One nineteenth century account said he chewed enormous amounts of tobacco, was never very clean in his personal appearance, and “Did not believe in prohibitory laws and could not be labeled as an exemplar of any particular purity.”

His joint railroad jobs contrasted with the fact that the M&I board hired a superintendent under his predecessor, Samuel Merrill, holding that the two positions were too much for one man. Apparently, Brough was in a different category.

Brough left Madison in 1853 to take over the Bellefontaine & Indianapolis Railroad (which he may have had his hand in before leaving), and was still at work in his other Iron Horse ventures.

Whatever his capability in railroads, give him credit as a politician. As a vigorous pro-Union War governor of Ohio, he ensured that state stayed strong in the fight.

Brough came close to leaving his name on another map. The town of Effingham, Ill., was originally paired with one named Broughton, but that name was abandoned and the towns merged as Effingham since Brough wasn’t terribly popular.

Well, it could have been worse in Indiana. Madison could have been named Broughton

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