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Boxcar camp markers dedicated in Galesburg

Members of Galesburg's boxcar families and descendants at the dedication.
Bill Gaither
Carl Sandburg College
Members of Galesburg's boxcar families and descendants at the dedication.

The contributions and struggles of Galesburg’s boxcar families are now formally recognized at the sites of the camps where they lived.

Mexican immigrants were recruited to work for the railroad in Galesburg in the first half of the 20th century. They lived with their families in boxcars on railroad property.

Now there are markers at the sites of the four boxcar camps in Galesburg, recognizing all the families overcame — and all they built in the railroad town.

“I’m just proud to have lived long enough to see something like this happen. It’s a long time coming. I consider Galesburg to be my home and it’s always been my home. So I’m real happy,” said Juan Medina, 86.

Medina was born at the Davis Camp on South West Street and lived there until he was 15.

He and other members of boxcar families and descendants gathered for the unveiling of the marker at the Santa Fe Camp on West Berrien Street.

The names of the families were read aloud at the dedication.

The markers have been years in the making. The project started with the Hispanic Latino Student Association at Carl Sandburg College researching boxcar families.

The students also proposed installing plaques, and worked with the city, the railroad, and the Hispanic Latino Resource Group to make it happen.

“You don’t have to be someone’s lineage to be their legacy,” said Anthony Law, coordinator of diversity and inclusion at Sandburg and advisor of HLSA, at the dedication. “We stand on the shoulders of the elders, those of you who went through things unimaginable. More importantly, you overcame them.”

The locations of the four camps – and markers – are as follows:

  • Santa Fe Camp: near Dietrich Avenue and West Berrien Street
  • Davis Camp: near West Sixth Street and South West Street
  • West Humps Camp: near South Henderson Street and Knox Highway 10
  • Tie Plant Camp: near Illinois Route 41 and Knox Road 1300 North

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Jane Carlson is TSPR's regional reporter.