The Madison & Indianapolis Railroad

Originally published on 01 August 2014.

In looking through the book “Ghost Railroads of Indiana,” it mentions a few railroads affiliated with the first complete railroad in the state, the Madison & Indianapolis. It also mentions that even part of the M&I was abandoned early in its history. I knew that the section had gone away, I just never considered it abandoned. Let me tell the story, and you tell me what you think.

On January 27, 1836, the governor of Indiana (Noah Noble) signed into law a massive improvements bill. (Called, at the time, a “Mammoth Improvements Bill,” actually.) In that law, there were roads, canals, and railroads to be built, owned by the state. One of those was the Madison & Indianapolis.

The reasons for picking Madison are best left to another post. But in the first two years, the track stretched from North Madison, the starting point, to Graham’s Ford…with Vernon on line in June of 1839.

In 1841, when service was added to Madison itself, the railroad construction stopped at what is now Queensville. The state ran out of money. Further construction was halted until the state rid itself of the road in 1843, on the condition that service to Edinburgh be completed by July 1, 1846.

Construction was finally completed to Indianapolis on October 1, 1847, completing the first railroad in Indiana.

The M&I management was looking into other ways to feed traffic to the road. They purchased interests in such railroads as the Shelbyville Lateral Branch (Edinburgh to Shelbyville) and the Knightstown & Shelbyville.

In the midst of all this, a new railroad was started in Jeffersonville, to connect to Indianapolis. And construction moved right along until the “J” got to Columbus. There, it ran smack into the self-centered management of the M&I. The M&I would not allow any of the “J”‘s trains on it route. So, the Jeffersonville did what it had to do – started building right along side the M&I. This exercise in idiocy meant that the Jeffersonville could now run as far as Edinburgh on its own tracks. Again, right along side the M&I.

But the M&I was never really stable financially…and so it continued that pattern. Eventually, the M&I was in such bad financial shape that the Jeffersonville bought the M&I, creating the JM&I. The first order of business at that time was to eliminate the two roads situation between Columbus and Edinburgh. The company abandoned the original M&I line between the two points.

Then again, the M&I was also known for other bad moves in a chance to be a monopoly, or as close as they could be, to Indianapolis. For about nine months, the M&I was merged with the Lafayette & Indianapolis, running along what eventually became part of the Nickel Plate (where the Fair Train runs now). A court order ended that.

Another bonehead play was when the M&I management was approached to help build another railroad in the state from Indianapolis to Terre Haute. The M&I basically said that they were not in the business of financing questionable railroad routes. (As if the one they ran wasn’t.) The person they spurned went on to create a railroad that became a vital link between Indianapolis and St. Louis, MO. That person was Chauncy Rose, and his railroad went on to become the Vandalia, part of the Pennsylvania Railroad (which, in the end, so was the JM&I!)…linking Terre Haute to Indianapolis, South Bend and St. Louis in one big system. Oops.

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