Indianapolis Union Depot

Indianapolis Union Station has been, for quite a while, a landmark in the city. Located on Jackson Street, originally the alley between Georgia and Louisiana Streets, the building erected in 1888 has seen many lives over the years. It was once the great entryway to the city, with hundreds of daily trains coming and going. From the station, there were direct connections to St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, not to mention the countless other places along the lines.

But it wasn’t always that way. When railroads started connecting the Hoosier capital to the rest of the nation, they each had their own stations in different parts of the city. As it was in every other city with multiple railroad lines.

It wasn’t long before some had to be done to make thing easier for the traveling public. By 1853, a new building was erected and a new concept had been created: the Union Depot.

Wait. What? Union DEPOT? Isn’t it Union STATION?

Yes, it is. But it wasn’t originally.

In August 1849, a company was created to create track connections between the three railroads then in Indianapolis: Madison & Indianapolis; Terre Haute & Richmond; and Indianapolis & Bellefontaine. The company took the name of the Union Track Railway Company. The company then took to not only connecting those railroads, but also creating a central ticketing and boarding location.

But before that could happen, the directors of the company decided to allow other connecting railroads to join the Union Track Railway. The Peru and Indianapolis had already given part of its line to the new venture. The Indiana Central (was originally the Indianapolis to Richmond section of the Terre Haute & Richmond) and the Lawrenceburgh and Upper Mississippi joined the group.

So, with the core group of railroads, the company changed its name to the Indianapolis Union Railway Company (IU). One month later, a brick station was built, being called the Indianapolis Union Depot. It was the first of its kind.

The location of the Depot, and the grand edifice that is Union Station that replaced it in 1888, is called the Wholesale District. One of the reasons that the Depot was built where it was is simply that the south side of the original mile square of Indianapolis was, quite honestly, not preferred real estate. Pogues Run meanders through the area. That section of the original town, and south of it, was known to be very swampy. To the point that malaria was a real concern to the young capital.

The Union Depot quickly became too small for its purpose. It took over 30 years, but the original building was replaced, on site, with the building standing today. It would be another 30 years until the track plan that exists today, being elevated over the grade of the city streets, would be completed.

Because of the ownership of the IU, through the many railroad consolidations, it became basically owned by two companies: New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1968, it ended up with one owner: Penn Central, a merger of the NYC and PRR.

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