Before Indianapolis Union Depot

In the 1850’s, the owners of the railroad companies that converged on Indianapolis decided to create a first of its kind Union Depot, a place where all passengers could catch any train in or out of the city in a central location. But exactly brought on this grand plan? What was catching a train in Indianapolis like before the consolidation of passenger depots? I am going to explain the difficulty of getting from one train to another using an 1852 map of the city.

1852 location of the Union or General Passenger Depot

Let’s start with the location of the “Union or General Passenger Depot,” later to be replaced with Union Station. The Depot is between Illinois and Meridian Streets, on the south side of Louisiana Street. From what I can tell, there were two reasons for picking this location. One is the central location. It’s not a stretch to believe that all of the railroad companies could connect to this area, with several roads already within site of the destination. The second, when looking at the map, tends to stick out like a sore thumb. The waterway running from the south, turning east north east, is Pogue’s Run. That stream had, to this point, been a thorn in the side of the growing city. The fact that the first three years of the town of Indianapolis had major malaria outbreaks due to the swamps surrounding this stream come to mind. It was less used, and hence cheaper, land to use for this purpose.

1852 location of the TH&I Depot


Just west of the Union Depot, between Mississippi Street (after 1894, Senate Avenue) and Tennessee Street (after 1894, Capitol Avenue) on the south side of Louisiana Street is the Terre Haute Depot. It’s location puts it four blocks south and two blocks west of the Circle.

1852 location of the L&I Depot


North of the original mile square, the Lafayette & Indianapolis depot was located on land surrounded by Mississippi, North, Missouri and St. Clair Streets. This put the station six blocks north and three blocks west of the circle. The connection rail to the new Union Depot would run along the canal, through what is now the state office complex.

1852 location of the Bee Line Depot


Located in the middle of Broadway Street, between Arch and Vine (now Ninth) Streets, the Bellefontaine ended its Indianapolis run here. This location is eight blocks north and six blocks east of the circle. This was also one of the few stub end depots that were present when the Union Depot came into being.

1852 location of the P&I Depot


This depot is located on land that wasn’t part of the original Indianapolis design done by Alexander Ralston. The diagonal just to the north of the depot is the location of the original North Carolina Street. New Jersey Street would have ended at that point, and restarted at the diagonal line south of the depot, which would have been South Carolina Street, had either of the Carolina Streets been built. The first street north of the depot is Maryland Street. This puts the depot four blocks east and two blocks south of the circle.

As an aside, the original connection rail to the new Union Depot for the Bellefontaine ran a separate route from the Peru line. Later, both would be moved next to each other two blocks east of the location shown on the map.

1852 locations of the Union Depot, Madison Depot and Cincinnati Depot


Two blocks east of the new Union Depot, located in the middle of what would have been South Carolina Street, was the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad Depot. This, too, was in an area that wasn’t originally laid out in the plat of Indianapolis. The depot was two blocks east and four blocks south of the circle.


The first depot in Indianapolis was located just outside of the mile square, between Pennsylvania and Delaware Streets, south of South Street. That would make it one block east and five blocks south of the circle. The Jeffersonville Railroad would have also used this depot, as they had trackage rights, or soon would, over the Madison & Indianapolis.

The only railroad at the time that didn’t have a depot in place was the Indiana Central that went east to Richmond. Since it was completed about the same time as the Union Depot, one would assume that the company decided to “move in with the furniture.”

Just looking at the locations of the different depots through the city, one could get an idea of what it must have been like to go from one point to another in the state when having to go through Indianapolis. Imagine trying to go from, say, Pendleton to Columbus. That would have required offloading on the north side of the city, finding transport to the south side, and boarding another train.

The creation of the Union Depot made traveling a lot easier when coming into Indianapolis. The Madison, Terre Haute, Cincinnati and Peru Depots wouldn’t just disappear when all was said and done. Those stations would be used as the freight depots for those railroads for years to follow.

5 thoughts on “Before Indianapolis Union Depot

  1. Fascinating stuff, thanks! Regarding the Bellefontaine station: Look on Google Maps, check out the curved shape of the south side of the garage for the old Coca Cola plant, which is between Carrollton and Edison Avenues. I’m thinking that the railroad track(s) leading to the former station forced the shape of that building. I wonder when those tracks were pulled up?


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