Early Railroad Projects, Even Some Became Roads

In the early days of Indiana, much attention and money was spent on transportation facilities. Most of Indiana was a wilderness, and connecting remote places in the state became a priority. Starting in 1832, the General Assembly started passing laws creating railroad companies. In those early days, railroad technology wasn’t as advanced as it would be in the decade or so to come. Some of these projects would be dumped as railroads, becoming toll roads instead. One even took over, in the eyes of locals, the routing of the National Road.

On 3 February 1832, an act was passed by the Indiana General Assembly to “incorporate the Richmond, Eaton and Miami Rail Road Company.” However, less than one year later, on 2 February 1833, an amendment to that act had been passed. The amendment stated that the company is “vested with full power and authority to construct a turnpike road, in lieu of the rail road.” (1833 Acts of the Indiana General Assembly, Chapter XCVII) The toll road that would be built as a result of this act and amendment would, in the Auto Trail days, become part of the National Old Trails road. It was treated as part of the old National Road between Richmond and Springfield via Eaton and Dayton.

Chapter CXXVI of the 1834 Acts of the Indiana General Assembly, approved on 24 December 1833, sets forth an act “to incorporate the Evansville and Lafayette Rail Road Company.” The act specified that the railroad should connect Evansville, Princeton, Vincennes, Terre Haute, Covington before ending in Lafayette. While investigating ICC reports from 1917-1922, I can find no reference to this company whatsoever. The part of the route south of Terre Haute would be followed by what would become the Chicago & Eastern Illinois.

Two chapters after the last one, an act “to incorporate the Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail Road company.” This railroad was different than the one that would eventually be built through Lebanon and Thorntown. This route was laid out to connect Indianapolis, through Jamestown, Crawfordsville, Columbia (Tippecanoe County) to Lafayette. The route prescribed roughly follows what became part of the Big Four route to Crawfordsville, then along the Monon to Lafayette.

The 1835 Acts of the General Assembly list several possible railroad or turnpike projects. One section (13) of Chapter XVI, “an act to provide for the further prosecution of the Wabash and Erie Canal and for other purposes,” would allow the governor “to employ a competent engineer or engineers” for the following projects: a railroad or turnpike from Madison, by way of Indianapolis, Danville and Crawfordsville to Lafayette; a rail or turnpike road from Crawfordsville by way of Greencastle, Bloomington, Bedford and Salem to New Albany; and a railroad from Evansville to Vincennes via Princeton.

Section 16 of the same act provided that “engineers shall examine a route for a canal from or near Indianapolis to the Ohio river, at or near Jeffersonville, and if found not practicable to construct a canal between said points, then said engineers shall survey a route for a rail or turnpike road from Jeffersonville to intersect the rail road line in this act (mentioned in Section 13 above) directed to be surveyed from Madison to Indianapolis, at or near Columbus.” Both a toll road and railroad would be built in this case…the road would become part of US 31 later, and the railroad would become the Jeffersonville. The Jeffersonville would end up buying the railroad that it was to connect to “at or near Columbus.”

Section 18 allocated money for surveying a railroad from Terre Haute to Vincennes. The “report the same with an estimate of the probably cost of constructing the same, to the next General Assembly.” Section 19 allowed the same for the Lawrenceburgh and Indianapolis railroad. All of the money spent on this act was to come from funds allocated for the Wabash and Erie Canal.

This is the total list of railroad projects put forth by the Indiana General Assembly prior to the massive projects that would ultimately nearly bankrupt the State of Indiana implemented in 1836. Part of that plan was covered here.

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