In the early 20th Century, the state of Indiana, as with the rest of the United States, was undergoing a large number of consolidations of railroad companies, forming larger companies with, supposedly, economies of scale. In Indiana, this created a larger problem: competition. Due to its location, Indiana was always considered the “Crossroad of America.” Often, there were two railroads between two points. For instance, getting from Indianapolis to Chicago could be done using four direct railroads. And two of those routes, at the turn of the century, were controlled by the same company. Today, we discuss one of those routes that spread across the state and the eastern United States: Lake Erie & Western.
The Lake Erie & Western (LE&W) would be formed, as reported by the Interstate Commerce Commission, from multiple consolidations of 37 different companies. At the time of the ICC report, put together due to the need for the valuation of the many railroad companies taken over by the government in World War I. At the time of this report, the Lake Erie & Western was controlled, but not owned, by the New York Central. Getting back to the competition mentioned above, this created two routes from Indianapolis to Chicago controlled by that company. The other being the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis, known as the Big Four.
The building of the separate parts of what became the LE&W occurred with just a few of the 37 separate parts. Today, I will covering each Indiana section in chronological order.
The first trackage that was completed would start in Indianapolis, heading to Peru. This was called the Peru & Indianapolis. For a short time in 1851, the company name would be the Madison, Peru & Indianapolis, as it was merged with the Madison & Indianapolis. That lasted nine months before a court reversed the merger at the behest of the shareholders of the P&I. The tracks were completed from Noblesville north to Peru in 1851, then south to Indianapolis in 1854. The company became the Indianapolis, Peru & Chicago on 11 March 1864. Foreclosure in 1887 led the company to become part of the Lake Erie & Western.
The Cincinnati, Peru & Chicago, created on 23 June 1853, built a line from Plymouth to LaPorte in 1855. This company would be sold at foreclosure to become the Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville on 12 October 1866. This new company would continue the trackage from Plymouth to Peru in 1869. On 30 March 1887, it was sold at foreclosure to the Lake Erie & Western.
With a confusing genealogy, the Connersville & New Castle Junction, created 23 October 1863, finished the railroad line between the title cities in 1865. This company merged with the New Castle & Muncie to become the Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie on 2 January 1868. That year, the rails were completed from New Castle to Muncie. The Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railway, created 3 October 1868 from the foreclosure of the Fort Wayne & Southern, built from Muncie to Fort Wayne a line that was complete in 1870. The Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie and Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railway merged to become the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railroad on 9 June 1869.
The New Castle & Rushville Rail Road was created on 4 December 1879. The line connected the title cities in 1881. This company merged with the successor of the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati (the Fort Wayne, Cincinnati & Louisville) to become the second Fort Wayne, Cincinnati & Louisville on 11 November 1886. This company would be sold to the Lake Erie & Western, although it would maintain a separate existence until it was finally merged into the successor of the Lake Erie & Western, the Nickle Plate, in 1923.
On 4 June 1870, the state chartered the Michigan City and Indianapolis Railroad. This line connected Michigan City to LaPorte starting in 1871. This company was made into a cornerstone of the Lake Erie & Western on 8 April 1887.
The last line to become part of the Lake Erie & Western was the Lafayette, Muncie & Bloomington. This line built from Lafayette, with the line toward Bloomington, Illinois, completed in 1872, and the line to Muncie completed in 1876. This company would change its name to Lake Erie & Western Railway, the first of three companies with the exact same name. It was this company that completed the line from Muncie to Celina, Ohio, in 1879.
The LE&W Railway would become the LE&W Railroad on 8 April 1887. The LE&W would be controlled by the New York Central until 1920, when it was sold off to become the Nickle Plate.