Martinsville Traction

One of the Interurban lines created around the turn of the 20th century was the Indianapolis & Martinsville Traction Company. Work on creating the line started with the securing of rights of way, in 1899, by Jesse C. Tarkington. This would allow a traction company to build through towns between Indianapolis and Martinsville. The traction line would be, according to the Indianapolis Journal of 03 May 1901, “a short cut to Martinsville and will pass through all the towns on the Indianapolis & Vincennes road between this city and Martinsville.”

The same source newspaper reports that W. R. Todd & Company, bankers of Cincinnati and New York, had a representative, Reamy E. Field, in Indianapolis on 02 May 1901 to discuss with promoters of the line the possibility of investing in the new traction company. Mr. Field told a reporter for the Journal that “he had made arrangements to finance the road and had $600,000 at his disposal with which to begin work at once.” He also stated that “arrangements had been made with Dr. J. E. Lowes, of Dayton, O., to build the traction line, and work will begun (sic) as soon as a private right of way can be secured and the survey made.”

Dr. Lowes, at that time, was involved in building several traction lines. He built the line in Ohio connecting Dayton and Eaton, which would work in conjunction with the Richmond traction line that had just been organized. He also built 42 miles, between Dayton and Greenville (Ohio), that would become part of the line between Dayton and Fort Wayne.

The above mentioned survey, completed under Tarkington’s direction, would be the second such survey for a traction line to Martinsville from Indianapolis. This was reported in the Indianapolis News of 21 May 1901. Tarkington’s survey, under the the auspices of the Indianapolis & Southwestern Traction Company, followed the same right-of-way that had been surveyed by Charles Finley Smith. Smith’s company had already started condemnation proceedings to obtain that right-of-way. “In many places the stakes for the two lines are placed side by side.” The News added “it is understood that Mr. Tarkington claims that he had options on portions of the Smith right-of-way before the condemnation proceedings were begun, so it is likely that the matter will get into the courts.” The confusion caused by the two competitors caused many people to believe that neither line would be built.

The Indianapolis Journal of 25 August 1902 reported that the Indianapolis & Martinsville Rapid Traction Company had opened their line as far as Matthew’s Crossing, a location three miles south of Mooresville. This report, having been published on a Monday, stated that “it is expected to have the service in operation to Brooklyn and Bethany Park next Sunday.”

Indianapolis & Martinsville Rapid Transit Company
time table from 12 June 1906.
Martinsville Reporter-Times

In 1903, interurban tracks were proposed to extend from Martinsville ti Evansville. (Indianapolis Star, 17 July 1903) This was under the auspices of the Indianapolis, Martinsville & Southern Railroad Company, the other company that had surveyed the original Martinsville route. The company had increased their capital stock from $50,000 to $900,000 to fulfill the plan, with the company changing its name to the Indianapolis & Southwestern Traction Company. This route would change the surveyed route to acheive their goal since the Indianapolis & Martinsville had already built along hte original survey. This new route would pass through Marion, Johnson, Morgan, Owen, Greene, Sullivan, Knox, and Gibson Counties to Princeton. There it would connect to the line already being built to that point from Evansville. It would connect Indianapolis to Waverly, Martinsville, Gosport, Spencer, Worthington, Linton, and Vincennes, with branch lines to Bloomfield, Sullivan and Washington. It was never built, but parts would come back into the reign of possibility.

By 1905 (Indianapolis News, 29 June 1905), ownership of the company was in serious flux. It started with the Stone & Webster Syndicate of Boston gaining control of the company from local owners. But in the source newspaper, rumors were floating that the ownership had changed again to Philadelphia interests of the Widener-Elkins Syndicate. While it was a rumor, the News stated that the acquisition of the line was “in line with the commonly accepted purpose of the Widener-Elkins syndicate to obtain the control of every traction line centering in Indianapolis, if that be possible.” At the time, the Philadelphia syndicate controlled the Union Traction, Indianapolis & Eastern, Indianapolis & Western and the Indianapolis & Northwestern companies. These were a small part of the total lines owned by the syndicate, almost creating an interurban line connecting the Mississippi River to New York City. In 1902, the syndicate controlled the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company that had just gained control of the Indianapolis Street Railway.

The Indianapolis News of 13 June 1907 reported that promoters from Chicago were in Washington, Indiana, mentioning the with the next thirty days construction would begin connecting that city to Martinsville. This new line would run from Washington, through Bloomfield, to Martinsville. Further records don’t exist stating this line was ever built.

The company came under fire in 1911 when a series of rate increases for the journey between Martinsville and Indianapolis. Five Martinsville businessmen were in Indianapolis, according to the Martinsville Reporter-Times of 13 September 1911, on 12 September 1911 to discuss the problem. E. F. Branch, the spokesman for the Martinsville group, “called attention to the fact that pledges had been made when the franchise was granted that the round trip rate between Martinsville and Indianapolis would not be more than seventy-five cents. Later the round trip was made ninety cents; then it was placed at one dollar and now it is $1.10.” He added that “it is rumored that the round trip will be $1.20 after the first of October.”

A meeting of Martinsville citizens, in response to the rate increases, came up with the possibility of talking to the Vandalia Railway about the possibility creating a better transportation solution to the traction company. (The Vandalia was, at that time, the operator/owner of the original Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad that connected to Mooresville and Martinsville.) Officers of the traction company were told of this citizen meeting, “not as a threat, as the discussion was had in good humor.”

The traction company declined any concessions, as “ties, rails and material is higher and labor costs more.” Promises of an investigation into the matter were made. Mr. Branch countered with complaints of rough road conditions along the traction line, “that the jolting of the cards frequently made people sick, that the cars were not kept in good condition and that the service was not what it should be.” Mr. Todd, General Manager of the traction company, simply responded “it’s not so.”

Only a promise of investigation resulted from the meeting. But the businessmen would arrange a meeting with the Vandalia to decide where to go next.

Parts of the discussion mentioned above concerned the Martinsville line extending to Bloomington. There were questions, by the businessmen, about the possibility of the traction line getting the right to cross over the Big Four line that connected Martinsville to Franklin. The Martinsville contingent stated that the traction company would never get those rights. The traction company simply stated that they would go around. The Bloomington extension, in the end, would never be built.

By 1930, the line had been unprofitable for quite some time. The Franklin Evening Star of 19 September 1930 reported that committees had been formed in Martinsville to work on saving the line from the “probability of the discontinuance of operation of the Indianapolis and Martinsville traction line.” This plan was created with the bankruptcy of the parent company of the Martinsville line, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern (THI&E). The THI&E held the lease on, or outright owned, and operated a large number of the lines that radiated from Indianapolis, the Traction Terminal in Indianapolis, and the street car companies of Terre Haute and Indianapolis, among other properties.

By October 1930, according to the Indianapolis News of 07 October 1930, court hearings were being held about the abandonment of the line. Businessmen from Martinsville, Brooklyn and Mooresville were, obviously, opposed to the plan. Judge Jere West, of the Public Service Commission, heard the case. Abandonment was postponed, at that time, for five days “in which objectors may present argument.”

The following May, the Union Trust Company and the Security Trust Company, both of Indianapolis, entered Marion Superior Court to seek a foreclosure on the mortgages of the Martinsville line. The THI&E had lost the lease on the line, and was listed as a defendant in the case. The THI&E was scheduled to be sold at auction on 23 June 1931.

The official abandonment by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern would be announced on 18 February 1932 with a collection of other lines totaling 533 Indiana miles (Hancock Democrat, 18 February 1932). Those lines included: Indianapolis-Crawfordsville, 45 miles; Indianapolis-Martinsville, 30 miles; Indianapolis-Danville, 18 miles; Indianapolis-Lafayette, 67 miles; Lebanon-Crawfordsville, 15 miles; Terre Haute-Sullivan, 20 miles; Terre Haute-Clinton, 20; Indianapolis-Dunreith, 35; and Terre Haute-Illinois line to Paris, Illinois, 10 miles. That brought the total abandonment of the THI&E to 260 miles.

The gutted Martinsville line, as of March 1932, was actively being sought to become part of Public Service Company of Indiana, owners of the Indiana Railroad (1930). At that time, all that existed was the unused tracks, the right-of-way, three substations and a signal switch. (Indianapolis News, 21 March 1932) The company offered to pay $8,233, including $6,320 for the transmission lines. But the city of Martinsville wasn’t going down peacefully. Objections to the plans of disposal were presented by Ralph K. Lowder, City Attorney. It was argued that if the traction company was going to remove their tracks, the company’s original franchise required the company to restore the condition of the city streets that contained the now unused tracks. The purchasers, continued the argument, should be solely responsible for removing the tracks and restoring the streets used.

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