Danville Traction

The Indianapolis & Danville Traction Company. Routes between Indianapolis and Danville had already been in place before the complete opening of this traction line on 31 August 1906. The Big Four Railway had connected to the town as part of the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railroad, a company formed in 1867. The Rockville State Road (future PPOO, and US 36) and the Danville State Road (a little known route, even to the locals) also connected the the two cities. But electric traction fever had hit Indiana…and hard. Really hard.

The original plan for this line wasn’t to connect Indianapolis to Danville. The plan was to connect Indianapolis to Rockville, via Danville. The Indianapolis, Danville & Rockville ID&R) Traction Company was officially incorporated in January 1903 at Indianapolis. The ID&R sent men into the countryside of Putnam and Hendricks Counties in March 1903 to purchase private property for the right-of-way. (Indianapolis News, 27 March 1903) “Surveyors have gone over the route from Indianapolis to Rockville, taking along a level and establishing grades. The road follows the Rockville pike closely from Indianapolis for a distance of sixty mile, touching the towns of Danville, Bainbridge, Morton, Hollandsburg, Bellmore and Rockville.” The plan of the company is to acquire franchise rights in the towns before building would commence. The officers of the company, when first put together, were Everett Wagner (Indianapolis, President), J. W. Ader (Danville, Vice President), J. W. Trotter (Danville, Secretary), and W. C. Osborne (Danville, Treasurer).

Also mentioned in that article was the fact that the ID&R had already made arrangements with the Indianapolis & Western for both companies to both construct and use the tracks. The I&W would use the section between Indianapolis and Danville as a jumping off point to continue their plan to connect to Greencastle and Brazil. The I&W later decided to put its Danville plans on hold to go back to building its line through Plainfield.

By July 1903, it was reported that almost the entire right-of-way was acquired along the route all the way to Rockville. On 29 July of that same year, the company had filed for franchise rights to build over and along the Rockville Gravel Road in western Marion County.

An incorporation document for the Indianapolis and Danville Traction company was filed on 09 January 1904. The original planned issue of capital stock was $100,000. However, with the incorporation that day, it was increased to $700,000 so that construction could continue. The construction would had already started, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 14 November 1903. “The gangs of men have gone into winter quarters and will work steadily until spring.” The goal of the company officials was to have the line built to Danville by 01 July 1904, “unless some unforeseen obstacle arises.” (Indianapolis News, 01 March 1904) All of the heavy grading was complete, and most of the needed bridges were ready to be swung into place. “The expansion to Rockville, Ind., will begin after the Danville division is completed.”

Muncie Evening Press, 31 August 1906

The arrival of the first train along the entire line (to Danville at that point), according to the Muncie Evening Press of 31 August 1906, was that morning. By this time, the company had already been sold twice. The original owners listed above sold it to a syndicate called the Tucker-Anthony Syndicate. This was sold to a syndicate represented by Hugh McGowan in Indiana. The purchase by McGowan occurred after the previous owner failed, by a year, to complete the Danville section in time. This led to the canceling of both the Rockville and Greencastle/Brazil extensions. It would be almost a year later that, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 05 July 1907, hourly service would be commenced along the line. Trains would leave Indianapolis starting at 0500 and every hour until 1900 (7 pm). The last two cars would leave the city at 2100 (9 pm) and 2330 (11:30 pm).

The line, when completed, would consist of 19.8 miles connecting the Indianapolis Traction Terminal to “downtown” Danville. Most stops along the line were numbered, but those were rather strange at times. For instance, there were “half stops” after six, 11, 15, 16 and the last numbered stop, 22. Then there were named stops between the numbered ones. (Not unusual. The most well known interurban stops today were along the Greenwood line, with the road names being the stops. But Stop 9 was at Banta Road [1/2 mile north of Southport], and Stop 10 is 1/2 mile south of Southport. Southport WAS a stop…but not a numbered one.) Those named stops included Whitcomb, State Farm, White Lick, Tremont Gardens, Taylors, Griswold, Huron, Avon, Rockwood, Gale, Underwood, Hadley’s and Danville. The Danville line crossed into Hendricks County at Stop 9, nine miles from the Traction Terminal.

With the purchase of the Danville Traction by those represented by Hugh McGowan, in addition to other properties owned by the same syndicate, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern was created. In addition to the Danville line, the Plainfield line (extended to Terre Haute), the Martinsville line, the Lebanon line, the Crawfordsville line and the Indianapolis & Eastern (connecting to Richmond) all came under the same umbrella. In addition to the above companies, Hugh J. McGowan was instrumental in the building of the Indianapolis Traction Terminal, reorganizing and forming the Indianapolis Street Railway Company, and forming the Indianapolis Traction & Terminal Company, which ended up leasing the Indianapolis Street Railways.

A report in the Indianapolis Star of 25 June 1907 caught my interest for this article. To give you an idea of how much power would be used to keep the interurban running, it was reported that P. H. Zipp, the Avon substation foreman, avoided death even though he fell into a supply wire carrying 33,000 volts of electricity. Apparently, what kept the man from being killed is that he fell through the wires to the floor below without getting the full brunt of what could have been fatal. His head and his face came in contact with the wires in question. His face and head were badly burned, and he did suffer from weakness due to the shock. But his doctor stated that he would recover.

Disaster struck the line, and the town of Danville, on 13 June 1909. Tornadoes and heavy rains struck the town that afternoon, leaving Danville, according to the Indianapolis Star of 14 June 1909, “cut off from all telephone or telegraph communication with the outside world, and cars on the Indianapolis & Danville traction line did not run between the hours of 4 and 10 p. m. on account of washouts.” Hardscrabble, a traction station four miles east of Danville, “was in the center of the storm and suffered considerable damage.”

Weather would be a concern for all transport facilities in March 1913. The floods spread all across Indiana, and most of page 11 of the Indianapolis News of 25 March 1913, covered flood damage all over the state. The section that relates to this article reports that no more cars would run along the Danville line after the 10 a.m. train due to high water. The floods of 1913 will be covered in a later post. Suffice it to say, those floods were extremely dangerous and extremely damaging.

“Improved highways, major busses and private automobiles joined yesterday sounding the death knell for another Indiana interurban line.” This was the first paragraph of an article in the Indianapolis Star of 06 August 1930. “Petition for abandonment of the Indianapolis to Danville line of the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company was filed with the public service commission by Elmer W. Stout, president of the Fletcher American National bank and receiver for the traction line.” Part of the petition showed that the line had only shown a profit, in the last few years, in 1920, 1921, and 1927. Authority to abandon the line was given to Mr. Stout in September 1930, with traction division traffic to cease on 31 October 1930. The old right-of-way would be mentioned in newspaper articles after its abandonment for less than a decade as a location reference for those stories. But even that would stop. And the Indianapolis-Danville Traction Company quietly faded away with very little fanfare.

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