Indiana has been known as the “Crossroads of America” for a very long time. But what is less realized is that title was earned before there were that many good roads. Indiana was the crossroads of railroad companies. Looking at a map today, you’d be hard pressed to realize that. But you could go almost in the state by rail. Some say that it was because there were so many rail routes, it helped lead to the collapse of many railroad companies. A lot of these railroad companies were started with what was thought to be a good idea, but not enough traffic to support themselves. One such road was the Midland Route.
What would be named the Midland Route started on 3 July 1871 as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis (AL&StL) Railway. As you can tell by the name, it would connect across northern central Indiana, creating a direct route to St. Louis without having to go through Indianapolis. As with what happened quite a bit with a railroad line at the time, the area where the AL&StL was built improved quite a bit by the new railroad. Unfortunately, the flip side of the same coin was that the railroad itself did not do well financially. Foreclosure started on 12 December 1878, and was completed 23 December 1881. It then gained a new name in the process: Cleveland, Indiana & St. Louis (CI&StL) Railway.
Before continuing, it should be mentioned that one of the early creations of the AL&StL was a town named after the shape created when the railroad crossed the old Pendleton State Road to the northwest. Samuel E. Busky, a railroad company director at the time, noted that the crossing of the road and railroad looked like a man’s coat lapel. Hence the name of that town.
The CI&StL didn’t do much better than the AL&StL before it. Less so, really. Three and a half years later, on 1 April 1885 was sold again at foreclosure. The person that acquired the route, Thomas C. Platt, did so with a cash outlay of $40,000. In July of that year, it would be reorganized, gaining the name, and nickname, that it would have for the rest of its existence: Midland Railway.
It was during this time that the Midland would be built to its original longest extent. Starting in Muncie, it would parallel the Bee Line of the Big Four to Anderson. From there, the road would turn more or less due west through Noblesville and Lebanon, then turn southwest through Advance and Ladoga, ending at Waveland.
In 1891, the stock of the company was purchased by another man, Chicago attorney Henry Crawford. The road would change name again, this time to the Chicago & South Eastern (C&SE) Railway. This occurred on 9 October 1891, and 11 days later, all of the Midland was conveyed to the new C&SE. During the time of the C&SE, the road was built even longer. Using trackage rights along the Terre Haute & Logansport (later part of the Vandalia/PRR Terre Haute to South Bend line), the Midland connected Waveland Junction, west of Waveland, to Sand Creek. From Sand Creek to Bridgeton, and from Carbon to Brazil, the C&SE built its own track. Between Bridgeton and Carbon, the railway leased the Fort Wayne, Terre Haute & Southwestern (FWTH&SW) (in 1892) to connect the two separate sections of track. The FWTH&SW was purchased by the C&SE in 1902.
On 1 September 1902, Henry Crawford sold his interest in the C&SE to both the Big Four Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad. 16 March 1903 saw the final change of names of the railroad to the Central Indiana (CI) Railway. Three days later, operations of the route would be taken up by the Big Four/PRR owners. The plan was to use the route as a bypass of Indianapolis. It crossed several important lines of both companies: Bee Line (Big Four), Lafayette line (Big Four), St. Louis line (Big Four), Peoria & Eastern (Big Four), and Terre Haute line (Vandalia/PRR). It would later be crossed by the Indianapolis & Frankfort (PRR). Connections were also possible with the Baltimore & Ohio.
In the interurban age, residents of Ladoga would ride the CI to New Ross, along the Ben Hur route (Crawfordsville Traction), then ride the electric traction to Indianapolis. It would also serve as transportation for western Hamilton County students to go to Westfield High School.
Its use as a bypass would become a financial problem for the company. By the 1920’s, the Big Four/PRR started trying to abandon the entire route. This led to protests by local residents. On 14 September 1928, the company was given permission to abandon all but the section connecting Anderson and Advance, though the plan was to abandon the Advance to Lebanon section. The abandonment happened on 30 November 1928. The track that ran inside the city of Muncie would be sold to the Big Four.
The section from Advance to Lebanon would last until permission to scrap it came down from the Interstate Commerce Commission on 18 October 1943. Sixty days later, track gangs started ripping up the 8.27 mile section of railroad.
The Central Indiana would end up as part of the Penn Central in 1968. In 1974, the Penn Central was given permission to abandon the section from Westfield to Lebanon. In 1976, the line would be conveyed to Conrail. This is important in that when Conrail was created, it only had to take routes that it felt would be profitable or a good fit. There were many tracks in Indiana that had been part of the Penn Central that never made it to Conrail. This route was given the name of Westfield Secondary. But Conrail would change its mind with this route in 1982, when it was given permission to abandon the Westfield Secondary from Lebanon to Gadsden and from Lapel to Westfield.
Today, the remnants of the line, from Lapel to Anderson, is a shortlined railroad. The rest of the road, in sections, has become, or will become, a Rail Trail. In Westfield, it is called the Midland Trace Trail.