Columbus, Hope & Greensburg

1878. A meeting in Bloomington is held to create a new railroad route from Cincinnati, across Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis. Subscriptions in the route collected at the meeting came to $30,000. The plan was named the Cincinnati & St. Louis Narrow Gauge Railroad. In Indiana, the new railroad would cross to Greensburg, Hope, Columbus, Nashville, Bloomington and Bloomfield. While the entire route was never built, it would lead to a route that connected at least three of those towns. That railroad became a Big Four Railway route called the Columbus, Hope & Greensburg.

By 1881, the scope of the railroad would be scaled back. At least in part. The first company that was created was the Hope & Greensburg, connecting the two title towns. Greensburg, the county seat of Decatur County, had already been connected to Cincinnati by a railroad from Indianapolis through Shelbyville. Hope, originally founded as Goshen (until it was realized that Indiana already had a town named Goshen), is a small town along the Shelbyville-Columbus State Road. (When I say small town, the population in 2010 was around 2100. That is reported as both .03% of the 2010 state population. It made Hope the 200th largest community in the state.)

It really wasn’t smooth sailing to get another railroad built across Indiana. The plan to create the route was actually voted down in Clay Township, Decatur County. This township borders Bartholomew County, and would be a major piece of land to have to go around. The Columbus Republic of 17 January 1881 reports that another vote was to be scheduled in Clay Township to allow the road. Part of proposition that the voters of the area shot down was that the governments of the townships would own stock in the company. Hawcreek Township, Bartholomew County, had already voted. It is not mentioned, but it is assumed, that Hawcreek Township, where Hope is located, had approved the line and purchase of its stock.

Opposition to the proposed railroad was very strong. The Columbus Republic of 20 January 1881 reported that the opposition was so strong that it “will probably prevent its construction if possible.” But the company wasn’t deterred. It was also reported that “the road, if built, will owe its existence to the ambition of President Ingalls, of the C. I. C. St. L. & C (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago) road. He has been entirely independent of both the Pennsylvania and B & O. combinations.” It was hoped that acquiring this little line from Greensburg to Columbus would be the first link in a line all the way to St. Louis, as the route was originally planned.

The meeting that was reported in the above newspaper elected officers and formally extended the line. The name was changed at that meeting from “Hope & Greensburg,” to “Columbus, Hope & Greensburg.” The corporate hierarchy was approved, having a board of directors consisting of 13 people. An official name change was to be filed with the Secretary of State as soon as possible after this meeting.

By 2 October 1883, the road would be open to Hope. This was celebrated by carrying 152 passengers from Hope to Cincinnati. The railroad would be opened to Columbus on 1 April 1884. This would allow trains to connect from Cincinnati, through Greensburg, to the Panhandle routes at Columbus. Businesses and passengers along the route had two choices to get to Indianapolis, one to Cincinnati, one to Louisville, and another connection toward Columbus, Ohio, via Shelbyville and Rushville. Express shipments would be handled by the American Express Company, with agents placed in stations along the route.

The Columbus, Hope & Greensburg, starting in May 1884, would be operated by the CICStL&C. Later, it would, as of 17 October 1891, be leased by the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four) Railway. One of the railroads that created the ultimate Big Four Railway was the CICStL&C. The Interstate Commerce Commission reports issued around the time of World War I (as a result of the government takeover of all railroads in the United States) state that “the Big Four receives all revenues, maintains and operated property and pays taxes and interest on outstanding bonds of the lessor, but the records do not disclose any other consideration paid.”

Passenger service was on the decline along the line when the railway was going to meet with local officials about removing passenger service between Columbus and Greensburg. The Columbus Chamber of Commerce was against this move. 1928 saw a loss of some of the revenue for the small branch line as mail was moved from trains along the line to a star route bus. Passengers, at the time, had already been using a bus, operated by the railroad, to get between the title cities. The Big Four, as of 27 February 1928, was going to start running a combined passenger/freight train along the entire line. But that train would not carry any mail. The Star Route Bus would run from Burney twice a day to Columbus and once daily to Greensburg. The new passenger accommodations would be limited to one train daily: to Columbus in the morning; to Greensburg in the afternoon.

The decline of passengers along the Columbus, Hope & Greensburg would finally be complete on 13 December 1941. The Big Four removed the last passenger car from the route. It was a single passenger coach, in a freight consist, which would run daily. The Rushville Republican of 17 December 1941 reported that “passenger receipts of this tine branch had dwindled to as low as $2 a month.”

The Columbus end of the line would be moved in 1958 when the New York Central yards and its station at Third Street were purchased by the Cummins Engine Company. The New York Central had already put in place plans to move terminal facilities from the Third Street station to a new facility at 14th Street and Michigan Avenue. The plan for Cummins to buy the downtown Columbus property had been in negotiations for two years, according to the Greensburg Daily News of 19 March 1958.

The railroad, in its entirety, would be abandoned by the Penn Central by 1973. There was talk, in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Republic of 25 June 1971, that a “proposal for a public park along the to-be-abandoned Columbus-Hope railroad line” had been printed as a letter to the editor some nine days prior. Later, other things that were in play were affecting the possibility of using the right of way for other purposes. A proposed reservoir on Clifty Creek would have required the very expensive rerouting of SR 46 between Columbus and Greensburg. As pointed out in a letter to the editor in the Columbus Republic of 13 February 1973, “it seems to me the best solution would be to acquire the old abandoned railroad right of way that goes through Hope and Burney and on to Greensburg. This road bed could be made into an excellent 2-way state road by widening it by bulldozing a little off the top to make it a little wider.”

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