While wandering around Facebook on 28 December 2019, I noticed an interesting postin one of the groups that I belong to there. I don’t think it should come as any surprise that I belong to a large number of groups about history, whether it be of transportation or just basic Indiana history (strange, since my family is from Pennsylvania, by the way). Anyway, the group I was looking at was the Society of Indiana History Enthusiasts. The post in question was about some old railroad right-of-ways. Today’s post will be discussing one of those that were brought up in the SIHE post.
The railroad in question started life as two different companies: Bloomfield Railroad, and the Bedford, Springville, Owensburg & Bloomfield (BSO&B) Rail Road. Both were chartered in November 1874. Both routes, together, were built to connect Switz City, and the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad, to Bedford, and the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago (LNAC) Railway.
The railroad started as a narrow gauge (three foot) railroad heading west, then northwest, from Bedford. While Avoca is not in the railroad’s name, the town was platted in 1819 and the post office had been located there since 1856. The second town in the name of the company was Springville. This town came into being in 1832.
From here, the railroad followed the Owensville-Springville Pike. Between those two towns, the railroad crossed the Pike at least four times. The Owensville-Springville Pike is now SR 58. Near the SR 58 and what is now Armstrong Station Road/Boone Hollow Road was a rural station. This is where the Pike turned almost due west to head toward Owensville in Greene County. A map in the book Ghost Railroads of Indiana, by Elmer G. Sulzer, lists the station as Armstrong.
After Owensburg, a tunnel was built between Owensville and Koleen. The tunnel was 1362 feet long. This tunnel suffered from a large maintenance problem, having an underground stream below it. More information can be found at the Indiana Railroad Tunnels page about the Owensburg Tunnel. The railroad closely follows Mineral-Koleen Road between Owensville and Mineral. The BSO&B then treaded its way to Bloomfield, where it both ended its 34 mile journey and connected to the Bloomfield Railroad.
The Bloomfield Railroad was built to connect Bloomfield to Switz City. This six mile line was completed in 1878, four years after the company was formed. 1878 was also the year that the Bloomfield Railroad was merged into the Indiana & Illinois Southern, a company that connected Switz City to Effingham, Illinois. This makes the Bloomfield Railroad part of the lineage of two different companies: the Monon and the Illinois Central.
On 23 April 1883, the Bedford & Bloomfield Railroad was formed. It acquired, through purchase, the BSO&B before the company actually formed on 12 March 1883. The Bloomfield was purchased a year later on 29 March 1884. A lease by the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago was formed, making the B&B a branch of what would become known as the Monon.
When the Monon acquired the lease, the railroad had three connections at Bedford: the Monon mainline from New Albany to Michigan City; the Evansville & Richmond connecting the Evansville & Indianapolis at Elnora to the Vernon & Greensburg at Westport through Seymour; and the Bedford Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern which connected to Rivervale. Near Bloomfield, the B&B crossed the Evansville & Indianapolis from Terre Haute to Evansville through Worthington, Washington and Petersburg. At Switz City, the railroad connected to the Indianapolis & Vincennes and the former owner, Indiana & Illinois Southern.
Two more connections would come later with the coming of the Indianapolis Southern Railroad. Ultimately, the Indianapolis Southern and the Indiana & Illinois Southern would become part of the same company, and owned by the Illinois Central. The Indianapolis Southern would build the line from Switz City to Indianapolis through Bloomfield, just south of the B&B.
Stone quarries along the line helped make the B&B a potentially prosperous line. The problem was that the entire line had been built a) as cheap as possible and b) as a narrow gauge line. According to Ghost Railroads of Indiana, the acquiring of the right-of-way was not done in an entirely up-and-up way. “As a result, a number of fences were replaced over the completed tracks. Hence, when a train came along, it had to stop while members of the train crew set the fence rails aside for the train to pass.”
The station at Armstrong was a compromise to acquire right-of-way. The deal was that the railroad would establish stops on land that was donated to the company for the building of the railroad. Just because a station stop was built, however, didn’t mean that the train would really ever stop there. One story has Lizzie Armstrong, daughter of the land owner, being carried to Avoca due to the passenger train conductor being too obstinate to stop at Armstrong. She later got even by placing a tree dressed up in woman’s clothing in the middle of the track to get the train to stop. (Ghost Railroads of Indiana, pp 159)
When the LNA&C purchased the B&B, these problems would continue. The tunnel at Owensburg continued to be a money pit. The tunnel was expanded to make it wide enough for a standard gauge track. But the LNA&C didn’t take into consideration the problems with the construction of the line. 1895 saw the complete re-gauging of the line to standard, with all of the rails replaced by those that came off the Indianapolis division. This was due to more interest in coal from Greene and surrounding counties. The LNA&C saw the pending coal traffic as worth the expense.
The B&B Branch also had the capability to be used as a bypass in case of problems along the LNA&C mainline north of Bedford. The Indianapolis & Vincennes connected to the LNA&C at Gosport. Later, the Indianapolis Southern made connections with the LNA&C at Bloomington.
But coal and stone, and use as a bypass, couldn’t save the Bedford & Bloomfield branch. 1907 saw the Monon build a branch line from its main to Victoria, the center of the Monon’s coal traffic. This cut the B&B off from that traffic, leaving nothing but local freight and movements for the line.
Maintenance on the line would be a problem into the 1930s. The White River bridge, which had collapsed in 1894 and been rebuilt, would deteriorate to the point that in 1930, traffic along the line was embargoed west of the bridge. This broke the B&B off west of Bloomfield, making the connection between Switz City and Bloomfield useless. Traffic at that time could be routed along the Illinois Central between those two points, which helped in the degradation of the B&B. For the rest of the line west of Bedford, trains were on an “as needed” basis. “With the result that about six trains a month sufficed.” (Ghost Railroads of Indiana, pp 167)
The end came in 1935. The east end of the Owensburg tunnel collapsed, blocking the track. This had been a constant problem with the tunnel since its construction. The collapse happened in March, and in April, without traffic to justify reopening the tunnel, the Monon (at the time the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville) requested permission to abandon the line from Avoca west to Switz City. Permission came on 16 September 1935 to abandon the line from Dark Hollow Quarry to Switz City, effective 30 days later. The last of the line, from Dark Hollow to Bedford, would remain part of the Monon to the end, then into the Louisville & Nashville era. Those last ten miles were removed from service by the L&N in 1981.
A website that would recommend at this point is that of the “8th Subdivision – Bedford And Bloomfield Branch.” It contains a nice collection of information and pictures of the line.