Pennsylvania Railroad Repair Shops at Indianapolis

A glance around Indianapolis will show, historically, that the Pennsylvania Railroad had a very impressive footprint in the city. From the old Pennsylvania elevated tracks leading to Union Station and the old freight house, the Transfer Yard along Oliver Street, to Hawthorne Yards. The Belt Railway and Union Station were both 60% owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad interests. But two related facilities are normally forgotten in the grand scheme of things: the Pennsy Athletic Yards and the Pennsylvania Repair Yards.

1937 aerial photo of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Athlectic
Facilities along Southeastern Avenue.

First, where were these places? The Pennsy Athletic Yards were, strangely, south of the repair yards and the B&O State Street Yard. Between the alley to the east of Harlan Street and Keystone Avenue along the north side of Southeastern Avenue. The property has been the location of a warehouse for Lane Bryant and its successor companies for years. That will be all I will mention about the Athletic Yards for the time being. They were important to the morale of PRR employees, and were the home of many early baseball games. But that is the extent of their transportation importance.

1937 aerial photo of the original Pennsylvania Railroad Indianapolis Repair Yards.

More important is the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Repair Shops. The Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Panhandle) acquired a large yard facility that stretched from what is now Willard Park to the Indianapolis Belt Railway with the consolidation of many lines that created the Pennsylvania Railroad system through Central Indiana. The yard was, at the time it was built, on the outskirts of the city. Looking at a map of the area, one would be understandably mistaken about the location of the yards and their expanse. The Panhandle and the Junction Railway (later a part of the Baltimore & Ohio) shared the same right-of-way from Union Station to just east of the railroad crossing of Pleasant Run, around 3.5 miles east of downtown.

Looking at the yard, there were actually two facilities in roughly the same location. Along the north edge of the right-of-way was the Pennsylvania Yards. South of the right-of-way was (and still is) the State Street Yard of the B&O. The Pennsylvania Yard would be one of the most important facilities in the Indianapolis are until the creation of the Hawthorne Yards in 1916.

The Indianapolis News of 23 April 1904 covers this yard very well. The yard itself, in addition to being a switching facility for railroad cars, was a major repair and scraping facility for the railroad. The roundhouse, with two current property addresses of 1) 2045 E. Washington St., and 2) 50 Koweba Lane, had space for what looks like 20 tracks. East of the repair shops, in 1904, was a place called “The Woods.” This location, with a large number of sycamore trees, was the “locomotive graveyard.” “When an engine is worn out and unfit for further service it is mechanically ‘dead.’ Then some ‘live’ engine pushes it on to one of the four sidetracks back of the shop. There it ‘lies dead.'”

1904 picture of Pennsylvania Lines locomotive #8435. It still survives today, being located in the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

A mention in the article in the Indianapolis News describes the strange way a “locomotive’s lifespan” works. That very week, a locomotive was being pulled into the repair facility. The locomotive in question had been built for the old Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis Railroad. It was built by Reuben Wells to climb the “inclined plane” hill out of Madison. Reuben Wells was “known to mechanics throughout the country as one of the best master mechanics in the last half century.” The engine, known at the time as Pennsylvania Lines #8435, served the Madison Hill very well in its time. And it was taken to Indianapolis for repair. While the engine itself was almost 40 years old at the time, the News pointed out that other engines, with much less time on the rails, were being towed out to “The Woods” for retirement and cannibalization. (For those unaware of that term, that is taking parts off an old piece of equipment to repair another.)

1956 MapIndy aerial photo of the PRR/B&O Yards and the Pennsylvania Athletic Fields.

The yard itself survived into the 1950’s. Connections through the yard were made with the Mallory plant along Washington Street. Other assorted service branches existed to businesses along Washington Street. Some of those service branch lines were still in place until Conrail abandoned the line in the early 1980’s. Most of the repair and switching work was moved over to Hawthorne Yards when it opened in 1916. With the removal of the old Pennsylvania Railroad, and its successors, the current owners of the B&O, CSX, expanded the State Street Yards into some of the area that had once been part of the Pennsylvania Repair Yards.

And while the Panhandle had been long gone for many decades, some of the property of the old yards still, for property tax purposes, are listed as being owned by old railroad entities. The property listed at 150 S. Lasalle St. is (tax purpose) owned by the PCC&STL RR (Panhandle), based in Union Station Room 217, Chicago, Illinois, 60606 (according to tax records of the City of Indianapolis). From Keystone Avenue to Rural Street, the tax owner of the property is Conrail in Jacksonville, Florida, which is CSX. The next segment west, from Willard Park to Keystone Avenue, is listed as being owned by Penn Central Corp., 1 E. Fourth St., Cincinnati, Ohio. The last segment, from State Street to the edge of Willard Park, is listed as being owned by Consolidated Rail Corp., 408 Penn Center Blvd., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I would bet that all of these properties are taken care of by one entity, probably CSX, but never got around to fixing the tax ownership.

Below is the ownership information, available from the City of Indianapolis, of each of the properties mentioned in the last paragraph.

2 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Railroad Repair Shops at Indianapolis

  1. Fantastic article, my neighbor worked for the Pennsy in Indianapolis for 40+ years. We never got around to this topic though.


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