In the mid 1900’s, the New York Central chose a site where four townships (Center, Perry, Warren and Franklin) come together to create what would be the second largest industrial city then being built in the United States. The New York Central was building a very large shop facility in the name of their subsidiary, the Big Four. Over 100 years later, the shops are still working. Although the city of Beech Grove was built to be a railroad city, today it doesn’t depend on that industry to survive.
The central intersection of the new town would be along the township lines separating the four townships named above. First Avenue (now Emerson Avenue) is the dividing line east to west for these townships…Center to Warren, and Perry to Franklin. Albany Street (known as Troy Avenue throughout the rest of Marion County) forms the boundary between Center and Perry, and Warren and Franklin. The large shops themselves are actually in Warren and Franklin Townships.
The plan for the New York Central shop facilities were immense. 22 buildings were planned on the 600 acres purchased by the NYC. The total cost would be in the $3 to $5 million range. To the west of the new facility, the Beech Grove Improvement Company purchased 1,100 acres to create a town to support the new industry.
The official list of buildings planned, according to the Beech Grove Improvement Company, are listed in the following ad for the sale of lots.
When the plans were being laid for the future Beech Grove, Indianapolis was a major railroad hub. The Big Four, while named for bigger cities outside Indiana, basically had its center in Indianapolis. All of the railroads that were consolidated to create the Big Four did have Indianapolis in their name prior to the creation of the massive railroad company. They also owned 40% of the Indianapolis Belt Railway and Indianapolis Union Station. Being the central point of the company, it made sense to build large shops in the Indianapolis area.
The area had been a quiet farming community during the 19th Century known as Ingleston. The current name of the town, reportedly, came from a stand of old growth trees in the area. The first church in the area was built in 1837. The first school in 1868. The next station railroad east (southeast) of Ingleston was called Poplar Grove. Poplar Grove today is roughly the location of an Indianapolis Power & Light substation. The owner of a large cattle farm in the area, F. M. Churchman, convinced the railroad that traversed the area to build a shipping spur in the area. The station created took the name Beech Grove.
In 1906, the New York Central decided to create their facilities. It took four years to build the majority of the shops. At the time, they were advertised as the “greatest locomotive hospital in the world.” It would maintain this moniker until the coming of the diesel locomotives. Those engines were being serviced elsewhere. This led to a downturn in railroad employment in the town.
In 1975, the facility would be turned over to Amtrak, the United States’ passenger railroad. Some may question this decision, especially today, since Amtrak really hasn’t had a strong train presence in Indianapolis. But, due to its central location and proximity to Chicago, Beech Grove was seen as the perfect place for Amtrak’s major shops.