There was a time in Indiana when some smaller towns in the state became somewhat major railroad hubs. Cambridge City, a town founded along the National Road in 1836, would become not only a railroad center, but transportation in general. But today, I want to focus on the railroads in the town.
Ultimately, Cambridge City would be along the lines of four (three) different railroads. You may wonder about the “four (three)” comment. The four companies were the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis, the Indiana Central, the Connersville & New Castle Junction, and the White Water Railroad. Ultimately, before abandonments would rear their ugly head, it would be three railroad companies: Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Nickel Plate.
Let’s start with the White Water Railroad, which would find its way to the New York Central via the Big Four Railway. The White Water Valley Railroad Company was formed under the general laws of Indiana on 8 June 1865. This company would build the line, from Harrison, Ohio, to Hagerstown, Indiana, in 1868. This would be 68 miles of track. It was mostly built along the line of the White Water Canal, connecting the same locations. The White Water Canal crossed the National Road at Cambridge City. The White Water Valley Railroad would be sold at foreclosure on 15 May 1878. It would take almost a year, but the property would be conveyed to the White Water Railroad Company, created on 28 May 1878 by the Indiana General Assembly. The new company would acquire the old railroad property on 12 May 1879. The White Water Railroad would remain separate until it was conveyed to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four) Railway on 1 November 1890, a little more than a year after the Big Four was created. The section between Connersville and Hagerstown, thus through Cambridge City, was removed from service in 1931 and ripped up in 1936.
The line that would become part of the Nickel Plate started as the Cincinnati & Chicago Short Line Railroad. This company was created by law in Indiana on 12 February 1853. On 1 May 1854, it became part of the Cincinnati & Chicago Rail Road Company, after it was merged with the Cincinnati, New Castle and Michigan Rail Road. The charter for these companies stayed idle for quite a long time. The company was sold at foreclosure, and the section that would be built through Cambridge City was given to Watton J. Smith, by sherriff’s deed, on 7 July 1860. Mr. Smith held onto the company, which was still in name only, until he deeded it, via quitclaim, to the Connersville & New Castle Junction Railroad Company on 26 February 1864. The latter company was created by law on 23 October 1863. The Connersville & New Castle Junction would build and open its 25.05 miles of track connecting Connersville and New Castle in 1865.
This rail line would go through a long series of consolidations over the next nearly half century. The Connersville & New Castle Junction would be consolidated with the New Castle & Muncie Rail Road to become the Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie Rail Road on 2 January 1868. This company, in turn, would merge with the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railway on 4 January 1871, to become the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati (FtWM&C) Rail Road. 10 years later, the FtWM&C would be sold at foreclosure to become part of the Fort Wayne, Cincinnati & Louisville (FtWC&L) Railroad on 6 December 1881. Again, another consolidation merged the New Castle & Rushville Rail Road into the FtWC&L on 11 November 1886. FtWC&L would be the name that the company would maintain until it was merged into the Nickle Plate in 1923, even though the line was purchased, on 28 May 1890, by the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.
The Lake Erie & Western would be operated as a separate entity by the New York Central during the first two decades of the 20th Century. It was sold to the Nickel Plate in 1922. The Nickel Plate, legally the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, would exist as a separate company until it was merged into the Norfolk & Western on 16 October 1964. In the late 1970’s, the N&W filed for permission to abandon the rail line through Cambridge City, abandoning the New Castle Branch lines from New Castle to Connersville and from New Castle to Rushville. Both of these abandonments were withdrawn at the time. Although it looks unused, the railroad line is still in place through Cambridge City.
The Pennsylvania Railroad served, until the lines were abandoned, Cambridge City using two lines, both associated with the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Panhandle) Railway. A rail line connecting Cambridge City to Rushville started life at the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad Company. It acquired the right of way, that was partly graded, from the Lake Erie and Pacific Railroad Company created on 23 December 1861. The Lake Erie & Louisville would be the company that would complete the building of the line per an agreement of 28 August 1866 with the Indiana Central Railway and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis (JM&I) Railroad. The 21 mile route would open in 1867, and would be operated, under lease, by the JM&I. This line between Cambridge City and Rushville to finish a line that ultimately connected the Indiana Central line at Cambridge City to the JM&I at Columbus, via Shelbyville and Rushville. The JM&I would be merged with other companies, including the next mentioned, to create the Panhandle on 30 September 1890.
The Indiana Central actually was a replacement charter for the original Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. The latter company would be formed to connected the two close to state line cities through Indianapolis. The line was completed from Terre Haute to Indianapolis, with the rest of the line to Richmond not having been even considered for construction by the company. On 16 February 1848 the Indiana General Assembly approved the creation of the Indiana Central Railway Company. This was after the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847. Although the TH&R built to Indianapolis, and decided to go no further, in 1852, it remained that company name until 6 March 1865, when it became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Rail Road.
The Indiana Central would build from Indianapolis to the Indiana-Ohio State Line, some 71.94 miles of track, in 1853. Strangely, the Indiana Central Railway existed until 19 October 1864 (five months before the TH&R would change Richmond to Indianapolis in its name) when it was merged with the Columbus & Indianapolis Railroad to become the Columbus & Indianapolis Central Railway. Some dates get a little confused right about here, but suffice it to say that after a few consolidations, the line running through Cambridge City would connect Indianapolis to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and fall under the sway of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It would be part of the 30 September 1890 consolidation that formed the Panhandle. The TH&I, which was tasked with building the line by chartered, but decided not to, would also be added to the Panhandle when the company that it consolidated into, the Vandalia Railroad, would be consolidated into the Panhandle by the Pennsylvania.
The line connecting Cambridge City to Rushville was moved to the west, severing the Cambridge City connection, in 1910, with a revamp of the Panhandle mainline through the area. The connection between the east-west main and the Louisville line at Columbus would be moved to Dublin. There it would remain until it was abandoned in 1955. The mainline through the area would only survive until 1976, when the Penn Central, successor to both the Pennsylvania and the New York Central, would file for the permission to abandon the line from Cambridge City to Charlottesville, a total of 21.26 miles. This permission was requested on 31 March 1976, one day before the line would have been taken into the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail. The old Pennsylvania mainline east from Cambridge City, for 10.1 miles to Centerville, would be, 1982, put up for abandonment by Conrail.
The Richmond Palladium-Item of 2 January 1954 published an article in their continuing series about the history of transportation in Richmond and Wayne County. This series commemorated the arrival, on 18 March 1853, of the first locomotive in Richmond. Luther M. Feeger wrote in that article that Cambridge City once had an elaborate Union Station, built in March 1866. That station was built as a joint venture between the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad and the Indiana Central Railway. It was, reportedly, more elaborate than the station in Richmond. Unlike Indianapolis Union Station, the two railroads involved in Cambridge City would both become part of the same company – the Pennsylvania. (Indianapolis’ Union Station was created by five companies, three became Pennsylvania, two become New York Central…and the entire station would end up owned by the Penn Central in the end.)
For Cambridge City, it had gone from having four railroad lines to what is today one seldom or never used line crossing from northwest to southeast. At one point, trains out of the town could take you to Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, Columbus (Ohio), and Louisville. The lines also connected a rider from Cambridge City to places like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City. Today, Cambridge City sits along the historic National Road, sharing its transportation heritage with the world…along with some of the best antique shopping in the state.