Big Four Yard Near Downtown Indianapolis

The Lawrenceburg & Upper Mississippi Railroad. Or, as it was originally chartered, the Rushville & Lawrenceburg Railroad. Chartered on 16 February 1848 by the Indiana General Assembly, the railroad was designed to connect, ultimately, Indianapolis to the Ohio River at Lawrenceburg. It acquired its second name with a name change on 21 January 1850. The same year that it completed the tracks between its title cities, 1853, the railroad changed its name again to Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad.

The Indianapolis & Cincinnati decided to build a railroad yard just outside the city of Indianapolis. At that time, just outside the city was at Dillon Avenue…also known as the connection to the Shelbyville Road north of Virginia Avenue. The station for the railroad was along the line, due east of what is now Union Station, between Delaware and Alabama Streets. Essentially, the line of Louisiana Street was the Indianapolis & Cincinnati until the railroad turned southeast about 3/4 of the way across the half-square between what is now Shelby Street and State Avenue. Here, the railroad would build a maintenance and storage shop.

By 1870, the area south of what became the PRR and B&O to Prospect Street, from Dillon (Shelby) Street to Reed Street (State Avenue) was devoid of anything other than a railroad yard. Originally known as the I&C Yards, it would become the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Yards after the 1867 merger of the Indianapolis & Cincinnati and the Lafayette & Indianapolis.

1870 map of Indianapolis showing the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railway yards at Dillon (Shelby) Street.

With the creation of the Union Depot, the yard would become very important in the clean up of passenger cars. It served this purpose for the I&C, the IC&L, its successor the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway, and its successor the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Big Four). The city had essentially expanded around this yard.

1898 Sanborn Fire Map of the Big Four Yard (later Leota Yard or Coach Yard) at the Big Four Cincinnati Main Line and Shelby Street. The Leota Yard name would come from the street that crossed in the middle of the yards.

By 1898, the Big Four Yard, as it was known, stretched for a half mile between Shelby Street and State Avenue, with four tracks crossing State at Deloss. These four tracks would include access to the repair yard, north of the main line, two mainline tracks, and access to the roundhouse south of the main line. There would also be a track crossing both Lord and Shelby Streets for direct access to the roundhouse from the west. The roundhouse itself contained 38 stalls. The yard would later be named after the street that ran through the middle of the facility, which was later removed: Leota Yard.

With the creation of the Big Four facilities at Beech Grove, most of the maintenance duties left the Leota Yards. After that transfer of duties, Leota became known as the Coach Yards. Maintenance and clean up of passenger rolling stock would be taken care of at the yard, being around a mile from Union Station. The Cincinnati main line would run basically due east from Union Station, through Leota Yards, and then southeast towards Beech Grove and Cincinnati. The main line was moved, with new tracks connecting to the PRR/B&O just east of College Avenue. The tracks coming due east into Leota Yard were made a secondary, and were stub ended before crossing Virginia Avenue on the west end.

1937 MapIndy Aerial photo of Leota Yards. The tracks with the light colored ballast, running from upper left corner to lower right corner is the Big Four/New York Central’s Cincinnati Main Line.

Between 1956 and 1962, most of the facilities at Leota Yard would be gone. This coincides with the creation of the Big Four Yards at Avon. The roundhouse, according to aerial photos taken in 1962, had been removed, as have most of the tracks and other buildings. All through traffic coming through the old yards was coming along the northern main, with switching traffic using the old main to get to companies like Goodrich, which was located at East and Louisiana. The only remnant of that track that still remains is on a bridge over Interstate 65/Interstate 70 south of the Bates Street bridge. That is actually only the ties today.

1962 MapIndy Aerial photo of the former Leota Yards. The main line and a branch line to Goodrich is almost all that remains of the facility at that time.

In 2019, the latest that aerial photos are available as of this writing, very little remains of the old Leota Yards. The floor of a few stalls of the old roundhouse can be see in the grass that has overtaken the site, a stub of railroad track still exists…connecting nothing east of Shelby Street to nothing east of what would be Leota Street. One of the water tower stands, along the south property line next to the old roundhouse can still be seen. And, if you drive slowly north bound on Shelby Street just after passing the alley that marks the old south property line, you can still see a concrete marker dated 4-14-17 denoting the property of the CCC&StL. That can be seen in this Google Street View image.

2019 MapIndy Aerial photo of the former New York Central Leota Yards. The street running through the old roundhouse area was built sometime between 1972 and 1978.

One thought on “Big Four Yard Near Downtown Indianapolis

  1. Thanks for calling attention to this little-known area of Indy railroad history- considering how many people pass under the I-70 bridge every day.

    Like

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