Indianapolis Street Running on Tennessee St. (Capitol Ave.)

In the late 19th Century, downtown Indianapolis, at least the south side of downtown, was absolutely covered in railroad facilities. With a centrally located Union Station, freight houses spread to either side of that, and several maintenance facilities to help out, it was very difficult to move around the area south of the Circle without tripping on a iron rail. Most of these railroads used areas between the laid out streets of the city. One railroad, however, ran their tracks right down Tennessee Street.

1889 map of Indianapolis, showing railroad facilities around Union Station.

In the 1970’s, the subject railroad track was removed from service. Up to that point, it had been on an elevated structure right down the middle of Capitol Avenue. The track that had used that bridge was a spur line to one industry that was located on what is now the south half of the Lucas Oil Stadium property. That track had been in place for 100 years when it was removed. But what was so important that the track was put there in the first place.

The earliest map that I have seen that shows this particular track is from 1870. At the time, the track was laid right down the middle of Tennessee Street to an iron works on the west side of Tennessee Street between Merrill and Catherine Streets. R. A. Douglas obtained the right to build the track in 1857. This was the Indianapolis Rolling Mill Company. Most of their work involved making and recycling rails for the railroads. The company reported 17,000 tons of rails sold in 1877, of those, 2,402 tons were new rails.

1889 map showing the Indianapolis Rolling Mill Company on South Tennessee Street

The Indianapolis Rolling Mill Company had quite a few rails inside their property. These connected to the line that ran in Tennessee Street, connecting to the outside world at Union Station. Here, the rolling mill had access to all railroads that entered the city. Around the same time that the map above was published, the company underwent a name change, to Premier Steel Works. But that company didn’t exist long. By 1893, a receiver was appointed for the works.

The railroad would run through Tennessee Street, later Capitol Avenue, until the elevation of the tracks at Union Station. With that elevation, it was necessary to elevate the Capitol Avenue tracks. At the time, the old Indianapolis Rolling Mill works was being used by the Central Indiana Railroad, as was the track running from Union Station. The city of Indianapolis decided to order the Central Indiana to elevate the Capitol Avenue track to conform with the new elevation of the Union Station tracks. The Central Indiana objected, partly by arguing that the company owned used the track without owning it. The city, not to be outdone, put forth the argument that the right to use the street for switch purposes was not granted to the assigns of the man that got the track built in the first place. Therefore, argued city lawyers, the Central Indiana had no right to protest.

The Central Indiana argued that the 2.5% grade of the track would put undue strain on the facility. A second argument was made that a change in the right of way for the track would be necessary, and that the statute creating the elevation project didn’t give the city the power to change the location of a railroad. The elevation would ultimately be completed, and the Capitol Avenue railroad viaduct would be built.

After 1979, the connection to Union Station, the grade and the tracks would be removed. Traces of some of the trackage on the property of the rolling mill remained until the turn of the 21st century, as shown in the following MapIndy image from 2000. The Rolling Mill is still referenced to this day, as the property to the east of the old company property is still legally referred to as “Rolling Mill Company Subdivision.”

2 thoughts on “Indianapolis Street Running on Tennessee St. (Capitol Ave.)

  1. I believe the formal corporate name was “Central Railroad of Indianapolis”: the “Central Indiana” ran from Muncie to Brazil at the peak of its mileage. The vacated Central Railroad of Indianapolis name was revived in 1989 when Kokomo Grain bankrolled a new shortline radiating out of Kokomo to Frankfort, Marion, Tipton and Argos using spun-off NS ex-NKP trackage. After a period of independence, CERA was acquired by RailAmerica in 1997 and is now a part of the Genessee & Wyoming empire. I have never heard a convincing explanation of why they chose to use the vacated corporate name for an operation that came no closer than 30 miles to Indianapolis.


    1. I wondered about that. I know the Central Indiana ran through Madison, Hamilton and Boone Counties. But the Indianapolis Star of 3 January 1914 states “The Central Indiana Railroad Company won a point in the track elevation litigation…” I thought the name was weird myself. Then again, the tracks north of Indianapolis were the second use of the name Central Indiana…the first was for half of the Terre Haute & Richmond, separated from what became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis. Looking into more sources, if I can find any.


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