Detroit, Eel River and Illinois Railroad, and the Wabash

In 1853, a company was chartered to build a railroad across Northern Indiana connecting Logansport to Butler. That 93 miles of track was completed in 1874. That railroad company, and five of its successor companies, fell into financial problems. In 1877, it became the Eel River Railroad Company. Two years later, the company fell under the sway of Jay Gould, controller of the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific (Wabash) Railroad. 16 years later, the Wabash found itself on the outside looking in.

The construction of the Eel River was questionable at best. When it was leased by the Wabash for 99 years starting in 1879, the railroad had been built using 56 pound rail. Rather small stuff, even in that time. The Wabash itself owned and operated trackage from Toledo, through Fort Wayne, to Logansport. Questions surrounded the lease. In addition to the light rails, the Eel River ended at Butler, a town of less than 2,000 people. Also, the road ran through the Hoosier countryside, only connecting even smaller towns along the way. What interest would Gould have in such a desolate railroad?

The answer came in 1880 in the form of a new railroad company: The Butler & Detroit. This new company, chartered on 22 June 1880, would build a railroad between the two title cities. The lease of the Eel River by the Wabash, and the creation of the Butler & Detroit by same Wabash, created a railroad that would create a direct line from Detroit to St. Louis. The name change of 25 May 1881 suggested that very thing when the company became known as the Detroit, Butler & St. Louis Railroad Company.

Two weeks later, the DB&StL was merged into the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific Railroad. But the Eel River was still only leased. The Wabash owned from Butler to Detroit. But it depended on the financial strength of the Eel River to maintain that connection. Well, they did for a while.

1889, and things were going to get very nasty in the world of railroads and northern Indiana towns. A local concern built a brand new short line connecting the Eel River Railroad at Chili to the Wabash Railroad at Peru. That line was then leased to the Wabash for 99 years. The owners of that line gave it the name Peru & Detroit. There was no pretense whatsoever in the name. And, it was believed that the locals that created the railroad did so under the watchful eyes of the Wabash Company.

The new railroad sucked traffic off of the Eel River between Logansport and Chili almost immediately. Wabash traffic was routed along its own line from Logansport to Peru, where Detroit bound traffic would turn north to connect with the Eel River line at Chili. The Eel River fell into almost immediate disrepair, as facilities fell out of use. Eel River shops at Logansport were closed and consolidated with the Wabash shops at Peru.

And full scale journalistic wars started between the two cities…and started including cities that weren’t even involved in the fight.

Things would come to a head on 21 September 1891 when the Cass Circuit Court, at the behest of stockholders in the Eel River Company, named a Receiver for the company. This started a battle between shareholders of the Eel River and the Wabash Company itself that lasted six years.

The Wabash found itself between a rock and a hard place. Its own tracks, at the time, connected Logansport to Toledo, and Bulter to Detroit. Without the section of the Eel River between Butler and Chili, continued Wabash traffic out of Detroit was impossible. Such traffic was lucrative. And lawyers for the Wabash would fight the receivership as long as necessary to maintain that routing.

The first thing that the appointment of the receiver did, as far as traffic was concerned, was immediately terminate the lease of the Eel River held by the Wabash. It was reported in teh Logansport Pharos-Tribune of 22 September 1891 that the “action destroys the Wabash Company’s Peru and Detroit and Detroit & Chicago divisions and will seriously cripple that company.”

In June 1894, a decision was rendered in Fulton Circuit Court concerning the Eel River, the Wabash, and its lease. It seemed to locals that, by this time, the Wabash might have just wanted to drop the lease of the Eel River altogether. Judge A. C. Capron would order that the Eel River be separated from the Wabash completely, and that all property, books and other items be turned over to the receiver of the Eel River immediately. The orders weren’t completed that way.

The Interstate Commerce Commission, in their reports, list that the charter of the Eel River Railroad was annulled on 4 September 1897. But that wouldn’t be the end of the Eel River, or the Wabash’s involvement in same.

The Indianapolis Journal of 19 May 1900 reported that “the Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision in the Eel River Railroad case affirming the opinion of the Howard Circuit Court, to the effect that the Eel River Railroad Company had forfeited its charter by abandoning the operation of the road, and that the lease given by the Eel River company to the Wabash Railroad Company was null and void.” That ended the long fight over the rights to use the Eel River.

A notice in the Indianapolis Journal of 25 April 1901 stated that on 10 June 1901, “at the depot and station of the Eel River Railroad Company (now operated by the Wabash Railroad Company) in the city of Logansport, Cass county, Indiana, as such receiver, sell at public auction to the highest and best bidder for cash all the porperty and effects of every kind and description of the Eel River Railroad Company.” Such property included 94 miles of railroad track in Cass, Miami, Wabash, Kosciusko, Whitley, Allen, Noble and Dekalb Counties. “Also a tract of land, containing about twenty-one (21) acres, in lot four (4) of Barron Reserve, in township twenty-seven (27) north, range one (1) east, in the county of Cass, and State of Indiana, owned by the said Eel River Railroad Company, and lying west of the right of way of said company and south of Bates street in the city of Logansport.”

Again, according to the Interstate Commerce Commission (a copy of the report is available here), the Eel River was sold to Elijah Smith, William W. Crapo, and Daniel L. Quirk on 10 June 1901. It would become the Logansport & Toledo Railway on 12 September 1901, when all property of the old Eel River was deeded to the Logansport & Toledo. About three years and three months later, on 1 January 1905, the Logansport & Toledo, the Indianapolis & Vincennes, The Terre Haute & Logansport, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, and the Terre Haute & Indianapolis all were consolidated into one company: the Vandalia Railroad Company. This consolidation would put the city of Logansport, still serviced by the Wabash, squarely into the hands of one of those roads that the Wabash would always consider a competitor – the Pennsylvania Railroad.

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