Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – Illinois Street Lines

Today, I am starting a new Saturday series called “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday.” My plan is to cover the Indianapolis Street Railways, a line or two at a time, every Saturday until I run out of street car lines to cover.

There was a time, not really all that long ago, really, that the city of Indianapolis was served by a street railway system that covered quite a bit of the city. What most people think of is the electric trolley cars, and the wires hanging across the streets to supply their power. This wasn’t always the case. The street railways started being put into place in 1864. Electrification had full stride in the 1890s. Today, I want to cover four different street car lines that all started as part of the Illinois Street line, as well as the original Fairgrounds line, since it was the first built.

It should also be noted that when I describe the street car lines, I am using the ORIGINAL street names as they appeared at the time. The current street name will be contained in parentheses after the original street name. I wanted to say this because it gets a bit confusing, especially after the 1894 numbered street name changes.

The earliest city directory listing of street car lines appears in 1879. At that time, the Citizens’ Street Railway Company was the operator of the street car service. Their offices, and main barn, was at the northeast corner of Louisiana and Tennessee Streets (now Capitol Avenue). The first street car line built, called the Illinois-Fairgrounds line, ran east on Louisiana to Illinois, north to Washington Street, west to West Street, then north to Military Park, which at one time had been the Indiana State Fairgrounds. That line would not be listed in the City Directory of 1879…but the name would come back into use when the state fairgrounds moved to the Maple Road (38th Street) location. This line would also be called the Blake Line when it came back into being in 1882.

1879 City Directory listing for the route of
the Illinois Street Car line.

The first line mentioned in the city directory is the Illinois Street line. This line also was laid down in 1864, running from the Louisiana Street barn to North Street. Two years later, it was extended to Seventh Street (now 16th Street). By 1889, the Illinois line was extended to 26th (now 34th) Street, with a Crown Hill loop running from Illinois to Mississippi Street (Boulevard Place) north of 26th (34th) Street. It would be electrified in 1890.

A separate addition to the Illinois Street line occurred with electrification. To the Crown Hill loop was added the Fairview line, continuing up Mississippi Street to 30th (38th) Street/Maple Road, west along Maple Road to Rookwood Street, north to 34th (42nd) Street, west to Fairview (Haughey), then north to the Fairview Park loop. This line would serve the new campus of Butler University when it moved from Irvington in 1928. It began life as an electrified line.

In 1911, Fairview line was changed to continue straight up Senate Avenue (Boulevard Place) to 42nd Street. This was in conjunction with the creating of the 38th Street boulevard that exists today. The “Rookwood Avenue elbow,” taking the line along 38th Street between Senate and Rookwood Avenues, was removed the following year. (Indianapolis Star, 15 April 1934)

In 1892, another addition to the Illinois Street line was added. This time, the line left Illinois Street at 26th (34th), going east to Central Avenue, then northeast on Fairgrounds (Fairfield) Avenue. It was built as an electrified line.

The last line to be added to the Illinois Street line skeleton was built and electrified in 1904. It was called the Illinois-Mapleton. While the other lines branched at 34th Street, the Mapleton would continue north to 38th Street. In 1914, it was extended to 39th Street. The Illinois-Mapleton lasted until 22 May 1942, when it was abandoned by the Indianapolis Street Railway Company.

The Illinois-Fairview Street Car line was mentioned in advertisements for the Beverly Heights addition on Boulevard Place between 43rd and 44th Streets. It was listed as “The Fairview Illinois Street Car Line – the city’s best – parallels the whole addition just one block south.” (Indianapolis News, 27 September 1916)

The other two Illinois Street lines would last as trolley lines with rails until 12 October 1951. Feeder busses would be used along the two lines from 13 October 1951 to 30 December 1951, when the company would also use trackless trolleys. This arrangement didn’t last long, and the trackless trolleys were removed from service, as were the overhead power lines.

One thought on “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – Illinois Street Lines

  1. My uncle and aunt lived at 27th and Illinois, so we rode that streetcar to town often. When relatives came to visit from Tennessee in the early 1940s, we would take them north on Illinois to about 34th Street, then walk back. It was exciting for the kids. The streetcars were a pain when driving downtown, but as a kid, I was sorry to see them go. (LaRue)


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