Lafayette, And Electric Trains

The county seat of Tippecanoe County has a very important distinction in the annuls of electric railroads. In 1888, it became the first city in Indiana to have a completely electrified street car system. But while not the subject of this post, this fact contributed to it. Today, I want to look at Lafayette’s two interurban lines, as shown in the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 7 March 1976.

“The electric interurban! For those of us past 50, fond memories,” wrote Dave Chambers. He also made sure to mention that the interurbans and electric street cars used the same current, and same railroad gauge, as the street railways…so it used them.

Lafayette Journal & Courier photo of 7 March 1976. This image shows
the Indianapolis & Northwestern Traction Company’s Car #32
at Mulberry, Indiana. This picture was taken originally in 1907.

The first line to Lafayette was the Indianapolis & Northwestern Traction Company. “On Dec. 1, 1903, the Lafayette Street Railway has a visitor – Indianapolis and Northwestern traction car No. 21. This was the first interurban to come to Lafayette, the service entering the city via East Main St.”

Main Street was the Lafayette end of the old Lafayette State Road, which started at Indianapolis at the corner of North, West and Indiana as the Lafayette Road.

The interurban terminal, from the first day in 1903 to February 1923, was located at 16 North Third Street. To get there, the traction cars would loop around Courthouse Square. All of the city’s street cars circled around Courthouse Square. Outbound, the Indianapolis & Northwestern Traction would turn east on Columbia, north on Fourth, then turn eastbound on Main Street.

This route was followed even after the Indianapolis & Northwestern Traction was purchased by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern in 1907. Riding down the center of Main Street, the interurban started using its own right of way after passing Earl Avenue, where it moved to the eastern edge of the road. From there, it followed the current SR 38 out of the greater Lafayette area on on its way across the Tippecanoe County countryside. Near Dayton, it crossed the road to follow the then gravel road along the south side. “The tracks crossed in a treacherous manner from the north to south side of” the highway. “In the weeds and dust, only a traditional cross-buck sign stood sentinel to caution of the approach of the rapid and quiet traction cars.”

The horns on the interurbans were described in the article, as well. “Interurban air horns resembled the sound of an over-grown harmonica, melodious but not too penetrating.” Many accidents occurred at this crossing at the west end of Dayton.

The cars that ran along the line were described as averaging “61 feet in length , and weighed approximately 84,500 lbs.” The last car to run along the Indianapolis-Lafayette line would occur on 31 October 1930, less than three decades after it started.

The other line that entered Lafayette came from Fort Wayne, in the form of the form of the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction Company. As mentioned in my previous article, Lafayette, the traction company was trying to obtain the old Wabash & Erie Canal towpath, starting in 1902, for use as the interurban right of way. As the new traction line entered Tippecanoe County, it basically paralleled the Wabash Railroad from Colburn to where both railroads crossed Wildcat Creek. Here the traction line turned east to cross, then follow, what was Springvale Road (now Schuyler Avenue) near Springvale Cemetery. Here it would follow the north edge of that road until it reached the city limits.

The interurban joined the city street car line at 18th Street and Schuyler Avenue. “The Monon Shops line was a series of six sharp-radius turns on the north side of the city, and it was a sight to be hold these big interurbans negotiating these sharp curves with the trucks squealing, and at nearly 45 degrees with the axis of the car body.”

The terminal for this traction line, until 11 February 1923, was located on Third Street between South and Columbia. Due to congestion, the schedules suffered from many delays at this terminal location. The freight depot for the line was on Ferry Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets. The passenger station was moved to this location in February 1923. A lunchroom was added to the station in April 1923.

In January 1920, the name of the line changed from “Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction” to Indiana Service Corporation, the name of the electric utility in Fort Wayne. The line was also used, under agreement, by the Indiana Union Traction Company.

This line ended service on 21 May 1932. In the end, Lafayette was serviced by the interurban for a total of 28 years.

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