Richmond, 1907: Interurban Accident with City Street Car

I have mentioned several times that when interurban cars entered most of the bigger cities in Indiana, they would not run on tracks that were owned by the traction company, but owned by the city street railway. In cities like Indianapolis and Terre Haute, this really wasn’t a problem, since the street railways in both cities were owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company. (That also meant that the THI&E paid a ton of money in franchise fees, but that is a story for a different day.)

Now, we go to 4 November 1907. A collision, involving a Richmond street car, a THI&E passenger car, and a THI&E freight car created such a stink in and around Richmond that it was thought that the city street cars were going to undergo a massive change in operations. The accident, according to the Richmond Palladium, occurred in “the western limits of the city.” This was located near the country club. Due to the accident, officials of the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern were holding a “court martial” and an investigation of the circumstances in their eastern division offices at Greenfield.

The purpose of the meeting in Greenfield was bluntly stated, in the newspaper, that the company was “fully realizing that the street car wreck of Monday….was the direct result of carelessness on the part of some of the operators.” And that carelessness was considered to be on the part of the street car operators, not the interurban ones. The people involved in the accident were “Motorman Elmer Rhodes of the city car, Raydo Flower of No. 68, the interurban, and Riley Cook, of the freight car.” Additionally, Conductors J. C. Beldsoe (sic…listed as Bledsoe later) and Oliver Hill were asked to go to Greenfield to attend.

The property loss to the interurban company was considered to be “great than at first thought.” The braking system of THI&E car #68 was completely destroyed. Car #68 was crashed into by the Richmond city car. The car also happened to be relatively new, only being in service between Richmond and Indianapolis for “a short time.” The freight car was considered to be a total loss, to the tune of $3,500.

“When asked to roughly estimate the property loss, Superintendent A. Gordon of the city lines, said he had not the slightest idea, but it would be heavy. When asked if $6,000 would cover it, he said it might, but he would not say.” In addition, the THI&E “will undoubtedly be defendant in several damage suits which will call for large amounts. Claim Agent Kitchner was on the spot immediately on his arrival in the city and secured the names of the injured and set about making settlements.”

One person was commended for his actions during the situation. Conductor J. C. Bledsoe gave a warning to the 28 passengers of the danger, and his quick actions getting the passengers off of the wrecked car. “Many men would have stood on the rear platform with head in a whirl,” stated Superintendent Gordon. “Had the passengers remained in the passenger coach longer than they did, it is very probable the list of injured would have been larger, as a panic would have ensued had the passengers known of the great danger.”

The newspaper went on to point out that street car officials have been under a microscope for the past week. Street cars were known to follow the interurban cars to closely, thought to have been due to a change in the interurban schedule. The change was made to shorten the time waiting in Richmond for transfers from the THI&E and the Dayton & Western, the interurban line connecting Richmond to Dayton, Ohio.

The major cause of the accident was thought to be in the hands of city street car motormen following the interurban too closely, and the interurbans stopping to pick up city passengers, something that is not done in other cities along the line where street cars and interurbans use the same lines.

Google Map of the location of the street car/
interurban crash.

All of the cars involved in the incident were heading west, which, according to the sub-headline of the Richmond Palladium of 4 November 1907, made “the accident one of the most peculiar on record.” This issue of the newspaper also mentions that the accident was “the third and most serious street car wreck that has occurred on the Richmond city street car lines within the past ten days.”

The accident occurred when Rhodes, operating the Easthaven street car, heard the cars of a man wanting to catch the street car. He brought his car to a halt a few feet east of the Clear Creek bridge, awaiting the arrival of Wilson Langley, the man who called for the street car. As Langley was boarding, the crash occurred. There was no scheduled stop at that spot on the line. Langley would suffer a broken left leg, badly cut face, and internal injuries. His condition was considered serious.

The crash occurred at the bottom of a small hill going westbound along the National Road. Tests were done with traction and street cars when it came to stopping while coming down that hill. The interurban operators had, during the test, turned on reverse power so high that, according to sources, “the wheels were spinning backward.” Slippery conditions of the rails, the stopped street car in a place where it should not have stopped, and the hill were thought to all be contributing factors.

Information after the wreck was limited in the newspapers…other than the people that were hurt recovering from their injuries.

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – Getting to Irvington

1870. Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian laid out a town four miles east of Monument Circle on the National Road (or, at that time, the Cumberland Turnpike). They named their town after Washington Irving, hence Irvington. In the fall of 1875, the North Western Christian University moved from its home at College and Home Avenues (now College Avenue and 13th Street) to the southwest corner of Irvington between the Panhandle (Pennsylvania Railroad) and the Junction (Baltimore & Ohio) tracks. At the same time, there was a mule car line being built to the new suburb.

1889 Map of Irvington, Indiana.

The Irvington Street Car line was planned along the following route: From Virginia Avenue and South Street, east on South Street (now Fletcher Avenue) to Reid Street (now State Street), north on Reid to English Avenue, east to English to Butler, north on Butler to Burgess, east on Burgess to Audubon, and north on Audubon to end just south of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line, according to the Indianapolis News on 25 February 1875, was expected to be in operation in June 1875.

On 2 August 1875, a small paragraph was in the Indianapolis News mentioned “the construction of the Irvington street railway has not come to a standstill, owing to a lack of funds, as stated in the Journal, but on account of the wet weather. The Stratford bridge has been washed away and it is impossible to ballast the track.” Two weeks later, the News reported, in a story about the new college campus, that the Irvington line was quickly nearing completion.

The line opened later in October 1875. The trip from downtown to North Western Christian University, using mule cars, was 45 minutes. It wasn’t long before the Irvington street car line found itself closed to service. A freight train on the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette jumped the tracks, causing a large section of the street car line to be ripped up. The IC&L crossed the street car line at English Avenue just east of Reid Street (now State Street). “In consequence no cars are running to-day on that line.”

Some might be wondering why service to Irvington was routed along English Avenue. As mentioned in my last blog post (Toll Roads in Marion County), Washington Street was a toll road outside the city limits. English Avenue was called a “shun pike,” a road that was improved and extended to avoid paying tolls to the toll road companies. That, and I believe that the toll road would have charged the street railways to use the road.

The line route was changed in 1881, when it was removed from Burgess to University Avenue between Butler Avenue and Audubon Avenue. That would be the last change in that line until the power lines stopped being used on 15 August 1934.

The East Washington line was mentioned in the last “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday.” The franchise for the Citizen’s Street Railway East Washington line extension to Irvington was issued on 20 September 1889, the day after the National Road was purchased by the county from the toll road company.