Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – New Lines, 1866-1870

Today’s “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday” focuses on

1866. The East Washington Street line commences service. The original length of the line only connected Illinois Street to Liberty Street (now Park Avenue). Service along this line was truncated to Liberty Street until 1883, when it was extended one block to Noble Street (College Avenue). Five years later, East Washington Street became one of the longest mule car lines in the city when it was extended to the new suburb of Irvington, going all the way out to Audubon Avenue, turning south to a turntable near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that run through the town. Until this time, access to Irvington via street car was via the English Avenue line, which didn’t originally open until 1875.

The extension to Irvington of East Washington Street was due to its residents wanting a more direct route to downtown Indianapolis. I will get to the English route probably next week, describing the route that Irvington wanted to replace. The line was electrified in 1891. Two more extensions were added to the East Washington Line: in 1900, to west of Arlington Avenue; and in 1920, a purchase from the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company Richmond line extended Indianapolis Street Railways to Sheridan Avenue, where a “Y” turned cars around.

The last tracked street car to run along East Washington Street did so on 11 August 1950. This started a combination service using both trackless trolleys and busses.

In 1867, a new line was extended to the then new cemetery at Crown Hill, called the Northwestern Line. The line followed Illinois Street to 12th (21st) Street, crossed over to Northwestern Avenue, followed Northwestern to a spot where 34th Street would be later built. This line was a mule car line for its entire life, because it was completely removed in 1879.

Another 1867 line that commenced service was the Central Line. The start of this line is intertwined with the College Line, as it would for its entire life. In the beginning, it merely followed New Jersey Street from Washington Street to Fort Wayne Avenue. In 1888, the line was extended along Fort Wayne Avenue, then Central Avenue from Christian Avenue (11th Street) to a turn table at 11th (20th) Street. A short detour along Tenth (19th) Street to New Jersey would allow street cars to visit a barn facility located on New Jersey Street.

The line was rerouted in 1889, when it used Alabama Street from Fort Wayne to Home Avenue (13th Street), following Home to Central Avenue. Three years later, the Central line was again rerouted. This time, it would follow the College Line to 16th (24th) Street, turning west to Central Avenue, then north on Central to 26th (34th) Street. This was in 1892, the same year that the line was electrified. A loop was built in the line in 1894. The line was rerouted at the time, moving over to Central from College along the then Tenth (20th) Street to connected to the 1892 line at 16th (24th) Street. The loop then went west on 17th (25th) Street to New Jersey, and back to Central on 16th (24th) Street.

The last electric railed street car would run along this line on 20 March 1937.

1905 Indianapolis. Map showing the River
and Kentucky Avenue bridges.

Street cars would be added to Kentucky Avenue in 1868. The line was short: from the Louisiana Street barn to Tennessee Street (Capitol Avenue), then along Kentucky Avenue to Illinois and Washington Streets. The line was turned around, heading southwest from Tennessee Street in 1890. The line would end at River Avenue, which at that time was at the south end of Greenlawn Cemetery. This was located half way opposite of a point between what is now Merrill Street and Henry Street on Kentucky Avenue. The following year, the line was electrified. The last documented extension that I can find was in 1903, when the line crossed the White River on the River Avenue bridge (there was no bridge at Oliver Street), following River Avenue to Morris Street. I can find no more information on this line. It is entirely possible that it was extended, in 1914, to connect to the Indianapolis suburb of Mars Hill. But another line that started in 1881 might be the successor to this line. More research is needed.

The last line today is the Pennsylvania line. Started in 1870, the mule cars would run along Pennsylvania Street from Ohio to St. Joseph Street, where it turn west to Illinois Street for its trip downtown. 1873 saw the Illinois/St. Joseph turn removed, and the line wet north to Seventh (16th) Street where it turned east to Alabama. In 1891, the route turned north on Talbot from Seventh (16th) to a turn table at Tenth (19th) Street. 1894 saw the line electrified and extended to 14th (22nd) Street. The last car to use the rails would run on 18 July 1934.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race

If there is one thing that Indianapolis is known for, it is racing. Oh, yes. Almost anyone in the WORLD would respond “Indianapolis 500” if you mention the city. Memorial Day weekend has become a time when the population of the city doubles and triples, with all of the visitors coming to watch “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But the subject of this post isn’t something related to a farm field with a large rectangle with curved corners in Speedway. As a matter of fact, the subject article of this post dates from the Indianapolis News of 23 May 1896, some 13 years before that other race started.

Before it became known as Memorial Day, 30 May of each year was known as Decoration Day. The holiday floated depending on the location of 30 May on the calendar. It was declared a Federal Holiday in 1868. In Indianapolis, the end of May signified, among other things, the end of the “rainy season,” otherwise known in the rest of the world as Spring. The weather starts getting drier and hotter right after Decoration Day. So it made almost perfect sense to use that holiday as a day to get together to watch a race.

Indianapolis News, 23 May 1896. This map shows the route of the annual Decoration Day Bicycle Road Race of 1896.

The Indianapolis Cycle Club and the Cycle Board of Trade put together the annual Decoration Day Road Race through the streets of Indianapolis. At the time of the source article, thirty men were in the list of racers. Those racers, unlike previous years, weren’t all from Indianapolis. Entries would be taken until 26 May, the following Tuesday. It was estimated that seventy-five to one hundred riders would be at the starting line when the race kicked off. Batches of racers would be set off on the 13.625 mile course at intervals of one minute.

Prizes for the race, due to its amateur status, could not include money. But there were 38 prizes to be given to the riders. The rules state that each rider is only allowed to win one prize. Prizes include four different bicycles, tires, suits, caps, hats, electric lantern, a Kodak, fishing rods, shoes, lamps, golf hoses, sweaters, luggage and a speed indicator. These prizes came from merchants across the city. Carl G. Fisher, future creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, and his bicycle store donated two sweaters, a pair of shoes, and a “speed indicator.”

The course was chosen due to the relative good condition of the route. “It is probable that not another road race will be run on Decoration Day throughout the entire country on a finer course than the one which will be used here.” There are a few bad spots along the way, but they are few and far between.

The race started at the corner of Meridian and 14th (now 21st) Streets , heading north to 30th (now 38th) Street. Here it turned west one block to follow Illinois Street, which since it was outside the city limits at the time, was called the Indianapolis and Westfield Road (which is now Illinois Street and Westfield Boulevard to Broad Ripple). From there, it followed what is now Broad Ripple Avenue to the Fall Creek and White River Gravel Road (now called Keystone Avenue). South along the Fall Creek Road, the course then turned southwest onto the Allisonville Pike (now Fall Creek Boulevard). The Allisonville Pike went as far as what is now 38th Street, with the Allisonville name being used across that numbered street. The route then turned south on Meridian Street at 30th, going back to the starting point at 14th.

A three block stretch of asphalt starts, and finishes, the course. Two bad street car track crossings, one at 26th (34nd) Street and the other at 28th (36th) Street, are encountered. From the Fall Creek bridge to 30th (38th) Street is “one of the worst spots along the whole course.” Potholes and loose gravel make this section a rough going. Turning at 30th (38th) Street gets interesting, with a wooden culvert to be crossed, with boards at one end being lose. Three-eighths of a mile after turning onto Illinois Street riders will encounter a small rise. Further along Illinois Street requires crossing a wooden culvert, a small wooden bridge and climbing a 200 yard long, fairly stiff hill. “This hill stops just beyond the carriage entrance for Fairview Park (now the location of Butler University).” This entrance would be at what is now 46th Street. From here, for the next one-half mile, is a gradual down grade. At the canal, the route drops along a steep grade for about 100 yards.

“Some riders may seek to cross the canal and take advantage of the cycle path, but this will not be allowed.” The first quarter mile along what is now Westfield Boulevard is reported in excellent condition. Then comes 300 yards of horrible conditions, including potholes on both sides of the road. After that, fresh gravel with wheel tracks already in place on each side of center.

At Broad Ripple, the course encounters the Monon tracks and follows the street car tracks along what is Broad Ripple Avenue (previously 62nd Street). The Broad Ripple section is reported as being the worst section of the entire course. One of the best parts of the route is along the Fall Creek and White River Road. “Men who are still in the hunt will be able to come down this road at a lightning clip.” This road runs along the west border of Malott Park (at what is now 52nd Street), and just south of the village is the crossing of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad (Nickle Plate). (As an aside, the street that runs along the railroad tracks is now called Erie due to the name of the railroad company. This is common throughout Indianapolis.)

A turn onto Allisonville Pike (Fall Creek Boulevard), the LE&W tracks are crossed again near 38th Street. Then the course, still following the old Allisonville Pike turns west along 38th Street until Meridian Street, while the Allisonville Road turned south on what is now Central Avenue. The Monon tracks are crossed again on the west side of the Fairgrounds. At Meridian Street, the repeat of the conditions encountered on the way out happens. To avoid having racers cutting across the course, checkers were located at each cross street. “If the race is at all close, there will be a great sprint from Fall Creek to the tape.”

Racing, it seems, has been a part of Indianapolis’s Memorial Day for much longer than the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which included a partner that provided prizes for this race.

** edited 06/03/2021 by Paula Trefun Simpson to note that the ‘canal’ mentioned was the Central Canal