Indiana Vs. Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad

In 1899, the state of Indiana brought forth a lawsuit against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad for tax money due for the school fund. It started with a charter. In the early days of Indiana, to create a railroad company (and basically any company, as far as that goes), a charter for the company and its goals would have to be written and taken before the Indiana General Assembly for approval. I would love to say that these things were basically rubber stamped…but I truly have no way of knowing without extensive research.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad was issued it original charter by the Indiana General Assembly in 1831. The name on the charter was the Terre Haute & Indianapolis. The TH&I was then issued a special charter as the Terre Haute & Richmond Rail Road on 24 January 1847. The company was to build a railroad between the two title cities, through Indianapolis. The official name of the company had changed twice between the special charter of 1847 and the court case of 1899. First, in 1850, the space was taken out between rail and road, making it the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad legally. Then, in 1865, the name was changed to suit the actual extent of the railroad company. It became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad Company.

Newspapers of the time often refer to the legal action against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis as the Vandalia Case. By the time of the legal action, the TH&I was already leasing the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the only line (for a while) connecting Indianapolis to St. Louis. The St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute was known most of the time as the Vandalia. The Vandalia was in financial trouble while under construction. Money was floated from five railroad companies to complete the route in 1870: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Pennsylvania, Panhandle, Steubenville and the Indiana Central. The last three being consolidated later into the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also nicknamed the Panhandle. The Pennsylvania would gain control of the Panhandle and the Vandalia…although the Terre Haute & Indianapolis would fight it the entire way.

The whole case stemmed from how the charter for the TH&I was read, and who was doing the reading. The State of Indiana was of the opinion that the TH&I owed the School Fund somewhere between $1.2 and $2 million dollars. Obviously, the TH&I was of the opposite opinion. The entire case stemmed from a special charter that had been issued for the company in 1847, give or take a year. The new charter, keeping a provision from the old one, would allow the railroad to set its own passenger and freight rates, and allow for a 15% profit to be split among its shareholders after all of the construction bills have been paid.

The state, in its case, claimed that the TH&I was setting its rates to a point where it was earning 18% to 35% profits. Since the limit was 15%, the rest, the state continued, would be required to be paid to the state school fund. Vandalia saw things differently.

The South Bend Tribune of 4 October 1899 describes the beginning of the case as such: “Noble C. Butler, as master in chancery, began taking testimony, Monday afternoon (2 October 1899), in the case of the state against the Vandalia railroad for money due the school fund on account of the special charter under which the road operated 20 years ago.”

“Experts have been examining the company’s books to ascertain the exact earnings and the proportionate amount due the state, and their testimony is expected to be interesting. About $2,000,000 is claimed to be due the school fund from the railroad.” (Source: South Bend Tribune, 4 October 1899, pp 1 via newspapers.com.)

When the time came to defend itself, the Vandalia brought out John G. Williams, a man, according to the Indianapolis News of 17 January 1900, “who is said to know more about the affairs of the road than any other man.” Attorney Williams started talking about the charter of the Terre Haute & Richmond, the charters of other railroads, and the fact that when the original charters were written for the early railroads, the company had a choice between building a railroad and building a toll road. The state saw no real difference between the two.

He also mentioned that, according to the News, “one of the first roads built in the State was the Baltimore & Ohio. In the beginning, its cars were moved by horses and, when the wind was favorable, sails were hoisted on the cars to help propel them.” I would be that the News meant in the United States, as the Baltimore & Ohio wouldn’t have been in Indiana in 1831.

Reference is also made by the attorney for the railroad that in the beginning, the B&O charged 4 cents a ton a mile for moving of freight. “Modern railroads” (1900) are lucky to get one half cent per ton/mile. And passengers were actually weighed and charged essentially a pro-rated charge of 4 cents per ton/mile. If I am reading this right, since I weigh 200 pounds, it would cost me eight cents to travel by train from Indianapolis to Greenfield in those days. If I lived then…and the train actually was built to connect the two.

Mr. Williams went on to argue that the ability to regulate tolls by the state was left out of the charters of seven of the eight railroads that were incorporated in 1832. All eight of these charters allowed for the company to build a railroad or turnpike. Also in 1832, a company applied for a charter to build a bridge across the Ohio River at the Falls, the location of New Albany and/or Jeffersonville, and Louisville on the Kentucky side.

In 1832, five more railroads were incorporated, including the Evansville & Lafayette. It, like the Terre Haute & Indianapolis (1831 charter), had a clause stating that the State of Indiana could purchase the road after a certain period. Very few railroad company charters included the state regulation of the amount of dividends to its shareholders.

Ultimately, the Vandalia won the original case. Special Master Butler determined that the state was owed nothing by the Vandalia. The State appealed to the Superior Court, in which it was determined that the Vandalia owed the state of Indiana $913,000.

According to the Indianapolis Journal of 18 June 1902, as the case was being brought before the Indiana Supreme Court, “the charter provided that the company should pay the State its surplus earnings over the operating expenses and 10 per cent to the stockholders. The company surrendered its special charter in 1873 and has since operated under the general railroad law.” The company claimed that the surplus money was spent to improve the road, and there was no money left to pay the state.

The case before the Indiana Supreme Court lasted three days, ending on 19 June 1902. When the ruling went against the Vandalia, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that they would appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. That decision was made on 28 November 1902.

The Indiana Supreme Court judgement ruled that the Vandalia must pay $913,905, and a six percent interest from the date of the Superior Court judgement. This brought to total to $1,028,143. Of course, the state was to only receive $771,107 of that, with the rest going to attorney’s fees. The Vandalia would fall into receivership after the ruling, and arguments between Illinois and Indiana receivers would follow.

31 May 1904, and the United States Supreme Court ruled, after much deliberation, that the Vandalia Railroad owed a grand total of nothing to the state of Indiana School Fund. This would go on to allow the Vandalia to consolidate the following railroads into one corporate entity: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Indianapolis & Vincennes, Logansport & Toledo, Terre Haute & Logansport, and the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute. A consolidation which created the Vandalia Railroad Company on 1 January 1905.

National Road at Reelsville

1952 USGS topographic map of the Reelsville area.

When the National Road came to Indiana, part of the requirements for the building of the road was that it be in as straight a line a possible connecting Indianapolis to Vandalia, Illinois (then the capital of that state). Southwest of Indianapolis, the terrain got a little rough to be able to maintain a straight line. Especially in Putnam County. But the surveyors did a very good job in keeping it as straight a line as possible.

1864 map of southwestern Putnam County courtesy of the Library Of Congress. The National Road runs through the southern part of Section 19, the center of Sections 20 through 23. The Big Walnut Creek bridge that washed out in 1875 is in the eastern central portion of Section 20.

And so, the National Road chugged along for around four decades. In 1875, a bridge over Big Walnut Creek, southwest of Reelsville was washed out…and not replaced at the time. Since the National Road, at the time, belonged to a private company, they decided to reroute the road through the town of Reelsville. This would solve the connection problem, road wise, between Terre Haute and Indianapolis, but would create a few more while it was at it.

The Terre Haute & Richmond (TH&R) Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847 to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis. By 1852, the TH&R had built a railroad connecting Terre Haute to Indianapolis. This railroad, near Reelsville, was to the north of Big Walnut Creek from where the National Road was, and connected to the town of Reelsville proper. There was even a station at Reelsville. On 6 March 1865, the Terre Haute & Richmond became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis.

The National Road replacement route took travelers up a long hill into Reelsville. At the town, the new road, which had been in place long before being used as a bypass, followed and crossed the TH&I several times before reconnecting to the original National Road. These railroad crossings were considered some of the worst in the state, especially due to the angle of the crossing.

1912 United States Postal Service map of southwestern Putnam county showing the roads around Reelsville. Notice that the National Road, marked as Mail Road RE 2 east of Reelsville, does continue after turning north to enter Reelsville proper. The old road did still contain houses, even though through traffic had been gone from the route for 37 years.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad ceased to exist as a separate entity on 1 January 1905. That was the day that the TH&I, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the Terre Haute & Logansport, the Logansport & Toledo and the Indianapolis & Vincennes merged to become the Vandalia Railroad Company. Among the items that were taken up by the new Vandalia was the crossings near Reelsville. Money was set aside in 1907 to correct the problem. By the end of 1912 (October to be exact), the Brazil Daily Times was reporting that no such work had been completed to date.

Part of the plan in 1912 was to return the original National Road route to use. According to the same article in the Brazil Daily Times, this would cut 1/2 mile off of the route then in use through Reelsville. And, the railroad crossing situation, with its inherent dangers, would be addressed…and partially eliminated. But, as with other well laid out plans, this did not go to schedule. At all.

The National Old Trails Road, an Auto Trail that, through Indiana, mostly followed the original National Road used the Reelsville cut off when it was created. The old route was still out of commission at Big Walnut Creek. This situation would not be resolved until after the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919. ISHC surveyors were out in the field looking at ways to improve the situation at Reelsville, with the decision made that a bridge would be built in the same location that had been used over 80 years prior when the National Road, now called State Road 3, was built. The new bridge would be a concrete arch facility.

Even then, the new bridge for the National Road would take some time to get started. Over two years, as a matter of fact. Construction started on the replacement of the National Road in January 1922. The winter that year was relatively mild, allowing for construction to start very early in the year. But it was decided that the new route of State Road 3 would skirt the Pennsylvania Lines (the then operators, later owners, of what was the Vandalia Railroad) to the south, bringing the new National Road closer to the Big Walnut Creek.

Even then, the replacement route would only be in place for less than two decades. The Highway Commission made plans to make a true four lane highway across Indiana along what was then the US 40 corridor (which was original State Road 3 until the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926). The new new road would take a straight course through the area south of Reelsville, the railroad and the old new path of SR 3/US 40. This realignment would occur in 1941.

Editor’s Note: This post took a long time to convince me to write. There are several subjects that I have been avoiding because they are MUCH better covered by others. In this case, my Co-Admin of the Facebook ITH Group, Jim Grey, covered it much better than I ever will. And, generally, he has done a great job covering the entire National Road. His post, “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana,” served as the spring board for this post. The irony is that some articles that I posted in the ITH Facebook group led to the puzzles being solved for Jim. Such is the way of the world in this field. I recommend checking out Jim’s stuff when you get the chance. He is more of a road trip person, going out to see what’s on the ground. I tend to look more into the documented history of the same scenes.

Indianapolis in the Auto Trail Era

Indiana has been known as the “Crossroads of America” for most of its history. No other place in the state exemplifies that more than the Hoosier Capitol. Although Indianapolis, as a town, started as a remote outpost in the forests and swamps of central Indiana, it would soon become a transportation center. The National and Michigan Roads started the journey toward Indianapolis’ connections to the rest of the country. The coming of the railroads from 1847 to the middle 1850’s accelerated it. The automobile would seal the deal.

A quick look at a Rand McNally Auto Trails map of 1920 shows that Indianapolis was well served when it came to the new routes. Some of these were old roads, using names that had been used for almost a century. Others were new names on old country roads. Today, I want to look at the Auto Trails of 1920 radiating from Indianapolis. For this, I will be using that mentioned Rand McNally map, and using Rand’s numbering system.

8 – Range Line Road: Leaving Indianapolis due north, earlier on Illinois Street, later on Meridian, this route connected Indianapolis to South Bend via Kokomo, Peru, Rochester and Peru. In Marion County, the Range Line followed the Central Canal into Broad Ripple, then northeast along the Westfield Pike, which once it crossed the Hamilton-Marion County Line followed a survey range line north to Kokomo and beyond. In 1926, this would be the route of US 31.

22 – National Old Trails Road: In Indiana, this old route followed what was the first United States road that had been built to connect Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois. This was called the National Road. In Indianapolis, it followed that route as closely as it could. (Downtown, the original path of the National Road had been removed in 1904 with the demolition of the covered bridge over the White River.) In 1926, it became US 40.

24 – Hoosier Highway: This road crossed the city southwest to northeast. It would come into Marion County along the old Mooresville State Road, also known as the West Newton Pike/Maywood Road/Kentucky Avenue. It left the city along Massachusetts Avenue where it became the Pendleton Pike at the city limits. The Pendleton Pike was also called the Oakland (Oaklandon) Toll Road for a time. This routing, both ways, would become SR 67 in 1926.

25 – Dixie Highway: Indianapolis found itself in a very nice position when it came to this road. It was created by an Indianapolis resident, Carl G. Fisher. And it used four roads to enter and exit the Hoosier capitol. From the north, it entered Indianapolis along the path of the historic Michigan Road. From the west, the Dixie followed the old Crawfordsville Pike. Southward, the Dixie Highway left using the Bluff Road heading toward Waverly, Martinsville and Bloomington. The route also followed the National Road to the east toward Richmond and Dayton, Ohio. The former three routes are still known by those names today. With the Great Renumbering, Michigan Road became SR 29, Crawfordsville became SR 34, and Bluff Road became SR 37.

26 – Michigan Road: The historic old Indiana state road connecting the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. Through Indianapolis, that would be Southeastern Avenue and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street/Michigan Road. The Michigan Road Auto Trail to the north ended at South Bend, even though the historic road left the west toward Michigan City. The entirety of the Michigan Road was made SR 29 in 1926.

42 – Hills And Lakes: This route was created to make a more or less direct route from Indianapolis to Lake Wawasee. It left Indianapolis along the Range Line Road, until it reached the Maple Road (now 38th Street), where the H&L turned east to follow the old Fort Wayne State Road, also known as the Allisonville Pike, out of the county. It did not get a state road number until 1932, when it became SR 13. It would later be renumbered SR 37.

47 – Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway: The original route of this road came through Indianapolis, using Rockville Road on the west and Washington Street/National Road to the east. It would later be moved to north of the city through Lebanon, Noblesville and Anderson. The original PPOO was made US 36 and US 40 in 1926.

69 – Jackson Highway: The Indianapolis section of this north-south long distance road used the old Lafayette State Road from the north (US 52 in 1926) and the old Madison State Road (US 31 in 1926) to cross the city.

92 – Terre Haute & Indianapolis Scenic Route: In Marion County, this duplicated the National Old Trails Road from downtown to the west, diverging in Belleville in Hendricks County.

Lafayette

Situated near the head of navigable waters on the Wabash River, the town of Lafayette was founded in 1825. At that location, it became an important transportation hub in north central Indiana. As the county seat of Tippecanoe County, it became the confluence of several early state roads and railroads, and a place on the Wabash and Erie Canal. Today, it still maintains that position, albeit with a bit of moving things around for efficiency.

A little history. Tippecanoe County was created from parts of the unorganized Wabash County (which at the time encompassed almost all territory in the state west of the second principal meridian) on 20 January 1826, effective 1 March 1826. Part of this territory had already been, jurisdictionally, part of Parke County. Part of the county’s territory wasn’t ceded to the state until October 1826. Lafayette, platted in May 1825, was made the county seat at the same time. Tippecanoe County is among the very few counties that have not had any territorial changes since its time of creation, with the exception of some unorganized territory jurisdiction until those areas were incorporated into counties of their own.

Other than river travel along the Wabash, the first transportation facilities built into the town were state roads from assorted places in Indiana. These included the Crawfordsville Road (now roughly US 231), the Noblesville Road (roughly SR 38) and the Indianapolis Road (roughly US 52). The original junction of the last two was on the SR 38 side of what is now Tippecanoe Mall. This can be seen in the Google Map image below by the property lines that remain.

Google Map image of the area of the original area of the junction of the Noblesville-Lafayette and Indianapolis-Lafayette state roads. The property lines diagonally from left of center bottom to the northwest show the location of the original Indianapolis road. Image snipped 14 September 2019.

The next facility built that connected to Lafayette would be the Wabash and Erie Canal, finished to the town in the 1840s, although the canal would actually be across the river from the town (through what is now West Lafayette). This canal would allow traffic from Lake Erie, at Toledo, to connect to the Ohio River, via the Wabash and White Rivers, at Evansville. The Wabash and Erie would end up being the longest canal built in the United States, a total of 497 miles. The canal itself competed with another canal from Toledo, connecting to Cincinnati. It connected to Lafayette in 1843. It would be the premium transportation facility to the town for less than a decade. It would be superseded by the railroad, even though canal traffic would continue for decades.

Three years after the coming of the canal, on 19 January 1846, the state of Indiana incorporated the Lafayette & Indianapolis (L&I) Railroad company. This was the most successful attempt at creating a railroad to connect the two cities. The first was an addition to the Madison & Indianapolis to connect to the town. Later laws allowed for this addition to be either a railroad, or if more financially efficient, a road to connect Lafayette to the Hoosier capitol town. (Indianapolis was legally a town until October 1847.) The original plan was to connect Indianapolis, via Crawfordsville, to Lafayette.

The L&I finished construction, on a more direct route, in 1852. On 14 February 1867, the L&I merged with the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad to form the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railway. That, in turn, was reorganized on 10 July 1873 to become the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette (IC&L) Railroad. This version of the IC&L would be sold at foreclosure on 2 February 1880, becoming part of the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago (CISTL&C) Railway on 6 March 1880. This, in turn, would be consolidated into the new Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, better known as the “Big Four,” on 1 Jul 1889. The Big Four would have strong connections with the New York Central system, although it was technically its own company, starting in 1906. By 1930, the Big Four was merged into the NYC, ending its separate existence.

Between 1846 and 1852, a new railroad would be built from the south, starting in Crawfordsville, to connect to Lafayette. While this sounds like the original plan for the Madison, Indianapolis & Lafayette mentioned above, it wasn’t that company that had anything to do with it. Incorporated on 19 January 1846, the Crawfordsville & Wabash Railroad was created to build north from the title town. The 28 miles to Lafayette were finished in 1852, just in time for the C&W to be sold to the New Albany & Salem Rail Road company. This would become part of the ultimate line idea to connect New Albany to Chicago and Michigan City. Seven years later, the company would change its name to better show off its size: Louisville, New Albany & Chicago. This company went from being a (legally) railroad (24 October 1859), to a railway (7 January 1873), to a consolidated railway (10 August 1881), all while keeping the same base name. The last consolidation would include the Chicago & Indianapolis Airline Railway (“airline” in this context means the fastest and most direct route allowed for a railroad). Another name change in the company formed the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railway. It wouldn’t be until 1956 when the name changed to the nickname the line had for many years during the CI&L period: Monon. The line is now part of CSX, like the old New York Central line mentioned above.

The next railroad to reach Lafayette would become the Wabash Railroad. Like the Wabash and Erie Canal, the railroad would connect Lafayette to Toledo. To the west, the line continued toward Danville, Illinois, through Attica. The original company to build the line was the Wabash & Western Railway, incorporated in Indiana on 27 September 1858. After several consolidations, and bankruptcies, the line would come under the umbrella of the nearly 2000 mile Wabash system.

On 13 July 1869, the Lafayette, Muncie & Bloomington (LM&B) Railroad was incorporated in Indiana to connect the title cities (Bloomington being in Illinois). Construction on the line started shortly after the incorporation was passed into law. It would start at Bloomington, Illinois, headed toward Lafayette. From there, it would traverse the Indiana countryside through Frankfort to its terminus at Muncie. The line was completed, for a total of just shy of 36 miles, to Lafayette from the Illinois-Indiana state line in 1872. The other 85 miles, to Muncie, was completed in 1876. The LM&B would not last long as a separate entity after its completion, being purchased by the Lake Erie & Western (LE&W) on 28 April 1879. 1879 was the year that several lines were purchased to create the overall LE&W. The railroad itself would find itself controlled by the New York Central from 1900 to 1922, when it was sold to the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, better known as the Nickel Plate.

These two railroads would become part of the Norfolk & Western (N&W) Railway on 16 October 1964, but in different ways. The Nickel Plate became part of the N&W flat out, via merger. Technically, the Nickel Plate ceased to exist that day. The Wabash, however, was leased by the N&W. As such, the Wabash maintained a more separate existence even through the N&W/Southern merger creating the Norfolk Southern (NS). The Wabash still existed, on paper at least, until the NS finally absorbed, in merger form, the Wabash in November 1991. Stock in the company would be traded until that time.

In 1902, a new form of transportation was aiming to come to the city. The Fort Wayne, Logansport & Lafayette Traction Company was trying to get the tow path from the (at that time) old Wabash and Erie Canal “from the west line of High street in Logansport westward to the county line” condemned for use as the right-of-way for the new interurban line. This was, as reported in the Indianapolis Journal of 27 August 1902, because the company claimed that the right-of-way was “necessary to construct its line in, through and between the cities of Fort Wayne, Huntington, Wabash, Peru, Logansport, Delphi and Lafayette.” The defendants in this action were the owners of property along that tow path. Another suit, involving the same company, sought the same action for the entire tow path, 39 miles, from Lafayette to Logansport. This would culminate in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (14 December 1902) headline “The Fort Wayne, and Lafayette Traction Company Can Have Tow Path if it Pays the Price.” The value of the land between Logansport and Lafayette was determined to be $38,750.80.

Another line entering Lafayette was built from Indianapolis. By 27 June 1903 (Indianapolis Journal), the Indianapolis & Northern Traction Company, building a line from Indianapolis along the Michigan Road, through Zionsville, Whitestown and Lebanon (roughly following the Big Four Lafayette Line), then through Frankfort to Lafayette was two miles away from the city. This line would become part of the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company, owners of a large number of the routes leaving Indianapolis. In 1930, this line was purchased by Midland Utilities, and consolidated into the Indiana Railroad (1930). After this purchase, the line wouldn’t last long before it was abandoned due to profitability issues.

With the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919, Lafayette would be connected to the state highway system using state roads 29 and 32. State road 29 started in Boswell, connecting Oxford, Otterbein, West Lafayette, Lafayette, and Russiaville, ending at the Range Line Road, then SR 1 (now US 31) south of Kokomo. State road 32 started in Lafayette, connecting to Bloomington via Crawfordsville, Greencastle, Cloverdale and Spencer. State road 29 west of Lafayette would become US 52 and SR 22 in 1926. East of Lafayette, the number would be changed from 29 to 26. State road 32 would become part of SR 43. This would change with the addition of US 231 to Indiana, removing the SR 43 designation in favor of the new US route number, in 1951.

With the Great Renumbering, more state roads were added to, or authorized to be added to, the city of Lafayette. US 52 would follow the old Indianapolis state road to that city. Northwest out of Lafayette, there were already plans in place to move the newly designated US 52. Northeast out of town, a new state road was authorized to be built to Delphi. This was to be designated SR 25. Also authorized was an extension to SR 43 north from the city, ultimately connecting to Michigan City. In the years to follow, Lafayette would also be connected to SR 25 to the southwest and SR 26 to the west. The number 43 would remain north of town, as the new US 231 would follow US 52 and then replace SR 53 north from Montmorenci. The last state road to head toward the city would be SR 38, which roughly followed the original state road from Noblesville.

Many changes in transportation facilities have occurred in Lafayette since the creation of all those mentioned above. US 52 and US 231 have been rerouted around the city. The railroads have consolidated routes for efficiency through downtown. Lafayette is served by both of the major railroad companies in the eastern United States: CSX and NS. Prior to 1999, it was actually served by all three. The third being Conrail. Lafayette still serves as the transportation hub in the area.

Shelbyville Lateral Branch

Personal note. I have never spent so much time in Shelby County as I have since I met my wife, Paula. For most of her life, her family has lived in a place I describe as just past the middle of nowhere, north of the Bartholomew-Shelby County line legally in Flatrock. What does this have to do with this entry? My investigative interest started in this direction due to my going to Paula’s family house. Let me explain.

There are two ways from my old house, and her old condo, to her family’s house. One way used US 421 to Shelbyville and south on SR 9. The other way would use I-65 south, and exit either at SR 44 in Franklin or at SR 252. The SR 44 route is the one that piqued my interest in what I found out to be the Shelbyville Lateral Branch (SLB). Going out the old Greensburg State Road from Franklin, we would go through the town of Marietta. The main street in Marietta is Railroad Street. Wait. What? There’s no railroad in Marietta. And no sign that there ever was. What in the world?

And hence, I started to look into a strangely named street in an out of the way little burgh.

The history of the Shelbyville Lateral Branch has more to do with other, competing, railroad companies. The SLB was done in by both that “war,” but also by roads that directly competed with it.

The SLB started, and ended, life as a feeder line for another railroad. The route connected Shelbyville to Edinburgh through the Shelby County countryside. It connected to two railroad projects at Edinburgh: the Madison & Indianapolis (M&I) and the Jeffersonville (J). The former was the first long distance railroad in Indiana, connecting the two title cities on 1 October 1847. The latter was started to connect Indianapolis to Jeffersonville (and hence Louisville). The latter would run into hard times, not financially, but due to the conceited management practices of the former.

The Jeffersonville had thought, maybe rightly so, that once their line reached Columbus, and the M&I there, that an agreement would be reached to get traffic from Jeffersonville and Louisville to Indianapolis along the M&I. Not so much. The M&I was having none of that. They were afraid that the J would take river traffic out of Madison, hurting the road financially. So the J built a parallel track from Columbus to Edinburgh. 10 miles of track, built side by side, by competing companies. And this is where feeder lines come in.

Let me say this at this point. The Madison had reason to believe that river traffic would be moved from Madison to Jeffersonville. Madison, while closer to Indianapolis, didn’t have something that Jeffersonville had – an impassible Ohio River. Right at Jeffersonville, Louisville and New Albany are the Falls of the Ohio, a shallow area where almost all river traffic had to disembark to go around the area. This was until a canal was built on the Kentucky bank of the river. (Almost said Kentucky SIDE of the river…but the Kentucky side is legally all the way to the low water mark on the Indiana bank.)

(** Edited by Paula Trefun Simpson 06/03/2021 to note that the ‘canal’ mentioned was the Louisville and Portland Canal**)

The Shelbyville Lateral Branch was built by local citizens in 1850. At Shelbyville, there were two routes out of town: the Knightsville & Shelbyville and the Rushville & Shelbyville. This ultimately connected Shelbyville, already served by the Lawrenceburg & Indianapolis (future NYC), to the Indiana Central (abandoned PRR) at Knightstown and the Junction (future B&O) at Rushville.

Now we get back to the M&I and it’s denial of service to the Jeffersonville. The Jeffersonville had been leasing the K&S in 1850. The M&I had furnished much of the rolling stock to the SLB. The M&I profited nicely from this arrangement, for a while, anyway. In an effort to reach Indianapolis, without having any chance at an agreement with the M&I, the J purchased the SLB right out from under the M&I. While not ideal, this would give the J access to Indianapolis in spite of the M&I.

By the time the Jeffersonville’s own tracks reached the connection point at Edinburgh, the Madison realized the error in their ways, making the SLB essentially pointless to the Jeffersonville. What started as control of the SLB on 1 July 1851, basically started a downslide when the J and the M&I finally came to terms in 1855. The writing was on the wall for the SLB. By this time, the Columbus and Shelby had also been built and put into service, giving Shelbyville, and its connections, direct access to Columbus, something it would have until the early-1980’s.

When it was originally built, the SLB used flat bar rail. This was basically flat iron strapped to pieces of wood or stone. While this was quick to install and cheap to build, it also had the potential to be very dangerous. The strap iron would sometimes break lose of the attachment, and, under the weight of the traffic, would bend and curve its way into the bottoms of the wooden rolling stock. The Jeffersonville would replace some of the rail with T rail. That project was never finished before the Shelbyville Lateral Branch breathed its last in 1859.

Looking at it now, the only real thing left of the the SLB is several ads that I have seen and copied, and the name of a street in Marietta that started my imagination and investigation. Unlike most abandoned railroads in Indiana, this one didn’t last long enough to make permanent marks on the landscape. Nor was it really ever elevated the way most railroads were. There are no roadbeds to see, and very few maps that I have seen even show the existence of this route. It, along the the Knightstown and Shelbyville, just up and disappeared within essentially a decade of their creation. They were both basically replaced with the line that connected from Columbus to Shelbyville to Rushville.

And, in the end, the SLB just was a microcosm of the entire railroad battle between the Jeffersonville and the Madison & Indianapolis. By 1864, after a bankruptcy and new management, the M&I ended up just becoming owned and operated by the very company that they were afraid would ruin the M&I – the Jeffersonville.

Indianapolis: Crossroads City

Originally published 24 March 2015.

When the Good Roads Movement started in the late 19th century, the primary focus was on, more or less, two things: bicycle transportation and mail delivery. Cars came later into the discussion.

Indianapolis was already a crossroads city. Unfortunately, most of that was eclipsed by being a major crossroads in the world of railroads. While you could get to the city using the trails at the time, Indianapolis really took off when the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad came to town. And to be honest, Indianapolis WAS a town until the railroad was built. 1847 not only marked the coming of the M&I, but the incorporation of the City of Indianapolis.

When the named highways started appearing on the scene, they naturally followed the paths that were already there. The major roads into Indianapolis became a hodge-podge of named routes linking the city to far away destinations.

But what WERE those roads before they became the Dixie, or the Jackson, or any other of the names. That is the purpose of this post.

The National Old Trails Road for 80 years had a shorter name here: the National Road. For those that don’t know, the National Road was built along its route to connect the (then) capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. (The irony is that there STILL is a road to connect Indianapolis to the now capital of Illinois, it’s just not US 40, it’s US 36).

Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean: The original route from the west connects Indianapolis to Springfield, IL. (See above.) It came into town as the Rockville Road, leaving as the National Road to the east.

Dixie Highway: One route entered from the west along the Crawfordsville Road. The other route entered from the north along Indiana’s first state road, the Michigan Road. One route left the city along the Bluff Road (named for going to the bluffs of the White River at Waverly), the other, again, followed the National Road towards Richmond.

Jackson Highway: Entered from the northwest along the Lafayette Road, left southeast along the Madison Road.

Hoosier Highway: Entered from the northeast along the Oaklandon Turnpike (changed and shortened to Pendleton Pike), left southwest via the Mooresville Road.

Hill & Lake Trail: Entered from the north along the Fort Wayne (Allisonville) Road, left via the Three Notch Road.

Range Line: Entered from the north along the Range Line (Westfield) road, left south via the Madison road.

Some of you may notice that road names are still the same in some cases.

The Madison & Indianapolis Railroad

Originally published on 01 August 2014.

In looking through the book “Ghost Railroads of Indiana,” it mentions a few railroads affiliated with the first complete railroad in the state, the Madison & Indianapolis. It also mentions that even part of the M&I was abandoned early in its history. I knew that the section had gone away, I just never considered it abandoned. Let me tell the story, and you tell me what you think.

On January 27, 1836, the governor of Indiana (Noah Noble) signed into law a massive improvements bill. (Called, at the time, a “Mammoth Improvements Bill,” actually.) In that law, there were roads, canals, and railroads to be built, owned by the state. One of those was the Madison & Indianapolis.

The reasons for picking Madison are best left to another post. But in the first two years, the track stretched from North Madison, the starting point, to Graham’s Ford…with Vernon on line in June of 1839.

In 1841, when service was added to Madison itself, the railroad construction stopped at what is now Queensville. The state ran out of money. Further construction was halted until the state rid itself of the road in 1843, on the condition that service to Edinburgh be completed by July 1, 1846.

Construction was finally completed to Indianapolis on October 1, 1847, completing the first railroad in Indiana.

The M&I management was looking into other ways to feed traffic to the road. They purchased interests in such railroads as the Shelbyville Lateral Branch (Edinburgh to Shelbyville) and the Knightstown & Shelbyville.

In the midst of all this, a new railroad was started in Jeffersonville, to connect to Indianapolis. And construction moved right along until the “J” got to Columbus. There, it ran smack into the self-centered management of the M&I. The M&I would not allow any of the “J”‘s trains on it route. So, the Jeffersonville did what it had to do – started building right along side the M&I. This exercise in idiocy meant that the Jeffersonville could now run as far as Edinburgh on its own tracks. Again, right along side the M&I.

But the M&I was never really stable financially…and so it continued that pattern. Eventually, the M&I was in such bad financial shape that the Jeffersonville bought the M&I, creating the JM&I. The first order of business at that time was to eliminate the two roads situation between Columbus and Edinburgh. The company abandoned the original M&I line between the two points.

Then again, the M&I was also known for other bad moves in a chance to be a monopoly, or as close as they could be, to Indianapolis. For about nine months, the M&I was merged with the Lafayette & Indianapolis, running along what eventually became part of the Nickel Plate (where the Fair Train runs now). A court order ended that.

Another bonehead play was when the M&I management was approached to help build another railroad in the state from Indianapolis to Terre Haute. The M&I basically said that they were not in the business of financing questionable railroad routes. (As if the one they ran wasn’t.) The person they spurned went on to create a railroad that became a vital link between Indianapolis and St. Louis, MO. That person was Chauncy Rose, and his railroad went on to become the Vandalia, part of the Pennsylvania Railroad (which, in the end, so was the JM&I!)…linking Terre Haute to Indianapolis, South Bend and St. Louis in one big system. Oops.