The Pennsylvania Railroad in Indiana After the Civil War

The United States Civil War, or War Between the States, had a very profound effect on the railroads in place at the time. The Union had a vast railroad network, and used it to help in the war effort. Indiana saw a large increase in rail traffic as troops and war materials went one way, and prisoners of war came the other. But after the war, there were some questions as to what was going to happen to the rail industry.

During the four years of the war, maintenance was put off as long as it could be, and rolling stock had been beat to almost death. There was some hope that the post-war era would lead to a “quieter” time along the lines. But like every war since, that quieter time almost led to the collapse of some of the rail lines due to overbuilding…and a lot of consolidations to make stronger, supposedly more financially secure, roads.

Between 1861 and 1865, rail capacity had increased due to the traffic demands. While this helped during those years, afterwards, it would be a hinderance to the companies that spent that money for that capacity.

The first thing that happened after the war was the companies started plowing their war profits back into getting the rail lines in shape. This would take a lot of that money. Add to that the almost expectant recession as industrial output had to slow down from war time highs. Passenger rates were rising due to the increased costs. The railroads were taking a public relations hit due to those rate hikes.

Competition for traffic between Chicago and the east coast (whether New York or Philadelphia) had already brought on a series of freight rate cuts as early as 1861. The traffic was there, the question was which railroad was willing to do what it took to get it. By 1865, the Pennsylvania Railroad was already telling its investors that eastern railroad mileage was far outpacing the business requirements for the area.

Indiana found itself in the middle of the consolidations. One railroad, the Cincinnati & Chicago Air Line, had a working relationship with the Baltimore & Ohio to bring traffic from the east coast to as far as Valparaiso, where it had to depend on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago to carry that traffic into Chicago. The building of a new road, the Chicago & Great Eastern, let the C&CAL have a second, and preferred, route into the Windy City. This would bring the C&CAL out of its poverty, and allowed, as stated in the Lafayette Journal, the railroad to “rival and damage her own haughty mistress, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago.”

One railroad, which had depended on handshake deals and friendly connections to expand its own traffic across Indiana was the Pennsylvania Railroad. A lot of this was due to the management in Philadelphia that balked at investing in any road that would be outside the scope of its mandate – to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Yes, the company did invest in other routes. But most of the time, it was to allow agreements between those independent routes and the Pennsy. But that attitude in Philadelphia was about to not only be tested, but thrown out the window when the age of the robber baron started.

Speculator Jay Gould forced the Pennsylvania to wake up from its conservative slumber. Gould had swept in to buy the Erie, a weak road that ended in New York. Gould knew that he would have to increase the footprint of his railroad if he was to salvage a massive investment in his company. He set his sights on the Indiana Central. Traffic along that road mostly came from the Panhandle, a Pennsylvania company that connected to Columbus, Ohio. The Indiana Central carried that traffic on to Indianapolis. The Panhandle found itself dependent on the IC, but they did have a handshake agreement between the two companies.

At this time, the IC not only connected the capitals of Indiana and Ohio, but had purchased other routes that could carry traffic to Logansport, and from there, to Chicago. The IC had also acquired the Great Eastern and the C&CAL. The entire line, in 1868, had become known as the Columbus, Chicago & Indiana Central.

Gould swept in to purchase large blocks of stock in the CC&IC. So much so that the management of the line agreed to, if Gould wanted, allow the Erie to lease the road. The Pittsburgh, Columbus and St. Louis Railway, known as the Panhandle, was basically controlled by the Pennsylvania. But this was not by ownership, the PRR didn’t actually own it. The PRR did, however, have a large amount of the company’s bonds as investment in the building of the line. Gould’s possible lease of the CC&IC scared the PRR into action.

But Gould would not be defeated. While his financial resources were limited compared to the Pennsylvania, he would do what it took to put the PRR on its knees. While playing around with the CC&IC, he also showed interest in the PFtW&C. When the PRR took over the CC&IC, Gould tried to pry the already restless PFtW&C from the PRR’s hands. Again, it was a friendly agreement between the PRR and the PFtW&C. And the PFtW&C blamed the PRR for diminished value due to traffic congestion at Pittsburgh. Gould had acquired controlling interest of the shareholder votes.

PRR management in Philadelphia, which still saw their city as the most important city on the east coast, feared that control of the PFtW&C by the Erie would route traffic to New York instead of Philadelphia, worked with the management of the Fort Wayne to lease the road out from under Gould for 999 years starting in July 1869. This would require the PRR to pay a 12% dividend on Fort Wayne stock for the duration of the lease. It didn’t come cheap, but the PRR saved its connection to Chicago.

By 1871, the Pennsylvania had acquired control of both the Panhandle and the Fort Wayne. The Panhandle had already leased the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis, allowing its traffic to connect, via the only bridge across the Ohio at the time, into Louisville…and the southern traffic that ended there.

The major stumbling block, at this point, was west of the Hoosier Capital. Traffic was routed onto the Terre Haute & Indianapolis, which was staunchly independent. The Pennsylvania had invested heavily into a line that connected Terre Haute to St. Louis, Missouri. But the fear that the TH&I would not cooperate with the dreaded PRR when it came to traffic led the PRR to team up with interests that would become the Big Four to build a separate line connecting Indianapolis to Terre Haute. That line would be called the Indianapolis & St. Louis, and would leave Indianapolis on a due west route through Danville.

If the Terre Haute & Indianapolis would not play ball with the Pennsy, it would still have a route to get to the Mississippi River. The TH&I would later fall into the Pennsylvania fold, but that was after a merger with the Pennsy controlled St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute, known as the Vandalia.

The Pennsylvania also invested, in 1869, in another company that would have, were it built to its intended extent, connect Indianapolis to Cairo, Illinois. But that company only made it as far as Vincennes. While the Pennsylvania had members of the Board of Directors as early as 1872, the formal lease wouldn’t occur until 1879.

Most of the Pennsylvania Railroad holdings in Indiana were added to that company by 1870. Those companies would operate as separate entities until the 1920’s, when they were all consolidated into the Pennsylvania itself.

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.