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.

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.

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.

Flooded Indiana

Weather in Indiana. Anyone that has been in the state at this time of year knows that we are entering what best can be described as the rainy season. With it comes the almost annual flooding that will inevitably occur. Flooding is something, though, that can happen at any time of the year. January is notorious for it. Though, it is not as though the flooding is a new thing. It has happened in Indiana for as long as there has been a state of Indiana. And possibly long before. Some of the floods make massive changes to the landscape of the state. Some just get a shrug of shoulders and a shake of the head.

One of the most changing floods in the modern history of Indiana has to be that of 1913. One of the most famous (road) victims of that flood had to be the Washington Street bridge in downtown Indianapolis. But the entire state was punished that January 1913. New Albany, at the Falls of The Ohio (a natural low water point in the entire river channel) almost everything south of the Southern Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks was under water. The Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that its freight house in New Albany be abandoned. Said freight house had been under five feet of water in floods of 1907. In Evansville, the Ohio Street bridge (I would assume over Pigeon Creek) is “paritally submerged by water,” according to the Evansville Press of 15 January 1913. Especially hard hit were towns along the Ohio River. Several of these would be partly wiped out. Some would be moved to higher ground.

The flood that changed Indiana the most was that of 1937. The area had been devastated by floods in 1936…but the winter of 1937 was more damaging. January 1937 saw the massive closing of state roads due to ice and flooding. The list that was published in newspapers on 23 January 1937 included large numbers of roads. Just the US Highways listed included: US 31 north and south of Seymour, south of Memphis, at Speeds and north of New Albany; US 31E north of junction with SR 231 and junction SR 62; US 41 at Hazelton and Patoka; US 50 west of Brownstown, from Lawrenceburg to Aurora, west of Washington; US 52 from Brookville to West Harrison; US 150 west of Palmyra, at Fredricksburg, at Prospect, and east of Shoals. The list of closed highway is roughly 12 column inches long in the Richmond Item of 23 January 1937. The same newspaper mentions that the only road open from Richmond to Cincinnati is US 127 through Eaton, Ohio.

The aftermath of the 1937 floods would change the landscape across the state quite a bit. In addition to plans for 13 new reservoirs (many of which would not be built), levee and bridge construction would be commenced throughout the state. It was noted that many of the city street bridges at Indianapolis were too short to be safe in case of a flood rivaling or beating that of 1913. Improvements would be planned, and budgeted, for the Warfleigh section of Indianapolis, the Fall Creek area of Indianapolis, sections of the Wabash River in Peru and Logansport, and the White River at Anderson and Muncie.

There are additional reports of flooded state roads and such from many years between 1927 and 1950. January 1932 reported that three sections of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford have been damaged by rock slides caused by the same rain that had that part of SR 67 between Romona and Gosport, and at Edwardsport, under water. More flooding reports appear in March 1925, March 1927, November 1927, January 1930, March 1933, May 1935, August 1938, February 1942 and April 1948. This is just a quick look at the available newspaper data.

US 40 at Terre Haute

Terre Haute, Indiana. Opinions of the town vary. No matter your opinion of the city on the Wabash, one thing is certain. Terre Haute’s place in transportation history is set in stone. There are so many subjects that can be covered about that city. Today, I am going to focus on one of the early important parts of that history: the National Road.

But before we can focus on the National Road history, a little bit of Terre Haute history is in order. The “high land,” or terre haute in French, had been the site of a Wea native American village for an unknown number of years before white settlement came in the form of Fort Harrison a few miles north of what would become the town of Terre Haute. When the Wea were forced to move from the area, their orchards and meadows became the site of the new town which would become the Vigo County seat of government with the creation of that county in 1818.

Fast forward to 1834, when the National Road was completed across Indiana. The reason for Terre Haute being on the route was simply because the route was to connect the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The capitals of Ohio and Indiana are still in the same location as they were then: Columbus and Indianapolis. But, the capital of Illinois was at Vandalia, meaning a southwestly route from Indianapolis. (Had the capital of Illinois been moved to Springfield when the road was being planned, it’s entirely possible that what is now US 36 west of Indiana would be US 40.)

Because Terre Haute was on an almost straight line between Indianapolis and Vandalia, it was natural for the road to connect to what, up to that point, had been an important town on the Wabash River and the Wabash and Erie Canal. The original road would come into town via the same route it does today, Wabash Avenue. Below is a 1925 map of the route of the National Road through Terre Haute. (The complete map, which I recommend if you have any interest in Terre Haute, or any of the other connections to the “Capital of the Wabash” at the time can be found here: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/3626/rec/2)

1925 map of Terre Haute centering on the National Road

To show that little had changed, the following map (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/2890/rec/6) is from 1907. According to the hand written notes on the map, the red lines represent Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern tracks, whether they be city street cars or the interurban to Indianapolis. The blue lines are the city boundary. (Honestly, the way those blue lines are drawn confuse the living Hades out of me. Check out the link!)

In 1917, the old road through Terre Haute was taken into the State Main Market Highway system as Road #3. (There were only 5.) Or, at least, it was supposed to be. Due to fighting about the Constitutionality of the Highway Law of 1917, the road would be designated but not officially under state maintenance until the new rewritten law of 1919. Thus, the National Road, along its original route, became State Road 3. In 1926, that was changed to US 40.

No changes would take place in the routing of US 40 until about 1974. At that point, westbound US 40 ran to US 41 (Third Street) on Wabash Street, turning north one block in multiplex, then turning west again to cross the new Cherry Street bridge over the Wabash River. Eastbound, it entered downtown on a new Ohio Street bridge to Third Street, where it turned one block north to Wabash Street and the original route.

1974-1975 Indiana Official Highway Map inset of Terre Haute

The next change would appear in 1977, when the eastbound used Ohio Street to 10 1/2 Street (at least that’s what it looks like on the official map of that year). The westbound route would turn north on Ninth Street to Cherry Street. It would stay this way until the mid 2010’s, when US 40 was completely removed from Terre Haute. At that time, the official US 40 route would be moved to “Old SR 46” (name on the street sign at this point), running south with SR 46 to I-70. US 40 then multiplexes with I-70 to just west of the Illinois-Indiana State Line.

1977 Indiana Official Highway Map inset of Terre Haute

West of Terre Haute, there would be several changes in the official route of US 40. Those I plan to cover at a later time.