When one looks at a current map of Hamilton County, one notices a very distinct line that runs around Noblesville. That line used to connect Indianapolis to Fort Wayne (or more actually, Cleveland, Ohio) directly in the time before the interstates. The route of that line would be directly replaced by the interstate. Ironically, it would also do so south of Indianapolis, as well. Or will in the future. That line is marked SR 37.
But that is not the SR 37 I want to talk about. Nor do I want to focus on the SR 37 that was replaced by that “new” highway SR 37. But why bring up Hamilton County? Because the original road that was given the number 37 did travel through Noblesville. It just did so in the opposite direction.
I have made a relatively large number of posts about the current, and previous, SR 37. The section of the post-1926 SR 37 didn’t make into the state highway system until the 1930’s. And even then, it was known as SR 13. The Allisonville Road, originally the Indianapolis-Fort Wayne State Road, became the route of the new SR 13. SR 37 ended in downtown Indianapolis with SR 35 (later SR 135).
In 1920, when the Indiana State Highway Commission finally found its legal footing to exist following the Indiana Constitution of 1851, there were a lot of numbered highways added to the maps of the state. As I have mentioned before, there were already five state roads designated. 1920 saw a major explosion of them. To the point that 37 wasn’t even really the last number for them.
Original State Road 37 started at Original State Road 1 in Westfield. Today, the intersection would be known as Main and Union Streets. In this area, OSR 1 was the state’s version of the Range Line Road, connecting Indianapolis to Kokomo and beyond. OSR 37 then travelled east through the Hamilton County country side. Just east of what is now Hague Road, the OSR 37 traveled straight to Cicero Creek, then turned north on Cherry Tree Road. The road that used to be OSR 37 is, today, called Metsker Lane. Metsker is the name of the postal delivery person that had that route back in 1910.
The modern road that follows the same corridor as OSR 37 gently curves to cross Cicero Creek. When it was originally planned sometime between 1830 and 1850, the road, as shown in the map above, crossed straight over Sly Run, and turned abruptly to the east to cross Cicero Creek.
As best as I can tell, the original Westfield Road/OSR 37 crossed the White River on Logan Street. The Westfield Road would end there at 10th Street in Noblesville. From here, the original route of OSR 37 would turn north along the old Fort Wayne State Road to what is now 191st Street.
I should also mention here that this was also an Auto Trail route, as well. The Crawfordsville To Anderson Highway was made part of OSR 33 from Crawfordsville to Lebanon, and OSR 37 from Westfield to Anderson.
For the rest of Hamilton County, what is now 191st Street sufficed as several designated roads: originally it was the Noblesville-Anderson State Road (given that designation in the 1830’s); the Crawfordsville To Anderson Highway (an Auto Trail); and Original State Road 37.
Now, again, those that have looked at a map of Hamilton County notices that SR 37 runs north and south. And that the road I am describing sounds miraculously like what is now SR 32. And that, my friends, would be correct. What is now SR 32 was originally SR 37. And what would become SR 37 eventually would be a part of SR 32 from Logan Street to 191st Street along 10th Street/Allisonville Road. So I guess that means the section of 10th Street shown on the Google map to the left was State Road 37 twice. One of a very few sections of road that would have the same number before and after the Great Renumbering.
Another that I know about is SR 2 southwest of Rolling Prairie. When the original state road numbers were laid out, the Lincoln Highway was given the number 2. This would change in late 1923 as the “more direct” Lincoln Highway route (now the US 30 corridor) was given the number 2, and the original highway was given assorted numbers. With the Great Renumbering, most of the original Lincoln Highway was renumbered to State Road 2 – from Fort Wayne to South Bend, and from Rolling Prairie to Valparaiso. The latter section still has that designation.
Through the years, SR 32 would be moved a block south, rerouted directly out of Noblesville to the east, and removed from 191st Street. SR 37 would bypass Noblesville…mostly. Now that Noblesville has expanded out to the current SR 37, the word bypass just doesn’t fit anymore, does it?
Today, I want to show some map snippets of the National Road, and its replacement sections, as of 1910. Now, there is a small problem with this. The maps that I am going to use here are from the United States Postal Service from 1910. And while they are available from the Indiana State Library online, there are two that are noticeably absent from the collection: Clay and Marion Counties.
Marion County is easy to deal with. There are so many historic maps of Marion County available on the web that if I really wanted to, I could get something to cover the area. Clay County is an entirely different story. That is going to take some work.
Many people, today, are used to the straight ribbon of asphalt and concrete that is US 40 through Indiana. But that wasn’t the case when the road was created in the 1830’s. As was the standard operating procedure at the time, roads were built as straight as they could be. There was no heavy machinery to move a hill, or flatten a valley, in the early to mid 1800’s. Surveyors were extremely important at that time, to get the best road possible. If it could come in using less materials, and more importantly, less money, so be it. Most bridges across streams along the way crossed at a right angle to the stream. This was to make the bridge both safer and less expensive.
The hilly terrain of the area southwest of Indianapolis made the National Road surveyors a bit of hassle, as well. Hence, the relatively straight road that we know today was a lot of work and bending the old road into shape…and out of existence. The following maps show the road as it was in 1910. I wanted to give a comparison map from USGS maps…but the earliest available at this time is 1941, meaning that the road has already been replaced in most areas. And looking at Google Maps, there are very few sections that still exist of the original road that was replaced. But, I hope that these maps will start your own research into the original federal highway.
1 January 1900. The first electric traction car runs into Indianapolis. More importantly, however, according to the Daily Journal of 6 March 1973, it ran into Greenwood. “Townsfolk cheered and applauded as the orange-colored passenger car screeched to a halt at the end of the line.” Thus was the beginning of the interurban era in Central Indiana. “At that proud moment, none of the overjoyed citizens had the slightest idea that the flashy monster called interurban would die some 40 years later – only a few miles down the track.”
Greenwood, when it was created, found itself astride two important forms of transportation at the time: the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad and the Madison State Road, later the Madison Toll Road. Both of these facilities connected the little village, called Greenfield starting in 1825, to the state capital directly. The railroad ended at South Street, between Pennsylvania and Delaware Streets. The Madison State Road ended at the end of Meridian Street at South Street.
The idea started in 1894 when $150,000 was invested to construct a 12-mile line from Indianapolis to Greenwood. In 1895, the plan was laid out by Henry L. Smith to create an electric traction company to connect Greenwood to both Indianapolis and Franklin. The route would follow the Madison State Road (then known by the names of either the Madison Free Gravel Road or the Indianapolis-Southport Road depending on where you were). From Greenwood, it would run along the east side of the Madison Road right of way, switching over to the west side of the road just south of Union Street (now Southport Road) in Southport. The route would turn north on Shelby Street when it connected to Madison…connecting to the Indianapolis Street Railways just south of Troy Avenue.
While riding the new electric traction in the rural areas of Marion County, between Greenwood and Southport, “a passenger, Charles Coffin took out his pocket watch to check the interurban’s speed. In that brief stretch the motors of the car had propelled it nearly 38 miles per hour.” That was extremely fast for the time. Interurban stops were 1/2 mile apart at the time. Stops 13 and 14, numbered from Indianapolis, allowed passengers to partake of a popular picnic grounds on the north end of Greenwood – Greenwood Park. Rural stops 10, 11 and 12 were mainly for rural residents to go shopping in downtown Indianapolis. Southport did not have a stop number. Towns and/or housing additions were later built at stops north of Southport: Stop 9 (Homecroft – Banta Road); Stop 7 (Edgewood – Epler Avenue); Stop 6 (Longacre – Thompson Road); and Stop 4 (University Heights – Hanna Avenue).
By June 1900, with the financial success of the Greenwood line, the electric traction route had been extended to Franklin. And that success kept growing, for by September 1902 the interurban crossed all of Johnson County as it headed off to its end at Columbus. By 1910, the interurban had become part of the lives of thousands of people across Indiana. And that is when the wheels started coming off.
Between Bluffton and Fort Wayne, on 21 September 1910, the “worst wreck in the history of traction operations” occurred. More than 40 people were killed in the crash. On 2 February 1924, another tragic accident, caused by two interurban cars meeting head-on, killed 21 people. But nothing would hurt the interurban more than the car and the bus.
The interurban had teetered on the brink of financial failure for years. Then the Great Depression occurred. Many of the Indianapolis-centric traction routes would be consolidated. But 1933 came, and that consolidation was taken out of the hands of its owners, and placed in receivership. Many of the lines were closed at that point – either outright, or replaced with the very busses that helped seal their downfall.
But the Greenwood line soldiered on. For almost another decade. The first line into Indianapolis was also the last when a crash occurred south of Columbus. 8 September 1941 spelled the end of the interurbans along the Greenwood line. “In the end the interurban system had one weary passenger car remaining out of a mighty army of 700 as the hearts and minds of the public turned to other marvels.”
The article in the Daily Journal is actually two parts. The top of the page covers the Greenwood line, in parts. The bottom talks about the electric street cars in Indiana, and the birth, life and death of the interurban. The best quote in that part of the story is this: “Before the interurban craze was over – and it hit like a meteor and died a painful death – there were about 200 operating companies; 250 with incorporation papers filed; and another 250 companies which tried to start. Just like canal companies and steam railroad companies, they went big in Hoosierdom.” They sure did. But in Central Indiana, it started with rumbling its way to a point south of the Hoosier Capital.
1906. A rural station stop on the Big Four Railroad, originally called Ingalls (or Ingallston), has just been incorporated as a shop town for the same Big Four Railroad. It’s official name at this point became Beech Grove. The new town that grew from the building of the railroad shops, covered in my blog entry “Beech Grove,” found itself barely accessible by anything other than the very railroad that built it. It wouldn’t be long until that would change.
First, the town was actually accessible by route of an old toll road that had been built to reach the farm of a local resident, a Mr. Churchman. That road, for the longest time, had been called the Churchman Pike, even after the county bought it back from the toll road company. The Churchman Pike connected to the town via what would become Albany Street, a survey section line that also acts as the separator between all of the southern townships and the central townships in Marion County. Dirt roads along the other survey lines – which would later become Troy and Emerson Avenues – also led to the area that would become Beech Grove. The old train station, Ingalls or Beech Grove, was at the survey line (Emerson Avenue) and the railroad track. Today, that would be under the Emerson Avenue bridge over the railroad.
But it wouldn’t be long before another method of transportation would make its presence known, and try to work its way into the railroad city. Electric Traction, also known as the interurban, had made its way into Indianapolis, officially, with the opening of the Greenwood line on 1 January 1900. After that, companies started popping up all over the United States. And Indianapolis became a hub for the new transportation form.
But this would create a problem. Steam railroads, which all standard railroads were called at the time, saw the new Traction companies as direct competition. Even though the gauge (width between the tracks) was the same on both, traffic interchange was one of those things that the steam roads were going to keep to an absolute minimum. And since the Traction companies specialized in moving people, this was even more reason for the steam roads to dislike the interurbans.
And now someone wants to add an interurban route to a town BUILT by the railroad? The short answer…yes. The reason for this was actually based in the nature of the steam railroad itself. Passenger trains, taking people from Beech Grove to downtown Indianapolis, weren’t scheduled at very convenient times for citizens of the new town. While the company that had invested in, and created, the town, the Beech Grove Improvement Company, tried running its own special trains to downtown Indianapolis, it was at the whim of the very busy Big Four line from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. In comes the planners of the electric traction.
It started in 1909. A company called the Shore Line Traction Company applied for a franchise to run a traction line from the Indianapolis city limits (point unknown) to Beech Grove. Louis McMains, a real estate agent, put in the petition to the County Commissioners. In October 1909, the petition asked that the Shore Line Traction Company be allowed to use the Churchman Pike from the city limits near Keystone and Churchman Avenues to the corporation limit of Beech Grove. It also asked for some straightening work along the road, and the right of way be widened by 27 feet (adding 13.5 feet on each side). “The petition signifies that the property owners on each side of the pike are willing to part with the necessary land to widen the road.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 14 October 1909)
The county had problems with the widening…especially when it came to the Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek (between Walker and Southern Avenues today). The bridge had been in disrepair for years, listed as such as early as 1891. Whether the bridge had been repaired or replaced at this point is unknown. Suffice it to say, the county wasn’t really likely to spend money to replace the bridge.
The petition mentioned that the plan for the Churchman Pike is to widen it to 66 feet, allowing two tracks to be built in the center, with only one track being built to start the company. The new company already had a franchise in hand for the route inside Beech Grove itself.
The Shore Line Traction Company found itself trying to come up with a new route to Beech Grove when the county balked at the Bean Creek bridge. With that, the company was not heard from again.
But shortly after the above petition was filed, a new company would be incorporated – the Beech Grove Traction Company. This company was officially started on 30 December 1909. It had the same goal as the Shore Line Transit Company – connect Beech Grove and downtown Indianapolis.
There was more progress with the Beech Grove Traction than there was with Shore Line. The Indianapolis News of 2 April 1910 reported that the Beech Grove company had elected its corporate officers and announced that grading work would begin soon on the line. Rails, ties and cars had already been ordered. Work on the new Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek had begun on 28 March 1910. Officials of the traction company were negotiating with the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company “for use of the tracks of the latter company in Shelby Street and Virginia Avenue for entrance to the business district.”
The franchise rights had been awarded by Marion County and the town of Beech Grove. When construction was to begin in April, the company had no agreement with the city of Indianapolis about using the city street railway tracks to enter the downtown area. This agreement would not have been reached until September 1910. This caused construction to be delayed until November 1910.
Even before the track was complete, the first train run over part of the line happened on 20 March 1911. Seven days later, regular service began. The Beech Grove end of the line was on what became Garstang Avenue east of First (Emerson) Avenue. The track then ran north on First Avenue to Main Street. Following Main Street west, it turned north on 17th Avenue (Sherman Drive) for one block, to turn northwest on Churchman Pike (Avenue). The route then turned west on LeGrande Avenue to connect to the city street railway system at Shelby Street.
At first, the company found itself very popular. The Beech Grove Traction only owned, at the start, four cars to travel between the two ends. But there were so many people that wanted to use the new train that the company found itself running trains every 40 minutes from daybreak to midnight. The time table showed that first car left for Indianapolis at 0530, with the first car from Indianapolis arriving at 0610. A nickel would get a rider from Beech Grove to Shelby Street and LeGrande. A dime would get you all the way to the Traction Terminal.
Now, one might ask about why someone would get off the interurban at Shelby Street. Rightly so. But a trip to Garfield Park would require a change to a city street car. Or, one could catch the interurban to Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus and even Louisville at the end of the city Shelby Street line…which was at the Greenwood Line Stop 1 at Perry Street, south of Troy Avenue, on Shelby Street.
But business along the Beech Grove Traction line would start falling off rather quickly. The Big Four, with the completion of the traction line, stopped issuing passes to employees and families to ride the steam train. This made the interurban the best way to get to downtown Indianapolis. In the early days, most traffic was Big Four shop employees coming to and from work from their homes in Indianapolis. Due to the success of the town of Beech Grove, these employees were moving to the town. This caused a drop in traffic on the traction line. And due to shops being built along Main Street, the traffic drop wasn’t made up for in shopping trips to the stores of downtown Indianapolis.
By 1914, an average of 24 round trips ran each day along the line, with a schedule of 1 hour 10 minutes between trains. That had slowed down to 16 round trips a day by March 1916. And, as is typical of Indiana railroads of the time, the Beech Grove Traction Company found itself falling into receivership in December 1917, caused by increased costs without the subsequent increase in revenue.
Lawsuits were filed. Newspapers reported that the traction line wouldn’t be necessary for much longer, since with the improvement of city streets, bus service between Beech Grove and Indianapolis would replace the electric traction line. In a strange twist of fate, the operator of the bus competition to the Beech Grove Traction ceased his bus company and took over the traction line as railway superintendent. Fortunes improved…for the time being.
One of the things that the line started was carrying mail from the Fountain Square post office to the post office in Beech Grove. This started shortly after completion of the line until it was discontinued in the late 1920s.
The little line lumbered on for almost two decades after receivership…barely. It was recommended in November 1923 that the line be closed and sold. Revenues increased with the permission given to raise fares. But the company found itself sold to make up $30,000 in debt due to maintenance and new rolling stock in 1925. The new buyer made a condition – if a bus line was approved, the sale would be null and void, and the line would be junked. Again, lawsuits were filed, and a bus line was granted an injunction to operate. And the bus company was purchased by the traction line…and both were operated at the same time. It found itself teetering financially, yet still managing to survive.
The Great Depression hurt the line, just like it did almost everything else at the time. But it managed to survive…for a while. The Public Service Commission of Indiana, on 7 January 1937, officially told the company that it was to close the line. Indianapolis Railways, the power provider for the line, complained to the PSCI that Beech Grove Traction owed in the neighborhood of $20,000 for power…which Indianapolis Railways turned off at 0100 on 8 January 1937. And hence, the end of the Beech Grove Traction line. Some people hadn’t seen the notices about the end of service, and were waiting at stops on a cold 8 January morning.
The last vestiges of the traction company would last until 21 August 1973. The company’s car barn, at First and Garstang, would last until demolition started that day.
There was a time in Indiana when some smaller towns in the state became somewhat major railroad hubs. Cambridge City, a town founded along the National Road in 1836, would become not only a railroad center, but transportation in general. But today, I want to focus on the railroads in the town.
Ultimately, Cambridge City would be along the lines of four (three) different railroads. You may wonder about the “four (three)” comment. The four companies were the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis, the Indiana Central, the Connersville & New Castle Junction, and the White Water Railroad. Ultimately, before abandonments would rear their ugly head, it would be three railroad companies: Pennsylvania, New York Central, and Nickel Plate.
Let’s start with the White Water Railroad, which would find its way to the New York Central via the Big Four Railway. The White Water Valley Railroad Company was formed under the general laws of Indiana on 8 June 1865. This company would build the line, from Harrison, Ohio, to Hagerstown, Indiana, in 1868. This would be 68 miles of track. It was mostly built along the line of the White Water Canal, connecting the same locations. The White Water Canal crossed the National Road at Cambridge City. The White Water Valley Railroad would be sold at foreclosure on 15 May 1878. It would take almost a year, but the property would be conveyed to the White Water Railroad Company, created on 28 May 1878 by the Indiana General Assembly. The new company would acquire the old railroad property on 12 May 1879. The White Water Railroad would remain separate until it was conveyed to the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four) Railway on 1 November 1890, a little more than a year after the Big Four was created. The section between Connersville and Hagerstown, thus through Cambridge City, was removed from service in 1931 and ripped up in 1936.
The line that would become part of the Nickel Plate started as the Cincinnati & Chicago Short Line Railroad. This company was created by law in Indiana on 12 February 1853. On 1 May 1854, it became part of the Cincinnati & Chicago Rail Road Company, after it was merged with the Cincinnati, New Castle and Michigan Rail Road. The charter for these companies stayed idle for quite a long time. The company was sold at foreclosure, and the section that would be built through Cambridge City was given to Watton J. Smith, by sherriff’s deed, on 7 July 1860. Mr. Smith held onto the company, which was still in name only, until he deeded it, via quitclaim, to the Connersville & New Castle Junction Railroad Company on 26 February 1864. The latter company was created by law on 23 October 1863. The Connersville & New Castle Junction would build and open its 25.05 miles of track connecting Connersville and New Castle in 1865.
This rail line would go through a long series of consolidations over the next nearly half century. The Connersville & New Castle Junction would be consolidated with the New Castle & Muncie Rail Road to become the Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie Rail Road on 2 January 1868. This company, in turn, would merge with the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railway on 4 January 1871, to become the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati (FtWM&C) Rail Road. 10 years later, the FtWM&C would be sold at foreclosure to become part of the Fort Wayne, Cincinnati & Louisville (FtWC&L) Railroad on 6 December 1881. Again, another consolidation merged the New Castle & Rushville Rail Road into the FtWC&L on 11 November 1886. FtWC&L would be the name that the company would maintain until it was merged into the Nickle Plate in 1923, even though the line was purchased, on 28 May 1890, by the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.
The Lake Erie & Western would be operated as a separate entity by the New York Central during the first two decades of the 20th Century. It was sold to the Nickel Plate in 1922. The Nickel Plate, legally the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, would exist as a separate company until it was merged into the Norfolk & Western on 16 October 1964. In the late 1970’s, the N&W filed for permission to abandon the rail line through Cambridge City, abandoning the New Castle Branch lines from New Castle to Connersville and from New Castle to Rushville. Both of these abandonments were withdrawn at the time. Although it looks unused, the railroad line is still in place through Cambridge City.
The Pennsylvania Railroad served, until the lines were abandoned, Cambridge City using two lines, both associated with the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Panhandle) Railway. A rail line connecting Cambridge City to Rushville started life at the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad Company. It acquired the right of way, that was partly graded, from the Lake Erie and Pacific Railroad Company created on 23 December 1861. The Lake Erie & Louisville would be the company that would complete the building of the line per an agreement of 28 August 1866 with the Indiana Central Railway and the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis (JM&I) Railroad. The 21 mile route would open in 1867, and would be operated, under lease, by the JM&I. This line between Cambridge City and Rushville to finish a line that ultimately connected the Indiana Central line at Cambridge City to the JM&I at Columbus, via Shelbyville and Rushville. The JM&I would be merged with other companies, including the next mentioned, to create the Panhandle on 30 September 1890.
The Indiana Central actually was a replacement charter for the original Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. The latter company would be formed to connected the two close to state line cities through Indianapolis. The line was completed from Terre Haute to Indianapolis, with the rest of the line to Richmond not having been even considered for construction by the company. On 16 February 1848 the Indiana General Assembly approved the creation of the Indiana Central Railway Company. This was after the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847. Although the TH&R built to Indianapolis, and decided to go no further, in 1852, it remained that company name until 6 March 1865, when it became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Rail Road.
The Indiana Central would build from Indianapolis to the Indiana-Ohio State Line, some 71.94 miles of track, in 1853. Strangely, the Indiana Central Railway existed until 19 October 1864 (five months before the TH&R would change Richmond to Indianapolis in its name) when it was merged with the Columbus & Indianapolis Railroad to become the Columbus & Indianapolis Central Railway. Some dates get a little confused right about here, but suffice it to say that after a few consolidations, the line running through Cambridge City would connect Indianapolis to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and fall under the sway of the Pennsylvania Railroad. It would be part of the 30 September 1890 consolidation that formed the Panhandle. The TH&I, which was tasked with building the line by chartered, but decided not to, would also be added to the Panhandle when the company that it consolidated into, the Vandalia Railroad, would be consolidated into the Panhandle by the Pennsylvania.
The line connecting Cambridge City to Rushville was moved to the west, severing the Cambridge City connection, in 1910, with a revamp of the Panhandle mainline through the area. The connection between the east-west main and the Louisville line at Columbus would be moved to Dublin. There it would remain until it was abandoned in 1955. The mainline through the area would only survive until 1976, when the Penn Central, successor to both the Pennsylvania and the New York Central, would file for the permission to abandon the line from Cambridge City to Charlottesville, a total of 21.26 miles. This permission was requested on 31 March 1976, one day before the line would have been taken into the Consolidated Rail Corporation, or Conrail. The old Pennsylvania mainline east from Cambridge City, for 10.1 miles to Centerville, would be, 1982, put up for abandonment by Conrail.
The Richmond Palladium-Item of 2 January 1954 published an article in their continuing series about the history of transportation in Richmond and Wayne County. This series commemorated the arrival, on 18 March 1853, of the first locomotive in Richmond. Luther M. Feeger wrote in that article that Cambridge City once had an elaborate Union Station, built in March 1866. That station was built as a joint venture between the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad and the Indiana Central Railway. It was, reportedly, more elaborate than the station in Richmond. Unlike Indianapolis Union Station, the two railroads involved in Cambridge City would both become part of the same company – the Pennsylvania. (Indianapolis’ Union Station was created by five companies, three became Pennsylvania, two become New York Central…and the entire station would end up owned by the Penn Central in the end.)
For Cambridge City, it had gone from having four railroad lines to what is today one seldom or never used line crossing from northwest to southeast. At one point, trains out of the town could take you to Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, Columbus (Ohio), and Louisville. The lines also connected a rider from Cambridge City to places like Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Chicago and New York City. Today, Cambridge City sits along the historic National Road, sharing its transportation heritage with the world…along with some of the best antique shopping in the state.
Today, we are going to discuss car makers that were based in Indiana. At one point, there were a LOT of manufacturers in the state. Today, I want to focus on companies based in Indianapolis. Not all of them, mind you. The picture to the left shows the entries in the Polk City Directory of 1914. Even then, companies such as Stutz, which participated in the 1911 Indianapolis 500, weren’t included in the directory. Since there were so many manufacturers in the state, there will be more parts to this subject very soon.
American Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1906 – 1913]: One of the many automobile companies that had the guiding hand of Harry C. Stutz. Mr. Stutz came to Indianapolis from Ohio when he sold his former company to an Indianapolis concern. In 1905, he designed a new car, which would be the first made by the new American Motor Car Company. Soon after, Stutz left to become part of the Marion Motor Company. American went on to create what was best described at the time as “under powered, over priced luxury cars.” Their most well known car was called “Underslung,” where the chassis was actually set below the axles. This required 40″ wheels to keep the car off the ground. Over time, the Presidency of the company, along with that of Marion Motors, fell into the hands of J. I. Handley. It was the plan, in July 1913, to combine all of the companies under Handley’s influence into the J. I. Handley Company. This did not last long. By November, 1913, American would file for bankruptcy. The company would emerge from the bankruptcy in December, 1914, with the plan of starting car manufacturing again. It never happened. The American Company had locations at both the northwest corner of Illinois and Henry, and at 1939 to 1947 S. Meridian Street at the Belt Railway. Plant number 3 was located at 1965 S. Meridian Street.
Lafayette Motors – Indianapolis (Mars Hill) [1919 – 1922]: In 1919, a new motor car company was founded named after the Marquis de LaFayette, a French hero of the American Revolution. A cameo of his face was used as the logo on each car the company made. In 1920, the company started the Lafayette Building Company. The purpose of the second company was to build housing for the employees that were flocking to Mars Hill to work for the car company. Lafayette specialized in luxury cars. The company installed the first electric clock in automobiles. The company would come under new management in 1921. The new President, Charles Nash, was the President of the Nash Motor Company, as well. The fact that the two companies would remain separate didn’t last very long. It was announced on 29 July 1922 that the Lafayette Motors Corporation would be moving to Milwaukee, closer to the home base of Nash Motors. The name Lafayette would continue until full ownership, in 1924, was acquired by Nash. The Lafayette name would be used again, this time by Nash for a low cost automobile. Nash itself would last until 1954, when it merged with Hudson to create American Motors.
Stutz Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1911 – 1935]: This company, founded as the Ideal Motor Company, would be started by Harry C. Stutz and Henry F. Campbell for the sole purpose, originally, to build the Bear Cat, a car designed by Harry Stutz. The first car made by Ideal was put together in five weeks from the founding of the company. That vehicle was part of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911. The company would change names in 1913 to Stutz Motor Car Company of Indiana. Stutz would leave the company in 1919. The following year, stock manipulation led the company to be delisted from stock exchanges. The company produced cars until 1935. In September, 1935, three stock brokers were indicted for trying, again, to manipulate Stutz Company stock. Henry Campbell died in September, 1936, in New York. Although Stutz Motor Company had more assets than debts, it filed for bankruptcy in April, 1937. While working through the bankruptcy, no agreements could be made with the creditors. In 1938, the Auburn Automobile Company started making a formerly Stutz produced vehicle – the Pak-Age-Car. For this, Auburn bought tools and machinery from the Stutz factory in Indianapolis, moving them to a facility in Connersville. This was shortly after the Stutz company was to be liquidated.
Marion Motor Company – Indianapolis [1904 – 1915]: The Marion Motor Company commenced work in 1904 at a plant in West Indianapolis at Oliver Avenue and Drover Street. They produced 50 cars in their first year. James I. Handley would gain control of this company, as well as the American Motor Car Company. His plan in 1913 is mentioned above with the American Motor Car paragraph. The Marion Company would, in 1915, combine with Imperial Motors to become Mutual Motor Company. This would close the West Indianapolis plant and the general offices in Indianapolis when the company moved to Jackson, Michigan.
Cole Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1910 – 1924]: In 1910, Joseph Jeret Cole, founded the Cole Motor Car Company. One of the first, called “The Flyer,” a car built for “long, fast road journeys.” It had a 25 gallon gas tank and was powered by a four cylinder, 30 horsepower, engine. The cost, at the time, was $1,500. Cole was known for its luxury vehicles. After World War I, Cole sold a company peak of 6,255 cars in 1919, second only to Cadillac when it came to luxury cars. The company fell victim to the mass produced, cheaper cars that were very popular after the war. Cole had a choice, mass produce cars or quit making cars altogether. Joseph Cole decided to quit. This was after a failed merger between seven car companies, and even talks with William Durant about becoming part of General Motors. The last car left its East Washington Street factory in October, 1924. The company actually had two factories that are still standing: one known as 730 E. Washington Street, being used, as of the time of this writing, as Marion County Jail II, and one at Market and Davidson Streets, which is currently being used as the Marion County Processing Center. The original factory was in what is now the parking lot of the Jail II, right on the corner of Washington and Davidson Streets. The Cole Motor Car Company began liquidation after the last car was made. But unlike most companies being liquidated, the end result was that the company had money left over. All debts were paid off, and shareholders would get what was left over, roughly $39 per $100 share value. The real estate was sold, but purchased by the Cole family itself. And that is what the Cole Motor Company was after 1925 – a real estate company, leasing office space inside their one time factories. The company was listed as still existing even into the late 1980’s…but with no intention of ever producing cars again.
H. C. S. Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1919 – 1926]: Another company started by Harry C. Stutz and Henry F. Campbell. Stutz started this company, along with a company that made fire engines (known as the Stutz Fire Apparatus Company) after leaving the Stutz Motor Card Company. Incorporated with $1 million in capital in late 1919. The company would build its factory at 1402 N. Capitol Avenue. As with other products created by Stutz, his new company was very popular in the city. The economy after World War I was very unstable, subject to very wide swings in soundness. 1921 was a very hard year for this new company. By 1923, however, the company was strong enough to buy a factory branch at 846 N. Meridian St. In 1925, Stutz left Indianapolis for Orlando, leaving his companies in the Hoosier capital to their own devices. This lasted around one year. In 1926, the company became property of creditors. 1927 saw the end of the company when it was liquidated.
Empire Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1906 – 1919]: The founders of this company would be instrumental in the success of the automobile in general. One created two of the first Auto Trail roads in the country – the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway. The other two would join the first in buying a large field along the Crawfordsville Road (and future Dixie Highway) where they would build what would become a world famous 2.5 mile rectangle known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carl Fisher, Arthur Newby and James Allison got together to create a car known as the Aristocrat. Allison, Fisher and Newby would put the company in a sort of hibernation in 1911. In early 1912, it was sold to other interests, which would commence building cars almost immediately. According to reports at the time, Fisher and Allison were rumored to want to retire from making cars. The last cars to come out of the Empire Motor Car Company would be the 1918 model year.
This is just the start of the lists. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, there will be more coming soon!