Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The year is 1902, and the Indianapolis Southern Railroad has just been chartered to enter the city of Indianapolis and rumble through the Marion County countryside south of the city. Once the railroad entered Perry Township from Center Township (at what is now Troy Avenue), the railroad right of way followed the survey line one mile west of the Three Notch Road (Meridian Street) and two miles west of the Range Line (Shelby Street). Just south of what would become Stop 8 Road, now Edgewood Avenue, the railroad crossed the Bluff Free Gravel Road.

Rail and road traffic near this intersection of the Indianapolis Southern and the Bluff Road wasn’t a real problem for several years after the building of the railroad. In 1914, the Bluff Road was to become part of the Dixie Highway. This highway, connecting south Florida to Chicago and northern Michigan, actually connected to Indianapolis, the hometown of its creator, in four different directions. This led to a traffic increase along the Bluff Road, creating more problems at the railroad crossing which was at a very bad angle to begin with.

The problem was made worse when the state took over the Bluff Road in 1923, making it original State Road 22. This made the Indiana State Highway Commission responsible for the maintenance of the very old road. In 1925, the state decided that enough was enough, and a bridge was built over the Indianapolis Southern railroad, which had become part of the Illinois Central.

The bridge that was built was a very narrow facility. Two lanes wide, at best. But it would serve its purpose, creating a safe crossing of the Illinois Central by SR 22, or as it would soon become, SR 37. And it did just that until the state started moving SR 37 to the west in 1964, and completing the job in 1965. The overpass then became property of Marion County. And here is where it went downhill.

MapIndy 1937 aerial image of the Bluff Road bridge
over the Illinois Central Railroad.

Reconstruction work on the deteriorating span was scheduled in both 1971 and 1977. The Indianapolis Transportation Board posted a long list of bridge projects for that year in newspapers in mid May 1971 and early April 1977. By 1984, the city was looking at removing the bridge all together. Unfortunately, getting the right of way to do this proved troublesome. The bridge was built with very little clearance when it came to the actual right-of-way used. It was suggested by John Willen, DOT Chief Engineer, that land acquisition was a problem, and that the bridge would not be replaced due to decreased rail traffic at that location.

Legal notice was published in the newspapers in December 1984 that the Indianapolis Department of Transportation, with the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Highways, had decided that the overpass on Bluff Road over what was then the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad would be removed and an at-grade crossing would be put in its place. “The proposed project begins at a point approximately 210 feet south of Banta Road, then extends in a northerly direction mostly along the existing alignment of Bluff Road, and terminates at a point about 750 feet south of Edgewood Avenue for a total project length of 0.42 mile (2,210 feet).” In addition to the removal of the overpass, the following was listed as part of the project: “The portion of Bluff Crest Drive between Bluff Road and Bluff Crest Lane, approximately 280 feet will be removed and Bluff Crest Drive access to Bluff Road will be terminated.”

MapIndy aerial image from 1986 of the
Bluff Road bridge over the Indiana Railroad.

In September 1986, the city of Indianapolis introduced a resolution to implement a five ton weight limit on the overpass. The notification of the resolution in the newspapers of the time stated “whereas, the Indianapolis Department of Transportation Street Engineering Division was notified that certain portions of this structure had a stage of deterioration.” Prior to this, the bridge had had a ten ton weight limit. In May 1987, the bridge was closed completely as the city of Indianapolis decided it would be better off replacing the structure with an at-grade crossing. The city reported that the work would be completed by 15 July 1987. The original plan to remove Bluff Crest Drive was apparently just dropped along the way. That residential street still connects to Bluff Road in the same location as it had before the removal of the overpass.

On 29 July 1987, the Indianapolis Star announced that “Bluff Road, closed since April from Banta Road to Edgewood Avenue for extensive reconstruction, was reopened for traffic Tuesday (28 July 1987).” The project cost the city $540,000 and involved the removal of the “severely deteriorated Indianapolis Southern Railroad overpass built in 1925.” Even in the end of the overpass’ life, the newspaper still called it the Indianapolis Southern instead of the company that had taken it over just the year before, the Indiana Railroad.

I-465 Construction, the PRR and Madison Avenue

Indianapolis served as a railroad capital for many years before the coming of the automobile. Since surface roads connected Indianapolis to many points in the state in many directions, it was logical that the coming of the automobile would lead to a concentration of automobile routes. But those were still subject to the locations of railroads. The interstate would change all that.

The purpose of the interstate was to create a high speed, limited interruption traffic flow. This, by definition, would require the new interstates to deal with going over or under those rail routes. Most of those intersections were accomplished with the interstate going over the railroads. And these overpasses are high, due to the clearances that were going to be required by the railroads at the time.

If one looks at a map of Interstate 465, one would notice that there is only one railroad bridge over the interstate. That bridge is the original Madison & Indianapolis, then Pennsylvania Railroad, on the southside. The reason for this really came down to the location of the interstate more than anything else.

When the interstate’s location was decided, it would follow closely to the original chosen location to SR 100 which it was replacing. That original location, in terms of Indianapolis modern street names, was Shadeland Avenue, 82nd/86th Street, High School Road, and Thompson Road. A quick glance at a map shows this.

On the southside, through the south central part of the county, this led to the interstate route traversing through the Lick Creek “valley.” The Pennsylvania Railroad already had a bridge over Lick Creek in the area. That same bridge also crossed the road leading into what was Longacre Park (being turned into a trailer park from September 1963), which had been in that location since 1926.

Louisville & Indiana (former Madison & Indianapolis/Panhandle/Pennsylvania Railroad) bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway into Longacre Mobile Home Park. This Google Maps image was sampled on 10 May 2020, from an image captured in June 2019. This image shows both the original bridge and the 1964 concrete expansion places on top to raise the level of the railroad.

The level of the railroad over that section of the coming interstate was right around 13 feet above ground level. This amount of clearance wasn’t enough for the State Highway Commission. This would require the Pennsylvania Railroad to raise the level of the railroad about three feet. This can be seen by the concrete extension over and above the old stone bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway just south of the interstate.

Google Map aerial photo of the Louisville & Indiana crossing of Interstate 465. Image was sampled 10 May 2020.

The Indianapolis Star of 27 March 1964, in a news story announcing road closures throughout the area, mentions that “Lawrence Street will be blocked for two weeks while the Pennsylvania Railroad elevated and repairs the tracks in connection with Interstate 465 construction.”

Also at work at the time was the Madison Avenue crossing of Interstate 465. Before the coming of the interstate, Madison Avenue had been a two lane state road, SR 431, south of Shelby Street. The main access to Longacre Park was actually north of Lick Creek, as shown in the following 1952 aerial photograph from MapIndy. The trailer park along Madison Avenue at Redfern Drive would come into direct play when I-465 started construction through the area.

1957 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Lick Creek area from Madison Avenue to Longacre Park.

Before the interstate construction would reach the area, a redesign of the Madison Avenue crossing of the area was already in process. The new bridge across the future interstate and Lick Creek would be two lanes in each direction. To accommodate this construction, a new, temporary, Madison Avenue would have to be built to bypass the area of the new bridge. Also, utility lines would also have to moved to the east.

1962 MapIndy aerial image of the area of Madison Avenue and Lick Creek.

The image to the left is the 1962 aerial photograph of the area from MapIndy. It shows the bypass Madison Avenue being built through the mobile home park at Redfern Drive mentioned above. The bypass would start south of the current Lick Creek Parkway, and reconnect to Madison Avenue right at the angled intersection of Shelby Street. The bypass route can be seen as the brighter road through the left center of the photo. (It hadn’t seen traffic yet, and as such was brand new concrete.)

Some people have wondered why Madison Avenue is the only (former) State Road that did not have an interchange with Interstate 465. Spacing is the only answer I could come up with. The Pennsylvania Railroad is one-quarter mile, or so, east of Madison Avenue. East Street, the US 31 bypass built in the early 1940’s, is one half mile west of Madison Avenue…not counting the ramp lengths. Shelby Street is one half mile east of East Street through its entire length through Marion County.

1962 MapIndy closeup aerial photo of the Madison Avenue bridge construction over future I-465 and Lick Creek.

The bypass Madison Avenue built in 1962 would become the frontage road in what was later the Madison Mobile Home Park. It is now called McConnell Way. A quick glance at utility lines through the area show that they weren’t been moved back to the side of Madison Avenue after construction was completed. The following aerial photograph, from 1972, shows the construction through the area completed.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of Madison Avenue and (then) Penn Central crossing of I-465 and Lick Creek.

For those interested, the cover photo for this post is the same area shown in all the other photos as would have been seen in 1937. That image is also from MapIndy. MapIndy is available online at: http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/index.html.

Cambridge City – Railroad Center

Cambridge City, Indiana – 1893. This map is available at the Indiana State Library at:
http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p15078coll8/id/4224/rec/14

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.

Cambridge City, Indiana – 1893. This is a close up view, taken from the map above, of the central railroad junction area of Cambridge City. It shows how all four railroad lines connected to one another.

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.

Photo taken from the Richmond Palladium-Item of 2 January 1954. The headline of the article is about the station that was built by the Lake Erie & Louisville Railroad and the Indiana Central Railway. Both of those lines would become part of the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Panhandle) Railway.

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.