Lafayette Rail Relocation

Cover photo courtesy of Justin L. Grayson, as was the idea for the post.

When the railroads started coming to towns across the United States, it was a sign of prestige to have a railroad company build a line through the middle of a city street. While the towns thought it was something to be proud of, crossing the tracks was almost impossible. Lafayette was a town of rail crossings…and street running. As I have written about before, Lafayette was the home of several railroad lines. But toward the middle of the 1990’s, this was going to change…with the help of a lot of federal, state and local tax money.

1941 USGS Topo Map of downtown Lafayette, IN.

The actual beginning of discussions about relocating railroad tracks through the city of Lafayette occurred in 1926, when the city first proposed such relocations. Between 1963 and 1973, a series of engineering studies were commissioned by city officials to look at the possibility.

The idea of moving the railroad tracks through Lafayette started moving forward in 1974, when a study was conducted by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It was announced by Mayor James Riehle, on 11 July 1975, that a project director was named for the relocation. That director would be Herbert Thomas, vice-president of transportation at Kaiser Engineers, Inc. His local resident manager would be James Ellis.

It was also announced that day that the first two phases of the project would be completed in about ten months from that time. Phase one included the above mentioned SRI study. Phase two would consist primarily of engineering. The final two phases, design and construction, were not put on any schedule as of July 1975.

Mr. Thomas said “relocation plans here are not the biggest he has seen in the country, but said ‘the Lafayette project would be a major one for any city,'” as reported in the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 12 July 1975. He also referred to the “railroad-motor vehicle situation in Lafayette ‘a serious problem,’ noting that on a previous visit he was stopped by a train while hurrying to reach Weir Cook Airport.”

According to the Journal and Courier, “one important aspect of the Kaiser work will be to determine if the negative impact on the Monon Avenue area can be lessened.” Thomas said that “the alignment developed so far can only be reguarded (sic) as preliminary.”

One year later, in July 1976, Kaiser Engineering was set to begin look at the various alternatives to the new railroad location. Project Manager Ken Knevel said that the company would concentrate its work on the riverfront corridor since it received the most support locally. “Everything we’re doing now is just in response to individuals’ comments. The riverfront has been indicated as the preferred corridor.” (Source: Lafayette Journal and Courier, 24 July 1976.) Paul Stitt of the Norfolk & Western and Jack Smith of the Louisville & Nashville both agreed that the riverfront corridor would be best for both their companies’ operations. Conrail’s representative, John Partridge, said “otehr alternative corridors – bypassing the city and using the current N&W and L&N lines – is less satisfactory than the riverfront.”

The Louisville and Nashville, by way of their purchase of the Monon, was running trains through the middle of Fifth Street at the time. However, they did own a stub line that started just north of Main Street (and the Main Street bridge across the Tippecanoe River) traveling northeast to connect to the the street running route, and railroad yards, northeast of Fifth Street. Connecting this stub to the Nickel Plate and Wabash two blocks south along the riverfront would not be that much of a stretch.

Funding was going to be a constant problem, especially from the mid-1970’s to 1980. Washington had become very tight fisted when it came to money. The mayor of Lafayette had gone to Washington DC in March 1977 to ensure that funding would be available for the project through 1980. There were no guarantees.

There were as many as 19 railroad relocation projects in some sort of process in the late 1970’s. Lafayette had gained national attention because it involved consolidating three railroad companies into one line through the city.

Between 1976 and 1978, two neighborhoods were the focus of studies for the relocation plan. Those neighborhoods, the Wabash and the Monon, were going to be directly affected by the moving of the tracks.

The first construction phase finally started in October 1984, when Congress appropriated $7 million. Less than a year later, in September 1985, five homes were torn down to prepare to place Wabash Avenue 23 feet below the relocated train tracks. Things started looking bad again in 1987 when a pending Presidential Veto threatened $20 million in funding over five years for the project…and the insistence from Federal officials that state and local governments pony up 20% of the cost. Something in which INDOT said they weren’t really keen on participating. That veto was overridden by the House and Senate.

The next phase of construction after the override of that veto included a replacement for the Main Street bridge over the Wabash River, new approach ramps to the Harrison Bridge (now Old US 231) and a rail corridor between Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue to replace the Fifth Street street running tracks. A new $11 million North Ninth Street rail underpass was scheduled to being construction in late 1987.

Construction photo of the Lafayette Railroad Relocation, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Justin L. Grayson.

By 1994, the street running along Fifth Street had come to an end. According to the Journal and Courier of 22 July 1994, those were “crossings eliminated today.” Also according to the same newspaper graphic, phase 5 was to be completed in 1998-99 that would relocate the Norfolk Southern’s Wabash double-track corridor to the riverfront route, eliminating 24 crossings from Kossuth Street to Underwood Street.

Lafayette Courier & Journal, 2 August 2003,
announcing the end of the Railroad Relocation
Office in Lafayette.

The project’s offices would finally closed down on 1 August 2003. There were a lot of behind the scenes work that needed to be finished by the office, but the relocation was done. There was also one thing, historically, that was brought up when construction was occurring in 1993. While digging up the foundation of the old Big Four Station in Lafayette, some timbers from the Wabash & Erie Canal were found. The officials with the Railroad Relocation sent those timbers to Columbia, SC, for preservation. They were returned to Lafayette and given to the Tippecanoe County Historical Society for display.

The project would cost a grand total of $186 million in the end. It would not only affect rail transport through the area, but road transport changed as well. The old Main Street bridge in downtown Lafayette was changed to a pedestrian facility. Ultimately, all INDOT facilities in the city itself would be removed…leaving no state or US roads to downtown.

Westfield Boulevard Bridge Over White River

Indianapolis News photo, 2 October 1974

1891. A steel bridge was built to cross the White River north of Broad Ripple on what was then called the Indianapolis & Westfield Free Gravel Road. As was typical of the time, the bridge crossed the White River at a 90 degree angle, making for the approaches, especially the southern approach, were a little tight. The bridge would be used until the city of Indianapolis would have to tear it down in 1977.

The bridge built in 1891 was a replacement for a bridge that had served for many years at the location. The road had been originally built as the Westfield State Road in the 1830’s. Later, in the late 1840’s, the road would be sold to a toll road company for maintenance and to become a turnpike. This would last until the late 1880’s, when it was purchased back by Marion County for the free use of travelers. It would still be the Free Gravel Road when the new bridge was built.

The original road would cross the river as shown in the 1972 aerial photograph above. The sudden right turn approaching the bridge from the south would later create a bottle neck that the State wanted to take care of…or just bypass altogether.

In the mid-1910’s, the old Westfield State Road would acquire a new name: the Range Line Road, an Auto-Trail that would connect Indianapolis to Kokomo and Peru through Westfield. The Range Line Road gained its name because it followed the survey line that separated Range 3 East and Range 4 East in the survey that divided Indiana into one mile square sections.

Another name was given to the road in 1917 – Main Market Road 1. This was the predecessor to State Road 1, which this became in 1919. This brought the Westfield Road, and its two lane bridge over White River into the state highway system. But it wouldn’t be long until the Indiana State Highway Commission discovered the errors in the naming of this route as a major State Road. While in Indianapolis, and up to what is now 86th Street (later SR 534/100), the road was winding and narrow.

Part of being part of the state highway system is that state roads are, with very few exceptions, automatically truck routes. And running trucks through Broad Ripple, even today, could best be described as “fun,” at least sarcastically. The old state road followed Westfield Boulevard from Meridian Street until it turned north in Broad Ripple…making the turn at Winthrop Avenue and the Monon Railroad tracks interesting. It also gets tight while hugging the White River.

The state would bypass this section of US 31 by building a new road straight north along the Meridian Street corridor. This caused a lot of protesting from the people of Carmel, fearing that their main drag, Range Line Road, would be left to rot, and travelers would be guided around the town. While US 31 bypassed this section, it would be given a replacement state road number: SR 431.

Meanwhile, the White River bridge lumbered on. By 1931, SR 431 was now using the facility. It would stay that way until the building of I-465…which would cause the state to move SR 431 from Westfield Boulevard to Keystone Avenue. The state’s maintenance of the White River bridge would end in 1968.

It didn’t take long for the bridge to fall into disrepair. By 1974, it was recommended to the city that the road and bridge be closed completely to traffic. If not immediately, at most within the next two years. The city would lower the weight limit to five tons in 1974. But this did not solve the pending problems with the bridge. In addition, around the 7300 block of Westfield, was another bridge over what is known as the “overflow channel,” a small White River cutoff north of the main channel of the river. The bridge over the overflow channel was in as bad or worse shape than the truss bridge in the 6700 block of Westfield.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel in the 7300 block of Westfield Boulevard.

The main bridge would be closed in 1977 for the building of a replacement of the facility. Business owners of Broad Ripple, as early as 1974, had been arguing for either fixing or replacing the bridge in place. Their discussions concerned the fact that straightening the road would allow for high speed traffic to come in through “Broad Ripple’s back door.” Keeping the tight and winding approaches to the White River bridge would slow traffic down before entering the neighborhood. Both ideas were continuously shot down by the city of Indianapolis, the owners of the facility. The City went so far as to recommending that Westfield Boulevard be closed between Broad Ripple Avenue and 75th Street, thus removing the need to replace the bridge altogether.

As it turned out, the bridge would be replaced. Or, more to the point, bypassed. The next photo, a 1978 aerial taken from MapIndy, shows the new bridge and the old bridge it replaced. The old bridge would be completely removed from aerial photos the following year.

1978 MapIndy aerial photograph showing the replacement Westfield Boulevard bridge over White River, and the location of the old bridge.

The new bridge would open on 12 June 1978. But the road wouldn’t. In an example of just fantastic government planning, the Overflow Channel bridge would be closed in either August or September of 1978 for replacement. This would cause the new bridge to be used for only local traffic until the following year, 1979, when the new overflow channel bridge would be completed.

1993 aerial MapIndy photograph showing the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel (7300 block of Westfield Boulevard). Also shown is the abandoned Monon Railroad, prior to the creation of the Monon Trail.

With the opening of the Overflow Channel bridge, Westfield Boulevard was opened again for traffic from Broad Ripple to Nora…and hence north to the downtowns of Carmel and Westfield. While reaching downtown Westfield using the old road has become more difficult with the redesign of US 31 through Hamilton County, it still can be followed on maps – and for the most part in cars, as well.

Aviation Around South Bend/Mishawaka

A journey on the Lincolnway West out of downtown South Bend brings one to the South Bend International Airport. The airport has become so important to the area that it required the movement of that very same road…one that had been in place since the 1830’s as the Michigan Road.

But what is currently called South Bend International Airport didn’t actually start life as South Bend Airport. The current airport was originally Bendix Field, also called the St. Joseph County Airport. The original South Bend Airport was actually northeast of the city, north of SR 23 and west of Fir Road. In the late 1920’s, the difference between the two were massive. According to the South Bend Tribune of 01 April 1973, South Bend Airport consisted of “four hangars, fairly good runways for that era, and was the principal air terminal for South Bend.” Bendix Field, in contrast, was just being built, and hence only consisted of a horseshoe shaped driveway to a grass runway “and little else.”

St. Joseph County bought the airport from Bendix in 1937, while the name was retained for some time afterwards. This made Bendix Field the first publicly owned airport in the area. But getting to that point was a struggle. There were reports of fraud and political gamemanship in trying to get the purchase not to happen. Bendix Corporation actually owned the field. Part of the reason for starting the airfield was that Bendix manufactured systems for both automobiles and airplanes. The company had been started in 1924 in South Bend, and became a very important local business. The Vice President of the company mentioned the offer from the county for the airport, also making mention of how South Bend was important to the company. The county voted for the purchase of Bendix Field in July 1936, making a bond issue of $210,000.

The South Bend Tribune of 27 October 1940 published an aviation related article, under the title “Airfax,” about what South Bend, a few weeks earlier, felt was a slight to the city. Both South Bend and Fort Wayne had been lobbying for an Army Air Corps base at their municipal airports. South Bend lost. People for aviation in the city were “feeling sorry for ourselves” because the Army passed up South Bend. But those in South Bend felt better when they found out that when the Army took over, “private operators have been ordered to cease their activities there.” Using the hangars was fine, “but must conduct student instruction and other activities at least six miles from the army air base.”

The writer, John H. Magill, makes the point that without the private pilot, the very thing that keeps South Bend’s airport the busiest airport in the region. “Its private operators are still making fliers. The federal government, through the civil aeronautics administration, relies on our private operators to carry out the private pilot training program which is destined to play a large part in the national defense scheme.”

The original South Bend Airport would change its name to Cadet Field. This is where research gets a little interesting. According to the South Bend Tribune of 09 August 1942, “Today will mark the official opening of Cadet field, formerly known as the old St. Joseph county airport, located six miles northeast of the city near the Edwardsburg road.” This is in direct contrast to the mention of the South Bend Municipal Airport quoted two paragraphs before. The new purpose of the airfield was to train pilots. It had been used for that purpose before, and was outfitted for such. Now, with the change of the name, and management, it would be more so.

The name Cadet Field becomes somewhat telling with the reports in the South Bend Tribune of 23 March 1942. “The possible location here of a huge naval air training base in the near future was revealed today after a conference involving Mayor Jesse I. Pavey and members of the county board of commissioners.” The plan was to temporarily use South Bend Airport pending the construction of a naval flying field near South Bend. The plan was to create 30 such bases. One had already been awarded to Peru, Indiana.

The problem is that the South Bend Tribune seems to get a bit confused about which airport is which. The St. Joseph County Airport, aka Bendix Field, after the name change at Cadet Field, seems to be called South Bend Airport interchangeably with the other two, official, names in that newspaper.

Labor Day 1934 marked the beginning of another airport in St. Joseph County. At Dragoon Trail and Elm Road, the opening ceremonies of Mishawaka Airport included an air parade and parachute jumps. In January 1935, the airport was listed in he federal bulletin, and described as follows: “Mishawaka – Mishawaka airport, commercial rating. Three and seven-tenths miles southeast of town on Elm road. Altitude, 700 feet. Rectangular, 3,960 by 1,320 feet, sod, level, natural drainage, entire field available. Houses and trees to southwest; wood to north; hangar in southeast courner. Facilities for servicing aircraft, day only.” (Source: South Bend Tribune, 29 January 1935) The last references I have seen to this Mishawaka Airport is in May 1948, when part of the hangar was destroyed in a storm.

The next reference to a Mishawaka Airport is in September 1949, when Sportsmen’s Park, an air facility on Day Road, was dedicated as the “new Mishawaka airport.” (Source: South Bend Tribune, 25 September 1949) It is safe to assume that the old facility that served that purpose, and was named accordingly, didn’t last long after the personal problems of one of the owners of the airport. That person was part owner of a flying service based at Cadet Field and part owner of the Mishawaka Airport. The company’s assets were listed in the South Bend Tribune classifieds as a “business opportunity” shortly after the personal problem was resolved.

Sportsman’s Airport, one of several referenced names for the field, is listed in the South Bend Tribune until at least 01 October 1968, when it is listed a business property for sale. “50 acres, with 2-2,000 ft. runways. 2 large hangars, plus large brick office building and 3 bedroom home. Aircraft dealership could be available with purchase.” In 1974, St. Joseph County Commissioners voted to rezone a tract of land from residential to manufacturing. That tract of land, at 12801 Day Road, had been part of the old Sportsman’s Airport. Plans included using some of the old airport buildings for spaces to manufacture pickup truck enclosures and boat trailers.

Another airport in the area between Crumstown Highway and Grant Road on Pine Road is the Chain O Lakes. The earliest reference I have found to this airport is in 1946, although officially it was activated in November 1945. Today, it is a private airport with grass runways. It is officially listed as a private use airport, requiring landing permission to use. It is listed as only having attendants on site between March and November, and even then only from dawn to dusk. It is still shown on Google Maps as an airport.

According to the South Bend Tribune of 20 Jun 1947, requests were made to bring a sixth airport to St. Joseph County. This one was to be located .25 south of Edison Road on the west side of Snowberry Road. This location was already listed in a Civil Aeronautics Authority airport list “with a ‘civil commerce airfield.’ which identifies it as an emergency landing field.” This was called Gordon Airport, after the owners of the land.

The major airport in the area went from being Bendix Field to St. Joseph County Airport, then it became Michiana Regional Airport. Now, it is South Bend International, with the runways on Bendix Field. A recent expansion caused the historic Michigan Road/Lincoln Highway to be removed. That road is now rerouted around the expansion.

Railroad Abandonments in Indianapolis

At one time, Indiana was crisscrossed by many railroad companies. After quite a few consolidations, the number went from hundreds of railroads to tens of them. With a handful of cities in the state having been an important hub for one or more railroads, transportation became a very important industry, and big business, in Indiana.

And then, railroads weren’t important.

Locations all over the state were hit with abandonments of railroad routes. Even the first railroad in Indiana, the Madison & Indianapolis, found itself cut in half in 1976 when the temporary United States Railroad Administration (the government agency that would start paring down the railroad network that would become part of Conrail on 1 April 1976) abandoned the section from Columbus to North Vernon.

Due to the concentration of railroads in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, there were more miles of track removed there than any other place in the state. This is not to say that Indianapolis was hit hardest, far from it. There were towns all over the state that lost their railroad completely. Just in the nine county metro area, the following come to mind: Plainfield, Zionsville, Carmel, Mount Comfort, and Greenfield. To a certain extent, Castleton, Fishers and Noblesville can be included on that list. But many miles of railroad track were removed from the landscape of Indianapolis, usually the only remnants of which are (now) unexplained humps in roads that crossed them. And occasionally a bridge over or under nothing.

Most of the trackage in Indianapolis that was abandoned originally belonged to companies that became part of the Penn Central in 1968. When Conrail was created in 1976, the only parts of the new company that were in Central Indiana were Penn Central lines. Other companies that became part of Conrail were mostly located in northern Indiana.

But one day before Conrail came into being, on 31 March 1976, the Penn Central officially abandoned the old Peoria & Eastern line on the east side of Indianapolis. The line, which connected Indianapolis to Shirley (originally to Springfield, Ohio, but the section from Shirley to Lynn, Indiana, had been abandoned in 1974), was removed from a point east of Post Road.

1982 saw a massive abandonment of what was once the Pennsylvania Railroad in the Indianapolis area. Conrail, the owner of the line at the time, officially abandoned the old Pennsylvania Mainline from Limedale to Bridgeport, and from Pine (the PRR junction with the Indianapolis Belt on the east side of the city) to Charlottesville.
This was after the section from Charlottesville to Cambridge City had been abandoned in 1976.

Two years later, the original Indianapolis & Vincennes line, connecting downtown Indianapolis to the Eagle Creek connector (a line the PRR built to connect two sections of the old Vandalia – the I&V and the TH&I – between Holt Road and Tibbs Avenue) was officially removed by Conrail. That line went across property which is now the Eli Lilly campus that has also taken over Kentucky Avenue from Morris Street to Harding Street. It was then known as the Kentucky Avenue Industrial. Two industrial tracks attached to the old I&V also were removed at the same time. Known as the Caven Industrial, it consisted of two tracks: Maywood Avenue to Petersburg Secondary (aka the old I&V/Vandalia/PRR, now Indiana Southern) (4.5 miles) and Allison Plant to Maywood Avenue (4.3 miles).

At the same time as the I&V abandonment, Conrail decided to remove what was left of the original Lafayette & Indianapolis line, which had become the North Stret Industrial. This track had been removed in three sections: one) 2.7 miles from Methodist Hospital to the Water Company; two) 1.4 miles between Acme Evans to 16th Street; and three) .88 miles of track that ran east of the Central Canal (that would include the track that ran through what is now the Indiana Government Complex). The Acme Evans spur tracks at West Street would not be removed until 1989. The last of the North Street Industrial, owned by CSX, is listed as “pending” on the official INDOT abandonment list. But this list hasn’t been updated since 2013. The abandonment section is listed as “Northwest Belt and North Street IT.”

Another New York Central track, the Louisiana Street Spur, which connected Union Station almost due east to the NYC Coach Yard at Shelby Street was also officially abandoned by Conrail in 1984. The bridge that was built in 1975/1976 over Interstates 65/70 just south of Bates Street is part of this route. The bridge was refurbished when the interstate was closed from major reconstruction. At that point, the railroad had been removed for almost two decades.

1987: CERA abandoned the Rolling Mill Industrial, which connected Indianapolis Union Station to the N. K. Hurst Company building on McCarty Street. CERA had obtained the line in 1982 from Conrail.

The CSX Decatur Sub, which it had acquired with the consolidation of the C&O and B&O, was removed in Indianapolis in several sections.
– 1989: 26.73 miles from Indianapolis MP 132.45 to Roachdale.
– 1992: Indianapolis from MP 129.2 to 132.45.
– 1996: From Moorefield Yard (MP 127.8) to Speedway (MP 129.2)
– 2002: Indianapolis (MP 127.8) to Speedway (MP 129.19).

All of these abandonments would occur as part of CSX. The entire route, from Decatur, Illinois, to Speedway, was on the chopping block by the B&O before it was taken into CSX proper.

The Monon line through Indianapolis was taken away in sections starting in 1974. First, in 1974, the Louisville & Nashville chopped the section between 10th and 17th Streets. Two years later, the L&N extended that to 22nd Street. Then, in 1984, CSX removed the rest of the line all the way to Frankfort.

Most of the information for this entry came from the list of abandoned railroads maintained by the Indiana Department of Transportation. That list, apparently, has not been updated since 2013. It is available here.