Fort Wayne And Southern Railroad

When one looks at a railroad map of Indiana, especially ones like one of my favorites for this subject like this from 1898 (Railroad map of Indiana. | Library of Congress (loc.gov)), it is easy to see that the numerous railroad companies sprang up independently to connect the towns of Indiana. Unfortunately, the truth is never quite that simple. Today, I want to look at a railroad that had goals of being a rather long route, but ended up being bits and pieces of other larger companies: the Fort Wayne & Southern Railroad.

The mid-1800’s were a railroad building boom in the state of Indiana. Many companies were chartered to put down rails across the state. Some of these never came to be in their original form. Others were influenced by eastern companies with loans and bond purchases to allow construction. In a special act of 15 January 1846, the Indiana General Assembly chartered a railroad company that was to connect Fort Wayne to the Ohio River at Jeffersonville. Over the years, this would be a link in the railroad system that would make Fort Wayne a major railroad hub in northern Indiana.

Construction started slowly on the route. The plan was to build the road from Fort Wayne, through Bluffton, Hartford City, Muncie, New Castle, Rushville, Greensburg, Vernon and Charleston to finally end at Jeffersonville. The plan sounded rather extravagant, but it made sense in the grand scheme of things. Jeffersonville, being near the Falls of the Ohio, was a natural breakpoint in traffic transiting the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the Mississippi. Ohio River traffic, at the time, had to stop at Jeffersonville, New Albany and Louisville to change from one barge to another. Building a railroad from the Falls of the Ohio to Fort Wayne allowed, it was thought, to funnel freight into Indiana’s second largest city. Ultimately, this, along with connections to Fort Wayne from Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and points east (like Pittsburgh), would open the markets of the city, and towns along the railroads, to the entire nation.

Grading was started at two different places on the planned Fort Wayne & Southern. First, a route between Fort Wayne and Muncie. Second, the road was graded between Vernon and Jeffersonville. No rail had been put down on either of these sections. The company floundered as it tried to find funding for construction.

The question that comes up is, what happened to the company? No map ever showed a single company route that connected Fort Wayne and Jeffersonville, although such a route existed through the use of three different companies.

The Fort Wayne & Southern, like many railroads in Indiana, fell into receivership. The company found itself in a situation where they were still spending money on a route that wasn’t completed, in any section, enough to allow traffic to offset the losses. The entire route was sold at foreclosure on 19 January, 1866. But that sale was set aside, and the company continued to flounder until the route was conveyed to new owners on 7 November 1868.

But unlike other railroad companies in Indiana at the time, the Fort Wayne & Southern was broken into two different sections when it changed hands.

The section from Fort Wayne to Muncie, and then further to Rushville, would become a new railroad company, the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railway. In June 1869, the former Fort Wayne & Southern between Muncie and Fort Wayne would merge with the Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie to create the Fort Wayne, Muncie & Cincinnati Railroad Company. With the addition of rails to the route, this would connect Fort Wayne to Connersville. The FtWM&C Railway did not complete any construction before the merger with the CC&M. The railroad would open nearly 64 miles of track from Muncie to Fort Wayne in 1870.

The southern section, 53 miles of graded roadbed from Vernon to Jeffersonville, was conveyed to the Ohio & Mississippi Railway Company. That company was a consolidation of several companies that would build a railroad from St. Louis, Missouri, to Cincinnati, Ohio. This would create a branch to connect the company to another point on the Ohio River.

The complete route, from Fort Wayne to Jeffersonville, would ultimately be built…but not by one company. The 16 mile section from New Castle to Muncie would be opened in 1868 under the title Cincinnati, Connersville & Muncie Railroad. The next section, from New Castle to Rushville, would be completed in 1881 by the New Castle & Rushville Railroad. This route was 24 miles in length.

Another company that came into existence in 1879 would be the Vernon, Greensburg and Rushville. It would connect the title towns with rails opening in 1881.

All of the above would complete the original plan of the Fort Wayne & Southern. It would ultimately fall into three major railroad company systems. For a while, the section from Rushville to Fort Wayne would fall under the control of the New York Central system as the Lake Erie & Western, and later, the Nickel Plate. This would end when the New York Central sold its interest in that road. The Vernon, Greensburg & Rushville would be leased by what would become the Big Four Railway. The Big Four would later replace the Nickel Plate in the New York Central system.

The Ohio & Mississippi, after several consolidations, would become a leased company called the Baltimore & Ohio Southwestern Railroad. Although still legally a separate entity, in 1925 the management of the B&OSW was replaced by management of the Baltimore & Ohio.

Today, the entire route can be seen in the Hoosier landscape. The Baltimore & Ohio section would be abandoned piecemeal in the 1980s. 28 miles from North Vernon to Nabb was abandoned in 1980, and from Nabb to Charleston following in 1985. Two very short sections in Charleston were abandoned in 2000 and 2001.

The ultimate owners of the Nickel Plate, the Norfolk & Western, would attempt to abandon what was called the New Castle branch from New Castle to Rushville. Since it was withdrawn, there is no date of that attempt in my source. Ultimately, this would happen, however.

Parts of the route that was to be covered by the Fort Wayne & Southern are still in use today as parts of the Norfolk Southern and CSX. A map is available at the Library of Congress for the railroad at A section of Colton’s large map of Indiana with the Fort Wayne and Southern Rail Road marked upon it, as located also a map of the United States showing Road and its connections together with a profile of the Ohio river and lands adjoining and a section of the double track rail road tunnel under the Ohio river at Louisville, Kentucky & Jeffersonville, Indiana for the year 1855 ending Oct. 1, W. J. Holman, President and Chief Engr. | Library of Congress.

1930: A New Bridge over the Wabash at East Mount Carmel

Atlantic-Pacific
Highway marker

East Mount Carmel, Indiana. A train stop along the Southern Railway connecting Louisville, Kentucky, to St. Louis, Missouri. The town was also located on an Auto Trail called the Atlantic-Pacific Highway. Across Indiana, it would connect East Mount Carmel on the Wabash to Cincinnati via Princeton, Jasper, Paoli, Salem, Scottsburg, Madison, Vevay, Rising Sun, and Lawrenceburg.

But at East Mount Carmel, traffic was still fed across the Wabash River via ferry. As mentioned in other articles here on Indiana Transportation History, getting a bridge across the Wabash or the Ohio River, given that it would cross a state line (usually – the US 41 bridges actually are all in Kentucky, although they cross the Ohio), was a long process that often met with delays.

Hope was to be had when it was announced on the front page of the Mount Carmel (Illinois) Daily Republican-Register of 10 April 1930 that “Bridge Will Soon Span Wabash – Illinois-Indiana Highway Bridge That Will Span the Wabash River at Mt. Carmel.”

The bridge was the work of many years of planning. The State of Indiana wanted a bridge at Vincennes. They also wanted the State of Illinois to help with the cost. Illinois, however, had other plans. They wanted a bridge at Mount Carmel. And Illinois wanted Indiana to help pay for it. Neither state would budge on their plans…until the agreement was made that both bridges would be built.

Money for the Mount Carmel bridge was allotted by the Illinois General Assembly in 1927. A total of $225,000 was set aside for the construction. This new bridge would connect Illinois State Road 1 and Illinois State Road 15 to the Indiana State Highway system. This would become an extension of Indiana State Road 64.

The new bridge would be located 1000 feet south of the Southern Railway bridge that crosses the river near Mount Carmel. It would consist of a 22 foot wide roadway on twelve 225-foot spans. The bridge would provide 25 feet of clearance from the low steel to the high water mark of 1913. The Illinois approach was to be built at an elevation of three feet above the 1913 high water mark.

10 Apr 1930, Mount Carmel Daily Republican-Register

The bridge would be completed in 1932. By 1985, the bridge had fallen into disrepair. A plan to renovate the bridge was created while waiting for both Illinois and Indiana to decide to replace the bridge…which it did. The new bridge was placed just south of the original bridge.

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.

The Hazelton Bridge

In the days of the Auto Trails, a second route adopted the name of “Dixie Highway,” this one being the “Dixie Bee Line.” In Indiana, much of this route followed what became State Road 10, and later US 41. In September 1921, work was started on a bridge over the White River north of the town of Hazelton, where the river forms the boundary between Knox and Gibson Counties. This bridge would replace the last ferry on the “Dixie Bee,” a ferry that had been in place for 40 years at the time of construction.

What makes this bridge special is its shear size. According to the Garret Clipper of 28 February 1924, “the bridge is said to be the largest on a state highway in the middle-west.” The massive size of this bridge is especially shown in its length. Including approaches, the bridge was nearly three miles long. The bridge consisted of a total of 29 spans: eight steel and 21 concrete.

Google Map image of the Hazelton Bridge. This image was snipped on 1 July 2019.

Built by the Stein Construction Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and costing $275,000, the bridge was 20 feet wide for its entire length, including approaches. It was rated to carry up to 20 ton (40,000 pound) vehicles. The bridge itself was 2002.5 feet in length, with approaches of 7448 feet (north) and 3800 feet (south). The bridge was “without draw,” or a non-moving bridge, that was 38.5 feet above the low water mark on the White River.

The steel spans had two different lengths: four were 198 feet; four were 84 feet.

The amount of construction material involved was massive: 1.5 million pounds of steel; 350,000 pounds of reinforcing steel in the concrete; 6,200 yards of concrete; and 13,000 linear feet of timber pilings. In addition, slightly more than 90,000 cubic yards of earth was used in building the northern approach.

The bridge had been longed for by residents of both Knox and Gibson Counties. As mentioned, the Hazleton Bridge replaced a ferry across the White River at this point. The problems with the ferry were typical when it came to Indiana weather. In the spring and fall, the amounts of rain received in the area caused the ferry to be put on hold for weeks at a time, suspending traffic flow at the same times. Again, according to the newspaper mentioned above, “traffic often was held in abeyance for weeks at a time.”

It was reported that this bridge “removes in Indiana the last obstacle on what is said to be the shortest motor route between Chicago, Florida and Gulf points.”

Google Map image of the Hazleton Bridge and southern approaches as of 1 July 2019.

All of the construction did have its problems later. The Indianapolis Star, of 15 January 1930, reports that “turbulent flood waters from White river threatened to destroy the three-mile fill leading to the Hazelton bridge on United States highway No. 41, late yesterday.” It was also stated that “the water was rising an inch an hour and highway officials expected the roadway to be covered before morning.” Members of the Indiana National Guard were sent to protect the Hazleton Bridge during this flooding incident due to reports of people wanting to blow up the bridge to alleviate the flooding problem.

The flooding in question affected not only US 41 at Hazleton, but points all along the White River south of Indianapolis. This especially affected areas around Newberry, Edwardsport, Spencer, Shoals, and Bedford. Highway officials were reporting that most state and county roads in these areas would not escape the flood waters.

The Hazelton bridge was in use from October 1923 until it was closed by officials of Knox and Gibson Counties on 03 April 1989. It had been in the state inventory until a bypass was built in 1961. Knox County officials wanted to close it for structural reasons in 1985, but work was done in 1986 to keep it open a little while longer. The weight limit on the bridge had been lowered in the 1970s to five tons for safety reasons. High water in April 1989, and parts of the bridge sinking six inches or more, helped make the decision to remove the bridge from use. According to the Vincennes Sun-Commercial of 6 April 1989, “the closing means an additional two miles for travelers coming to Vincennes from Hazelton.”

Vincennes Sun-Commercial, 06 April 1989

Now, as shown in the above Google Maps images, the bridge stands in a decaying condition, a testament to what had been one of the greatest bridge building projects in Indiana in the early days of the Indiana State Highway Commission.

US 31 at Columbus

I can’t think of any highway in Indiana that has been bypassed and/or moved more that US 31. Part of this, honestly, was because the original route left something to be desired when it came to turns, curves and other hazards. Keeping in mind that US 31 came into being on 1 October 1926, there were a lot of changes before the coming of 1946, its twentieth anniversary.

At Columbus, it changed quite a bit over the years. At one point, there was a US 31 and a US 31A, an extended following of the old Madison State Road, a take over of both SR 9 and SR 9W, and a removal and replacement of a section of SR 7 (which would later become part of SR 46!).

1939 Indiana Official Highway Map of Bartholomew County

Let’s start with the original US 31, as marked on 1 October 1926. Coming from the north, US 31 followed the old Madison State Road, and the Jackson Highway Auto Trail, into Columbus along what is now Indianapolis Road to its junction at 8th Street (yes, I know, that intersection is gone). The road then turned south on Brown Street to Second Street, where the bridge crossed the Flatrock River. US 31 then exited Columbus on what is now SR 11.

1941 Indiana Official Highway Map of Bartholomew County

The first change in the routing of US 31 happened in the time frame of 1940-1941 (as shown in the 1941 Indiana Official Map), when the road was routed, from Second and Brown Streets, along SR 7 to the junction that, in 1939, was listed as SR 9W. That routing is the current path from what is now SR 46 south to Seymour. (SR 46 was rerouted over a decade ago to take over what was SR 9.) In 1939, there was SR 9W, which ran south from SR 7 to Bartholomew County Road 475S. At that time, CR 475S was SR 9, which then turned south on what is now US 31 (National Road). National Road would be the same as CR 400E. Old US 31 became US 31A with the moving of the official US 31 route. The 1941 map also shows that the current bypass from north of Columbus to SR 7 was under construction.

1942 Indiana Official Highway Map of Bartholomew County

As a side note, I mentioned that the original US 31 entered Columbus from the north on the original Indianapolis-Madison State Road. That old road left Columbus along what is shown on these maps as SR 7. Now, it would be SR 46 before it becomes SR 7.

The 1942 official map shows that the US 31 bypass of Columbus was complete. With this completion, not only was SR 9 removed south of Columbus (replaced by US 31), it was rerouted to the road that is now SR 46. At Newbern, SR 46 and SR 9 met for 70 years. INDOT would move SR 46 to the route of SR 9 south of that point, ending SR 9 at the same place.

1979 Indiana Official Highway Map of Bartholomew County

The 1979 official map shows something that I don’t remember ever seeing before: SR 31A. What was US 31A is marked on the 1979 as SR 31A. This makes sense, given the way Indiana does state road numbers. There have been very few “A” routes in Indiana history. Usually, if a bypass is built, Indiana gives the old route a “daughter” number. It was unusual that this route was given an “A” number, even more so that it remained officially a US route for 36 years. In 1983, the road would again be labelled, on maps anyway, as US 31A.

1985 Indiana Official Highway Map of Bartholomew County

The last official change made to US 31 in the Columbus area was in 1985, when the old US 31A was recommissioned as SR 11. This made the old road a continuation of SR 11 which connected at the end of US 31A at Seymour.

1999 would be the last year that the old US 31 leaving Columbus to the north would be part of the state highway system. In 2000, not only was that section of SR 11 removed, but SR 46 was rerouted along what was SR 9, and SR 7 ended at US 31. That would end 82 years of Indianapolis Road in Columbus being a state road. It all started by being part of State Market Highway 1 in 1917. Then original SR 1 in 1919.