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.

The Ohio-Indiana-Michigan Way

In the Auto Trail era, I have mentioned many times that there where many roads that crept up all over the state. Many of these Auto Trails connected Indiana to far flung locations across the United States. Today, I want to discuss a road that connected Cincinnati, Ohio, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, through the eastern part of Indiana – the Ohio-Indiana-Michigan Way.

On old Rand McNally maps of the era, the OIM was listed as number nine in their list. I was never sure why Rand put the roads in the order they did. It certainly wasn’t in any kind of chronological order, since the Dixie Highway and the Lincoln Highway, two of the longest, most important and oldest Auto Trails around, were numbers 25 and 34 respectively.

Most of the original road is still followable today. From the south, it entered Indiana at College Corner, Ohio, southeast of Liberty. After passing through Cottage Grove, it made its way into Liberty. In Liberty, from what I can tell, it followed Liberty Avenue, Union Street, turning north on Main Street, then followed Market Street north out of town. Since it entered Indiana, it followed the route now covered by US 27. North of Liberty, an old bypassed section of the same US 27 is the original route of the OIM.

Just north of Potter Shop Road, or Old Indiana 122, the OIM turned northeast on Esteb Road, which it followed until it connects back into US 27. South of Richmond, the old road and US 27 split again, with the old road following Liberty Avenue on its way into the Wayne County seat.

Leaving north out of Richmond, it again follows what is now US 27 towards Chester. Before reaching that town, the old road turns north to follow Arba Pike, then turns northwest on Martin Road to again connect to the current highway.

After leaving Fountain City to the north, a small section of the road is now out of service. At Bockhofer Road, to follow the old OIM, turn left and then turn right on Hough Road. This trip will keet the traveler off of the modern highway for a little over 2 miles, when the old road and the current highway come together again to travel to Lynn.

At Lynn, a westerly turn onto Church Street will take the traveler out of Lynn. At the end of Church Street, at County Road 100 East, the OIM turned north. Here it followed that county road for five miles, where, at CR 300 South, it connects, once again, to US 27. Just north of CR 200 South, it followed what is now Old US 27 into, and through, Winchester.

The section through Geneva gets a little hard to follow. North of Geneva, however, the road veers to the northeast, following Covered Bridge Road to CR 0, which it follows to north of Monroe. Again, the old OIM connects to the current US 27 north of the town. At Decatur, the old road turns onto Winchester Street, the through town follows Second Street. Again, it connects to US 27 for its journey toward Fort Wayne.

At Fort Wayne, Decatur Road is the original path of the OIM…while US 27 was rerouted to the west. It’s best to follow US 27 through Fort Wayne. North of the city, the road changes to become SR 3. South of Huntertown, the old path veers off onto Lima Road and old State Road 3 until the two come back together north of Avilla. South of Kendallville, turn onto Main Street to enter that town. Here, it basically follows US 6 to SR 9, where it turns north bound for Michigan.

The next major detour from a state road occurs south of Valentine, where the OIM turned west on what is now County Road 500 South. At LaGrange, the OIM followed what is now Old State Road 9 north out of town to what is now SR 120. Here it turned west to connect back to the current SR 9 for the last of its journey to the Michigan State line and points north.

Beech Grove Traction

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.

1917 Map of the route of the Beech Grove Traction Company.

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.