Indianapolis Track Elevation, Revisited

In the early 1910’s, the City of Indianapolis and the several railroad companies that entered downtown came to an agreement to elevate the tracks connecting to Union Station. But, technically, it was one railroad that was responsible for dealing with doing the work. The tracks leading to the Union Station all belonged to the Indianapolis Union Railway (IU).

The original contracts that were let for the work, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 28 January 1913, also included a determined elevation level for the tracks and the grade to be put in place.

The story in the Star reported that there were problems in the City Council about the contract, and delays involved with it. The Law Subcommittee, consisting of R. W. McBride, Caleb S. Denny, Ralph Bamberger, Reginald H. Sullivan and Frank E. Gavin, “reported adversely on the contract.” The main concern was that the city would be on the hook for helping to pay for “increasing the facilities of the railroads.” The Council announced that they want to talk to lawyers about this situation.

Now to the specifics of what is to be done. Article Two of the contract laid out grades and elevation levels of the tracks through downtown. The tracks were to be elevated to the level of the railroad bridges over the White River, rising at a grade of 4/10 of a foot per 100 feet eastward to Illinois Street. From Illinois to Pennsylvania Streets, the tracks were to be level. After Pennsylvania Street, the downgrade would be .256 feet per 100 feet to Virginia Avenue. It would go back up .335 feet per 100 feet until the center of Washington Street. The Panhandle (PRR) and Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) tracks were to descend .7 feet per 100 from East Street to Noble Street (College Avenue). The grade of the wye to connect the Madison line, also part of the Panhandle at that point, would ascend at a rate of .76 feet per 100 from Meridian Street to South Street. From Delaware Street to South Street, the wye would ascend .88 feet per 100.

The street clearances were also laid out in Article two of the contract. The following is what was decided, from the newspaper itself:

Indianapolis Star, 28 June 1913, Elevations for Indianapolis Union Railway tracks through downtown Indianapolis.


Of all the streets that would be affected by the elevation, only one was to be removed from the map of the city of Indianapolis. That street was then called Liberty Avenue. Today, it is called Park Avenue.

What caused part of the problem with the City Council is the idea that the ordinance basically ordering the railroad to perform this work (passed in 1905) stated that the city and county would contribute to the elevation of the tracks. But the city refused to pay for any expansion of railroad facilities during this time. Any expansion of the yard facilities that would occur while the elevation was taking place would be borne by the railroad.

The cost was broken up in the contract as follows: Indianapolis Union Railway pays 75%; the remaining 25% would be shared by the City of Indianapolis, the County of Marion, the Town of Woodruff Place and the Indianapolis Street Railway Company/Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company (both at this point are owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company).

“It is provided, however, that the railway company alone shall bear the cost of laying the tracks after the elevation is completed.”

The history of the track elevation in Indianapolis was covered in the Indiana Transportation History entry of 7 October 2019 called “Indianapolis Track Elevation.”

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – Getting to Irvington

1870. Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian laid out a town four miles east of Monument Circle on the National Road (or, at that time, the Cumberland Turnpike). They named their town after Washington Irving, hence Irvington. In the fall of 1875, the North Western Christian University moved from its home at College and Home Avenues (now College Avenue and 13th Street) to the southwest corner of Irvington between the Panhandle (Pennsylvania Railroad) and the Junction (Baltimore & Ohio) tracks. At the same time, there was a mule car line being built to the new suburb.

1889 Map of Irvington, Indiana.

The Irvington Street Car line was planned along the following route: From Virginia Avenue and South Street, east on South Street (now Fletcher Avenue) to Reid Street (now State Street), north on Reid to English Avenue, east to English to Butler, north on Butler to Burgess, east on Burgess to Audubon, and north on Audubon to end just south of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line, according to the Indianapolis News on 25 February 1875, was expected to be in operation in June 1875.

On 2 August 1875, a small paragraph was in the Indianapolis News mentioned “the construction of the Irvington street railway has not come to a standstill, owing to a lack of funds, as stated in the Journal, but on account of the wet weather. The Stratford bridge has been washed away and it is impossible to ballast the track.” Two weeks later, the News reported, in a story about the new college campus, that the Irvington line was quickly nearing completion.

The line opened later in October 1875. The trip from downtown to North Western Christian University, using mule cars, was 45 minutes. It wasn’t long before the Irvington street car line found itself closed to service. A freight train on the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette jumped the tracks, causing a large section of the street car line to be ripped up. The IC&L crossed the street car line at English Avenue just east of Reid Street (now State Street). “In consequence no cars are running to-day on that line.”

Some might be wondering why service to Irvington was routed along English Avenue. As mentioned in my last blog post (Toll Roads in Marion County), Washington Street was a toll road outside the city limits. English Avenue was called a “shun pike,” a road that was improved and extended to avoid paying tolls to the toll road companies. That, and I believe that the toll road would have charged the street railways to use the road.

The line route was changed in 1881, when it was removed from Burgess to University Avenue between Butler Avenue and Audubon Avenue. That would be the last change in that line until the power lines stopped being used on 15 August 1934.

The East Washington line was mentioned in the last “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday.” The franchise for the Citizen’s Street Railway East Washington line extension to Irvington was issued on 20 September 1889, the day after the National Road was purchased by the county from the toll road company.

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – New Lines, 1866-1870

Today’s “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday” focuses on

1866. The East Washington Street line commences service. The original length of the line only connected Illinois Street to Liberty Street (now Park Avenue). Service along this line was truncated to Liberty Street until 1883, when it was extended one block to Noble Street (College Avenue). Five years later, East Washington Street became one of the longest mule car lines in the city when it was extended to the new suburb of Irvington, going all the way out to Audubon Avenue, turning south to a turntable near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that run through the town. Until this time, access to Irvington via street car was via the English Avenue line, which didn’t originally open until 1875.

The extension to Irvington of East Washington Street was due to its residents wanting a more direct route to downtown Indianapolis. I will get to the English route probably next week, describing the route that Irvington wanted to replace. The line was electrified in 1891. Two more extensions were added to the East Washington Line: in 1900, to west of Arlington Avenue; and in 1920, a purchase from the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company Richmond line extended Indianapolis Street Railways to Sheridan Avenue, where a “Y” turned cars around.

The last tracked street car to run along East Washington Street did so on 11 August 1950. This started a combination service using both trackless trolleys and busses.

In 1867, a new line was extended to the then new cemetery at Crown Hill, called the Northwestern Line. The line followed Illinois Street to 12th (21st) Street, crossed over to Northwestern Avenue, followed Northwestern to a spot where 34th Street would be later built. This line was a mule car line for its entire life, because it was completely removed in 1879.

Another 1867 line that commenced service was the Central Line. The start of this line is intertwined with the College Line, as it would for its entire life. In the beginning, it merely followed New Jersey Street from Washington Street to Fort Wayne Avenue. In 1888, the line was extended along Fort Wayne Avenue, then Central Avenue from Christian Avenue (11th Street) to a turn table at 11th (20th) Street. A short detour along Tenth (19th) Street to New Jersey would allow street cars to visit a barn facility located on New Jersey Street.

The line was rerouted in 1889, when it used Alabama Street from Fort Wayne to Home Avenue (13th Street), following Home to Central Avenue. Three years later, the Central line was again rerouted. This time, it would follow the College Line to 16th (24th) Street, turning west to Central Avenue, then north on Central to 26th (34th) Street. This was in 1892, the same year that the line was electrified. A loop was built in the line in 1894. The line was rerouted at the time, moving over to Central from College along the then Tenth (20th) Street to connected to the 1892 line at 16th (24th) Street. The loop then went west on 17th (25th) Street to New Jersey, and back to Central on 16th (24th) Street.

The last electric railed street car would run along this line on 20 March 1937.

1905 Indianapolis. Map showing the River
and Kentucky Avenue bridges.

Street cars would be added to Kentucky Avenue in 1868. The line was short: from the Louisiana Street barn to Tennessee Street (Capitol Avenue), then along Kentucky Avenue to Illinois and Washington Streets. The line was turned around, heading southwest from Tennessee Street in 1890. The line would end at River Avenue, which at that time was at the south end of Greenlawn Cemetery. This was located half way opposite of a point between what is now Merrill Street and Henry Street on Kentucky Avenue. The following year, the line was electrified. The last documented extension that I can find was in 1903, when the line crossed the White River on the River Avenue bridge (there was no bridge at Oliver Street), following River Avenue to Morris Street. I can find no more information on this line. It is entirely possible that it was extended, in 1914, to connect to the Indianapolis suburb of Mars Hill. But another line that started in 1881 might be the successor to this line. More research is needed.

The last line today is the Pennsylvania line. Started in 1870, the mule cars would run along Pennsylvania Street from Ohio to St. Joseph Street, where it turn west to Illinois Street for its trip downtown. 1873 saw the Illinois/St. Joseph turn removed, and the line wet north to Seventh (16th) Street where it turned east to Alabama. In 1891, the route turned north on Talbot from Seventh (16th) to a turn table at Tenth (19th) Street. 1894 saw the line electrified and extended to 14th (22nd) Street. The last car to use the rails would run on 18 July 1934.