Railroads of Indiana, 1850

One of the beautiful things of the internet, one of the things that make doing something like the Indiana Transportation History blog so easy, is the access to a world of information. Yes, some is accurate, and some isn’t. But my favorite resources, as I have shown over the past almost two years, is maps. While maps can be wrong at times, or more to the point, based on “future” information that doesn’t come to be, they are still a great resource if you can figure where they went wrong.

Today, I found another map that grabbed my interest. Looking at a map of railroads in Indiana, even today, there are railroads all over the state. A railroad map from the turn of the 20th Century is a spider web of routes crossing the state in all kinds of directions. But the map that I found today is one of Indiana in 1850. It is an interesting look what was, and how many changes have come about in the 170 years since it was printed.

When railroads started being built in the state, just like everywhere else, it was a jumble of little companies, usually with destination cities in the company title. There were 15 railroads on the map at the time, with some that were proposed. One of them was in Ohio, but would later be part of an Indiana system when it was completed. The map that I found showed the railroad routes as straight lines, not the actual routes themselves. I am going to cover them in the order the map numbered them.

Number 1: Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. I have covered this railroad many times, as it was the first long distance railroad built in Indiana. The engineering of this route, which included the steepest railroad tracks in the nation, was top notch at the time. Although it was originally been on the cheap, using iron strapped rails instead of the “T” rail that would become standard (and much safer) later. In the end, it would become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Number 2: Shelbyville Lateral Branch. This line was built as a feeder road to the Madison & Indianapolis. Its history isn’t terribly long. It connected the Madison & Indianapolis at Edinburgh to Shelbyville, opening up farm produce from Shelby County to the world at large. The railroad, depending on what history you read because it is very spotty, would last around five years before it was abandoned.

Number 3: Shelbyville & Rushville Railroad. Shelbyville was a “rail center” for a little while in the 1850’s and 1860’s. This route connected the two title towns, opening Rush County to the markets available on the Madison & Indianapolis.

Number 4: Shelbyville & Knightstown Railroad. Another short lived railroad, that would open southern Henry County to the same markets served by the above three. This company would last less than a decade, according to the source. Again, the history is spotty about this road at best. Later, part of route would become part of a railroad again, but instead of connecting Knightstown to Shelbyville, it would connect to Rushville.

Number 5: Columbus, Nashville & Bloomington. Trying to find any history on this road is difficult at best. I am not even sure if it existed at all. This will require more research.

Number 6: Martinsville Branch Railroad. Another road, like the one above. History is hard to find like the one above. It connected the Madison & Indianapolis to Martinsville. Later, the same connection would be made, in 1853, from the M&I at Franklin to Martinsville. That railroad would would be the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville.

Number 7: Indianapolis & Bellefontaine Railroad. This route connected Indianapolis to Pendleton, Anderson, Muncie and Winchester to ultimately Bellefontaine, Ohio. Down the road, this would be one of the founding parts of the Big Four Railroad. It is still in use today as part of CSX.

Number 8: Indianapolis & Peru Railroad. Today, this is mostly known as the Nickel Plate connecting Indianapolis, Noblesville, Tipton, Kokomo and Peru. Or at least what’s left of it. At one point, for about nine months, it was consolidated with the Madison & Indianapolis creating a route from Madison to Peru under one umbrella. Shareholders, and the courts, put an end to that marriage, creating two separate companies again.

Number 9: Indianapolis & Lafayette Railroad. Another constituent part of what would become the Big Four Railroad. At one point, at the Indianapolis end, the line came down alongside the Central Canal. It would be also be the scene of a large train wreck that would kill members of the Purdue University football team (Part 1 and Part 2).

Number 10: Lafayette & Crawfordsville Railroad. This railroad would later become part of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville, later known as the Monon. At the end of this article, I will show the only proposed railroad that in included on this map, which would be a connecting route from Crawfordsville to Bedford, thus creating the remaining part of the Monon mainline through western Indiana.

Number 11: Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Richmond Railroad. The original plan for this railroad was to connect the entire state, east to west, following roughly the National Road corridor. It would never be built past Indianapolis. Over the years, it would become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Number 12: New Albany & Salem Railroad. This would be the southern end of what would become the Monon. There were several companies between the New Albany & Salem and the Monon. I covered the history of the Monon in two parts, part 1 and part 2.

Number 13: Jeffersonville & Columbus Railroad. Most references to this road refer to it as the Jeffersonville, or “J.” The plan was to build the line all the way to Indianapolis. The problem came with the management of the Madison & Indianapolis. As the first railroad, the M&I assumed the attitude that they were the kings of the state’s railroads and others, especially direct competitors like the “J,” should just be good little kids and do what they are told.

There is a story about the M&I not wanting to help another railroad, because they weren’t in business to provide charity to other companies. The company they turned down would be the THI&R, which would be far more successful than the M&I in the end.

The M&I refused to cooperate with the J. So, ultimately, the J not only invested in feeder lines, taking traffic from the M&I, they started building a parallel track to the M&I. Ultimately, the J would end up buying the struggling M&I. And, like the M&I, would become part of the Pennsylvania system.

Number 14: Lawrenceburg & Greensburg Railroad. This road was built to connect the markets of Decatur and Ripley Counties to the markets at Cincinnati. Ultimately, the plan was to build the road all the way to Indianapolis, allowing a more direct route from the Hoosier capital to the Queen City of the Ohio. Traffic would be barged from Lawrenceburg to Cincinnati, which was faster than the already in place barged traffic from Madison to Cincinnati.

Number 15: Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. The only reason that I am mentioning this is because it would be the foundation of what would ultimately become the Baltimore & Ohio connecting Indianapolis to Cincinnati directly.

As mentioned above, the only proposed railroad on this map is the future Monon route connecting Bedford to Crawfordsville. Several towns along the proposed route would not be serviced by any other railroad company for years. And today, most of this route no longer exists, having been given back to the locals when the bigger companies were created, and the route became excessively redundant.

There is one more transportation facility included on this map. The Wabash & Erie Canal from Evansville to Fort Wayne and beyond is marked on it.

The entire map that I used for this article is available here: Railroad map of Indiana, by Col. Thomas A. Morris, Civil Engineer, | Library of Congress (loc.gov)

US 50 West from Aurora

Today, I want to focus on US 50 on the other side of the state. Yesterday, I covered the original US 50 from Vincennes to Wheatland. Today, the last eight miles heading into Aurora. When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in 1917, the future US 50 was included…but not as a single road. From Mitchell north to Bedford, then east, it was original state road 4. From Mitchell west, it was original state road 5.

The other thing I want to look at it the location of the original road. Unless you have driven in that section of Indiana, it is hard to fathom the difficulty in building a road through southern Indiana. Most of the state is (relatively) flat. Along the Ohio River, not so much. As someone whose family came from Pennsylvania, I realize the sheer insanity of building a road where the land has to be followed…not plowed through.

In northern and central Indiana, most roads can be built in a straightish line. Obviously, there are hills one has to skirt, and rivers to cross. But most of the land is relatively flat. That ends about 40 miles south of Indianapolis. And abruptly. I am only going to use snippets from one map (and a quick Google map) for this post…that of the 1943 USGS Topographic Map of the Aurora, Indiana, quadrangle. I have made five snippets…one a complete overview, and the other four are basically two miles at a time. I will be going from east to west in this case.

I know this is hard to see. That is why I have broken it down into smaller chunks. But this gives the overview of the whole area. Consider that each of the brown lines on this map are 10 feet changes in elevation. This gives a whole new meaning to up and down, eh?

The original US 50 entered Aurora from the north on what is now Main Street. North of Hogan Creek, Google Maps lists it as George Street. Where George Street meets US 50 north of Aurora, US 50 pretty much follows the old path, for a while, on its way to Lawrenceburg. A turn west on Third Street, and following the old road is still possible. Another turn south on Bridgeway Street, then west on Fourth Street, then original US 50 leaves the small burgh of Aurora. Google Maps shows the old road as Conwell Street. Before it connects into the current US 50, it turns south on Indiana Avenue, still staying south and east of the current US highway.

The problem with following the old road from here is that it has been cut off from the rest of the highway system. Indiana Avenue, before it would connect to current US 50 again, it curves east away from its old path. The Google map snippet to the left shows a blue line where the old road crossed the area that is now US 50, changing from what is now Indiana Avenue into Trester Hill Road.

As you can see from the topo maps of before the new road was built, the frontier path, later state road, that became US 50 originally skirted the edges of the topographical lay of the land. Without looking closer, I can not tell if it is a valley or the top of the ridge that the old road follows. A look on Google Earth shows it may be a valley that the road is keeping to.

The last four miles that I will be covering in this entry are pretty much using the old road as it was created in the early to mid 1800’s. Yes, the road is that old. The area that the road follows is called the Mount Tabor Ridge on this map. And the old road tries to keep climbs and descends as small as possible. This made sense, since getting horses, or even worse, oxen, to climb a hill was a chore in itself. Now, add a wagon, or saddlebags, and it got worse. There are stories abound that tell of someone hurt, or worse, killed trying to traverse steep hills.

This map shows the end of today’s coverage area. Not that I don’t want to keep going west from here. The next topo map available is the Dillsboro quadrangle, but it is dated 1958.

Following the original US 50 through the area gives an idea of what was required when a road was commissioned to go from point A to point B. Just looking at this route shows why the first team that went into “the wild” when it came to building a road would be the surveyors. Of course, this has always been true, for any road built in history. It wouldn’t have been good to draw a straight line on a map and just told someone to build that straight line. Especially through the landscape of southern Indiana.

Dec 1917: Main Market Roads Officially Announced

When the law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in early 1917, the announcement was also made that there were would five main market highways, later known as state roads, designated by that commission. There was a general idea of which roads would be involved, bot nothing set in stone. That is, until December 1917.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 12 December 1917 announced the selection of the new main market highways. ISHC officials traveled throughout the state deciding which roads would be part of the new, and yet controversial, system. “A former election of four of the five routes was tentative, and although the general directions of the four roads announced formerly have been adhered to in the official selection, many changes have been made.”

The plan was to create a system which was typical of Indiana’s general demeanor: serve as many people as possible with as little cost and intrusion as possible. Due to the shape of the state of Indiana, it was decided that there would be three roads crossing the state, west to east, from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line. One north-south road would be designated through the middle of the state. This was the basis of the first four main market roads. A fifth road would connect the fourth road to the Illinois state line in the southern part of the state. The December 1917 system included roughly 800 miles of roads.

The main market highways were officially described as follows: “No. 1. The highway beginning at the Indiana and Michigan state line, thence southerly through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Kokomo, Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis, Franklin, Columbus, Seymour, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, New Albany and Jeffersonville.” In the Auto Trail era, there was no one highway this route followed. It seems that it was planned very early to have a split in the highway at the south end, with one branch going to New Albany, and one going to Jeffersonville. And although the route numbers have changed, that split has existed in one form or another since that time.

Main Market Road #2: “The highway passing through the northern part of the state, beginning, at the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Dyer, Valparaiso, Laporte, South Bend, Goshen and Fort Wayne via the Lincoln Highway to the Ohio and Indiana state line.” Depending on how one reads that, it could be that the Lincoln Highway was only used from Fort Wayne to the Ohio state line. This is far from true. It was decided that the entire original route of the Lincoln Highway through the state would be used for Road #2.

Main Market Road #3: “The highway crossing the central part of the state, commonly called the old national road trail, beginning at the corner of the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Terre Haute, Brazil, Putnamville, Plainfield, Indianapolis, Greenfield, Knightstown, Cambridge City and Richmond to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #4: “The road crossing the southern part of the state, beginning at Evansville, thence easterly through Boonville, Huntingburg, Jasper, West Baden, Paoli, Mitchell, Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and Lawrenceburg to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #5: “The road connecting Vincennes and Mitchell, via Wheatland, Washington, Loogootee and Shoals.” Basically, this road was designated to connect main market road 4 to Vincennes. Again, this is due to the shape of the state. A (more or less) straight line across Indiana from Cincinnati west would, as is shown by the route of the current US 50, connect to Vincennes, leaving people south of there without a main market road. Evansville was, and still is, one of the top five largest cities in the state, population wise. So ignoring that city would not have been possible.

The article ends with the following: “The total mileage of the roads represents less than one-half of the total 2,000 miles of ‘main market highways’ which the commission may designate under the new state highway commission law prior to 1921.” The law that passed in 1917 created a state highway system so that Indiana could benefit from federal money for good roads. It wasn’t until the law was redone in 1919, with all of the 1917 law’s Constitutional questions answered, that the Indiana State Highway System was officially made part of the landscape.

Creation of the Whitewater Canal

27 January 1836. An act was passed through the Indiana General Assembly that would create what would become the Whitewater Canal. Talk of a canal had been circulating the Whitewater River valley since 1822 or before. It was 1822 when articles about such a canal were being published. Around this time, delegates from Franklin, Wayne, Union, Randolph, Fayette and Dearborn Counties held a meeting at Harrison to look at the possibilities of creating a canal.

The talk of a canal had progressed to the point that a survey was started in 1824. The original surveyor, a Colonel Shriver, passed away while performing this function. A Colonel Stansbury took over the job of surveying the potential route of a canal. But winter set in before he could really start work, and the survey was put on hold. Until June 1834. That was when a survey performed by William Gooding was completed. That survey routed the potential canal down the Whitewater valley from Nettle Creek, near Cambridge City, to Lawrenceburg.

Support for all things transport would heat up in 1835. Work began on a large internal improvement bill to build railroads, roads and canals throughout the state. This would be the known as the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act (MIIA) of 1836. This law would create several projects that would help form early Indiana…and help bankrupt it, as well. This one bill helped push the state to create a commission to write a new state constitution in 1851…one that forbade the state going into debt.

The MIIA would specifically create what would become the Whitewater Canal. It was mentioned in section one of the act. “The Whitewater Canal, commencing on the west branch of the Whitewater river, at the crossing of the national road, thence passing down the valley of the same to the Ohio river at Lawrenceburgh, and extending up the said west branch of Whitewater above the National road as far as may be practicble.”

Anyone that has looked at a map of Indiana will notice one minor detail. The Whitewater River doesn’t go to Lawrenceburg. It actually connects to the Little Miami River northeast of Elizabethtown, Ohio. Those that wrote the MIIA noticed this, as well. It was mentioned in the bill that “if the state of Ohio shall ultimately refuse to grant leave for the construction of that part of the Whitewater Canal which passes through her territory” a railroad should be built from Harrison (Ohio) to Lawrenceburg. That railroad would have to stay within the borders of Indiana.

A total of $1.4 million was set aside for the creation of the Whitewater Canal. The act also allowed for a connection between the Whitewater and Central Canals (the Central Canal would connect through Indianapolis) somewhere in Madison or Delaware Counties.

Section 16 of the MIIA allowed for the board of Canal Commissioners “to enter upon and take possession of, and use any singular lands, streams, and materials of any and every description necessary for the prosecution and completion of the improvements contemplated by this act.” This gave the Commissioners, and anyone assigned by them, the right to take whatever was necessary to complete the Whitewater Canal, and the other projects listed in the MIIA.

The original minimum dimensions of the Whitewater Canal were later determined to be at least 26 feet wide at the bottom, 40 feet wide at the top, and have at least four feet of water depth. This was, however, subject to increasing, if such increase could be done without increasing the cost of construction. The tow path was to be at least 10 feet wide, with the berm bank (opposite bank) being at least six. Both banks would have to have sufficient footing at the bottom to allow a slope of 21 inches for each 12 of height. And the two banks would have to be built two feet above the canal’s waterline. The total right-of-way for the canal would then total 63 feet from outside shoulder of one bank to the outside shoulder of the other.

By 1839, the first section of the canal, from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, was opened. The first boat, the “Ben Franklin” owned by Long and Westerfield of Lawrenceburg, arrived at Brookville on 18 June 1839. Two more boats, the Litlle Western and the Niagara, arrived the next day.

1840 found the state in bad financial shape. The canal had been completed from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, and half of the work from Brookville to Cambridge City had been completed. This cost the state, to that point, $664,665. It was at this point all work on the projects listed in the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act was discontinued.

The Board of Internal Improvements, the government agency tasked with completing all of the MIIA projects, was abolished in January 1842. The plan was to move those projects from public works to private companies. The same month, on 20 January 1842, the Whitewater Valley Canal Company was chartered. The state then turned over all property involving the canal to the new company. The new company was to complete the canal to Cambridge City and receive, as compensation, all revenues from tolls, water power, rents and other incomes for 15 years after the completion of the project.

The canal slowly increased its length. By 1843, it had reached Laurel. Connersville became an active canal town in 1845. The end of the line at Cambridge City would be reached in 1846. The Whitewater Valley Canal Company spent a grand total of $500,000 to complete the original scope of the canal’s purpose.

Unfortunately, the hopes that the canal would prove a boon to the area were dashed relatively quickly. Most of the problems stemmed from bad engineering. By 1848, two aqueducts were swept away, and several feeder dams were nearly destroyed. Once fixed, navigation began again…lasting a year until the normal Indiana floods caused suspension of canal traffic once again.

The canal was put back into operational shape for a time. But things didn’t go well for the company that continued to lose money on the enterprise. It all came to a head on 26 November 1862 when the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company took over the property under Indiana’s condemnation laws. The canal’s receivers were paid $55,000 for the property, and the railroad became the owner of the old canal. All property of the canal company within the state of Indiana would be deeded to the railroad. Ultimately, the railroad would become the White Water Valley Railroad, a part of the Big Four and the New York Central.