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: Sand Street

Northeast of where Kentucky Avenue crosses the White River, there is a short, and barricaded, street that connects south southeast to McCarty Street. It is used as access to a parking lot for Lucas Oil Stadium today. Looking at it closely, one can see the remnants of the old stone paving. It is called Sand Street. And where it is today isn’t always where it was. But throughout the history of the city of Indianapolis, it has been really close to where it is today.

Google Earth image of the stone paving of Sand Street, Indianapolis. This image was captured on 27 September, 2020. The Google Image was taken in August 2018.
1875 map of Sand Street in Indianapolis.

The general location of today’s Sand Street was, at one point, actually in the White River. In 1875, the original Sand Street formed the end of Kentucky Avenue at the time. It was crossed by a branch from the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad that extended south to Pogues Run, located at the corner of what is now S. Dakota Street and Terrace Avenue (if it weren’t private property). Looking at the 1875 map to the left, one would notice that the intersection of McCarty and Sand Streets doesn’t exist, as it would be in the river.

1889 Sand Street area.

Due to its “insignificant” nature, Sand Street found itself on and off maps for many years. The 1889 Atlas of Marion County shows that the White River channel had been moved, but that Sand Street was not included on the map. The location of the street, however, is, as shown by the lonely little line connecting to Kentucky Avenue and the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad. Notice that crossing the White River was done at River Avenue, which connected the intersection of River and Oliver Avenues to a bridge that connected south of Greenlawn Cemetery. This bridge had been in place for many years, and would be for years to come.

1894 Sand Street area.
1898 Sand Street area.

Sand Street would again appear on maps in 1894 and 1898. It would be shown as running along the original path, not a straight line between Kentucky Avenue and McCarty Street, which still didn’t connect past one block west of West Street. It should be noted that a second crossing of White River was completed in the years between 1894 and 1898, as the Kentucky Avenue bridge was built.

1926 Sand Street area.

The earliest map reference that I have seen that shows Sand Street in its present location is this 1926 snippet. The previous map that I have found, 1914, doesn’t show Sand Street at all. It should be noted that the two crossings of White River are still River and Kentucky Avenues, although the River Avenue crossing is labelled as Oliver Avenue on this map. Within a decade, the river crossing situation would change.

The first aerial photograph of the area that I have found comes from 1937, and is included below. It shows the new Oliver Avenue bridge across White River, connecting to Kentucky Avenue just south of the intersection of Sand and Kentucky. At this time, the entire area is very industrial in nature, and two branches from the Panhandle (formerly Vandalia, and before that, Indianapolis & Vincennes) curve across Kentucky Avenue on either side of Sand Street. The one on the east side of Sand still heads south towards industrial areas along Dakota Street (have to be careful, it is just Dakota Street…the fact that it runs north and south can create confusion!).

1937 MapIndy aerial photograph of the area of Sand Street, Kentucky Avenue, McCarty Street, et al.

With the exceptions of widenings of Kentucky and Oliver Avenues, and the curving of the Oliver Avenue bridge (between 1956 and 1962) on the east end to connect to the intersection of Kentucky Avenue and McCarty Street, not much changed in the area of Sand Street for many years. Yes, the plants along the street became abandoned and in poor shape, and the railroad connections that cross on either side of the street were removed, the street itself continued in place, and in use.

In 2009, the industrial buildings on either side of Sand Street were demolished, leaving the street itself as an abandoned reminder of what was. 2010 saw it fenced off from the McCarty Street end for the first time. The Google image below shows the Kentucky Avenue end as it appeared in 2009.

Google image of Sand Street, August 2009. If you look carefully, you can see the stone paving that is still in place today.

As mentioned above, Sand Street is still accessible…on days where parking downtown is needed. It is a privately owned street now, and has the consistency of an alley anywhere else in the city. Since it was basically vacated by the City of Indianapolis, maintenance is taken care of by the owners.

As an aside, the Indianapolis News, on 16 September 1979, ran a story called “Paving the Way to Yesteryear,” which included two photos of the granite paving of Sand Street. I will share those here.

The Indianapolis News, 16 September 1979.

Indiana Vs. Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad

In 1899, the state of Indiana brought forth a lawsuit against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad for tax money due for the school fund. It started with a charter. In the early days of Indiana, to create a railroad company (and basically any company, as far as that goes), a charter for the company and its goals would have to be written and taken before the Indiana General Assembly for approval. I would love to say that these things were basically rubber stamped…but I truly have no way of knowing without extensive research.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad was issued it original charter by the Indiana General Assembly in 1831. The name on the charter was the Terre Haute & Indianapolis. The TH&I was then issued a special charter as the Terre Haute & Richmond Rail Road on 24 January 1847. The company was to build a railroad between the two title cities, through Indianapolis. The official name of the company had changed twice between the special charter of 1847 and the court case of 1899. First, in 1850, the space was taken out between rail and road, making it the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad legally. Then, in 1865, the name was changed to suit the actual extent of the railroad company. It became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad Company.

Newspapers of the time often refer to the legal action against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis as the Vandalia Case. By the time of the legal action, the TH&I was already leasing the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the only line (for a while) connecting Indianapolis to St. Louis. The St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute was known most of the time as the Vandalia. The Vandalia was in financial trouble while under construction. Money was floated from five railroad companies to complete the route in 1870: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Pennsylvania, Panhandle, Steubenville and the Indiana Central. The last three being consolidated later into the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also nicknamed the Panhandle. The Pennsylvania would gain control of the Panhandle and the Vandalia…although the Terre Haute & Indianapolis would fight it the entire way.

The whole case stemmed from how the charter for the TH&I was read, and who was doing the reading. The State of Indiana was of the opinion that the TH&I owed the School Fund somewhere between $1.2 and $2 million dollars. Obviously, the TH&I was of the opposite opinion. The entire case stemmed from a special charter that had been issued for the company in 1847, give or take a year. The new charter, keeping a provision from the old one, would allow the railroad to set its own passenger and freight rates, and allow for a 15% profit to be split among its shareholders after all of the construction bills have been paid.

The state, in its case, claimed that the TH&I was setting its rates to a point where it was earning 18% to 35% profits. Since the limit was 15%, the rest, the state continued, would be required to be paid to the state school fund. Vandalia saw things differently.

The South Bend Tribune of 4 October 1899 describes the beginning of the case as such: “Noble C. Butler, as master in chancery, began taking testimony, Monday afternoon (2 October 1899), in the case of the state against the Vandalia railroad for money due the school fund on account of the special charter under which the road operated 20 years ago.”

“Experts have been examining the company’s books to ascertain the exact earnings and the proportionate amount due the state, and their testimony is expected to be interesting. About $2,000,000 is claimed to be due the school fund from the railroad.” (Source: South Bend Tribune, 4 October 1899, pp 1 via newspapers.com.)

When the time came to defend itself, the Vandalia brought out John G. Williams, a man, according to the Indianapolis News of 17 January 1900, “who is said to know more about the affairs of the road than any other man.” Attorney Williams started talking about the charter of the Terre Haute & Richmond, the charters of other railroads, and the fact that when the original charters were written for the early railroads, the company had a choice between building a railroad and building a toll road. The state saw no real difference between the two.

He also mentioned that, according to the News, “one of the first roads built in the State was the Baltimore & Ohio. In the beginning, its cars were moved by horses and, when the wind was favorable, sails were hoisted on the cars to help propel them.” I would be that the News meant in the United States, as the Baltimore & Ohio wouldn’t have been in Indiana in 1831.

Reference is also made by the attorney for the railroad that in the beginning, the B&O charged 4 cents a ton a mile for moving of freight. “Modern railroads” (1900) are lucky to get one half cent per ton/mile. And passengers were actually weighed and charged essentially a pro-rated charge of 4 cents per ton/mile. If I am reading this right, since I weigh 200 pounds, it would cost me eight cents to travel by train from Indianapolis to Greenfield in those days. If I lived then…and the train actually was built to connect the two.

Mr. Williams went on to argue that the ability to regulate tolls by the state was left out of the charters of seven of the eight railroads that were incorporated in 1832. All eight of these charters allowed for the company to build a railroad or turnpike. Also in 1832, a company applied for a charter to build a bridge across the Ohio River at the Falls, the location of New Albany and/or Jeffersonville, and Louisville on the Kentucky side.

In 1832, five more railroads were incorporated, including the Evansville & Lafayette. It, like the Terre Haute & Indianapolis (1831 charter), had a clause stating that the State of Indiana could purchase the road after a certain period. Very few railroad company charters included the state regulation of the amount of dividends to its shareholders.

Ultimately, the Vandalia won the original case. Special Master Butler determined that the state was owed nothing by the Vandalia. The State appealed to the Superior Court, in which it was determined that the Vandalia owed the state of Indiana $913,000.

According to the Indianapolis Journal of 18 June 1902, as the case was being brought before the Indiana Supreme Court, “the charter provided that the company should pay the State its surplus earnings over the operating expenses and 10 per cent to the stockholders. The company surrendered its special charter in 1873 and has since operated under the general railroad law.” The company claimed that the surplus money was spent to improve the road, and there was no money left to pay the state.

The case before the Indiana Supreme Court lasted three days, ending on 19 June 1902. When the ruling went against the Vandalia, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that they would appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. That decision was made on 28 November 1902.

The Indiana Supreme Court judgement ruled that the Vandalia must pay $913,905, and a six percent interest from the date of the Superior Court judgement. This brought to total to $1,028,143. Of course, the state was to only receive $771,107 of that, with the rest going to attorney’s fees. The Vandalia would fall into receivership after the ruling, and arguments between Illinois and Indiana receivers would follow.

31 May 1904, and the United States Supreme Court ruled, after much deliberation, that the Vandalia Railroad owed a grand total of nothing to the state of Indiana School Fund. This would go on to allow the Vandalia to consolidate the following railroads into one corporate entity: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Indianapolis & Vincennes, Logansport & Toledo, Terre Haute & Logansport, and the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute. A consolidation which created the Vandalia Railroad Company on 1 January 1905.

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.

The Pennsylvania Railroad in Indiana After the Civil War

The United States Civil War, or War Between the States, had a very profound effect on the railroads in place at the time. The Union had a vast railroad network, and used it to help in the war effort. Indiana saw a large increase in rail traffic as troops and war materials went one way, and prisoners of war came the other. But after the war, there were some questions as to what was going to happen to the rail industry.

During the four years of the war, maintenance was put off as long as it could be, and rolling stock had been beat to almost death. There was some hope that the post-war era would lead to a “quieter” time along the lines. But like every war since, that quieter time almost led to the collapse of some of the rail lines due to overbuilding…and a lot of consolidations to make stronger, supposedly more financially secure, roads.

Between 1861 and 1865, rail capacity had increased due to the traffic demands. While this helped during those years, afterwards, it would be a hinderance to the companies that spent that money for that capacity.

The first thing that happened after the war was the companies started plowing their war profits back into getting the rail lines in shape. This would take a lot of that money. Add to that the almost expectant recession as industrial output had to slow down from war time highs. Passenger rates were rising due to the increased costs. The railroads were taking a public relations hit due to those rate hikes.

Competition for traffic between Chicago and the east coast (whether New York or Philadelphia) had already brought on a series of freight rate cuts as early as 1861. The traffic was there, the question was which railroad was willing to do what it took to get it. By 1865, the Pennsylvania Railroad was already telling its investors that eastern railroad mileage was far outpacing the business requirements for the area.

Indiana found itself in the middle of the consolidations. One railroad, the Cincinnati & Chicago Air Line, had a working relationship with the Baltimore & Ohio to bring traffic from the east coast to as far as Valparaiso, where it had to depend on the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago to carry that traffic into Chicago. The building of a new road, the Chicago & Great Eastern, let the C&CAL have a second, and preferred, route into the Windy City. This would bring the C&CAL out of its poverty, and allowed, as stated in the Lafayette Journal, the railroad to “rival and damage her own haughty mistress, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago.”

One railroad, which had depended on handshake deals and friendly connections to expand its own traffic across Indiana was the Pennsylvania Railroad. A lot of this was due to the management in Philadelphia that balked at investing in any road that would be outside the scope of its mandate – to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Yes, the company did invest in other routes. But most of the time, it was to allow agreements between those independent routes and the Pennsy. But that attitude in Philadelphia was about to not only be tested, but thrown out the window when the age of the robber baron started.

Speculator Jay Gould forced the Pennsylvania to wake up from its conservative slumber. Gould had swept in to buy the Erie, a weak road that ended in New York. Gould knew that he would have to increase the footprint of his railroad if he was to salvage a massive investment in his company. He set his sights on the Indiana Central. Traffic along that road mostly came from the Panhandle, a Pennsylvania company that connected to Columbus, Ohio. The Indiana Central carried that traffic on to Indianapolis. The Panhandle found itself dependent on the IC, but they did have a handshake agreement between the two companies.

At this time, the IC not only connected the capitals of Indiana and Ohio, but had purchased other routes that could carry traffic to Logansport, and from there, to Chicago. The IC had also acquired the Great Eastern and the C&CAL. The entire line, in 1868, had become known as the Columbus, Chicago & Indiana Central.

Gould swept in to purchase large blocks of stock in the CC&IC. So much so that the management of the line agreed to, if Gould wanted, allow the Erie to lease the road. The Pittsburgh, Columbus and St. Louis Railway, known as the Panhandle, was basically controlled by the Pennsylvania. But this was not by ownership, the PRR didn’t actually own it. The PRR did, however, have a large amount of the company’s bonds as investment in the building of the line. Gould’s possible lease of the CC&IC scared the PRR into action.

But Gould would not be defeated. While his financial resources were limited compared to the Pennsylvania, he would do what it took to put the PRR on its knees. While playing around with the CC&IC, he also showed interest in the PFtW&C. When the PRR took over the CC&IC, Gould tried to pry the already restless PFtW&C from the PRR’s hands. Again, it was a friendly agreement between the PRR and the PFtW&C. And the PFtW&C blamed the PRR for diminished value due to traffic congestion at Pittsburgh. Gould had acquired controlling interest of the shareholder votes.

PRR management in Philadelphia, which still saw their city as the most important city on the east coast, feared that control of the PFtW&C by the Erie would route traffic to New York instead of Philadelphia, worked with the management of the Fort Wayne to lease the road out from under Gould for 999 years starting in July 1869. This would require the PRR to pay a 12% dividend on Fort Wayne stock for the duration of the lease. It didn’t come cheap, but the PRR saved its connection to Chicago.

By 1871, the Pennsylvania had acquired control of both the Panhandle and the Fort Wayne. The Panhandle had already leased the Jeffersonville, Madison & Indianapolis, allowing its traffic to connect, via the only bridge across the Ohio at the time, into Louisville…and the southern traffic that ended there.

The major stumbling block, at this point, was west of the Hoosier Capital. Traffic was routed onto the Terre Haute & Indianapolis, which was staunchly independent. The Pennsylvania had invested heavily into a line that connected Terre Haute to St. Louis, Missouri. But the fear that the TH&I would not cooperate with the dreaded PRR when it came to traffic led the PRR to team up with interests that would become the Big Four to build a separate line connecting Indianapolis to Terre Haute. That line would be called the Indianapolis & St. Louis, and would leave Indianapolis on a due west route through Danville.

If the Terre Haute & Indianapolis would not play ball with the Pennsy, it would still have a route to get to the Mississippi River. The TH&I would later fall into the Pennsylvania fold, but that was after a merger with the Pennsy controlled St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute, known as the Vandalia.

The Pennsylvania also invested, in 1869, in another company that would have, were it built to its intended extent, connect Indianapolis to Cairo, Illinois. But that company only made it as far as Vincennes. While the Pennsylvania had members of the Board of Directors as early as 1872, the formal lease wouldn’t occur until 1879.

Most of the Pennsylvania Railroad holdings in Indiana were added to that company by 1870. Those companies would operate as separate entities until the 1920’s, when they were all consolidated into the Pennsylvania itself.