Dec 27, 2019
(December 21, 2019) During the late 1840s, a former U.S. senator from Indiana told a gathering of Hoosiers:
"The time has now come when central Indiana has to decide whether the immense travel, emigration and business of the west should pass round or go through central Indiana - and not force them round by either Cincinnati to the east, or Chicago on the north."
That speech advocating construction of more Indiana railroads is quoted in a book titled Forging the Bee Line Railroad, 1848-1889 (Kent State University Press, 2016). The Bee Line was a nickname for the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad that, when connected to other railroads, linked the Hoosier capital with Cleveland, Columbus and other Ohio cities.
Andy Olson, the book's author, notes that the Bee Line was likened to "a bumblebee's nearly straight-line path" as it traveled between cities. Andy is Nelson's studio guest for this encore show exploring the unfolding of the Bee Line and other early railroads in Indiana; the show was originally broadcast in April of 2017.
Dr. Francis Parker, the co-author of Railroads of Indiana (IU Press, 1995), also joins Nelson as a studio guest. He's a former department chair of urban planning at Ball State University. Considered one of the top experts on Indiana's railroad heritage, Dr. Parker is also a qualified locomotive engineer and conductor.
With our guests, we explore the evolution of early railroads in Indiana, including the Bee Line. (In Indianapolis, its tracks run parallel to Massachusetts Avenue, Pendleton Pike and Fort Harrison.)
The state's first railroad line was the Madison and Indianapolis, which was completed in 1847 and linked the Ohio River town (then one of the state's largest cities) with the Hoosier capital.
Major challenges for early Indiana railroads ranged from topographical (the bluffs of the Ohio River and hills of southern Indiana) to the financial. "The Bee Line far underestimated the amount of capital required to bring such a massive undertaking to life," our guest Andy Olson wrote in a series of blogs for the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Initially, railroad construction was slow. In Railroads of Indiana, Dr. Parker and his co-author, the late Richard Simons, note that construction of the Madison and Indianapolis line took nine years and involved cuts through solid rock to depths of 100 feet and embankments nearly 100 feet high.
But a dramatic increase in construction across Indiana between 1850 and 1855 resulted in a "railroad explosion." During our show, our guests will describe the national significance in 1853 of the opening in Indianapolis of Union Depot, the predecessor of the majestic Union Station that remains a downtown landmark today in the Hoosier capital.
Our guest Andy Olson also discusses the influential role of Oliver H. Smith, the former U.S. senator who delivered "the time has now come" speech to Hoosiers. Smith, who primarily was based in Connersville during the early railroad era, became a key figure in the development of the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, which extended 83 miles northeast of Indianapolis into Ohio. A noted amateur historian and retired lawyer, Andy is a board member of the Society of Indiana Pioneers and has been involved in various projects at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.
Board members for the railroad line came from all of the Indiana counties along the route: Marion, Hancock, Madison, Delaware and Randolph counties. For some members, lucrative contracts ensued because of the construction of depots and railroad ties or the provision of rights-of-way.
Some Indiana railroad heritage facts:
Note: Dr. Francis Parker died unexpectedly in March. He is remembered and admired as one of the foremost experts on Indiana's railroad history.