History of Transportation in Tippecanoe County, Indiana
From: Past and Present of Tippecanoe County, Indiana
General R. P. DeHart, Editor in Chief
B. F. Bowen & Company, Publishers
Indianapolis, Indiana 1909


The matter of transportation has always been of great use and interest to the settlers of any community. In the days before railways the most efficient means by which products and merchandise could be transported from one point to another was primarily by keel boat and barge plying the uncertain currents of navigable streams, and later by a system of canals which usually were constructed along the valleys of streams, and from them were fed with a sufficient supply of water to float the canal boats. These boats were usually drawn by means of a horse traveling on what was called a towpath. This afforded a very cheap means of conveying all kinds of produce to and from the sea board.

The subject of internal improvements began to agitate the minds of the people of Indiana as early as 1818, but nothing definite was undertaken in way of providing such improvements until about 1832, when public roads and canals were begun. The Wabash & Erie canal was among the greatest of such undertakings. During 1835 thirty two miles of this canal were completed. Of the three million, seven hundred thousand dollars of state indebtedness about one half had been expended on the construction of this canal. The state had annually paid two hundred thousand dollars interest on its public debt and finally in 1837 the people began to feel that the burden was too great to think of increasing further, and the work of making appropriations for internal improvements began to lessen. By 1839 all public improvement work ceased. The state owed a debt of eighteen million dollars in 1840, but be it said to her credit that she did not repudiate her obligations as did numerous states at about that date. In 1850 private capital and enterprise pushed to the front and began to make internal improvements as an investment. The advent of the railroad had forever ended the use of canals, practically speaking, for time as well as cheapness must be counted with in shipping goods. With the ushering in of the railroad era, there came a new life to this county, as well as to all parts of Indiana.

The Wabash river had been the great channel through which had been conveyed the products of the soil and in exchange were brought by boat from the far away Southland the groceries and many other articles of household use. The wharf at Lafayette had been for years a busy scene of shipping. The river fleets were numerous and extensive, but all had suddenly been changed - the steam horse and iron rail had been introduced.

The Wabash & Erie canal was completed to Lafayette from the northeast, in 1843, but was not finished to Vincennes until 1849, when the railroads began to supersede the canals. This expensive water way was accordingly soon abandoned altogether. It was sold out in sections to parties who wished to utilize it for water power purposes in manufacturing.

Prior to the introduction of the canal system, the Wabash river was the great water route and Lafayette was called "head of navigation." Great rewards were offered to those who should make the stream of use for steamboats as far up as Logansport, and even to higher points up the river, but all to no avail, as such improvements were found to cost more than they were worth, on account of the rapids and the many rocks encountered.

At Lafayette the canal once cut a big commercial figure, but with the introduction of the railway systems it was forever abandoned and for many years there has been but little to mark the site of that waterway, the streets having been graded and filled, as well as the right of way where once trod the horse and driver on the tow path, which were altogether too slow a means for the enterprising population of Indiana, when once it was learned that steam railways were practical.


The files of the Free Press and Commercial Advertiser show the following advertisement of the then leading wholesale grocer of Lafayette:


"Wholesale Grocer and Liquor Store, Main street, Northeast Corner of Public Square, Lafayette, Indiana.

"Received by late boat. and all for sale at lowest prices - 50 bags of coffee; 15 boxes chocolate; 3,000 Spanish made cigars; 300 boxes Malay cigars; 200,000 common cigars; 1,000 pounds of cheese; 1,500 pounds cod fish; 12 barrels of Bologna Sausage; 1,000 pounds bar lead; 3o kegs gunpowder; 50 bags shot; 3o boxes Herring; 20 barrels of New Orleans rum; 50 barrels American brandy; 3o barrels American gin; 5 barrels Holland gin; 20 barrels Mountain Wine; 10 barrels Barley Whisky; 10 barrels Old Monongahela Whisky; 25 barrels molasses.

"All arrived on the boat Tecumseh' yesterday."


The following boat notice was carried in the Free Press in April, 1836:

"The River continues in fine boating stage. Arrivals, as follows: April 2, 1836, 'Emigrant' from mouth of Wabash; 'Portsmouth' from Americus; `Tecumseh' from Logansport; 'Cuba' from Cincinnati.

"April 3, 'Tecumseh' from Logansport; 'Mt. Vernon,' from Cincinnati. "April 5,

'Citizen,' from Cincinnati.

"April 7, 'Aid,' from Louisville; 'Lady Byron,' from Louisville; 'Science,' from mouth of Wabash."

The railroads had covered the state; crossing and re-crossing Tippecanoe county, in almost every direction by 1884, at which time the state had a total of five thousand, five hundred and twenty one miles of railroad in operation.

The following is a description of the railroads in Tippecanoe county up to 1887: "There are five railroads running through Tippecanoe county; four of them run through Lafayette. Their short and long names are: The "Monon" route, or the Louisville, New Albany & Chicago; "Wabash," the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific; "Erie," or Lake Erie & Western; "Big Four," the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago; the "Narrow Gauge," the Toledo & Kanssas City. All of these roads have had their legal names from time to time as they fell into the hands of different companies.

The first railroad line to traverse the territory of Tippecanoe county was the Monon route, completed in the autumn of 1852, and the same was put in operation the following summer from New Albany to Michigan City.

Fifty thousand dollars stock was taken in this road by individuals in Tippecanoe county. It was at first called the New Albany & Salem railroad, and about 1864 the present name was adopted. James M. Reynolds, of Lafayette, was for a number of years manager of this road. The "Lahr House" was the principal passenger depot for Lafayette, while "Lafayette Depot" was about half a mile to the north. The present city station of this road is situated on Fifth street, in the heart of the city, and is one of the fine modem structures of this line of road - a handsome stone building, one story in height, and is used exclusively for the passenger service of the road. This depot was completed in 1901.

The track of the Wabash railroad was completed to Lafayette in 1854, and the cars commenced running the next year. Azariah Boody was for a long time afterward president of the company operating this route. At first it was known as the Toledo, Wabash & Western, then the Toledo, Wabash & St. Louis, and finally the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific.

The next railroad enterprise in this county was the construction of this division of the Lake Erie & Western railroad in 1869, in Lafayette, by Adams Earl, who for the purpose organized the "Lafayette, Muncie & Bloomington Railroad Company," and was elected director and was also its first president. Tippecanoe county gave three hundred and seventy three thousand dollars in aid for this road. All along the line the various counties through which the road was established, the sum of from fifty thousand dollars to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars was donated. The track was complete to Lafayette in 1874. From Bloomington, Illinois, it was completed to the state line in 1871. The present name was adopted in 1881.

The "Big Four" has the following history in this county: In 1869 the Cincinnati, Lafayette & Chicago Railroad Company was organized to construct and operate a railroad from Lafayette to Kankakee, seventy five miles distant, there to unite with the Illinois Central for Chicago. It was built and owned by Adams Earl, Moses Fowler and Gustavus Ricker, Mr. Earl being president, general manager and builder. This line was completed in 1872. In 1877 Mr. Earl purchased Mr. Fowler's stock and thereby obtained control. In 1879 he disposed of his interest to Boston capitalists and at the same time retired from its management.

The Lafayette depot of the two latter named roads is situated at the foot of South street, at the bridge over which both roads cross the Wabash river. This company uses the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western for a distance of eighteen miles west of Lafayette.

The old narrow gauge railroad, passing through the southeastern portion of Tippecanoe county, with Clark's Hill as one of its station points within this county, in 1887-8 was made a standard gauge and first class road. More than a quarter of a century passed and still the people had only the advantages of the canal and Wabash river boats as transportation facilities. The railroad era began here fifty seven years ago, and great have been the strides in railroad traffic with the passing of these years. Where Lafayette had the arrival of but one boat, each second day, she now has forty trains daily.

With these great systems of iron highways, diverging in all points of the compass from Lafayette, this county has most excellent shipping and passenger train facilities. The transformation has been great since William Rigby, in the month of May, 1825, named his newly platted town on the banks of the Wabash river after General Lafayette, and at a time when no trading was being carried on here, save by Longlois, the old French trader.

After the canal was abandoned and fell into disuse as a motive power for machinery, great loss was met with, It was long argued even in modern years that the canal should have been kept in repair for the water that it carried through the country and might have been utilized for mechanical purposes, the driving of milling plants and factories. At one time there were numerous mills for the making of flour along the creeks and along the site of this canal. With the invention of the "roller process" for manufacturing flour, the old buhr stones have fallen by the way and are counted only as relics of the pioneer days. Had it not been for the introduction of electricity in the later eighties, as a motive force for the propelling of light machinery, the theory held by the people who wanted the state to keep up the dams and keep the canal in good water carrying repair might have been practical, but since the development of this wonder working element - electricity - the notion obtained now seems amusing.


In 1891 a company was formed in Lafayette with Adams Earl and others as prime movers for the purpose of building a belt line around the eastern portion of Lafayette, in order to give shippers and manufacturers better advantages in switching from one system of railway to another in the city. It was made to appear that it was of general use to the tax payers and a tax was levied on the property by which one hundred thousand dollars was raised. The total length of the road is a fraction over six miles, yet its cost was stated as being almost one hundred thousand dollars. For a time the line was successfully operated, but of late years it has gone partly to decay, while one section of it is used for switching from the Wabash railroad. It forms a semi circle around the city on the east.


With the march of the decades, the people of Tippecanoe county have had the full benefit of the advanced sciences and the wonderful discoveries and inventions wrought out by man. This applies as much, or even more, to the matter of transportation of both freight and passengers as to any other branch of industry. First the "prairie schooner" wending its way over hill and glen, drawn by trusty oxen or horses; next the river crafts of keel boats, barges and later the majestic steamboat. Then these were superseded by the fast rolling steam cars drawn by locomotive, by steam power, which it was thought could never be improved on or excelled, but with the advent of the electric age, beginning (practically) in 1880, with the Edison light, there came a still more wonderful innovation in the way of power to assist man, and Tippecanoe county, with Lafayette, was among the early cities to be equipped with electric lights, and still a little later came the electric street cars (1887) and this afforded a wonderful convenience in and about the city. But this did not materially aid the farming communities, but it was not long before inventive genius and capital hand in hand sought out a way to apply the electric current in such a manner that it was practical for interurban cars, nearly as large as ordinary steam railway coaches, to be propelled hither and yon over the county and to distant points within the state.

The ordinance book of the city of Lafayette shows that the first enactment looking to the present system of interurban lines was approved January 12, 1903, in which the Fountain-Warren Traction Company was granted a franchise to construct and operate an interurban railway through this city. This was the beginning of what has now come to be known as the Fort Wayne & Wabash Valley Traction Company, and the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company. On the first named line are the following station points: Battle Ground, Soldiers' Home, the Tecumseh Trail, Lafayette, Buck Creek and Colburn, in this county.

On the southeastern line is the town of Dayton, in Sheffield township.

These lines of traction are a great help to agriculturists and side town customers of Lafayette. Indianapolis and northern cities with which they connect by trains almost each hour in the day.


Twenty boats were frequently seen unloading and loading between where now stands the Big Four depot and the gas works plant, along the Wabash & Erie canal and the Wabash river. One citizen, now over seventy years of age, and who was born in Lafayette, relates how, when a school boy, he with others frequently went to the wharf, when the wholesale men and boat hands were unloading goods. and when not in too full view of the owners of the cargo, they used to insert pieces of cane hollowed out into the holes found in New Orleans sugar barrels and hogsheads, and from the same draw out their pockets hill of sugar. Also how at other times, they used to insert a willow sprig into the vent holes of molasses casks and in that way draw forth the New Orleans syrup. They would then draw the willow covered with molasses through their mouths until they had had a sufficiency, after which they would go home or to school. They also extracted many a dozen fresh oysters from out the kegs in which they were in those days packed.

The same gentleman now relates to the historian how he has seen many times in the water route shipping season, teams loaded with provision and grain, camping on and south of the public square for two and three days at a time, waiting to get a chance to unload. So great was the rush about the mills and wharf of the canal and river front. Some of these teams came from far to the south and east of Indianapolis, for it must be remembered that before the railway period had been ushered in, Lafayette sold many more goods and had a larger market than did Indianapolis.

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