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The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad

By C. G. Sappington

One of the first railroads built west of the Alleghenies was the Madison and Indianapolis railroad, now a part of the Louisville Division of the Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis road. The actual work of building the road was commenced in the year 1836, at which time the Ohio River was one of the great highways of Madison, one of the gateways of commerce. Her citizens had every reason to believe she would become one of the chief cities of the west; great pork houses were built, and other industries established. She then man-aged a trade over hundreds of miles of territory and it was to increase this trade that a railroad was projected and built. The very thing that men sixty years ago expected to advance the interest of Madison only had a tendency to turn the tide backwards.

Mr. Milton Stapp, a lawyer of prominence in those days, argued for the building of the road before several sessions of the legislature, but without success until the Internal Improvement Act was passed, January 27, 1836, and work on the Madison and Indianapolis railroad was commenced by the State soon after. The following composed the engineering corps that surveyed the road from Madison to Indianapolis: Jesse F. Williams, chief engineer; Gen. Thomas R. Morris, resident engineer; John Woodbum, acting State commissioner; Edward W. Beckwith, resident engineer; R. M. Patterson, J. H. Sprague, J. B. Bacon, John Mitchell and William Clyde, assistant engineers. James Tilden, John G. Sering, William V. Utter and W. Hoyt, rodmen; Richard J. Cox, J. T. Burns, William Spann and J. Vanosdol, axmen. William Stough and A. W. Flint were the contractors who built the first section of the Madison hill (or plane), beginning at the foot of the plane, including the Crooked creek culvert and trestle at Third street to the upper end of Big Cut. Joseph Henderson built the second section, commencing at the upper end of first cut to upper end of second (or Big) cut. James Giddings built the third section to the top of the plane, David C. Branham and F. W. Monroe the first section beyond North Madison, Robert Cresswell the next, and Danville Branham the next, which reached Wirt station, six miles from Madison. The contractors who built the remaining portion to Vernon (22 miles from Madison) were David Pallertine, Samuel Lefever, J. D. Fanel, Edward Fanel, John Carnahan, Thomas Hays, Adam Eichelberger, A. Hallom & Co., Rundell Bird & Co., Cochran & Douchett, William McKenzie, Overhaltz & Goodhue, William Griffith and John Carboy. Other contractors completed the road beyond Vernon.

The road was completed to the different points on the line as follows:

Graham, 17 miles from Madison, Nov. 29, 1838.
Vernon, 22 miles from Madison, June 6, 1839.
Queensville, 27.8 miles from Madison, June 1, 1841.
Scipio, 30.3 miles from Madison, June 1, 1843.
Elizabethtown, 37.3 miles from Madison, September, 1843.
Columbus, 44.9 miles from Madison, July, 1844.
Edinburg, 55.4 miles from Madison, Sept. 8, 1845.
Franklin, 65.5 miles from Madison, Sept. 1, 1846.
Indianapolis, 86 miles from Madison, Oct. 1, 1847.

When it was opened for business as far as Graham, the State leased it on the last of April, 1839, to Robert Branham, Elias Stapp, D. C. Branham and W. H. Branham, who continued in charge until June, 1840. Under the terms of the lease the State was to receive 40% of the gross receipts, the lessees to bear all the expenses of operating. The expense was not very great as Mr. R. J. Elvin, who was connected with the road for over fifty years but is now dead, did all the clerical work for the road and Mr. Bartholomew Tierney all the blacksmithing and repair work necessary in those days. Mr. John G. Sering, State agent, was on all trains to look after the interests of the State. The trains would leave North Madison in the morning and run to Graham, returning in the evening. The gross receipts the first month were $849.38, and for the first fifteen months were $15,702.00, which was a good showing in that period. The next lessees were John G. Sering and William Bust, from June, 1840, to June, 1841, when the State again took charge.

The road was completed to Queensville at this time and the State was out of money, so the work was delayed for some months. John Woodburn, Victor King and George W. Leonard, of Madison, started a bank in 1841, issued bills (called Woodburn's bank bills) and assisted the State in building the road to Scipio, three miles farther north. On February 21, 1843, the State sold the road to the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad Co., N. B. Barber, president, for $600,000.00, who gave mortgage to the State for the full amount, but by manipulation the company got it from the legislature for $75,000.00 in 5% State bonds worth on the market about fifty cents on the dollar, making the net cost $37,500.00. It was considered a clear case of thieving from start to finish. The State paid out for the building and equipment of the line to Queensville $1,624,291.93, of which $62,493.21 was from tolls. The owners of the road then completed it to Indianapolis.

The inclined plane between Madison and North Madison was commenced in 1836 and completed in 1841. It is 7,012 feet long, with a total elevation of 413 feet or 311 feet to the mile. There are two cuts on the plane, one 65 feet and the other 100 feet deep, cut through the solid rock. Previous to the completion of the plane, passengers were transferred between Madison and North Madison by omnibus. An old resident of Madison, Mr. William Stapp, brother of one of the first lessees of the road, says: "The omnibus did not always leave on time. When the driver would hear that the mayor or some other dignitary was to leave on that train, he would wait an hour for the great man's arrival." When the plane was completed, the cars were let down the incline by gravity and hauled back with eight horses driven tandem to each car. The stables were located at the foot of the plane and Joshua McCauley and Robert Hackney were the drivers. Horses were used from 1841 to November 1848, when Andrew Cathcart's improved engine with two sets of cylinders and a pinion working in a rack in the center of the track was put in use and gave good satisfaction until Reuben Wells built the engine "Reuben Wells" (634) in July, 1868. Andrew Cathcart was master mechanic of the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad Company, and drew plans for the improved (or cog) engine as it was called, went to Baldwin's works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and superintended the building of it.

The following are the wrecks occurring on the plane: Nov. 4, 1845, a passenger car was being let down the hill, when a wood car following became unmanageable and crashed into the coach, killing John Lodge, the first railroad conductor in the State, and several others. Engine "M. G. BRIGHT" (635) blew up at the foot of the plane in 1877, killing engineer Lindley and a citizen of North Madison named Hassfurder. The above are the only fatalities occurring on the plane.

The practice of letting all freight and passenger cars down the incline by gravity was continued until 1880, at which time. Col. J. R. Shaler, superintendent of the Jeffersonville, Madison and Indianapolis railroad issued orders requiring the hill engine to be attached in the rear of all cars coming down and going up the incline. This order is still effective.

That portion of the road built by the State was laid with English iron rails rolled at Wales, England, weighing 45 pounds to the yard and in three different lengths, 15 feet, 18 feet and 15 feet 9 inches. They were shipped by vessel to New Orleans and by boat up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Madison and cost $75.00 per ton delivered. They were laid on cedar ties which were fastened to a sill by a locust pin twelve inches in length. The sills were 10x10 and cost eight cents per lineal foot. Cedar ties cost twenty-five cents each, but proved too soft to hold spikes and were taken up within five years and sold for fence posts at 12½ cents. Locust ties proved too hard, so oak was substituted which cost the same as cedar.

The first iron was laid, August, 1838. Some of the old rails were taken up in 1893 and sent to the Chicago exposition. When the rails were received, they were marked by cutting a square hole half an inch in diameter in each end. Two of them are now in service at North Madison just opposite the door of the old blacksmith shop. Many of them were taken up and mixed with other iron for the building of the Louisville Bridge.

In an interview with Mr. Elvin recently, he said John Lodge was the first conductor on the Madison & Indianapolis railroad. He also had the title of superintendent from June 1, 1841, to March, 1842. W. J. McClure was the first agent, appointed March 1, 1842, and served until February 18, 1843. Samuel Thomas was the first master mechanic and general manager, Henry Jackson the first engineer, F. Fleming the second and F. Lunger the third. The first three firemen were Jacob Bitterman, William Copeland, and William Baugh. They ran the three locomotives owned by the company. The first passenger coach was built by Thomas L. Paine and Son, of Madison, in the fall of 1838, but not used until March, 1839. It was very plain with small windows near the top of the car, lever brakes, and was about thirty feet long. The freight cars came from the east, via New Orleans, had four wheels and a capacity of twenty-five or thirty hogs, or 10,000 pounds. When the first seventeen miles of road were completed from North Madison to Graham (17 miles) an arrangement for a grand excursion was made as the first locomotive was expected to arrive from Baldwin & Co.'s works at Philadelphia. It had been shipped on a vessel around by New Orleans. During the passage, the ship was caught in a storm and the loco-motive was thrown overboard along with other freight in order to save the ship. The governor, State officials, members of the legislature, and a number of other prominent men from various places having been invited to participate in the festivities of the occasion, the management determined not to disappoint them. As it had been given out that on Tuesday, November 29, 1838, they would be treated to a real "steam car" ride, arrangements were made to borrow the locomotive "Elkhorn" from the Louisville & Portland Railroad Company, at Louisville, Kentucky, for the occasion, on account of the loss of the new one expected from Philadelphia. The locomotive was hauled from the east end of the track at Louisville and placed on a boat which was used in transporting stone from the quarries east of Madison to be used in the construction of the courthouse at Louisville and the boat was then towed to Madison where the locomotive was unloaded and then taken up the hill to North Madison by a man named Martin. It required five yoke of oxen to haul it up the dirt road and it was done amid great excitement. On Sunday afternoon following the arrival of the first "steam car" that ever turned a wheel in Indiana, it was understood that the engineer would raise steam and see that it was in good order for the grand excursion, and nearly everybody in Madison and vicinity tramped to North Madison to see the wonderful machine work. It proved to be in good order but to the disappointment of the people there assembled; an exhibition of its locomotive power was reserved for the grand blow-out in presence of the governor on Tuesday, November 29. Great preparations were made for the reception of the distinguished guests. A banquet was spread in an old frame building on the river front in Madison and the Hon. Jesse D. Bright was master of ceremonies on this auspicious occasion, and as he never did anything by halves, you can judge of the magnitude of the demonstration.

The day for the grand "steam car ride" arrived and all the people of the surrounding country turned out to see the sight. The governor and distinguished guests were on hand and after the cars were filled with passengers, the "Elkhorn" with a full head of steam moved off like a thing of life to the astonish-ment of the assembled multitude. After running to Graham and back, the governor and party took carriages for the city, where they partook of the banquet awaiting them. There was more noise and excitement made over the seventeen mile ride than there would be now over a trip to California in a balloon. During the trip one of the guests remarked that they had actually attained a speed of eight miles per hour and he really believed that some day they would be able to make fifteen miles per hour.

The borrowed locomotive was returned to Louisville and safely delivered to the Louisville & Portland Railroad Company. The expense of bringing it to Madison and returning it again amounted to $1,052. This stroke of enterprise was commended by the entire State and was heralded abroad, but not by telegraph as such a thing was unknown in those days.

After the loss of the first locomotive, a duplicate order was sent to Baldwin & Company and the first locomotive owned by the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad Company arrived safely in Madison the first week in March, 1839, and on the sixteenth of that month, a trial trip was made over the finished portion of the road. From November 29, 1838, until the arrival of the first locomotive in March, 1839, the construction train was operated by horses, one passenger car passing over the road daily. The road was formally opened for public traffic, April 1, 1839, as far as Graham. While John Brough was president of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad Company, he spent over $100,000.00 of the company's money trying to get a charter from the State of Illinois for a road to St. Louis, Missouri, but failed. He also attempted to build a road between Madison and North Madison to avoid the steep incline plane and after spending $309,000, the work was abandoned on account of the company being out of funds. The old road bed, tunnels and abutments for bridges can be plainly seen to this day. Brough was a smart man but a poor manager. He induced the directors to purchase two steamboats, the "Alvin Adams" and the "David White," at a cost of $70,000. They proved a bad investment and almost a total loss.

The first freight depot owned by the company was an old pork house at Madison, purchased in 1849 from a man named Flint, and cost, including repairs, $8,416.09. The passenger station was built in 1850 at a cost of $4,094.32. It had a cupola and bell which was rung for five minutes one-half hour before the departure of each train. The ringing of this bell was continued until 1888, when it was cracked. The company tried to discontinue the old-time practice of ringing the half-hour bell several times, but the old residents protested to such an extent that it was continued as long as the bell lasted.

Things were run pretty loose on the road in those early days, and no check was kept on any of the employees handling the company's funds. The favored ones remitted what and when they pleased. Previous to the use of tickets on trains, the conductor would fill out a blank with name of passenger, starting and stopping point and amount of fare collected. This was sent to the president, who kept the record in his office. Madison was the second pork-packing city in the west and the road did a big business hauling hogs during the winter months. In the year 1852 they handled 124,000 hogs.


Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. XII March, 1916

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