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home : columnists : columnists June 24, 2017


4/7/2017
Choo Choo Choose the Nickel Plate Railroad

By Paula Dunn
From Time to Thyme


Having devoted a column to the history of Seminary Park, it seemed only right to also provide a little historical background on our other endangered historic site, the Nickel Plate Railroad.

What we know as the Nickel Plate began as the Peru & Indianapolis Railroad. It was the first railroad laid in Hamilton County, and one of the first in Indiana.

Those tracks have not only brought countless ordinary folks to Fishers, Noblesville, Cicero, Arcadia and Atlanta, but also several U. S. Presidents, from Ulysses S. Grant to Harry S. Truman.

That particular line was designed to link Indianapolis to the Wabash and Erie Canal in Peru, and provide a faster means of transporting farm produce and other goods through the state than had previously been available.

Construction began at the Indianapolis end in 1849 and the tracks reached here in 1851. The arrival of the first train on March 12, 1851 was a MAJOR event in Noblesville history.

When the train set out from Indianapolis that morning, its open cars were crammed to the gills with Indianapolis citizens. As it chugged along, crowds gathered at every crossing to wave their handkerchiefs and cheer it on.

Hundreds more spectators, eager to see their first "iron horse," met the train when it arrived in Noblesville around 9:30 a.m.

The occasion was marked by an address at the courthouse delivered by former Indiana governor David Wallace, music from a brass band, and a dinner provided by the ladies of the Presbyterian church, which was, according to the March 13 Indiana State Sentinel, "numerously attended" and raised a tidy sum for the church.

Three years later the railroad line was completed to Peru. Eventually it went all the way to Michigan City.

There have been several changes in name and ownership over the years, but rather than take up space here with those details, I'll refer you to a terrific article by Ball State professor Francis H. Parker, which you can find at www.itm.org/history-of-the-railroad/ on the Indiana Transportation Museum website.

The railroad became the Nickel Plate in 1923 when it was sold to the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad Company.

"Nickel Plate" is actually a nickname that was given to the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad by an Ohio newspaper columnist in 1881. The columnist was so impressed by the company's high construction standards, he referred to it as a "double-track nickel-plated railroad."

Although the Nickel Plate stopped carrying passengers in 1932, freight continued to be hauled on those tracks for many years after that --- first by the Nickel Plate, then, after the railroad was sold in 1964, by the Norfolk & Western.

In 1995 the Indianapolis to Tipton portion of the line was sold to the Hamilton County Port Authority, i.e. Noblesville and Fishers. When Hamilton County became a third owner three years later, the name was changed to the Hoosier Heritage Port Authority.

Normally, I'm all for green space, but we already have many nice trails in Hamilton County. This is our sole remaining railroad. It's also the only historic railroad within decent driving distance where people can (or could until recently) still ride a train which actually travels between cities instead of simply going into the countryside and turning around.

Let's get real. Do you honestly believe that once those tracks are torn up, they'd ever be replaced?

Yeah, right.

The Nickel Plate Railroad is a unique, historic and popular (I know --- I've been riding the Fair Train for years) asset to Hamilton County tourism. Losing it would truly be a tragedy.

Paula Dunn's From Time to Thyme column appears each Friday in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com





Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017
Article comment by: June Taverner

History is important. People love trains. You can walk anywhere. Please save the Nickel Plate for future generations.



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