This old photo of the Arcadia Depot is displayed on the wall at the Arcadia Depot museum.
This old photo of the Arcadia Depot is displayed on the wall at the Arcadia Depot museum.

The Arcadia Train Depot, constructed in 1869, will celebrate its sesquicentennial on Saturday with an open house at 2 p.m. at the depot, 107 W. South St., Arcadia.

The Peru and Indianapolis Railroad created a rail line between Peru and Indianapolis beginning in 1854.  The track was completed through Arcadia in 1851-1852. Initially a small building was utilized as a train booth.  

In 1864, the line was reorganized as the Indianapolis, Peru and Chicago Railway, with the goal of reaching further north, and in 1869 the Depot was constructed in Arcadia.

The Arcadia Depot was built with three rooms. The front room was the Waiting Room where passengers purchased their tickets, and waited for the train. The middle room was the Station Agent’s Office and contained the Western Union Office. It was from this room that you could send and receive messages (today it would be likened to sending and receiving a text – but the process took a little longer!). The back room was the Freight Room, where freight being shipped out by local merchants, manufacturers or individuals, was kept until the train arrived in town.  This area was also used for items being shipped in, by train, for local use.

In 1887, the Indianapolis, Peru and Chicago Railway became Lake Erie and Western (L.E. & W.).  L.E. & W. was consolidated with other lines to create the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad – referred to as “Nickel Plate Road”.  

Wikipedia explains where the nickname “Nickel Plate Road” originated:  “During a newspaper war to attract the New York, Chicago and St Louis to the area, the Norwalk, Ohio Chronicle Newspaper referred to the line as a “…double-track nickel-plated railroad” and the nickname was adopted and their tracks became known as the “Nickel Plate Road.”

Trains handled virtually all interstate and intrastate transportation and a depot served the purpose of facilitating growth in the small towns the tracks traversed.  This was before the days of UPS and FedEx, when the best way to ship parcels was through the Railway Express Agency, which provided door-to-door service throughout the continental U.S.

Once packages arrived at the depot, items were delivered by the on-duty agent or were picked up by the recipient. 

The train that passed through Arcadia, enabled the growth of business and manufacturing and the population flourished.

From 1908 to 1940, Sears Catalog Homes were sold to the public. Housing kits were delivered by railroad boxcars to depots throughout North America. These kit homes included most of the materials needed to build a house. Once delivered, many of these homes were assembled by the new homeowner, relatives, friends and neighbors, in a fashion similar to the traditional barn-raisings of farming families. You can find a few Sears homes throughout Arcadia.

The trains were used to deliver materials to businesses and manufacturing companies in the area and to ship finished products out to connecting rail lines. 

Passengers rode the train until 1932, but freight service continued into the 1970s between Indianapolis and Michigan City.

The Arcadia Depot was slated for demolition by the railroad in the early 1970s. Several citizens of Arcadia, including civic, government and local residents felt it would be an injustice to tear the building down and a citizen group was established, and named The Heritage Center.  

This group borrowed $1,500 in a bank loan to purchase a lot at 107 W. South Street, one-half block of the depot’s location and moved the building. 

The Hamilton Heights Student Government Class, under the leadership of history teacher, Stanton Renner, went door to door collecting money to assist in the moving of the depot.  Through their efforts they collected more than $200 to apply to the depot moving expenses. Some gave as little as $1, and some gave much more, but all town folks were enthusiastic about the project, hoping to see the dilapidated old building given a new life.

The depot was restored and updated to house a local history museum and the Arcadia Library.  

Today, the Arcadia Depot is managed by a not-for-profit (Nickel Plate Heritage Railroad),  and houses a museum of locally manufactured products and museum-quality storyboards explaining the history of Arcadia and Jackson Township.

-Hamilton County historian David Heighway contributed to this article.