"The Railroads of Lake County, Our Pride and Our Wealth" was the title of a story written in 1884 by early settler Rev. Hiram Wason of West Creek Township. He wrote: "Our local situation gives us a pre-eminence. We stand at the door to Chicago for access to all the Atlantic cities. This places us, for railroad facilities, at the head of all the counties in our state, also of most counties in our land." (This area was the last in Indiana to become a county.)
At that time, only four counties of Indiana were near Lake County in miles of railroads -- Allen, Marion, LaPorte and Porter. In 1884 Lake County had 212 miles of railroad in daily use, while there were four counties in the state not yet touched by the rails -- Brown, Ohio, Perry, and Switzerland. Eleven other counties had but one line.
Rev. Wason continued: "The three best roads in our state, and great thoroughfares in the nation, pass through Lake County, and are assessed for taxation at $20,000 for each mile of road-bed, viz.: Michigan Central, Michigan Southern, and the Pittsburgh and Ft. Wayne. The Joliet Cutoff, Grand Trunk and Baltimore and Ohio are assessed at $10,000 per mile, only a little below the three second best roads in the state."
In 1884 the railroad property in Lake County was assessed at nearly three million dollars and paid thirty-four-and-one-half percent of the money that went into the county treasury.
More from Rev. Wason: "We are a little above average of the 92 counties in territory, but we have one twenty-fifth of the railroad miles imbedded on our soil, and more than one eighteenth part of all the railroad property in our state is tributary to our county treasury. Another peculiarity is, that one or more of our eleven railroads intersects each township in our county, so that few families are more than five miles from some railroad station."
In 1884 the City of Hammond was beginning to look like a railroad center, with four lines coming through, and Lake Station, founded in 1852, by the 1870's had a railroad blacksmith's shop, an engine house, and the depot grounds were the largest and most tastefully laid out of any in the county. Most of the inhabitants were connected with the railroad. Many of the present villages and towns began their beginnings as a stop along a railroad.
Some of the railroads in the county were among the oldest in the state of Indiana, including the Michigan Central, which made its way through Lake County to Chicago in 1850. In 1884 Rev. Wason wrote: "The last road to make a home with us [the I.I.I.] came quietly creeping up the Kankakee Marsh in 1883. Companies build railroads for profit, but many fortunes are sunk in their construction, and very many roads go into the hands of the receivers."
From an old report of the Indiana State Board of Equalization of Railroads for 1884 come some of the early railroads and the time their trains began to run: Baltimore, Ohio and Chicago, 1874; Chicago and Atlantic, 1882; Chicago and Grand Trunk, 1880; Chicago, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, 1865; Joliet and Northern Indiana, 1856; Lake Shore and Michigan Southern, 1851; Louisville, New Albany and Chicago, C. and I Division, 1882 (Monon); Michigan Central, 1850; New York, Chicago and St. Louis, 1882; Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne and Chicago, 1854; Indiana, Illinois and Iowa ("Three I"), 1883.
In the 1870's Melvin Halsted, the founder of the Town of Lowell, became interested in railroad building and entered into a contract to construct a section of the railroad grading in the Lowell and Cedar Lake Area. He invested thousands of his own money, encouraged other investors, and after stiff opposition, obtained the right of way for what would later become the Monon Railroad.
Halsted used his wealth and his salesmanship to persuade the company to curve the line from Shelby instead of going almost straight to Crown Point, with the rails only a block from his home on Halsted and Main. The name of the line was changed many times, including "The Indianapolis, Delphi, and Chicago Air Line."
The first mail train appeared at the Lowell depot in the spring of 1881, at the time when Halsted was suing the railroad company for $85,000, the price of his grading. He was offered $65,000, refused the offer, and all was lost after many suits, including the money of his investor friends.
But Halsted had this to say in 1904: "When you stop to think of the vast benefit the Monon Railway is to the people of our community today, it seems strange that there should have been anyone who would have opposed the enterprise. I realize what it meant for our community, and I am glad it is here."
For many years, under the name of the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Railway, the Monon operated through the American heartland of the Middle West, and ran three passenger trains a day between Indianapolis and Chicago. No. 31 was called the "Hoosier," No. 33, the "Tippecanoe," and No. 35, the "Midnight Special."
The two daylight runs carried Pullman diners, lounge cars and observation lounges, while the Midnight Special, in addition to the cafe-lounge and conventional sleepers, carried a rare and exotic Pullman observation-sleeping car, an impressive assortment of luxury equipment for a 183-mile trip.
Old No. 33 has a continuation, numbered 330, which spotted Pullmans on the private car siding at the French Lick Springs Hotel. Often, the private luxury car occupied by Company President John Barriger was spotted there. Two of the trains picked up milk daily at the Lowell station, as well as crossings at DeWitts (south of Lowell), Grassmere (north of Shelby), at the Creston station, coming from the nearby Cedar Valley Creamery, now a part of the American Legion Post 101 Hall.
The old depot at Lowell, demolished by the terrible train wreck of 1952, was an interesting place for the Old Timer, who lived a few doors away in the 1920's. Of interest was the friendly station agent, who showed off his mysterious telegraph; the amazing feat of mail being picked up by a speeding train as it went through town nonstop; the horsedrawn dray wagons lined up to pick up the express for delivery; the friendly one- armed crossing guard who watched carefully for the signals to change from his little shack; the big stone fountain in the triangle park, and the drinking fountain at the point, where small boys laughed when thirsty travelers rushed from their hot cars to partake of Lowell's sulphur waster, departing suddenly with strange expressions on their faces!
Passengers often stood on the platform, amid the steam and smoke from the giant steam engines, as the engineer checked his machinery with a huge brass oil can.
The Monon was a very progressive line for many years, but with the decline of passengers, the loss of the U.S. mail contract, and the increase of trucking, the line was finally sent into bankruptcy. But the company fought back, added piggy-back flat cars in January 1955, and was slowly emerging from bankruptcy.
But service for passengers from Chicago to Indianapolis was halted in 1959, and the old depot at the Capitol became a cheese and sausage store.
Service kept on for other cities, but on Sept. 30, 1967, a crowd of over 300 persons were present to bid farewell to the Monon's last passenger train. The Lowell High School Band played and sirens wailed as the one o'clock train pulled into the Lowell depot for the last time. Lowell businessman Donald Cripe served as station agent from 1954 to 1971 and saw many changes in the railroads.
Today, between the freight trains still speeding through town, the Amtrak passenger trains rush through non-stop.
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