Track Gang

Railroads of Madison County

The following is taken directly from materials supplied by the

Anderson Young Ballet Theatre
(Corrected and updated 2/17/2006 - rph)

Big Four Depot

"Big Four" Depot - Anderson, Indiana

It's finished!! October 2003

Historical Significance to the Community

The "Big Four" Depot is eligible for the National Register because of its association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Under the U.S. Department of the Interior criterion category of Transportation, the building served Anderson as a passenger Depot between 1887 and 1971. It was later renovated as a facility for study and appreciation of the performing arts and has been a home to the Anderson Young Ballet Theatre since 1985.

The influx of the railroads into Anderson in 1931 brought commerce and substantial growth to the community. Because of the Depot's unique features, historic and cultural contributions, the building was given an "outstanding" rating by the Department of Natural Resources Survey of Historic Places. The Depot was once the "hub" of the community, and in 1932, it was reported that the "Big Four" had sent 8,760 passenger trains to the Depot in that year alone. in 1932, the "Big Four" employed 1,500 persons in Madison County and was the county's largest taxpayer at $133,000 per year..

The "Big Four" Depot has held significance in the community from its date of construction in 1887, through the present century, and in its present use as a ballet studio.

Birth of the "Big Four"

The stretch of railroad between Indianapolis and Union City, Indiana (now part of the CSX System) is the oldest part of what was once the "Big Four" railroad system. it was originally built under the name of the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad because it connected at Union City, Indiana with a line to Bellefontaine. Initially chartered in 1848, the Bellefontaine consolidated with the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway, better known as the "Bee Line". The "Bee Line" consolidated with two other railroad systems (the Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad) and the (Chicago, indianapolis and St. Louis) in 1889 forming the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, popularly known as the "Big Four". As envisioned by the early builders of the Bellefontaine, this railroad was to become a link in the chain of roads that would connect St. Louis, Indianapolis, Sandusky and Cleveland, Ohio with the east.

The Bellefontaine laid the first railroad tracks in Madison County in 1850. The next year, the line was extended through Pendleton to Anderson and Chesterfield, linking these towns with Indianapolis. By January of 1853, the company celebrated the opening of the line all the way to Union City, where it joined with a finished road in Ohio at the state line, giving indiana its first link to the eastern seaboard.

The first Depot that served the "Bee Line" was built at the intersection of John Street and Madison Avenue. The building burned to the ground and was replaced by a new Depot on Jackson Street around 1870. When natural gas was discovered in 1887 in Madison County, a population increase occurred which brought more commerce to the area. It was at this time that a passenger Depot was built between Meridian and Main Streets. According to a 1919 Interstate Commerce Commission Valuation Report, the Type VII pressed brick and stone foundation passenger station was built on Meridian Street in 1887 by the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad, predecessor of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad (Big Four). It was constructed with rough-faced stone and brick walls covered by a hipped roof with flared eaves. Its Richardsonian Romanesque arched entrance was one of its salient features.

Railroads and the "Gas Boom"

The first five years of the "gas boom" brought tremendous economic growth to Anderson. In an effort to advertise the area's abundance of natural gas, incredible waste ensued. Flambeaux were erected in yards, on street corners and other conspicuous points and left burning night and day. Two large arches were erected, one at the "Big Four" Depot on Meridian Street and one at the "Pan Handle" Depot three blocks away. The arches were constructed of perforated pipe and spanned the street. The gas was turned on at night and ignited for the benefit of persons who were riding on the trains. This form of advertisement continued until the gas boom began to wane. Around 1920, the arches were torn down.

Beginning of the Interurban

The "Big Four" Depot became a busy center of community activity and earned a place in history through another mode of transportation, the "Interurban". In 1891, Charles L. Henry, an attorney and former Republican Congressman, bought the Anderson Street Railway. In 1891, he electrified the Mule Lines running from the "Big Four" to the "Pan Handle" Depot, then at 5th and Main Street. While visiting the Worlds Fair in Chicago in 1893, Henry noticed that the small electric line running through the fair grounds was referred to as the "Intramural". From exposure to this Latin word meaning "within these walls", Henry established a word "Interurban" which meant "between two cities" and, thus, the term "Interurban" was born. The name caught on across the nation until it became the standard term of reference used for this mode of transportation. In 1898, Henry bought the Alexandria Mule Lines and with Marion, Indiana banker, Phillip Matter, formed the Union Traction Company. On January 1, 1898, the company ran its first car over the twelve mile stretch between Anderson and Alexandria, creating one of the first successful interurban systems in the state. By June 1899, Henry had gained control of the entire system of electric railways in the gas belt.

The "Big Four" Depot

Eventually, the "Big Four" Railroad, which consolidated with the "Bee Line" in 1889, took over the operation of the Depot between Meridian and Main Streets. The line continued as one of the busiest tracks in the state. In 1930, over 350,000 railroad cars had stopped in Anderson on the "Big Four" Lines. The company had paid $800,000 that year in taxes. However, the advent of the automobile caused a subsequent decline of rail travel and shipping. In 1940, the interurban made its last run through the streets of Anderson. The "Big Four" lines were absorbed first by the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail and finally CSX Systems. In 1971, the last passenger train left the former "Big Four" Depot. The building was boarded up and left to decay for ten years. In the early 1970's the 'new' "Panhandle" station at 9th and Fletcher burned to the ground and the "Big Four" became the only surviving Depot in Anderson.

In 1980, Anderson attorney, John Eisele rescued the dilapidated building and with extensive remodeling, it became the "Park Tudor" gift shop. The gift shop sold fine gifts, china and housewares. A new roof was added to the building the inside was painted and the floor was repaired. None of the interior walls were disturbed, but a display platform was added to the interior on the east end of the building. The elegant shop was closed for unknown reasons in 1982.

In 1983, Ms. Elsie Perdue purchased the building from Mr. Eisele on contract. It was Elsie's dream to open a center for the performing arts. For two years, the "Performing Arts Station" hosted competitions for artists and poets, a street fair, poetry readings and afternoon musicals. The center also offered music lessons and held art shows. The west end of the building housed a railroad museum which displayed model trains and early railroad trivia. Unfortunately, patronage alone could not sustain the costs of operating the center and it reverted back to its former owner, Mr. Eisele, in 1993.

Permanent Residence of the Anderson Young Ballet Theatre

In 1985, the Anderson Young Ballet Academy signed a lease agreement with the owner and the Depot became an academy for the study of the dance arts. A performing company, Anderson Young Ballet Theatre, had been formed from advanced students of the academy under the direction of Lou Ann Young. The Company won acclaim as a regional ballet and brought the Mid-States Regional Dance Festival to Anderson in 1990. In September, 1994, the Anderson Young Ballet Theatre's Board of Directors purchased the Depot as a permanent facility for the performing arts. The Anderson Young Ballet Theatre maintains an office in the west end of the Depot and the remainder of the building is leased to the Young Ballet Academy. A former ticket booth has been removed from the south interior wall of the building, along with the display platform built for use by the Park Tudor gift shop. No other renovations have been made to the building to date. The structure remains in excellent condition and is well maintained by the current occupants. This unique building continues to play an important role in the history of Anderson through its contributions to the cultural development of the city.


  1. Bowman, Elder, Public Service Commission of Indiana Report, June 21, 1940, Indianapolis, IN

  2. Caldemeyer, Steven, Brother Charles Lewis Henry, Senior Research Project, Wabash College, Wabash, IN, Dec. 16, 1992

  3. Fish, Henry, Illustrated Anderson Indiana USA, 1915 Anderson, Reprinted Hudson Printing, Anderson, IN, 1966

  4. Forkner, John L., History of Madison County Indiana Vol. I, Lewis Pub. Co., New York, 1914

  5. Forkner, John and Dyson, Byron, Historical Sketches of Madison County Indiana, Published 1897 Anderson, Reprinted by Unigraphic, Inc., Evansville, IN, 1973

  6. Interstate Commerce Commission Valuation Report, March 6, 1919, Revised Feb. 28, 1922

  7. McDonald, William S., The Union Traction Company of Indiana, a dissertation submitted to the Graduate Studies Committee in partial fulfillment for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Ball State University, Muncie, In, Feb., 1969

  8. Murphy, Maurice, Ared, The Big Four Railroad in Indiana, Indiana Magazine of History Vol. XXI, 1925 No. II and III, June and September 1925

  9. Netterville, J.J., Centennial History of Madison County Indiana Vol. I, Historians Association Publishers, Anderson, IN 1925

Newspaper Articles

Anderson Daily Bulletin, Anderson, IN
March 29, 1948, April 19, 1948, May 2, 1966, November 20, 1969, March 28, 1985

Anderson Sunday Herald, Anderson, IN
July 2, 1978

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Last updated February 17, 2006.
This "Railroads of Madision County" page is written, maintained and hosted by: Roger P. Hensley
Copyright 1998-2006 by Roger P. Hensley.