The Depots in my Life
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Wabash Depots and Bolivar Tower
The Wabash Big Four Depot was a huge three story Victorian style depot of brick and stone built in 1899 An addition was added later to the back to house freight. This depot had running water inside and central heat and rest rooms and it didn't look anything like a typical small town depot. It was grander and more unique than the Anderson depot with a light marble floor and two story ceiling and two sets of double doors. One was for entering the depot from a parking area and another for departing to the tracks to catch your train and it had a huge waiting area three times the size of Andersons and a huge office area. Part of the reason it was so grand is the Big Four repair yards were in Wabash and it was the headquarters for the division until the 1920's. The building had great sentimental value in Wabash and to this day people mourn the tearing down of this historic depot.
The Big Four came to Wabash originally in 1872 as the Cincinnati, Wabash, and Michigan Railroad. It was simply a fluke that the railroad came at all as the White Pigeon, Goshen and Warsaw Railroad was originally set to extend from Warsaw to Peru. After preliminary grading was done west of Warsaw, Miami County refused to raise the bonus needed. A man from Wabash got wind of what was going on and got Wabash County to agree to raise the bonus since they needed a railroad running north and south and so the railroad came down through Wabash Country instead and shops were built in Wabash in 1872. It then was extended on to Marion and points south. The shops burned in 1894 after it became part of the Big Four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad) in 1890 but were rebuilt in 1895. Eventually the Big Four became a division of the New York Central system. The Big Four went through Wabash on the far eastern part of the city that is mostly industrial so the average person seldom saw the trains unless they were driving on the highway headed to Urbana or Marion.
One rarely sees a picture of the old Big Four Depot without seeing the Cut. In 1896 a large cut was made through the middle of a large limestone dome beside where the depot was eventually built so trains could go straight up or come straight down a steep grade north of the depot. It was all done by hand with picks and wheelbarrows. It was particularly significant to the scientific world as many rare specimens of fossils were found in the various layers of limestone giving scientists clues as to how long that area was under water millions of years ago.
The Wabash River lies a few hundred feet to the south of the old depot site so trains from the north had to cross a curving bridge immediately after stopping in Wabash.
The river was called Ouaboukigou by the Indians which means pure or shining white referring to the white limestone in the river.
Though the Wabash depot is gone and a small prefab building is in its place a beautiful park has been built just to the south of the old depot to commemorate the site of where a major Indian treaty was signed in 1826 allowing a canal to go through and opening lands north of the Wabash River to settlers so the area still has significance. As a child I spent lots of time at the Wabash Depot waiting to board trains or waiting for people who were arriving. When my brother who had polio had surgery to straighten his leg my mother left me in the care of my three older sisters. I had very beautiful long blonde pigtails and my sisters didn't want to have to braid my hair so they took me to a beauty shop and had the braids cut off just below my ears. When mom stepped off the train at the Wabash Big Four Depot she looked at me in shock. She asked my sisters what they had done with my beautiful hair and they handed her a paper sack with the braids in it saying they had saved them for her. I thought she was going to pass out on the spot. She must have really loved those braids as she kept them for years and then gave them to me for safe keeping a few years before she died.
The first railroad to run through Wabash, Indiana arrived before the Civil War in 1856 and it ran from St. Louis to Toledo. It was known as the Lake Erie, Wabash, and St. Louis Railroad and later the Wabash Railroad for many years. It was very visible to all who lived in Wabash as it ran east and west right through the heart of the residential area and it was a big part of my life. I couldn't walk to the library, junior high, or downtown without crossing the Wabash Railroad tracks. There was a train that usually came through heading east around four o'clock and we tried to get our library books and get across the tracks that ran behind the library before it came through. When I walked downtown to work in high school I tried to make it across the tracks before that train came. If we didn't make it we could be sure to see lots of cars being transported out of Detroit and we would point to the one we would love to have. As a child we often walked along the tracks to city park and one time on west of the park along the tracks to almost Rich Valley. That was a beautiful walk with many limestone outcrops along the way. When there were fireworks at the park on the 4th of July people often sat or stood up on the edge of the tracks to view them as the railroad was elevated through the park and when you entered the park from the north you drove through a large railroad underpass. At night there was a Wabash passenger train that came through about one in the morning and during the summers when the windows were open one couldn't miss hearing it go through. There was a feeling that all was well with the world after hearing the court house clock strike the hour and that train went through. The Wabash Cannon Ball was one of the most famous trains to come through Wabash, It didn't have the glitz and glamour of most of the NYC RR trains but it was reliable and usually on time. It made its last run through Wabash in April 1971. I was happy it was saved and saw it at a railroad museum in Chattanooga in 1981.
One summer when I was about six a neighbor told us there had been a wreck on the Wabash Railroad in the heart of Wabash so my sister and I walked down Miami Street to see it. When we approached the tracks there were two steam engines lying on their sides The one on the north side of the tracks close to someone's back yard was completely quiet but the one on the south side and closest to Miami Street was still spurting out bits of steam like it was suffering as it lay on the grass. They had hit head on and the engineers had been killed. It was a frightening sight and probably why I was so sure the trains would jump off the tracks in the heart of Urbana. I often thought about wrecks when we went over large rivers or were winding around mountains and when we were riding at night as I was afraid the engineer couldn't see well in the dark but fortunately we never were involved in one or never witnessed one in all our travels so dad's guardian angel must have always been riding with us.
I spent considerable time at the Wabash RR Depot as Wabash RR passenger trains ran for many years after the Big Four Michigan Division ones were taken off and not only did we take the Wabash to St. Louis or Detroit including the Cannon Ball but we often picked up my uncle from Detroit there and waited with him before he departed back to Detroit. The depot was originally a rather small nondescript frame building with a bay next to a lumber yard and then a new depot was built in 1954 which is now gone. Neither could compare to the grandeur of Big Four depot. Though all the depots in Wabash are gone, it is so comforting that the Wabash and Big Four tracks are still there. The Wabash became Norfolk and Western and The Big Four became part of Penn Central and then Conrail but to everyone in Wabash they will always be the Big Four and the Wabash. Now they are no longer part of competing railroads as they were when I was growing up as both are part of the Norfolk Southern system and it seems strange to see trains come from the west and swing north on the old Big Four tracks.
Bolivar Tower was about five miles north of Urbana overlooking the Big Four and Erie interlocking. The tower was located east of the Hwy 13 Erie RR overpass. As a child going to Bolivar was a great experience as one had to climb about fifty steps up to the tower. One day around lunch time dad and I headed to Bolivar with a cold watermelon as it was the Bolivar's agent's birthday. We sat and ate watermelon from a marvelous vantage point overlooking miles of Big Four and Erie tracks and acres of rich farmland as Bolivar was out in the country.
Around 1872 North Manchester helped raise a bonus of $30,000 to get the Detroit, Eel River and Illinois railroad to come through to connect them with Logansport and Columbia City. It later was known as the Vandalia. Immediately following the Cincinnati, Wabash, and Michigan (later Big Four) came through from Warsaw. When the Erie Railroad asked North Manchester for a bonus to bring their line through a certain businessman opposed raising the bonus because he figured the railroad wouldn't dare by-pass North Manchester with opportunities to connect with two other railroads. He figured wrong. The Erie ran its line through a mostly rural area from Huntington bypassing North Manchester three miles to the south and at the point where it crossed the Big Four tracks was called Bolivar. I read that in 1895 Bolivar had a post office and 21 people. Maybe in the surrounding area as all I remember was the Big Four tower there when I was growing up and there was an Erie station nearby too for awhile.
It was once double tracked from the Big Four to Laketon and then all the tracks were eventually taken up. Tracks were laid back down from Laketon so a refinery could ship their product but for the most part there is little evidence that the Erie went through northern Indiana. The Erie had been important to my family as my oldest sister always rode the Erie from Huntington to Tiffin, Ohio where she attended Heidelberg College. In the early 60's my firstborn and I often took the Erie from Kent, Ohio to Huntington and my father would meet the train. I rode it from Kent to Erie, Pennsylvania and a couple times west to connect with a train to St. Louis. The equipment on the Erie passenger trains was plainer than the NYC RR and reminded me of the cars of the Michigan Division before passenger service ceased.
Big Four Depot at Wabash Indiana, Postcard photo - Maurice Lewman Collection
Wabash Cut under construction opened in 1896 - Karen Dinsmore Collection.
Wabash River Bridge photos from the station and looking back. Maurice Lewman Collection