- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - The sound of an oncoming train may irritate the average motorist today, but the railroad industry played an integral part in Terre Haute’s growth.

“The railroad was a huge part of our transportation history,” said Marylee Hagan, executive director of the Vigo County Historical Society Museum. In addition to the Wabash River and the National Road (U.S. 40), the rail system was key in moving goods in and out of the area, she told the Tribune-Star (http://bit.ly/1pLCXm6 ).

The railroad history goes back 167 years ago - to 1847 - when the Indiana Legislature chartered the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad.

As approved, it “was to extend from the Ohio state line, a few miles east of Richmond, through Indianapolis to the Illinois state line, and a few miles west of Terre Haute,” according to a July 1951 newspaper article kept at the Historical Museum.

The pioneers of this project were Samuel Crawford, James Farrington, Elisha M. Huntington, Richard W. Thompson, James H. Turner and Chauncey Rose. Later known as the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad, it “provided the primary western terminal for eastbound rail traffic until late 1857,” according to a 2002 Tribune-Star story by Vigo County historian Mike McCormick.

At least eight other depots followed this first Terre Haute depot - on the north side of Wabash Avenue at 10th Street. They include Evansville & Crawfordsville Railroad; St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute Railroad; Terre Haute, Alton & St. Louis Railroad, among others. They were built by rail barons such as William D. Griswold, Josephus Collett and William B. Tuell.

Over the years, the Terre Haute rail industry grew. A couple of companies were headquartered in the city, and thousands of people were employed as train operators, conductors, shop workers, engineers and others.

These trains transported not only goods but also people.

“By 1904, trains made 104 daily passenger stops in Terre Haute and nearly as many freight pickups,” McCormick wrote in another Tribune-Star article.

Bill Foster, president of the Haley Tower Historical and Technical Society, which is linked to the Wabash Valley Railroaders Museum, said coal was one of the major items transported by the trains in their heyday. Grain, corn, fruits and vegetables also were transported by the trains.

One depot, the Union Station - at Ninth and Spruce streets - saw many celebrities and politicians through its doors, according to Barbara Carney, the historical museum’s assistant director, who wrote about the station in 2003, published in the Tribune-Star. Names such as Buffalo Bill, John Philip Sousa, Al Jolson and Jack Benny were among its visitors.

“Presidents from Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft to Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Richard Nixon stopped at Union Station while campaigning in Terre Haute,” Carney wrote.

In short, this movement of goods and people thanks to the trains “put Terre Haute on the map,” Foster said.

However, by the 1960s, the railroad industry saw decline, both locally and nationally. Many factors are cited for the decline: a large railroad merger, deteriorating financial condition of railroad companies and the arrival of the interstate system which bypassed downtown, Foster said. The trucking industry had started taking over the transportation of goods.

The remnants of rail heyday are on display at the railroad museum, located at 1316 Plum Street. Visitors can sit at a train operator’s desk or line up the train tracks in one of the towers. They can also see original documents, rare photographs and authentic railroad hardware.

One recent attraction is the newly restored Pennsylvania Railroad 981741, a 99-year-old cabin car, built in Terre Haute and was used in freight service.

But after completing this restoration a year ago, the museum is now about to embark on a new restoration project.

This summer, a rare World War II vintage Pullman troop sleeper car arrived at the museum from Huntsville, Alabama.

“It’s a unique piece. There’s only about a thousand of them made,” Foster said. Many of these cars were made prior to D-Day, he added, and they were used to transport the troops “and then, after the war brought the troops home.”

The Pullman troop sleeper, which currently sits next to a newly restored caboose at the museum, was built in 1943.

It will soon be restored “inside and out.”

___

Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com

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