- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - For roughly half a century streetcars snaked their way from Lafayette, across the Wabash River, around Purdue University and all the way out to Indiana Veterans’ Home in West Lafayette.

Lafayette’s electric streetcar system, which made its inaugural run in 1888, was the first such network in Indiana, according to The History Museum in South Bend. Although Greater Lafayette’s streetcars stopped running in the 1940s pieces of its history have recently resurfaced, literally.

Construction on West Lafayette’s State Street project unearthed frets of the old streetcar track that ran between Lafayette and West Lafayette. Much of the track remains intact, now stacked along the edge of the construction site.

West Lafayette development director Erik Carlson said the city anticipated encountering the track at some point.

“This is one of the problems you encounter when you completely redo a road,” Carlson said.

He added the city will salvage some of the track.

West Lafayette city engineer Ed Garrison said while the city would have liked to preserve the track in its entirely this just wasn’t feasible.

“We knew there was going to be track there, we just didn’t know how much,” Garrison said. “There was an old brick road with the tracks and asphalt on top of that so salvaging it just wasn’t a viable option.”

The dense amount of material and history entombed under West Lafayette’s roadways is part of the reason a modernization project is required, Carlson said.

Nick Schenkel, director of the West Lafayette Public Library, said it’s incredible to think of tracks and streetcars that ran from hilltop to hilltop across the river and even out of town.

“It was able to complete the loop in less than half an hour, which seems exceptional, but at that time neither town was that big,” Schenkel said.

A passage from The Lafayette Street Railway by David Chambers describes the maiden voyage of Lafayette’s first electric streetcar.

“An electric motor, trolley pole etc. were first installed in car 106, which had been hauled by mules. Wires were erected 18 feet over the street car tracks. . The first trip was made at 5 p.m. Thursday, August 30, 1888 and was a market success,” Chambers wrote.

On the first trip the streetcar did not exceed a speed of 15 mph, but was later able to achieve 30 mph, according to Chambers.

The streetcars were eventually abandoned for a bus system in the 1940’s, a trend taking place across the country at that point in time. Many of the lines had fallen into disrepair after the turn of the century.

“We have to remember The Great Depression was in there and WWII was in there and it was unlikely money was spent on things that weren’t essential,” he said.

The metal the city of West Lafayette salvages from the track remnants will be stored in the basement of Morton Community Center until a use or display can be devised for it, Carlson said.

“We need to make sure that when we come across our history we preserve it,” Carlson added.

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Source: The (Lafayette) Journal & Courier: https://on.jconline.com/2rMs6B3

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Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com


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