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Tracking the past


Two train novices take a ride along the Hoosier railroads of yesterday.


trestle_edit
The Richland Creek Viaduct, also known as the Tulip Trestle, spans Richland Creek between Tulip and Solsberry. The trestle appears as if our of nowhere from the hills, its massive structure the highlight of this small valley.

Three dreams fueled John R. Walsh's life: to own a newspaper, a bank and a railroad. In 1897, he drained the funds of that second dream to power his third.

Walsh made his money from three growing bank accounts in the Windy City. He funneled the Chicago bank funds to build a railroad through Southern Indiana, purchasing the Evansville & Richmond line in October 1897 for $179,000. He changed its name to the Southern Indiana Railroad, creating one of the largest lines in the state and revolutionizing intrastate communication.

Resort hotels popped up along the line, in Martin County's Trinity Springs and Indian Springs, all thanks to Walsh's innovation and investment in Southern Indiana. The Southern Indiana Railroad became more than a cargo carrier. Passengers climbed aboard, leaving small towns for other locations on the train, or, even, the big city lights that gleamed far in the distance.

Despite his contribution to the 812 region, however, Walsh landed in jail for five years after being charged with misapplication of bank funds.

The Southern Indiana and other railroads that crisscrossed the Hoosier state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were integral in intrastate communication, shipping and receiving goods that traveled across the state to tiny towns that dotted these Hoosier hills. Railways linked the small towns that dotted the sloping terrain and dense forests.

The steam engines and depots of yesterday are relics. But their stories still compel Hoosiers to visit their tracks, museums and trails today.

IN PURSUIT OF THE TRESTLE

After two and a half hours of winding county roads; after a pit-stop for mint chocolate chip ice cream and directions; after endless cows, horses and the occasional chicken; after interrupting a turkey vulture's lunch; after reading directions written on the back of a receipt; after getting a little motion-sick from the up-and-down of the Greene County hills: We found it. The Tulip Trestle.

Climbing out of the stagnant silver Toyota Corolla, we were refreshed by the rush of cool air. Dwarfed by the trestle's size, we paused outside the car doors, peering up at the massive structure. How had we not heard of this before? And how had we missed it?

Built in 1905, the Greene County Viaduct, also known as the Richland Creek Viaduct or the Tulip Trestle, was the third largest of its kind in the United States. The massive steel structure, 18 towers in all, spans a verdant valley and allowed the trains to pass through without changing grade. In fact, trains still use the trestle today, traveling through Greene County on their way to their destinations. But it's also a tourist destination hidden in our 812 backyard.

Sue Wilcox, a board member and researcher for the Greene County Historical Society, remembers the Sunday afternoon drives she used to take as a little girl with her grandparents. That, she says, must have been when she first saw the Tulip Trestle. Names that dot Sue's family tree appear in the lists of men who helped build the viaduct. Many local families, Sue says, can find their names, too, among the many who lent a hand to this historic construction project.

Cheryl Helms, a local artist and Solsberry resident, created pieces for the centennial celebration of the Tulip Trestle in 2006. She also happened to marry into the Tulip family. Cheryl's father-in-law's family sold the property where the trestle was built. His family still owns some of the land around and underneath the viaduct.

Despite these strong local ties, the viaduct also has a distinctly foreign flavor. After all, locals weren't the only ones who built the bridge. African, Italian and Chinese immigrants lent their hands, backs and spirits to the construction. The bridge would carry trains full of coal heading to Bloomfield and passengers and timber traveling to Bloomington. Every man was needed for the project. Nearly 110 years ago, it was no small feat.

And today, it's no small feat to find.

Located about 22 miles south of Bloomington, the trestle is technically in Tulip, just outside of Solsberry. It's 2,067 feet long and is still in operation under the Indiana Railroad Company. The viaduct crosses Richland Creek, a small stream that adds to the natural beauty around this man-made behemoth.

Archibald Stuart Baldwin led the construction of the massive viaduct, directing a group of primarily immigrant Italian laborers. Foreigners flocked to the area to build it. The small Greene County town, quiet and secluded, filled with the sounds of metal being heaved up and down the hills and men with different accents and languages worked together towards one goal.

The language barriers among the men building the viaduct led to mishaps. The failure to understand each other caused accidents, some of which were fatal. On June 26, 1996, a blasting accident rocked the camp. It was only six months before the project was slated to be complete. Angelo Sacchetti, an Italian, died the morning after the blast and now rests in Solsberry. Other workers were badly burned and carried lifelong reminders of the work they did in Tulip.

Today, there's not much buzz or noise around the viaduct. But in 1905 and 1906, life in the work camps was anything but quiet. Life and death were close companions beneath the trestle construction.

Poor food, boredom and tension among the workers bred restless behavior and violence. Gambling and drinking permeated the camps. Nights offered little respite from the day's work. The foreman of one of the camps, William Lewis, was murdered by another foreman. And a well-known troublemaker from a camp on the west side of the viaduct was killed in a fight. Constructing the trestle might have been just as dangerous as sleeping among those who built it.

Standing under the great steel beams in the silent valley on a spring afternoon, it's hard to imagine so many people here. It's hard to hear the different languages flying in the air. It's hard to picture the fighting and gambling. On this particular afternoon, it was just us and the trestle. Until we heard the bats.

The high-pitched cries squeaked like an instrument horribly out of tune. The sound was so loud, we looked at each other in confusion - what could possibly be making that noise?

"Are those birds?" I asked.

Then we saw them. Hundreds of bats swooped together among the trees lining the trestle. Undulating as a single mass, the bats challenged the trestle in its size. We weren't alone anymore.

Now the workers are gone. Their tools, dreams and voices laid to rest. But the trestle will always belong to Southern Indiana, to Greene County and to Tulip. To those whose families helped build it and to those who crossed the seas to assist. To the train buffs who still seek out the hidden relic on sunny afternoons and to those lost on back roads who stumble upon it.

SOUTHERN INDIANA DEPOTS: PULLING INTO YESTERDAY

Trains did more than transport passengers, grain and lumber. Their presence helped communities economically. The impact of railroads extended beyond the 4-foot-8 \0xBD-inches of tracks. Their legacy is more than the steam churning from the engine or the lurching of metal cars up a steep incline.

Railway depots were the connecting points and social centers along the many miles of tracks. Those still standing today bring the romance of another era to life. You can imagine women in the late 1800s, cloaked in their best travel clothes, gossiping on the train platforms. Or see mothers and fathers sending soldiers off to war.

In 1914, almost 1,500 depots dotted the tracks of the railways crisscrossing Indiana. Fewer than 250 exist today. These two depots are one of the few still standing in Southern Indiana. Take advantage of these historic landmarks before they run out of steam.

PRINCETON

Sixty-six thousand and forty acres of land bought the town of Princeton 60 years of economic prosperity. The Princeton Depot opened in 1890. Newspapers and mail from across the state arrived at the Princeton Depot. Locals would leave the depot for shopping day-trips to Chicago, returning at night with their goods in tow. The town acquired the depot in 1986, which led to the restoration of what remained. A Wabash caboose, restored in a brilliant red, rests on the tracks near the depot. Visit the caboose and dream about the luxurious day-trips taken long ago.

SALEM

In July 1847, businessmen from Salem and Albany met at Borden and organized the New Albany & Salem Rail Road. The tracks were to run from the Ohio River to Salem.

On January 14, 1851, the first passenger train pulled into Salem, traveling from New Albany. Five thousand people crowded into downtown Salem to witness the historic event.

That business idea developed into the Monon Railroad, which was known as the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railroad. Tracks snaked from the hills of Southern Indiana to the flat farmlands of the north. They crossed into the urban hub of Chicago and also veered east, connecting Lake Michigan with the rest of the state.

The Monon pulled Abraham Lincoln's funeral train in April 1865 at 5 mph from Lafayette to Michigan City. It was such an important transportation system in the 19th century, that the state's choice to put Purdue University in Lafayette rested partly on the fact that the Monon passed through there. The Monon also served Wabash College, Depauw University, Indiana University at Bloomington and Butler University, carrying students to and from campus.

Today, in Indianapolis, the Monon has been converted into a 10.4-mile biking, running and walking trail as part of Rails to Trails' push to convert old railway lines into usable paths.

The depot museum commemorates Salem's role in the Monon, an innovation that connected Hoosiers across the state and catapulted the region into the railway era.

SPIRIT OF JASPER: RIDING IN STYLE

At their peak of popularity, trains offered the opportunity to dine with friends, wear the finest furs, and enjoy a night on the rails. Jasper offers an updated version of this experience in the twenty-first century.

Passengers can choose from two options in Jasper: They can board the Ride and Dine for a 2-2 \0xBD hour train ride on the rails catered by the local Schnitzelbank Restaurant, or, for a day trip, they can ride the Spirit of Jasper, which includes a 1-hour-45-minute ride to French Lick. Passengers can take in the domed West Baden Springs Hotel or try their luck at the French Lick Springs Resort and Casino.

Restored by town and city volunteers, each of the three cars' rich interiors make it obvious why Jasper is known as the woodworking capital of the world. The Lounge Car offers tables for two to four, while light pours in through the large open windows. The Club Car has stationary plush chairs and dark wood paneling that creates a more intimate setting. Passengers can also mingle near the 19-foot bar in the Parlor Car.

Diners on the Ride and Dine can try every meal as the food is served buffet-style, including classic home-style favorites such as fried chicken, roast beef and mashed potatoes, BBQ beef brisket, Italian chicken breasts and cheesy potato casserole. The Jasper to French Lick Express, on the other hand, just offers snacks for purchase, so don't come too hungry!

The scenery is enjoyable, the meal is great, and the experience is awesome, according to Ken Buck, Jasper Parks and Recreation Department Director.

Quick facts:

  • Jasper Ride and Dine
  • Cost: $45/ person
  • Duration: 2-2 \0xBD hours
  • Distance: From French Lick to Dubois County (about 50 miles roundtrip)

Tips:

  • Leave your pets at home
  • Don't forget to bring cash if you are over 21
  • Book your ride 48 hours in advance

Jasper to French Lick Express

  • Cost: $35/ person
  • Duration: 10:30 a.m.-8:15 p.m.
  • Distance: From French Lick to Dubois County (about 50 miles roundtrip)

When you are there:

  • The train arrives in French Lick at approximately 12:15 p.m.
  • Take in the Casino or the West Baden Hotel's rich history for six hours.
  • The day concludes at 6:15 p.m. with the journey back to Jasper.
  • Dine at French Lick or West Baden

RAILS TO TRAILS: FINDING NEW USES FOR OLD RAILS

Some railroad treasures are, thankfully, easier to find than the Tulip Trestle.

Slicing through bustling cities and along winding country roads, Indiana's 327 miles of open trails offer an escape for both the nature-obsessed and those who just want to explore for the day. The Hoosier Rails to Trails Council advocates for land previously occupied by railroads to be converted to walking and bicycle trails. "Railroads were built so they couldn't be built more than 3% grade," says Eric Oberg, the manager of trail development at the Rails to Trails Conservancy Midwest Regional Office. "It doesn't matter if you're 5 or 85. They are open to anybody."

The longest trail in Southern Indiana is the Cardinal Greenway exceeding 40 miles. Bloomington opened the B-Line Trail, a favorite of locals. The path stretches 3.1 miles, running through downtown, with small plazas where you can take a pit stop and rest. A bonus is the Bloomington Farmers' Market, one of the busiest markets in the state, which bustles every Saturday between April and November. Colorful fruits and vegetables, homemade breads and other goods may tempt you to linger.

Art, made by local clubs such as the Boys and Girls Club of Bloomington and area artists like Joe LaMantia, adds color to the trail - or at least beautiful distractions when you're out of breath on the path.

Hikers, bikers and trail-goers will enjoy seeing rare plants and flowers along the different routes. The land near the rails has been preserved because sparks from passing engines created small grass fires that kept the ecosystem intact, Oberg says.

However, sometimes it's the people themselves who make the trail experience the most memorable. "People get caught up in their own lives, but when you're on a trail, it forces human interaction," Oberg says. "People-watching on a busy urban trail - man! It can be as interesting as watching the wildlife on a rural trail."

DIRECTIONS TO TRAIN DEPOTS AND SIGHTS

Tulip Train Trestle

From the North:

  1. Take 37-S onto IN-45 S.
  2. Turn right onto Co. Road 450 N.
  3. Continue onto Co. Rd. 480 N.
  4. Left onto IN-43 S
  5. Continue onto Co. Rd. 420 N
  6. Follow Co. Rd. 420 N. slightly left onto Co. Rd. 375 N.
  7. Continue onto Co. Rd. 540 E.
  8. Turn left onto Co. Rd. 390 N.
  9. Take the left at the fork onto Co. Rd. 480 E.

From the South

  1. Take I-69 N.
  2. Turn left onto US-231 N.
  3. Continue onto IN-157 N.
  4. Turn right onto Co. Rd. 325 N.
  5. Continue onto Co. Rd. 340 N.
  6. Continue onto Co. Rd. 325 N.
  7. Continue onto Co. Rd. 380 N.
  8. Continue onto Co. Rd. 300 N.
  9. Turn a slight right onto Co. Rd. 400 N.
  10. Continue onto Co. Rd. 410 N.
  11. Turn right toward Co. Rd. 410 E.
  12. Take the first right onto Co. Rd. 410 E.
  13. Continue onto Co. Rd. 400 N.
  14. Continue onto Co. Rd. 390 N.
  15. Turn right onto Co. Rd. 480 E.

Princeton Depot

From the North

  1. Take IN-37 S. onto IN-45 S.
  2. Turn right onto IN-45 S/ IN-58 W.
  3. Turn right onto US-231 N
  4. Turn left onto I-69
  5. Take exit 33 for Indiana 64 toward Huntington/ Princeton
  6. Turn right onto IN-64 W.
  7. Destination is on the right.

From the South

  1. Take IN-62 E/ E Lloyd Expwy.
  2. Merge onto US 41 N. via the ramp Indiana 62 E/ Vincennes
  3. Exit onto IN-64 E/W Broadway St. toward Princeton
  4. Destination is on the left.

Salem Depot

From the North

  1. Follow signs for I-70 E/ Columbus OH/ I-65 and merge onto I-70 E.
  2. Take exit 80 onto I-65 S toward Louisville
  3. Take exit 29B for Indiana 56 W. toward Salem.
  4. Turn right onto IN-56/ W. McClain Ave. Continue to follow IN-56
  5. Turn left onto N. College Ave.
  6. Destination is on the Left.

From the South

  1. Take I-164 N onto I-64.
  2. Take exit 21A for I-64 E.
  3. Merge onto I-64 E.
  4. Take exit 105 toward Palmyra.
  5. Turn left onto IN-135 N/S State Road 135 N/S State Route 135
  6. Turn right onto E. Cherry St.
  7. E. Cherry St. turns left and becomes S. College Ave.
  8. Destination will be on the right.

Spirit of Jasper

From the North

  1. Take In-37 S.
  2. Turn right onto US-50 W.
  3. Turn left onto US-231 S.
  4. Turn right onto W. 6th St.
  5. Destination will be on the right.

From the South

  1. Take IN-62 E/ E Lloyd Expwy.
  2. Merge onto I-164 N. via the ramp to I-64.
  3. Take exit 21A for I-64 E.
  4. Merge onto I-64 E.
  5. Exit onto US-231 N.
  6. Destination will be on the left.

Southern Indiana Counties with Rails to Trails

  • Posey
  • Vanderburgh
  • Dubois
  • Washington
  • Clark
  • Jefferson
  • Scott
  • Jennings
  • Dearborn
  • Jackson
  • Bartholomew
  • Brown
  • Monroe
  • Morgan
  • Johnson
  • Vigo