Trains Carried Salem’s Name to the Lake
This article first appeared in The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat, September 6, 1990
under the heading -- "The Dripping Faucet" -- By Cecil J., Smith
Almost a century and a half ago the people along the northern border of Indiana learned about the town of Salem in an unusual way -- they read the name on the side of trains rolling through their towns.
What started out to be the tiny New Albany and Salem Railroad soon blossomed into a ribbon of steel stretching from the Ohio River to Lake Michigan. And while it was correctly named in its formative days, it still carried that very limited name when it reached Lake Michigan.
The railroad -- the one many of us call The Monon -- was formed in l847 when a group of Salem and New Albany businessmen met at what is now Borden. The Salem businessmen were interested in finding a better way to haul goods into Washington County, and to ship items from here to the river.
James Brooks of New Albany, who for several years had dreamed of building a railroad the full length of the state, was elected president of the new railroad. The line was to be much shorter than Brooks’ dream, but unbeknown to the others, his dream was still flourishing. He figured if a railroad could be built as far as Salem, it could probably continue all the way to Lake Michigan.
But Brooks didn’t want to scare investors off with a plan that appeared too out of sight, so he agreed to the name “New Albany and Salem.”
The railroad’s first locomotives were named for the towns along the line -- the first being “New Albany,” the second “Providence,” and the third, “Salem.”
January 14, 1851, the first passenger train rolled into Salem. Thousands flocked along South Main Street to get their first glimpse of this unusual piece of equipment that was to bring prosperity to Washington County.
By the time that first train reached Salem, Brooks’ plan to push on to Lake Michigan was already well in motion. The right-of-way was acquired along much of the line using, in some places, the right-of-way of a proposed, but failed, road that was to reach from New Albany to Crawfordsville.
So it was that on June 24, 1854, the last spike in the 288-mile line was driven seven miles north of Greencastle. The railroad had been constructed at a cost of $6 million.
July 3, 1854, the first through-train left Michigan City at 5 a.m. and averaging 16 miles per hour headed south. It reached New Albany at 10p.m.
For four years trains along the line would carry the name “New Albany and Salem Railroad.” Then financial disaster struck the railroad and following reorganization in 1858, it emerged as the Louisville, New Albany, and Chicago Railroad, a name that more appropriately described the cities it served.
In later years there would be more name changes, the most notable occurring in 1897 when it became the Chicago, Indianapolis and Louisville Railroad.
The acquisition of the Indianapolis and Chicago Air Line in 1881 gave the railroad its vital link to Chicago and to Indianapolis. That line crossed the original main line at the town of Monon, and soon Monon became the railroad’s nickname.
@2012 Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society, Inc. All rights reserved.