The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 18.



Electric street cars in Valparaiso and connection with Chesterton, LaPorte and Valparaiso and north Porter county districts came in 1910 when the first electric interurban was run out of Valparaiso over the then Valparaiso & Northern railroad, a division of the celebrated Chicago & New York Air Line, which its promoters claimed would provide fast electric service from New York to Chicago, was put in operation.

The Valparaiso & Northern was not the first electric line in Porter county, however. The first line was projected in 1906 by the Chicago and Indiana Air Line railway, a high speed electric railway to be promoted between Chicago and New York and spoken in the East as the Chicago-New York Air Line Railway.

It was a time of tremendous activity in traction building all over the country, and the promoters had difficulty in obtaining capital, but construction of the line was begun at Gary to be abandoned a short distance east of that city in the Sand Dunes. The Air Line company was afterwards succeeded by the Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railroad company, but again difficulty was encountered in obtaining the necessary capital. In May, 1926, the Chicago, Lake Shore and South Bend Railway Syndicate was formed to acquire the securities of the road and the South Bend Construction company was organized to construct the line. J. B. Hanna, of Cleveland, Ohio, prominent in electric railroad construction in that period was at the head of construction company and thought beset with many difficulties which seriously threatened the progress of constriction was able to build the line as far as New Carlisle, and in March, 1908, service was established between South Bend and Michigan City. The line to Gary was established shortly thereafter and on Sept. 6, 1908, train service was established between South Bend and Hammond.

The inauguration of electric service in Valparaiso on July 4, 1910, was a notable event. The first car left the city near the Methodist church on Franklin avenue at 9 a. m. on July 4, 1910.

Previous to the departure the city band paraded through the streets and gave a concert. Several thousand persons witnessed the leaving of the first car, and cheered the occupants along the route.

Following the electric car was a dinky engine which had performed valuable service in building the road. It drew two flat cars. The engine and cars were gala decorated with flags and bunting and seats were placed on the cars.

Frank Cowdrey, veteran Pennsylvania engineer, and friend of Col. C. P. Hord, builder of the line, was at the throttle of the engine. Only one stop was made enroute, near the old Bartholomew farm to take on Albert Listenberger, who had encouraged the promoters in building the road. The trip to the lake required 16 minutes.

All resorts at the lake were visited and band selections given. Hillcrest, the summer home of J. D. Price, had of the Construction company, contractors on the road, was dedicated with a flag ceremony.

The electric car which made the first trip was in charge of Conductor C. C. Metsker, Mayor W. F. Spooner, City Clerk Clem Helm and other local notables were aboard the car.

During the day more than 3,500 passengers were carried out to the lake "just for the ride."

The story of the "Air Line" railroad is the story of "the Rise and Fall of a Great Rail Project." The story begins with the gathering on a cold winter day near the end of 1905 of a group of men in a small office of the Monadnock building in Chicago. They had come to post $800 to pay for a full page advertisement in a Sunday edition of a well-known Chicago newspaper.

Not until July, 1906, did the advertisement appear. The commercial world was astonished by the newspaper announcement that the Chicago-New York Air Line railroad company was about to commence the construction of a trunk electric system between Chicago and New York City.

This news reached every corner of American and foreign countries. It aroused all classes of people. Inquiries by mail and wire were so numerous that a large force of clerks, occupying a whole floor of the building, was employed to answer them.

When stock was offered for sale at $25 per share the rush to get in was so great that the regular tenants were unable to get near their offices. Finally the building superintendent ordered the Air Line people to find other offices.

The new railroad was ballyhooed to the skies. It was pointed out that there would be no bond issues, the the railroad would be built entirely by stock subscription.

The winter of 1906-07 found 15,000 subscribers on the books and more than $2,000,000 in a Chicago bank. Then the promoters looked forward for a railroad builder to get into action and start the machinery of construction.

Blake Mapledoram, who was rehabilitating the city railways at Memphis, Tenn., for Ford, Bacon and Davis, New York City engineering firm, was employed.

Early in February, 1907, with a gang of construction men, Mapledoram started excavating at LaPorte with bull points and sledges in twenty inches of solidly frozen ground.

The railroad plans called for the line to run through the centers of population, with branch lines to various cities along the route. The promoters intended to bring the total distance between America's two largest cities to 750 miles, as against 908 miles at present. Their motto was "Chicago to New York in ten hours."

A spur line from LaPorte to the main line south of LaPorte, three miles long, was finished about May 1. Special trains from Chicago, loaded with stockholders who were given free lunches, were almost daily occurrences.

The stock was now selling for about $40 a share, with a real value of $100, which the Air Line guaranteed would be paid to any stockholder who wanted the money as soon as the line reached Gary. In another two months it was selling at $51.

By July, 1907, a large amount of equipment was hard at work. It consisted of 60 mule teams purchased at St. Louis for $22,600; 42 wheelers, three locomotives, with flat and self-dumping dirt cars; one Vulcan 2 1/2 yard shovel; a st--?-- grader, a warehouse with $10,000 worth of supplies; a power house and a three-car barn complete, and two $11,000 electric passenger cars, built at Niles, Ohio, to carry the curious over the line free.

One the Christmas following there were 750 men on the payroll, with 25 miles of finished high-class sand-ballasted roadbed; 50 miles of right-of-way fences in position; overhead crossings above the Monon and the Pere Marquette railroads, and an other ready for girders over the Wabash. The right-of-way was 100 feet wide. It was paid for as the steel was laid. The road was an absolutely straight line.

A million-yard cut, 25 miles out of LaPorte, was made to fill in the Coffee Creek valley, a half mile across. The highest point of the temporary trestle was 45 feet above the ground. For it alone 40 acres of standing timber was purchased. The main line was finished from LaPorte to a point south of Chesterton, about 20 miles.

With a $300,000 monthly payroll to meet and subscriptions lagging, Air Line officials clamped down on purchases and closed the steam shovel camp.

During the busy year of 1907, the town of Gary was booming, and a rush was made to grab the streets for a feeder to the Air Line. Material purchased for Air Line construction only was reshipped to Gary. With it a city line was built.

Some contention was raised that this step was illegal on the grounds that the stock was sold to build the Air Line and should not have been devoted to other use without consent of the stockholders. No investigation was ever pressed on the legality of the deal.

Gradually, however, the main line construction was slowed up. Men and supplied moved to Gary, until finally orders came from Chicago to stop all main line work and concentrate on Gary.

The Valparaiso & Northern railroad was financed through Valparaiso citizens and outside investors. It was built through to Woodville, where it connected with the Gary Connecting Railway to Gary.

Following the crash of the Chicago-New York Air Line, the line was operated by bondholders. During the World war the railroad did a heavy business, carrying workers to the Gary steel mills. A large amount of milk was transported to Gary, Hammond and Chicago.

The automobile and automobile truck, however, spelled the doom for the electric line. The line from Woodville to LaPorte was abandoned, and the rails and other materials sold for junk. Later the line from Woodville to Chesterton followed the same plight.

At one time Philadelphia bondholders who owned the Gary Connecting railway between Woodville and Gary petitioned the Public Service Commission for permission to junk the line. Valparaiso citizens headed by the chamber of commerce, fought the move, and were able to save this connecting link to Gary.

In 1925 the Gary and Valparaiso Railway, Gary Connecting Railway and the Gary Railway company were consolidated. The following year the Gary Railways was taken over by the Insull interests, which now operated the lines.

According to reliable reports, some $2,200,000 is cash was contributed by 15,000 investors who never realized anything on their investment. Less than half of this amount was expended in building the line, but no one ever knew where the balance went.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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