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Excerpts from "History of St. Joseph County, Indiana"

Published by Chas. C. Chapman & Co., Chicago, 1880.




The citizens of this county early took an interest in railroad matters, and were determined at the earliest practical moment the iron horse should speed over the prairies and through the timber of the beautiful St. Joseph valley. Notwithstanding a large number were favorable to a railroad enterprise, there were yet those that opposed it and favored the less expensive canal. The same argument offered by farmers and breeders of horses throughout the country, was made here: the building of a railroad would destroy this industry, and horses, which then commanded a good price, would be worthless in the markets.

In February, 1835, the Legislature of the State passed an act incorporating the Buffalo & Mississippi Railroad, it being the design of the company to build a railroad from Buffalo, New York, to some point on the Mississippi river. Under this act a company was organized in 1838, to build a road through this State from some point on the eastern line of the State to Michigan City on the west. Gen. Joseph Orr, of La Porte county, was made president of the company. During this same year a survey was made from Michigan City to South Bend, and the contract let for grading the road from the former place to La Porte. Some three or four miles were properly graded, when the company ran out of money and the work was abandoned.

Everything in the direction of railroad building now lay dormant for a number of years. In the spring of 1847 the discussion of the question was again commenced, and in August of that year a meeting of all interested in a line from Toledo, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois, was called at Mishawaka. A large number of leading men from Chicago and Toledo, as well as many other points, met according to the call, Judge Stanfield, of South Bend, presiding. Great interest was manifested by all in having the road built, but nothing was directly accomplished at that meeting.

A party of capitalists in New York, about that time purchased the Michigan Southern railroad, then running from Toledo, Ohio, and Monroe, Michigan, to Hillsdale, in the latter State. It was now thought the objects of the people in this county, as well as the entire St. Joseph valley, could be accomplished by uniting with that company, having them build the road in this direction. To this end correspondence was opened between interested parties who responded to the call at Mishawaka, and the officers of the Michigan Southern. The latter party responded favorably, and made a proposition to build their road to the Indiana State line on the east provided a company was organized to build through the State to the Illinois line, and from thence to Chicago.

Agreeably, to this proposition a company was organized in Indiana and a charter obtained for a road, under the name of the Northern Indiana Railroad Company. Soon after this object was effected, an effort was made to consolidate the two companies into one, which effort was successful, the consolidation taking effect in 1850, under the name of the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railway Company. The united company now proceeded to get contracts and build the road through Northern Indiana to La Porte and from Michigan City to Chicago, in the meantime making a further survey and leaving open the project for building the road between La Porte and Michigan City.

It being the desire of the company to reach Chicago by the shortest and most practicable route, and the grade between La Porte and Michigan City being so great, as well as the line being lengthened in reaching Chicago in that way, it was determined to abandon the charter of the Northern Indiana Railroad Company, under which they were operating, west of La Porte and adopt that of the Buffalo & Mississippi Company. Under the charter of this latter company the road was then constructed from La Porte to Chicago as it now runs. About 20 miles of track west of Michigan City was taken up, the present line intersecting the road as built from that point to Chicago at this place.

It must not be inferred from what has already been said that the railroad company was pursuing this work without serious obstacles being thrown in the way of accomplishing their ends. At the same time this road was being constructed, the Michigan Central was also being built, and this was upon an almost parallel line. Each road had for its terminus Chicago, and each wished to reach the city first, and if possible prevent the other from reaching it at all. It was not thought possible there could be business enough to pay both roads. The friends of the Michigan Central could not, of course, prevent altogether the building of the Michigan Southern, but did manage to have incorporated into the charter of the latter road, by the Michigan Legislature, that it should not go nearer than two miles of the Indiana line until after it reached Constantine, in Michigan. This did not suit the Michigan Southern Company. They did not care about taking in Constantine, but did wish to reach Indiana as quickly as possible, and thence by the shortest route into Chicago. As "love laughs at locksmiths," so railroad companies laugh at legislative enactments designed to throw obstacles in their way.

When the Michigan Southern Company reached White Pigeon, Michigan, they were within two miles of the Indiana line on the south, but four miles in the direction they were running. At this juncture Judge Stanfield, of South Bend, proposed to the company, if they would furnish the money he would undertake to buy the right of way, get the roads vacated by the county authorities, and build it the four miles from White Pigeon to the Indiana line. His proposition was accepted, and he lost no time in carrying out his contract, this road being known as the Portage railroad. For ten years the Judge held this line in his own name, the Michigan Legislature refusing to amend the charter allowing them to run into Indiana east of Constantine. When the charter was amended, however, the Judge assigned all his right and title to the company, which, of course, had been operating it all this time under a lease from Mr. Stanfield.

In order to aid in the construction of the road, the County Commissioners, under instruction from the people who petitioned them for that purpose, voted a subscription of $40,000 to the capital stock of the company; but in consequence of there being a sufficient sum subscribed by the people to build, and equip the road, the amount was never issued. About $15,000 was subscribed by the people of this county, which amount was all bought up by Judge Stanfield for Eastern parties, at a premium of 25 per cent., in the year 1851. This was fortunate for those investing, as in a short time the stock went down to 60 cents on the dollar. Thus a line of railroad was obtained in this county without costing the people one cent.

The name of the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railway Company was retained until its consolidation with the Lake Shore road from Cleveland to Buffalo, when it took the name of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad, by which name it is now known. It is one of the leading railroad companies in the United States.

On Saturday evening, Oct. 4, 1851, the first through train from Lake Erie reached South Bend, and created a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm. Says a local writer at the time: "Brilliant bonfires were the order of the evening, and when, at 9 P.M., the locomotive, John Stryker, came puffing into the midst of the multitudes who were assembled, cheer after cheer rent the air, the cannon also poured forth its deep-toned greeting in forty-eight rounds, and for the first time in our streets were heard 'Walk this way to the Washington House omnibus,' 'Show your baggage for the American Hotel.' We did not estimate the number of hundrods that were present. All the town were there in the first place, men, women and children, ministers, merchants and mechanics, old and young, and quite a number from the country around. And this, too, when it was more than doubtful whether the cars would come that evening or not, the track not being finished that evening until after nightfall. The first train east from here Monday morning took thirty passengers - a very fair commencement, and its departure was honored by seventeen rounds of the cannon. Monday afternoon the locomotive, Goshen, brought in a heavy freight train, and in the evening another mass meeting assembled to welcome the second passenger train. The moonlight evening was enlivened by the fife and drum, and when the E. C. Litchfield rattled in with the train, another towering bonfire lit up the heavens with its flame, and the cheers of welcome again rang forth to greet our visitors.

"The rapidity with which the work has been done on this road is almost, if not entirely, without parallel in the annals of our country. On the 22d of August last the railroad crossed the Michigan State line, thirty miles distant, and since that time one-half mile a day of the track has been laid. The directors of the road have determined to complete it at the earliest possible moment, and what they intend to do, they do. By the way, do our Niles friends over the line begin to believe that South Bend will have a railroad, or are they all doubtful Thomases still?"

In 1867 a railroad meeting was held at Jackson, Michigan, to which the people along the St. Joseph valley in Indiana, and Michigan were invited. The object of the meeting was to see what inducements could be held out to the Grand Trunk Railroad of Canada to extend their line of road from Ridgeway, Michigan, through the States of Michigan and Indiana to Chicago. A company was formed at this meeting and organized under the name of the Michigan Grand Trunk Railway Company. A route was proposed and adopted, fixing the points which the road should take, and making it obligatory upon the company, after reaching Niles, Michigan, to take the most direct route to Chicago. This cut off the city of South Bend, even if not the entire county of St. Joseph, Indiana, much to the disgust of the people.

A survey was made and a line adopted for the proposed road. Subscriptions were opened at different points, quite a large amount of stock subscribed and some work done; but in consequence of some places west of Jackson, Michigan, failing to subscribe the amount agreed with the company, work was suspended. A meeting was then called at Jackson for the purpose of amending the charter of the road and changing some of the points west. At that meeting the provision was struck out providing that the road should go the most direct route from Niles, Michigan, to Chicago. This left it in the power of the company, if it was thought advisable to run the road from the State line to South Bend. About this time the name of the company was changed from Michigan Grand Trunk Railway Company to the Michigan Air Line Company.

The latter company began now the construction of the road, but soon after became so embarrassed it could not go on with the work and therefore, in 1869, leased it to the Michigan Central Railroad Company. The latter company at once completed the road to Niles, Michigan. In order now to get it to Sonth Bend, a company was formed at the latter place, and organized under the name of the St. Joseph Valley Railway Company. The city of South Bend subscribed $25,000 to the capital stock of the company in order to assist in building the road. An agreement was now made between the St. Joseph Valley Railway Company, and the Michigan Air Line Company to consolidate the two companies. In consideration of the St. Joseph Valley Railway Company transferring to the Air Line the amount subscribed to its capital stock, the Air Line agreed to build, equip and run the road to South Bend. This, too, was leased to the Michigan. Central Railroad Company, who yet operate it. The road was completed to South Bend in the spring of 1870, and was the second road secured to the city.

While these operations were going on the people of Michigan undertook to build a parallel line from Port Huron, Michigan, by way of Flint, Lansing, Battle Creek, to the Indiana line in the direction of South Bend, with the expectation of its being extended through Indiana, the most feasible route to Chicago. To accomplish this a company was organized, under the name of Port Huron & Lake Michigan Railway Company, for the purpose of building a road from Port Huron to Flint, Michigan. Another company was organized at the same time, called the Peninsular Railway Company, to build a road from Lansing, Michigan, by way of Battle Creek, to the Indiana State line. In Indiana a company was organized to build a road from the point where the Michigan touched the State line, through the State by way of Mishawaka, South Bend and Valparaiso to the Illinois line, where it was to be completed, by a company formed in Illinois, to Chicago. These various companies were afterward all consolidated into one company under the name of the Chicago & Lake Huron Railway Company. Under this organization the road was built through, from Port Huron to Flint, and from Lansing to Valparaiso, Indiana.

In consequence of the hard times and other adverse circumstances the railway company was unable to pay its interest on its mortgaged road, and the road was therefore put in the hands of a receiver to run it in the interest of the mortgagees. While in the receiver's hands a company was organized called the Northeastern Railway Company, which built the line from Flint to Lansing, thereby making a through line as originally intended from Port Huron to Valparaiso.

The road was in the hands of the receiver until 1879, when the Grand Trunk Railway Company, of Canada, finally came to the conclusion they must be placed in better connection with Chicago; therefore an arrangement between that company and the bondholders of the Chicago & Lake Huron railroad was made by which the mortgages on the latter road were foreclosed and the road sold, the Grand Trunk Railway Company being the purchaser. A new company was now organized by the purchasers of the road under the name of the Chicago & Northwestern Grand Trunk Railway Company. Previous to this these parties had purchased about seventeen miles of a road running out from Chicago, and the whole was now united, forming a through line from Chicago to Port Huron, and on the 26th of March, 1880, all the companies were consolidated into one, which was called the Chicago & Grand Trunk Railway Company.


Two miles east of South Bend, midway between that place and Mishawaka, the track of the Michigan Southern & Lake Shore railroad crosses a narrow ravine on an embankment about 25 feet high. At its base was a culvert through which ran a rivulet, too small a stream, indeed, to be called a creek, and whose waters were drained from the high ground south of the road. When this culvert was put in, the neighbors, remembering the sudden and extraordinary rise of this rivulet in 1841, contended that it was too small; but it seemed impossible that its waters could be swollen to such an extent as to exceed its capacity to carry off; and it had not been until the fatal night of June 27. The afternoon and evening of that day the rain poured down in torrents, and the little rivulet grew rapidly but no danger was apprehended. At half past 8 o'clock P. M. the express train from the East passed over it in safety. What happened after that time until midnight can only be inferred; but it is evident that the culvert must have been choked up with driftwood and sand, as it might have done even if larger - that the embankment thus became a dam, behing which the water rapidly accumulated and that it rose to almost the level of the track.

A little before midnight, the night express from Chicago passed South Bend, Mr. Osgood, conductor, and T. Chulip, of La Porte engineer, and one of the most careful ones on the line. The passengers all testified as to how carefully he had run his train when it passed over a bridge or other locality he thought might be dangerous. He checked up the train when passing the Studebaker bridge, less than a mile west of the ravine, and then regarding the embankment as unquestionably safe, increased his speed. He must have been running, however, at less than twenty miles per hour when he reached the fatal spot. The embankment was, beyond a doubt, thoroughly water-soaked and ready to give way as he reached it; and the weight of the train, or any other violent concussion was all that was needed to complete the work of destruction. Down went the track, train, embankment and all into the narrow gorge. The tender, baggage car, and two second-class cars mostly shattered into fragments, piled up their ruins on the engine upon the opposite side of the bank. Two passenger cars followed, landing nearer the center of the channel, and the sleeping car, the last of the train, with all its inmates, escaped apparently uninjured, though taking the frightful leap with the rest. The vast volume of water thus released by the destruction of the dam which had confined it, swept for a few moments over them, carrying several, who finally escaped down its stream, and drowning many others. Three of the dead bodies were found two hundred yards below where the rivulet empties into the St. Joseph river. In a short time the waters of the rivulet had run down, and the uninjured were enabled to look for the wounded and the dead.

As soon as possible the alarm was given at Mishawaka and South Bend, the citizens of both places going to the wreck and working zealously through the remaining hours of the night and the following day. Physicians, with many other citizens, came from La Porte and other neighboring towns, and all was done that was within the power of man. The engineer and fireman, who were brothers, were killed at their post - so were the baggage man and express messenger. The express safe was broken open by the crash, but the money (over $60,000) was nearly all found during the day.

The dead, as they were found, were mostly taken to Mishawaka, and many of the wounded also. The rest were taken to South Bend. The scene at the wreck was sorrowful beyond description. There were at least 150 passengers upon the train.


The progressive spirit of the citizens of St. Joseph county has often been tested, and almost invariably has it been proven to the world tbat in no matter of public interest has she been wanting. About the first of April, 1847, J. J. Speed, a representative of a proposed telegraph line from Buffalo to Milwaukee, visited the county and proposed to run his line through the valley, establishing an office at South Bend, provided citizens would take stock to the amount of $2,000. This was easily raised, and it was confidently expected the tick of the telegraph wire would be heard in South Bend in the following fall. In consequence of the unprogressive spirit of the citizens of Chicago in refusing to take the share of stock apportioned to that place, the enterprise was for a time abandoned, to be resumed when Chicago was ready to do her share of the work. In June the work was again commenced, subscriptions having all been taken. In the spring of 1848 the line was complete, and South Bend was in instant communication with places far distant.


In 1831, at the September term of the Board of County Commissioners, a ferry was authorized established over the St. Joseph river at tbe east end of Water street, and N. B. Griffith was licensed to run the same for the sum of two dollars per year. He was "required to keep a good and sufficient flat or boat to convey conveniently over said river two horses and a wagon at one time." For such privileges he was allowed to charge as follows:
For each person6 1/4 cents.
For a man and a horse12 1/2 cents.
For 1 one-horse wagon or carriage25 cents.
For two horses and wagon31 1/4 cents.
For each additional horse with a wagon as above6 1/4 cents.
For oxen in wagons, the same rates as horses.
Loose cattle per head3 cents.
Hogs and sheep per head2 cents.

In November, 1832, the Board ordered Mr. Griffith to have constructed a boat forty-five feet long and twelve feet wide for his ferry, and allowed him until the first day of the following January to have it completed ready for use. Mr. Griffith was further required to "keep two able-bodied men to attend to said ferry." Some change was made in the amount allowed for ferriage. "All persons traveling with or forming a part of the load shall pass over in wagons at said ferry free."

In September, 1834, the Board ordered that a ferry be established across St. Joseph river on the county road leading from South Bend to Niles, and that a boat should be placed thereon not less than forty five Łeet long and twelve feet wide. Elisha Egbert was licensed to run the ferry on the payment of ten dollars. He was further required to give bond in the penal sum of five hundred dollars. The same rates were fixed as was allowed at South Bend.

At the January term, 1835, Alexis Coquillard was licensed to keep a ferry across the river from Market street, in South Bend, his boat to be not less than forty-five feet long by twelve wide. The same requirements were made of him as of those already engaged in the business. In 1840 the license was transferred to Robert Wade and William Graham.

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