New York Central/Big Four, Whitewater Division - Indiana & Ohio, Brookville Subdivision


Former New York Central, Whitewater Division to Hagerstown, IN

Standard gauge line opened in 1862

Downtown terminal: Central Union Depot (3rd Street & Central Avenue)

In limited local use

(Much of the history of the Whitewater and the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal comes from Donald R. Burden's 2006 thesis, "Whitewater Canal Historical Corridor Guide")


The history of this railroad is as intertwined with that of the Whitewater Canal as the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad's history is intertwined with the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal.  The histories of both canals and successor railroads are also significantly intertwined with one another.  Ground was broken for the Whitewater Canal on September 13, 1836 between Lawrenceburg and Hagerstown via Harrison, Brookville, Connersville, and Cambridge City to connect the fertile farmland of southeast Indiana to riverboats on the Ohio River.  The canal would be 76 miles in length and descended 491 feet from beginning to end. It would require 55 or 56 locks, 12 aqueducts, and seven feeder dams.  That was a discouragingly large amount of infrastructure for the length of the canal, but the Indiana Legislature decided to proceed anyway.  Cincinnati businessmen wanted in on this endeavor, proposing another canal along the north bank of the Ohio River to connect with the Whitewater Canal at Harrison.  A groundbreaking ceremony was held on March 31, 1838 at the estate of future President William Henry Harrison, a supporter of the canal to Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal would divert some traffic away from Lawrenceburg, but the Indiana promoters of the Whitewater Canal had no choice but to allow it, since they needed permission to run some eight miles through Ohio to avoid hilly terrain on the Indiana side of the border.  The two sections of canal would connect in a short slackwater segment in the Whitewater River south of Harrison at the state border.  Barges coming south would enter the river and go a few hundred feet to the inlet of the Cincinnati leg of the canal on the north bank, or to the Lawrenceburg leg on the south bank.  The Cincinnati leg only had a guard lock to manage inflow from the river, one other standard lock near Dry Fork Creek and later I-275, and possibly a third standard lock.  As part of this project, the first canal tunnel in Ohio was built between Cleves and North Bend through a small ridge separating the two towns, with construction starting in 1839.  It was arched with brick, and the entrances were flanked with dressed Buena Vista Sandstone.  The tunnel was 1,780 feet long and 24 feet in diameter with a four foot water depth.  When exactly the tunnel was completed is unknown, but the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal opened for business on November 28, 1843.  

CL&A, Big Four, & Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal at Harrison

A CL&A car sits on Campbell Road south of Harrison, with the abandoned Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal behind it and the railroad on the towpath beyond.  Note the stone remnants of a lock to the right of the car.  This was a guard lock to regulate water flow from the Whitewater River.

The first section of the Whitewater Canal between Lawrenceburg and Brookville had opened on June 8, 1839, but construction was suspended shortly thereafter since the State of Indiana had overextended its financial resources.  In 1842, Cincinnati businessman Henry S. Valette purchased the incomplete Whitewater Canal, and construction resumed in the late summer or early fall of that year.  It was opened to the Laurel Feeder Dam in 1843, roughly halfway between Brookville and Connersville.  It reached Connersville in 1845 and Cambridge City in 1846.  Although Hagerstown was the intended terminus of the Whitewater Canal during the period of State sponsored construction, the new White Water Valley Canal Company could not afford to build north of Cambridge City. The citizens of Hagerstown were forced to organize their own canal company in 1846.  Built primarily with local money and volunteer labor, the eight mile Hagerstown Canal extension opened for business in 1847. 

In December 1847 a flood severed the line between Harrison and Lawrenceburg, and it took until April 1849 to reopen. Another flood in 1852 led to abandonment of the Lawrenceburg to Harrison section, and the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal became the final leg of the route from then on.  These and other floods put the operating company heavily into debt.  While the canal south of Brookville seems to have operated relatively successfully from June 1839 to November 1847, the system as a whole was never open for more than six months out of any given year, and even then only certain sections would be open at any particular time

Meanwhile, as the canal was having difficulty with floods and maintenance, new railroads started siphoning off what little traffic the canal had left.  On October 4, 1853, the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad Company (I&C) began operations from Indianapolis to Lawrenceburg with a riverboat connection to Cincinnati.  The Ohio & Mississippi Railroad was opened a year later through Lawrenceburg, but lengthy trackage rights and an incompatible track gauge disqualified that as an option for the I&C to reach Cincinnati.  However, low river levels in the summer of 1854 strangled riverboat operations, and the I&C begrudgingly engaged the O&M to lay a third rail to Cincinnati for I&C cars to operate.  The expense of this arrangement made it only a short-term operation.  The I&C started eyeing the financially troubled Whitewater and Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal as a potential avenue to extend its tracks to booming Cincinnati, and also into the hinterlands of Indiana. 

In 1855 Henry Valette filed suit against the canal company for failing to make interest payments on the bonds he purchased in 1842. A receiver was appointed but was unable to improve the situation.  Both canals failed and were shut down in 1856.  Citizens petitioned the Indiana legislature during the 1861-62 session to build a railroad over the towpath of the canal.  It was sold at auction in 1862 to Henry C. Lord, president of the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad, though legal issues delayed the final deed transfer until December 5, 1865. 

On April 18, 1861, the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company was incorporated as a subsidiary to build a railroad from Cincinnati to the Ohio and Indiana border connecting with the I&C. They purchased the defunct Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal property for its route to downtown, and it opened just two years later.  Railroads generally preferred to build their tracks on towpaths rather than canal beds due to drainage concerns, but between Cincinnati and Cleves they used the canal bed and the towpath somewhat interchangeably depending on what worked for the surrounding terrain and any crossing streets or property accesses.  While the mainline to Lawrenceburg diverged from the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal bed after crossing the Great Miami River on a bridge supported by the old canal aqueduct piers, it picked up the route of the lower part of the Whitewater Canal, abandoned after the flood of 1852, in Elizabethtown for its journey to Lawrenceburg.  The branch line to Harrison was also constructed at this time, following the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal north from Valley Junction near Hooven.  From Valley Junction, the railroad mostly runs on the towpath to the west/south of the old canal bed.

Big Four and Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal Aqueduct Piers at Dry Fork Creek Kilby Road

Underneath the Dry Fork Creek bridge, Kilby Road is sitting on the old canal aqueduct piers, and the railroad is on newer stone piers, likely because the towpath had a wooden trestle supporting it originally.

It does not appear that an effort was made to retain any part of the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal by the railroad.  However, numerous mills and factories in Harrison, Brookville, Metamora, Laurel, and Connersville had leases to use water power from the canal.  The significant change in elevation over its length made it a good source of water power, and the railroad had to honor those agreements. The White Water Valley Railroad (WVRR) which was created as a subsidiary of the I&C, reached Connersville in the spring of 1867 and Hagerstown in 1868, leaving much of the canal intact and flowing by its side, with local hydraulic companies formed to handle maintenance.  This proximity caused problems for the railroad, since floods that inundated the canal also washed out the railroad on a regular basis.  For this reason, as well as out-of-the-way connections with other railroads, it was never more than a minor branch line.  Initially run by the I&C, the WVRR operated independently for several years.  In 1890 it leased itself to the Big Four due to financial troubles.  The I&C itself would be acquired by the Big Four in 1906 and later the New York Central.  They operated commuter trains from Connersville and Harrison into Cincinnati, and they briefly operated through trains and parlor cars from Cincinnati to Fort Wayne, changing at Connersville to the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad.

The little used section between Connersville and Hagerstown was abandoned by NYC 1931, with the track removed in 1936, and all passenger service ended in 1933. Local freight continued with steam locomotives until 1957, and diesel freights operated until discontinued by the NYC's successor, Penn Central in 1972.  The present Whitewater Valley Railroad was formed as a not-for-profit corporation in 1972 and began weekend passenger operations in 1974 on 25 miles of leased Penn Central track between Connersville and Brookville. After a substantial washout closed the track between Metamora and Brookville in 1974, Penn Central removed that track in 1976. Freight operation from Brookville to Valley Junction were taken over in 1979 by the newly formed Indiana & Ohio Railway.  Track between Connersville and Beeson's Station was sold to Indiana Hi-Rail Corporation in 1981, and the line between Metamora and Connersville was sold to the non-profit Whitewater Valley Railroad in 1983.  Operation of the heritage railroad is conducted by volunteers, and track has been rehabilitated to provide passenger excursion trains pulled by historic diesel locomotives.  One route, the Valley Flyer, operates from Connersville to Metamora, while another operates as the Metamora Local, carrying passengers south on a two mile excursion along the restored Whitewater Canal, past the canal boat dock, a working aqueduct, and a restored lock.

Back in the Cincinnati area, operations are based out of I&O's yard at Valley Junction.  I&O is now owned and operated by Genesee & Wyoming, who acquired the railroad in their 2012 purchase of RailAmerica.  Along Kilby Road near I-275, 84 Lumber has a siding.  On the other side of I-275, a new spur and loop track was built in late 2019 for the Valley Asphalt Corporation facility.  Immediately north of there, Kilby Road crosses from the west side of the tracks to the east side before crossing Dry Fork Creek.  The railroad and road bridge over the creek use old aqueduct supports from the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal, as did the CL&A interurban which ran between the railroad and the road from 1900 to 1930.  The road is on the aqueduct piers, while the railroad is on the towpath.  The Cincinnati, Inc machine tools plant still has three spur tracks into their facility, but they are long disused and the crossing on Kilby has been pulled up.  Siemer Milling Company in West Harrison is the last customer on the line.  Active track ends two miles west of Siemer at IN-46 just past the I-74 US-52 exit, and there are rumors of some new plants being developed near there that would utilize rail service. 
The track is still mostly in place past IN-46, but it has been paved over in some locations between Cedar Grove and Brookville, and it is overgrown and not maintained.  The tracks end at the Owens Corning Brookville Roofing Plant, which for a time was the only customer on the line.  They provided business of roughly 1,000 carloads per year, but after a washout in approximately 2014, I&O, Owens Corning, and the Indiana Department of Transportation couldn't come to an agreement on covering the cost of repairs.  Norfolk Southern then established a transloading facility in Camden, Ohio to pick up the slack.  While there are rumbles that Owens Corning isn't particularly happy with the new arrangement, they still dismantled all their rail unloading equipment and paved over the tracks at their plant.  The Whitewater Canal Trail, bits of the railroad, and also functioning portions of the canal itself appear a few miles west of Brookville to Metamora, after which point the Whitewater Valley Railroad operation runs to Connersville.  Beyond there, the Connersville & New Castle Railroad (CNUR) operates the tracks through Cambridge City to New Castle.   

Return to Index