New York Central/Big Four, CIND Subdivision - Indiana & Ohio, CIND Subdivision
Former Indianapolis & Cincinnati/CCC & St. L (Big Four)/New York Central to Indiana
Standard gauge line opened to Cincinnati in 1863
Downtown terminal: Central Union Depot (3rd Street & Central Avenue)
In use except downtown terminal areas
(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 Miami & Erie Canal is fairly well known in Cincinnati due to its central location and eventual use for the never completed subway. However, few people know of the second canal to serve the city, the Cincinnati & Whitewater Canal, which ran west from downtown along the Ohio River to Harrison. Ground was broken for its parent, the Whitewater Canal, on September 13, 1836. It would run from Lawrenceburg to 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.
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.
An artist's rendition of the canal
tunnel when it was in use. While the railroad
would use the tunnel until 1888, it likely only allowed
room for one track, impeding capacity expansion.
the canal was having
difficulty with floods and maintenance, new railroads started siphoning
off what little traffic the canal had left. Before the canal
started construction, the first railroad in Indiana, the Lawrenceburg
& Indianapolis, was chartered in 1832, but by 1834 only a 1.25 mile
demonstration track utilizing horse-drawn vehicles and wooden tracks was
constructed on the outskirts of Shelbyville. The Lawrenceburg
& Rushville Railroad Company was incorporated in 1848 to build a
road to Greensburg, which would become its direct line, though the route
to Rushville was not built. In 1850 the Shelbyville & Indianapolis Railroad Company was
incorporated to build a road between its namesake cities. In the same act, the name of the Lawrenceburg
& Rushville Railroad Company was changed to Lawrenceburg
& Upper Mississippi Railroad Company, and they were
authorized to extend their road from Lawrenceburg to
Shelbyville. On October 4, 1853, the name of the company was
changed to the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad Company,
and operations began 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, 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.
A curiosity of the main route between Indianapolis and Cincinnati is the six mile long horseshoe curve from Greendale to the Lawrenceburg riverfront and back, a result of the original route from Indianapolis descending Tanners Creek from the north and terminating along New Street. The extension to Ohio along the abandoned canal ran nearly parallel to Tanners Creek less than a mile to the east, just in the opposite direction. This also resulted in crossing the O&M twice in downtown Lawrenceburg, as the I&C went about a block closer to the river. The railroad repurposed the canal tunnel at Cleves, and they built a new bridge over the Great Miami River utilizing the canal's old aqueduct supports. On the branch line to Harrison, they also reused the aqueduct abutments at Dry Fork, though the railroad is on the towpath alignment, and the road bridge is now on the aqueduct supports.
The Plum Street Station was opened in December
1865 on the site of the Pearl Street Market, which had never been
used for its intended purpose.
The terminal basin for the canal was along the south side
of Pearl Street, ending at Central Avenue, with the market
property stretching two blocks farther east to Elm Street. The station
occupied the very wide middle of Pearl Street between Plum and
Central, in much the same way that Findlay Market today sits in
the middle of Elder Street.
The first freight station was constructed on Pearl between
Central Avenue and John Street in 1864, and being at the location
of the canal's old terminal, and within striking distance of the industrial riverfront, that put it in an already bustling
warehouse district. This
being the closest station to the heart of downtown made it a
desirable terminal for other railroads to use as well. The Marietta & Cincinnati
operated out of Plum Street as soon as the station opened, and
other railroads would share this station as well, making it the
city's first union station.
On February 21, 1880, the Cincinnati, Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway Company was incorporated and afterwards bought the Cincinnati, Lafayette & Chicago Railroad. This company had built a railroad from Kankakee, Illinois, to Templeton, Indiana. On May 6, 1880, the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railroad was purchased by the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway Company. This company, with a connection to the Illinois Central Railroad at Kankakee, formed a through line between Cincinnati and Chicago, making this a very important link in the Ohio-Indiana-Illinois railroad network.
A branch line between Lawrenceburg and Aurora was built between 1882 and 1886 by the Cincinnati & Southern Ohio River Railway, terminating near 3rd Street in Aurora after crossing Hogan Creek. Extension to Rising Sun and beyond to Jeffersonville or New Albany opposite Louisville was never carried out due to a lack of funds, and the railroad would be folded into the Big Four in 1913 or 1915.
The two-track approach to the Plum Street Station had become a bottleneck by the 1880s due to growing traffic, and Central Union Depot was constructed a block away from the Plum Street Station in 1883 at the corner of 3rd and Central. The old passenger station was converted to freight use. In 1888 the canal tunnel in Cleves was abandoned in favor of a new cut through the hill slightly to the west. This cut would be widened in 1903 to allow the Cincinnati, Lawrenceburg & Aurora interurban to use the cut instead of the very steep Miami Avenue, and in the 1950s it would be widened yet again for US-50 to also bypass Miami Avenue. The north end of the tunnel remains today, with the portal still accessible and visible from Miami Avenue, although it has been filled with sediment to within about 3 feet of the top of the arch. The south end was destroyed when US-50 was cut through the hill, but it was just north of Brower Road.
On on June 7, 1889, the company became the Chicago division of the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway Company, also known as the Big Four Railroad, after merging with the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis Railway Company, the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway Company, and the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago Railway Company. Between 1875 and 1899 they built a bypass through the small village of Homestead, now part of Greendale, to eliminate multiple crossings of the O&M (which would become part of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) on the Lawrenceburg riverfront, and the long slog through downtown Lawrenceburg. The old route through Greendale and Lawrenceburg was then relegated to local freight and passenger movements only. Lawrenceburg Junction was established on the east side of the Greendale Cutoff, and it appears that the original I&C route on the west side next to Tanners Creek was abandoned shortly thereafter.
In 1902 the company embarked on a significant realignment and regrading project on their mainline through Dearborn County. The steep grades and numerous curves through the valley of West Fork Tanners Creek required helper engines and slow speeds while climbing Guilford Hill out of the Ohio River Valley. Between what is today Perfect North Slopes near Guilford, and Sunman to the northwest, the railroad was almost entirely rebuilt on a new straighter alignment at a shallower grade, and it was upgraded from a single track to double track. Some 20,000 immigrant workers were brought in to tackle the project. The distance from Guilford to Sunman was reduced from 13 miles to 12, the number of curves was reduced significantly, and several crossings of Tanners Creek were eliminated. New arched concrete bridges and viaducts were constructed, and the project finished in approximately 1905. Along with the Greendale Cutoff, the distance between Cincinnati and Indianapolis was reduced by seven miles, and running time was shortened by 30 minutes. The new grade is approximately 0.8% which is still somewhat formidable, and it's a long climb of over 500' in the 12 miles from Guilford to Sunman, but this was a huge improvement over the prior alignment. In the 1920s and early 1930s the bridges were further reinforced to handle heavier trains, showing just how important this nearly direct route between the two cities was. Any remains of the canal bed that survived up to this point were mostly filled in to provide space for the second track. As the project was concluding, the Big Four was acquired by the New York Central Railroad in 1906, though it would operate independently until 1930. NYC would continue operations until the Penn Central merger in 1969.
A CL&A car is crossing the
Great Miami River on the ca. 1884 highway bridge. The
single-track Big Four Railroad's bridge is visible to
the right, which reused the supports from the Cincinnati
& Whitewater Canal aqueduct from the late 1830s or
early 1840s. Both of these bridges were destroyed
by the flood of 1913, which washed away every bridge
over the Great Miami between the Ohio River and Dayton.
The horse and wagon are on Valley Junction Road, which
sits on a part of the canal the railroad elected not to
The great flood of 1913 destroyed the Big Four bridge over the Great Miami River, along with every other bridge between the Ohio River and Dayton. The company scrambled to build its replacement, which opened in 1914 and still utilizes one of the old canal aqueduct abutments from the late 1830s or early 1840s. When Union Terminal was constructed in the early 1930s, a connecting viaduct was built which climbed up the north bank of the Ohio River, passed under the north approach to the Cincinnati Southern Bridge, then swung north to Union Terminal. The viaduct itself has been dismantled, but the arched concrete piers remain. The tracks to the old Central Union Depot and other freight facilities remained for a few decades longer. Although partially destroyed by fire in 1944, that area was still a large complex of warehouses until 1961 when much of it was demolished for construction of Ft. Washington Way and the I-75 Brent Spence Bridge. The rest was removed in the early 2000s for construction of Paul Brown Stadium. The tracks have since been cut back to the underside of the Brent Spence Bridge and former C&O Railroad viaduct where they terminate unceremoniously in the dirt before crossing Pete Rose Way at the east entrance to Longworth Hall. It is still referred to as the ditch track due to its lower elevation on the old canal bed. The main yard was Riverside Yard just west of Sedamsville where they also had a roundhouse.
As time went on the horseshoe curve through Lawrenceburg and Greendale was gradually whittled away. Some of the original route on the west side of town remains today to serve the MGP Distillery and other industries south of Probasco Street, but those tracks are now operated by CSX, successor to the B&O and O&M. An unused signal gantry remains near Lawrenceburg Junction along Oberting Road opposite Greendale Plaza Drive. The east side track appears to have still been in some limited use into the 1980s. Formal abandonment was apparently in 1991, and the tracks themselves weren't removed until the mid 1990s for construction of the casino, though much of the right-of-way remains as a flood wall next to US-50. The Aurora branch was abandoned by Conrail in 1979 and has been converted to a bike path, reusing the 1882 Pratt truss bridge over Tanner's Creek. A new bridge was built over Wilson Creek to the west, leaving the old wooden trestle approaches off to the side. A few former Big Four customers in Aurora were switched over to the B&O and now CSX similar to those in Greendale. The bridge over Hogan Creek is gone, but some wood piles remain where it flows into the Ohio River.
After post-war traffic
declines and the ill-fated merger between the Pennsylvania
Railroad and New York Central Railroad, the former I&C was
abandoned by the newly-formed Penn Central. Rail routes from Cincinnati
north to Hamilton and then west to Indianapolis provided a direct enough
connection without the need of climbing Guilford Hill,
while also serving more industrial cities along the way. Nonetheless, the line was rebuilt and operated by
Conrail with state funding. Conrail sold the line in 1992 to
Central Properties, Inc., who operated it as the Central
Railroad of Indiana (CIND). Indiana & Ohio Railway, a
subsidiary of Railtex and RailAmerica, acquired CIND in August
of 1998. I&O invested heavily in the line, as CIND had
placed the railroad west of Lawrenceburg up for abandonment, but
I&O withdrew the application for abandonment upon taking
over. They began renovation of the line to connect I&O with
another property acquired with CIND, the Central Railroad of
Indianapolis (CERA), and sister Railtex road, the Indiana
Southern Railroad (ISRR). Between Shelbyville and
Indianapolis the former Big Four is now operated by CSX, and
CIND operates via trackage rights to reach Indianapolis and the
ISRR. In 2008, Honda opened an assembly plant at Greensburg,
Indiana which is served exclusively by CIND. Autorack trains
operate frequently to service that facility. I&O is
now owned and operated by Genesee & Wyoming, who acquired the
railroad in their 2012 purchase of RailAmerica. With little
need for through traffic, the track between Honda and Shelbyville was
relegated to car storage starting in roughly 2009, and it appears to be
completely out of service since about 2015. There are a few yard
tracks remaining at Riverside with a crossover to CSX (called Texaco
Crossover) which allows Honda autoracks to be interchanged without tying
up capacity at the Queensgate Yard. There are also some extra
Storrs Yard and Oklahoma in Lower Price Hill, but most operations are
handled out of Valley where the Whitewater/Brookville Division
connects. This route has fallen hard over the last century.
Once an important mainline, it's now little more than a single track
light duty branch. Nevertheless, with new customers like Honda,
hopefully it will be able to continue
playing a role in the transportation of Cincinnati's west side and of
southeast Indiana for years to come.
Photographs from Downtown to
Lawrenceburg & Harrison
Return to Index