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The Madison & Indianapolis Railroad

Construction was started on the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad on September 16, 1836, one of the earliest railroads built west of the Allehany Mountains and the first in the State of Indiana.

The 17 miles from North Madison to Graham were completed by Nov. 25, 1838, and to celebrate the completion of the first part of the road an historic ride occurred on that date. It was described in The Indianapolis News:

"The little engine, the Elkhorn, pulled our of North Madison with all the load it could possibly tote. The coach and boxcars - the latter built for carrying hogs - were crowded with passengers. Those not permitted to ride stood and cheered or ran along the track yelling encouragement to the engineer. He could move his heavy train but slowly, although ti is a matter of record that the Elkhorn did get going at 8 miles per hour."

The cut through the hill from Madison to North Madison was also begun in 1836 and was completed five years later. It is 7,012 feet long with a total elevtion of 413 feet or a grade of 5.89%. There were two deep cuts of 100 and 125 feet through solid rock, done by a workforce of up to 2,000 men, mostly Irish immigrants.

Before completion of the incline plane, passingers were taken from Madison to North Madison via horse-drawn omnibus. After the cut was completed, cars were let down the incline by gravity and hauled back up by a team of eight horses.

On March 28, 1844, the first serious accident occurred on the incline. A coach and bagged car in the charge of conductor John Lodge were about halfway into the descent when, contrary to orders, a car carrying wood was let loose on the incline. The brakeman on the wood car could not control the speed and it crashed into the passenger car. Several people were killed. Using gravity down the incline was continued until 1880 when an order was issued requiring the hill engine to be attached to all of the cars going down the incline.

By June of 1839 the 5 miles from Graham to Vernon were completed. By June of 1841 the 5.8 miles to Queensville were finished and state funds for building the railroad had run out. With the help of a Madison bank, a short, 2.5 mile stretch was completed to Scipio in June of 1843.

In Feb. of 1843 the state sold the railroad to the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad Co. supposedly for $600,000. The M&I ended up paying $36,500 for the railroad.


Train at the Madison station ca. 1910




Locomotives at roundhouse in North Madison ca. 1883

The railroad was completed to Indianapolis, a distance of 86 miles, on Oct. 4, 1847, and the Indianapolis State Journal described the first trip:

"At about three o'clock in the afternoon the belching forth of the loud-mouthed cannon announced the approach of the cars from Madison. Such a collection of people as thronged the ground adjacent to the depot hadn't been written about in thses parts since Tippecanoe time. There they were by the acre stretching out along the railroad, some upon tree stumps, fences, mounds, and everything which tended to aid one squad above another. Then was heard the shrill whistle of the locomotive as the two iron steeds puffing and snorting majestically follwed by long trains of passenger and freight cars. Indianapolis after 25 years in the woods was at last connected to the world."

When the railroad was transferred by the State of Indiana to a private corporation, a provision of the contract required the new company to build another route between Madison and North Madison because the incline was proving to be a real operating problem. In 1853 such a project was developed under the Madison & Indianapolis presidnt John Brough (pronounced Bruff) by which a lower grade line 4.75 miles long was to be constructed which would leave Madison by a gradually ascending grade along the face of the hills to the west of the city. Then it would enter and follow Clifty Creek valley to a point near its head and by a second tunnel emerge on the upland and proceed to a point on the railroad about a mile north of North Madison. $309,479 was spent on the project which was eventually abandoned and came to be known as Brough's Folly.

The best years of the M&I were before 1853. The Jeffersonville to Columbus railroad was completed in 1852, and that railroad prospered while the M&I declined. In 1862 the railroad was reorganized as the Indianapolis and Madison Railroad and two years later the Jeffersonville Railroad took control of the I&M. In 1871 it all became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad system.

The bell that was used to notify passnegers that a train was about to leave the station is now located inside the station on the History Center campus. It was cast in 1849.

The last passenger train left Madison on June 30, 1931. Freight operations continued and diesel engines replaced the coal-burning steam engines on Nov. 9, 1953. The last train came down the incline in July of 1992 hauling equipment for the Indian-Kentucky Electirc Corp. power plant.