Since 1900, number of local lines
reduced from five to two
By BOB GAGEN
At the beginning of this century
five major railroads ran through either Noble or LaGrange counties,
speeding passengers to cities large and small and serving numerous
grain elevators and manufacturing enterprises.
In the ensuing 99 years three of these lines
- the Grand Rapids & Indiana, the Wabash and the Vandalia
Line of the Pennsylvania system - have been abandoned and their
rails taken up. The other two - Norfolk Southern and CSX - have
upgraded their east-west lines through Noble County and are transporting
record amounts of freight.
Norfolk Southern, which took over Conrail's line through Kendallville,
Brimfield, Wawaka and Ligonier on June 15, 1999, travels a route
which opened in the county in 1858 as the Michigan Southern and
Northern Indiana Railroad and subsequently was known as Lake
Shore & Michigan Southern, Air Line of New York Central,
Penn Central and Conrail.
The Baltimore & Ohio established stations at Avilla, Albion,
Kimmell and Cromwell in 1874. It subsequently became known as
the Chesepeake & Ohio, Chessie System and, at present, CSX.
It recently double-tracked its entire line through the county
and its air horn warnings at grade crossings are heard more often
than ever before all along the line.
The Grand Rapids & Indiana ran through both counties, with
Noble County depots at LaOtto, Avilla, Kendallville, Rome City
and Wolcottville and stations at LaGrange and Howe in LaGrange
Known as "The Fishing Line," the GR&I did a large
passenger business to the resort areas of northern Michigan,
which also led to it being called "The Hay Fever Express."
It was also heavily traveled by those attending Chautauquas at
Rome City around the turn of the century.
This line in Indiana was abandoned between 1979 and 1984 with
the only remnant still in service being the 1.1-mile stretch
delivering inbound sugar and syrup to the Favorite Brands International
(Kraft) plant in Kendallville.
A 3.8-mile stretch of the Vandalia Railroad from Logansport
to Butler ran through southeast Noble County, crossing the GR
& I tracks at LaOtto, originally known as Grand Rapids Crossing.
The Vandalia line was abandoned piecemeal between 1954 and 1977.
The Wabash Railroad ran through southern LaGrange County with
stops at Topeka and Eddy, then dodging south to Wolcottville
to avoid Atwood and Witmer lakes, then back into LaGrange County
heading for South Milford. This stretch of the Wabash was abandoned
between 1984 and 1991.
Today South Milford is headquarters of the 104-mile Indiana Northeastern
Railroad, which began operations in 1992 and runs the only active
rail line in LaGrange County. It follows a Z-shaped course west
to Montpelier, Ohio, through Steuben County to South Milford
and then north to Angola and points in Michigan.
The Goshen-Sturgis branch of the old Lake Shore & Michigan
Southern had station points at Shipshewana and Seybert, where
grain elevators were the principal patrons. This line was gradually
abandoned, with the last operating portion between Goshen and
Shipshewana closing in 1880 after making an attempt at being
a tourist line.
Today, of course, you can't board a train in either county and
travel, as you could in 1900, to such popular spots as Chicago,
New York, Washington, Niagara Falls and northern Michigan.