Chesterton Tribune

Photos: Air Line Railroad brought electric train service to Chesterton nearly 100 years ago

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Trestle approaching Coffee Creek

Air Line passenger station at Woodville Junction in Liberty Township

 

Air Line Rail brought trains to Chesterton Streets, Duneland Historical Society learns

 

“Profits beyond calculation” and “Chicago to New York in ten hours” were the promises to prospective investors in a page ad in the Chicago Tribune on July 8, 1906. The Chicago- New York Electric Air Line Railroad was the brain child of Alexander C. Miller who envisioned tracks straight as an arrow, grades no more than 1/2 of one percent, practically no curves and no grade crossings.

Stock was offered at $25 a share and by the winter of 1906-1907 there were 15,000 investors and $2,000,000 in the bank.

Hugh Hopkins has done exhaustive research on the Air Line and, assisted by Joan Costello, told the story to the Duneland Historical Society at the Library Service Center on Thursday, October 20 following the society’s fall dinner catered by Popolano’s.

Bound volumes of Air Line News belonging to Rita and Wade Newman along with information from the LaPorte Historical Society collection and articles in the Vidette Messenger, Chesterton Tribune and old train magazines were sources used in the study.

The Air Line News was published monthly from October 1906 until April 1913. It was edited by Charles P. Burton and included progress reports with many pictures.

Stock Traded for Land

Jonathon D. Price put together the Co-Operative Construction Com-pany to build the railroad and Col. Upshaw P. Hord was put to work approaching landowners to secure rights-of-way. He would obtain 100 ft. right-of-way to lay track across property in exchange for shares of stock.

On September 1, 1906, Miller used a silver shovel to turn the first dirt to symbolize the beginning of construction. This was in Scipio Township in LaPorte County. Serious excavating began in LaPorte in early 1907 with Blake A. Mapledoren as superintendent of construction.

Also in 1907 two beautiful coaches were built by the Niles Car Works of Niles, Ohio.

The first 5-mile segment opened June 15, 1907 between LaPorte and South LaPorte. By June 1908 cars were run as far as Westville road (today route 421). This would be just north of where Route 2 intersects 421 today. Bus service was used to and from Westville.

An amusement resort was established near the track in back of Door Village about 5 miles from LaPorte called Air Line Park. On summer Sundays 1,200 passengers were carried for 10 cents for the round trip.

Valparaiso Connected

A franchise was granted by the city of Valparaiso in August 1908 for a feeder line into the city and the Valparaiso and Northern Railway was incorporated. Three miles of the line were completed between Valparaiso and Flint Lake by July 4, 1910. The celebration lasted all day with three cars carrying 6,000 passengers before it was over.

Trains on Chesterton Streets

In February 1909 Porter County Commissioners and the town of Chesterton gave permission for the railroad to use roads for its tracks. The track was completed to Chesterton on January 19, 1911. Pictures show the tracks on Valparaiso Street and Main Street (now Calumet and Broadway).

The Air Line main line and the Valparaiso and Northern line intersected at a point about where the Indiana Toll Road meets Indiana 49 today. First called Air Line Junction, it was renamed Goodrum Junction after the biggest single stockholder in the Air Line.

One of the biggest obstacles in the construction was the Coffee Creek fill in the area of today’s roads 250E and 200E. It required a huge trestle, 50 feet high at its highest, and filled with earth brought from deep cuts farther east. The finished fill was 30 feet wide at its top, 180 feet wide at its base and about a mile long.

State Senator A. J. Bowser gave an impromptu speech about the importance of the Air Line to Chesterton on February 18, 1911 when a car heading west from LaPorte met a car heading east from Chesterton at countyline road to celebrate the opening of the line between the two communities.

Gary Connection

Later that year the Gary Connecting Railway was incorporated and leased to the Goshen, South Bend and Chicago. The Gary Connecting Railway would be the connecting link from Gary through East Gary to Woodville. Also, in 1911 the Valparaiso and Northern Railway completed the segment from Flint Lake to Woodville.

In early 1913 a merger of GSB&C, Valparaiso and Northern and the Gary Connecting Railway resulted in the Gary and Interurban Railway with financing by the sale of bonds instead of stock.

End of the Dream

Charles Burton abruptly discontinued the Air Line News in 1913 and the idea of a Chicago to New York direct system was given up.

For a while the Gary and Interurban did well with a handsome depot built at Woodville junction, a more convenient station than Goodrum. (The depot exists today, remodeled into a family home.) A world war was looming and the Gary and Interurban defaulted in January 1915 and went into receivership. The only true portion of the Air Line (Woodville to LaPorte) shut down in November 1917.

The car to Chesterton continued to be a losing proposition and was discontinued on April 30, 1922 and replaced by a bus. The interurban line from Valparaiso and Garyton continued to run but was finally abandoned in 1938. It was a great favorite with rail fans but a failure financially. The only profit from the enterprise was to bondholders of the Gary and Interurban Railway. Air Line stockholders were never paid dividends.

The Duneland Historical Society will meet November 17 at the Library Service Center at 7:30 p.m.

 

Posted 11/3/2005