Historical TidBits

History of the Corridor that Inspired the Vandalia Trail

Following are tidbits about and links to the history of the corridor that inspired the Vandalia Trail. Many thanks to Hendricks County Parks Board member Paul Miner who helped compile much of this information from the Hendricks County government archives.

The Terre Haute and Richmond Rail Road was chartered January 26, 1847. The railroad was being built through Clay Township of Hendricks County in August, 1850. The first time an engine passed over the entire line was February 16, 1853. It was later called Terre Haute and Indianapolis Rail Road, Vandalia Rail Road, and Pennsylvania Rail Road. The last spike in the railroad was driven between Fillmore and Greencastle. The grade for the railroad was built by men using wheelbarrows. The first iron horses, two Hinkley locomotives, arrived at Terre Haute from Boston by canal.

Town of Plainfield (town's history page)

Town of Clayton (originally Clayville) was laid out in 1851 & incorporated in 1909. (town's history page)

Town of Amo (originally Morrisville) was laid out in 1850 & incorporated in 1913.

Town of Coatesville (originally West Milton) was laid out in the 1850s & incorporated in 1909. (town's history page)

Town of Fillmore was laid out in 1852.

City of Greencastle (city's page)

Clay Township was formed from parts of Marion and Franklin Townships, Hendricks County, in 1845. It was one of the smaller Townships of the County, but soon became the most thickly populated, having the most villages and Post Offices (6 of each) in the County. They were Pecksburg, Amo, Coatesville, Reno, Hadley, and Springtown.

The Vandalia line ran through Coatesville, Cincinnatus, Amo, Pecksburg, Clayton, North Bellville, Cartersburg, Plainfield and Six Points. The town of Springtown died when the rail line ran a mile south of it, where Amo sprang up. Some of its houses were dismantled and moved to Amo. Amo was originally named Morrisville.

1865 map of West Milton

1878 map of Clay Township

On October 1, 1887, President Grover Cleveland passed through Hendricks County via the Vandalia Railroad during his western tour. The website whitehousehistory.org recounts, "at about 8 a.m., October 1, the train arrived in Indianapolis, capital of Indiana" on its way to St. Louis. Following a reception for Cleveland, his wife and key cabinet members, "the train now moved over Vandalia Line trackage toward St. Louis, where the hosts, the ones who had instigated this mad journey, awaited the arrival of the Presidential Special." The party rode in George Pullman's private railcar. Hendricks County Republican reported the following week, "Cleveland never showed his neck at Plainfield, Coatsville (sic) and other important towns on the Vandalia. The Guilford Democrats had decorated the bridges and other structures along the route. But Grover did not unkennel himself."

1904 by Friends Press of Plainfield
"Coatsville (sic), our fifth town in size, is located on the Indianapolis and Terre Haute Railroad in the extreme western part of the county. In the last three years the town has been enjoying an enviable "building boom." The price of real estate has advanced 25 per cent, since 1900. In 1902 a new bank was organized; it is being well supported. The general merchandise stores of Stanley & Campbell, and Gambold and Ransom, and Otto Lakin, furniture dealer, all do an excellent business. Other concerns are: Campbell & Masten, hardware and lumber; the Coatesville Bank; Flora Gambold, restaurant; Knight & Montgomery, restaurant; Draper and Bryant, general merchants; J. G. Sharp, druggist; T. H. Knight, L. M. Harlan & Son, meat merchants; C. E. Simmons, dentist; W. N. Lakin, farm implements; C. E. Greenleaf, liveryman; O. Jackson, and Stuart & Jenkins, blacksmiths; Davis & Johnson and A. J. Burks, harness dealers; William Mason, wagon repairer; E. R. Ellis, tile manufacturer; B. F. Harlan and G. B. Prewitt. brick makers; Hamrick & Christie, stock dealers. The town supports four physicians, S. E. Marks, S. Hunt, C. F. Hope and Luther M. Williams. Coatsville has two hotels, and is well supplied with churches and lodges. The block built by G. B. Prewitt in 1902 has a frontage of 80 feet and is 90 feet deep. It is a one story block and has four business rooms. It is occupied by Draper & Bryant, Knight & Montgomery, Flora Gambould, and the Coatsville Bank."

1904 map of Coatesville

On October 31, 1908 there was a train wreck just east of town (Amo) and one man was killed. When the Vandalia Railroad was built, it was necessary to provide some convenient way to keep the engines supplied with water, so large wooden tanks were constructed close to the track. They were placed high enough so that the water would flow from the tank down through a spout into the boiler of the engine. One such tank was located at the creek, near the east edge of Amo. At the edge of the creek channel as near as possible to the tank, one or more large cisterns were constructed to hold water from the creek. The walls of the cistern was composed of piling and lumber. The top was covered to keep out trash. The water was pumped from the cistern by hand and forced into the tank above.

An eight-cylinder Cadillac beat the Vandalia's best, the St. Louisan, on Aug. 29, 1915, according to the Indianapolis News. Billed as "The Great Indianapolis-to-Terre Haute Race," the match-up between a Terre Haute car salesman and the passenger train required the train to make all its regular stops. The automobile followed the old National Road Highway, bumps, ruts and mud notwithstanding. The Cadillacís winning time, 77 minutes over 72 miles (ranging 10-75 mph), was 12 minutes faster than the train.

The ghost town of Pecksburg east of Amo was the birthplace of Arthur Trester, the first IHSAA commissioner. An award in his name still honors the high school athlete with the best mental attitude.

The Royal Scott, the London, Midland & Scottish Railways' complete express train, which had been on exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair, passed through Amo on October 12, 1933. Several persons gathered along the tracks to watch the train go by.

At one point early in the rail line's history, Coatesville was nicknamed "Chiseltown" because so many bridge carpenters lived there. The town's early history, and that of the rail line, was lost when the 1948 tornado destroyed the town library and much of the town.

1957 Amo Centennial Celebration Program (22MB PDF file)