Rail line short but has big impact
Karen Schwartz, Special to The Corydon Democrat
At 7.7 miles, the Louisville New Albany & Corydon Railroad was the shortest railroad line in Indiana, but its tracks were just as wide as those belonging to the major railroad companies.
The history of the LNA&C began in 1870 when the Louisville-Evansville-St. Louis Railroad, which later became Southern, made the announcement that its main line would pass through New Salisbury instead of Harrison County’s seat, Corydon. Of course, the town of Corydon was disappointed but it was acknowledged that the northern route was more efficient since New Salisbury lies in a straight line between St. Louis and Louisville.
Immediately, the importance of establishing a branch line from Corydon to New Salisbury was recognized and long-term discussions began with the objective of making this a reality.
Eleven years later, in 1881, Col. St. John Boyle, a Louisville lawyer who was also a major stockholder in the LE&SL, secured the rights necessary to build the branch line.
The line opened in 1883, when the first train arrived in Corydon on Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day. Thousands waited at the depot to witness and welcome the arrival of the excursion train carrying 200 passengers from Louisville and New Albany. Regular railroad service commenced after the celebration.
Hotels sprang up near the railway depot along Walnut Street as up to 16 carloads of passengers traveled to Corydon to visit the Harrison County Fair, Wyandotte Cave and other area attractions. Stops on the line, including Davis Crossing, Hursttown, Windell and Nevin, did not feature regular stations or platforms, however.
In 1885, Boyle attempted to supplement his fortunes with another money-making scheme. He issued bonds to finance a stone quarry east of Corydon. The venture was doomed from the outset and failed within one year, leaving the railroad in default.
Then, in February 1886, calamity struck when there was a collision between LNA&C and Air Line locomotives. The LNA&C engineer, returning from New Albany, was ordered to halt at Georgetown because the station master thought a train was approaching on the Southern Line. Despite the warning, the engineer failed to stop. As predicted, the two trains crashed into each other west of town and both engineers were killed. The passengers on both trains were shaken up, but all survived. Consequently, Southern officials forbade LNA&C from using their tracks. Since passenger service was discontinued, riders would get on at Corydon, ride the LNA&C to Corydon Junction, disembark and then catch a Southern train to reach their destination.
Some of the more colorful legends that have sprung up around the LNA&C Railroad include a staged train wreck in 1896 in conjunction with the Harrison County Fair and a turn-of-the-century, faulty brake incident in which a train carrying exotic animals from the famed Barnum & Bailey Circus screeched to a halt just outside of town.
The Buchanan family was closely involved with the LNA&C for more than 70 years.
In 1899, Charles Buchanan began his 42-year career with the railroad. In 1922, when the Corydon State Bank failed, the endangered railroad was rescued when Buchanan appealed to the public for increased patronage. When he passed away in 1941, he was succeeded by his son, William Buchanan, who continued as president until his retirement in 1972.
In 1951, the LNA&C converted a 45-ton General Electric engine, dubbed the Betty Sue in honor of Bill Buchanan’s two daughters, from steam to diesel. It was familiarly known as the Dinky.
Bill Buchanan passed away on Nov. 28, 1983. Ironically, this was the 100-year anniversary of the arrival of the first train in Corydon.
A high point for the railroad was in the late 1920s when a five-year, mini building boom saw the construction of the new courthouse, Highway 62, school, church and other buildings. Throughout the 1930s, the railroad, along with the rest of the nation, suffered through hard times. In 1939, just as the LNA&C began to recover, the U.S. Dept. of Defense placed an embargo on rail shipments of gas and oil to assist the war effort. Ups and downs continued for the railroad line.
By 1947, the LNA&C was able to retire old, outstanding bonds. When, in 1960, the LNA&C came close to failure, valiant community efforts rescued the railroad from bankruptcy once again.
In 1971, Evans Products bought the LNA&C. Then, in 1988, the railroad was purchased by Richard Pearson, Chuck Owens and Bob Hawkins, who began operating it in 1989 as the Corydon Scenic Railroad, transporting passengers to Corydon Junction and back. Special runs included train robberies, The Polar Express, Civil War re-enactments and other events. The Corydon Scenic Railroad did not re-open in the spring of 2003 citing rising expenses.
The railroad was purchased by Lucas Oil in 2006 and is now known as Lucas Oil Rail Lines. Lucas Oil ships products all over the world.
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana’s bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column ‘ focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County’s history ‘ that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 812-736-2373 or 812-738-2828, by e-mail at [email protected] or by regular mail at 5850 Devil’s Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.