The last Interurban run out of Fort Wayne took place on January 18, 1941. This magnificent, unique, transportation system, for more than four decades, had accommodated countless millions of men, women and children from all walks of life and with equal dignity; passed unobtrusively into the Valhalla of electric railroads. The Interurban connected Indiana’s rural areas and small towns to big cities and stimulated unprecedented economic growth in Indiana.
Abe Martin once said, “Indiana’s Interurban systems were like day nurseries, they met the crying need of Indiana’s cash starved cities and businesses.” Although, the interurban systems were not financially viable themselves, they fertilized Indiana’s economic growth. Consider transportation at the turn of the century (early 1900s), when the electric railway came into prominence. If one wanted to escape the city on a sunny, summer afternoon the only alternative was a buggy ride on a hot, bumpy, dusty and congested road that went nowhere. Major heavy rail lines in this part of the country ran to all points of the compass, but larger railroads were not interested in short hauling passengers between cities. The big railroads were understandably more interested in hauling freight that was far more profitable than passengers. Midwest terrain was fairly level, cleared and stable, which offered an excellent footing for the light rails needed by an electric traction network. Conducive conditions made laying track for the Interurban relatively inexpensive, quick and easy. Fort Wayne was ideally situated since it was located at the crest of a major watershed. Regardless of whether one went north or south out of the Summit City, it was downhill.
Interurban’s opened up the countryside and were a tremendous boom to all Indiana cities large or small. They provided city folks with fresh farm produce and made other farm products more readily available to bakeries, dairies and breweries. One author noted that the price of farm land jumped from twelve to fifteen dollars an acre after access to an Interurban line became available. Labor markets grew too, and rapidly expanded the job market because people could commute to jobs previously unavailable to them. It allowed rural families access (via Interurbans) to cultural and social activities in larger communities. Indiana’s Interurban system, made mobile, Indiana’s formerly stationary population; it allowed them and their money to circulate throughout the state. Formerly unprofitable opera houses, orchestras, live theaters, sports arenas and shopping centers suddenly filled to capacity. Indiana’s Interurbans affected Hoosier’s education too because it allowed parents and their children to commute to all sorts of other schools, colleges, and special vocational trade schools. With the advent of the Interurban people in small villages, towns and rural areas had the same opportunity for higher education previously limited to people in large cities. Nobody liked the Interurban system more than sales people because it expanded their territories. Business competition in all markets, large or small, lowered prices; another bonus for Indiana consumers. Newspapers and magazines expanded their circulation and profits right along with the heavy metal industries who provided copper, steel and other materials needed to build and sustain the Interurban system and Indiana’s booming economy. Even religion was positively affected as traveling ministers took their tent revivals on the road with carnivals and circuses. To be continued…
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