Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PRR's Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad

1871 Map from Library of Congress
Grand Rapids received rail service in 1858 because it was on the line of the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee, which used rail between Detroit and Grand Haven and a steamboat across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. (HistoryGrandRapids) But since 1845, some citizens in Grand Rapids agitated for a road south to the Ohio River. A railroad was needed from Northern Michigan to Indiana to ship products such as hardwood, pine, gypsum and plaster to big cities. And to bring supplies to Northern Michigan. North of Grand Rapids was still wilderness. For example, a barrel of salt bought for three dollars in Grand Rapids cost an additional six dollars in Big Rapids about sixty-five miles north. (IU)

Companies were formed, stocks and bonds were issued, dirt was moved, and land grants were obtained. But due to the Panic of 1857, the Civil War, and local management that was way over their head, no track was laid. Finally, people who knew how to build a railroad were hired --- Continental Improvement Co., a subsidiary of Pennsy. They completed a 20-mile land grant segment between Grand Rapids and Cedar Springs by June 22, 1869 to meet a July 1 deadline. "This is said to have been the most rapid railroad building in the United States to that date." In 1870 they completed the segment from Fort Wayne to Grand Rapids. Then from 1870 to 1873 they built the line from Cedar Springs to Petoskey and actively promoted the land grant properties to Scandinavia immigrants. In the meantime they leased the Fort Wayne, Richmond & Cincinnati to control a 91-mile segment from Fort Wayne to Richmond. They also helped equip and operate as soon as it was completed the segment from Richmond to Cincinnati that was built by the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Richmond. So three decades after it had become a topic of conversation and two decades after the first company was incorporated, the railroad achieved the vision of connecting the resources of Northern Michigan with the Ohio River. But by that time the railroads it crossed would be the arteries to the eastern and western markets rather than the Ohio River. (IU)

The vision of shipping lumber products proved viable. The line was profitable because of the lumber trade until the late 1880s when the forests were depleted. But by then it had developed a tourist trade and was known as "The Fishing Line."

Matt Anderson
Matt Anderson
This slogan was incorporated in their logos and posters.

The Michigan Central (MC) completed its line to Mackinac City in 1881 up the eastern side of the peninsula. The GR&I reached Mackinaw City in 1882. In 1886, GR&I joined with MC and the Detroit and Cleveland Steamship Navigation Company to form the Mackinac Island Hotel Company, which built the Grand Hotel in 1887. The GR&I had financed other resorts along their line, but this had to be the grandest. (Wikipedia, Tourists)

But it evidently is hard to survive on tourist trade. The Pennsy bought it from the bankruptcy receiver in 1895, but operated it as the GR&I until March 26, 1921. The corporate end was at the end of 1953 when it was merged into Penndel Co. (TrainOrders)


Mark Cowles, Marine Historical Society of Detroit
The GR&I did have freight business because railcar ferries plied the Straits of Mackinac starting in 1888. The Chief Wawatam in this picture ran from 1911-1984. (This ferry ran for so long because it had a propeller in front to break the ice.) But the opening of the Mackinac Bridge in 1857 provided trucks a significant competitive edge. The Pennsy kept filing for abandonment of the line north of Grand Rapids, but the ICC kept denying it. (Pennsy)

The Penn Central merger in 1968 and subsequent bankruptcy in 1970, and the bankruptcies of other eastern railroads, taught Congress that the old railroad and tax laws, union rules, and regulations would not work in the age of interstate highways. Congress formed Conrail and Conrail chose to keep the MC route and abandon the GR&I route except for the segment between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. The Michigan Department of Transportation bought the line from Grand Rapids to Mackinaw City and contracted with Michigan Northern (MN) to operate the route. With the aid of state subsidies, MN took control of the ferry service in 1982 and purchased some branches from Ann Arbor Railroad in 1983. But in August, 1984 the ferry dock at St. Ignace collapsed and was not repaired bringing a halt to the ferry service. Then on October 1, 1984, Michigan terminated its subsidies. The MN did not survive. The line from Cadillac to Petoskey was then aquired by Tuscola & Saginaw Bay Railway (T&SB). (Shortlines) The line from Grand Rapids to Cadillac became the White Trail State Park. (Trail) MN abandoned the line from Petosky to Mackinaw City by 1990 after trying to run excursion trains. (A1)

Several depot pictures and some bridge pictures.

System Map from TSB
The T&SB was bought by Federated Railways in 2006, and it is now called the Great Lakes Central Railroad (GLC). Instead of providing a system map, they have a link to the MDOT track map. According to the MDOT map, the reporting mark is still TSBY.

The MDOT map also shows that the Conrail segment between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids is now part of Norfolk Southern.

I could not find an abandonment date for the Kalamazoo to Sturgis segment. (A2) The segment between Sturgis and Kendallville was abandoned in 1979, and the segment south of Kendallville to Fort Wayne became history in 1982. (A3) The Cincinnati, Richmond & Fort Wayne was abandoned south of Decatur. (A4)

(Update: additional spurs are being built for industries in Sturgis.)

I'll add links to postings about the still existing Kendallville and Fort Wayne segments as I write them.

Update: Kendallville has been written.

Merle Althafer posted in Facebook
Update: Merle's comments:
The photo, looking east over the Grand River, highlights the Blue Footbridge, formerly the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad bridge. The original railroad bridge was built in 1868; its replacement, built in 1874, was destroyed in 1883 during the great log jam. The current bridge, the oldest railroad bridge in the city, was built in 1892. Trains crossing this bridge traveled between Muskegon and Mackinaw City. When rail traffic ceased in the 1980s, the span was restored, painted its distinctive blue color, and became a pedestrian walkway across the Grand River known as the Blue Bridge. The bridge ends on the east bank at a walkway that leads to Campau Ave.; it leads to the Eberhard Center of Grand Valley State University on the west bank. The two tallest building are hotels: the Amway Grand Plaza on the left, and the Marriott to its right. The tall building near the center (between two cranes) is the McKay Tower at the corner of Monroe Center and Pearl Street, or as known locally, Campau Square.
The bridge south of Avilla, IN, still stands.

Michigan Southern Railroad uses the GR&I route in Sturgis, MI, as an industrial spur. It is adding spurs to that spur to serve more industry. [RailroadFan]

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