National Aspirations, Financial Chicanery and the Ultimate Destiny of the Bee Line Railroad

Leander M. Hubby (Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 4. Cincinnati: Western Biographical Publishing Company, 1887); First Annual Report Cover, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway, books.google.com.

On December 5th 1868, a home gas stove explosion nearly killed and “terribly burned” longtime Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (CC&C) president, Leander M. Hubby. For more than a decade Hubby had led this regional powerhouse as it solidified its financial grip on the Bee Line component railroads. Along the way, he earned an almost patriarchal reputation among officers and men of the road’s operating corps.

Routes of the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad , Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway
Routes of the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad (green; Bee Line), Bellefontaine Railway (red) and Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway (green and red), courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

In May 1868 Hubby had assumed the presidency of the successor railroad that, for the first time, combined the Bee Line components roads into a single legal entity: the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway (CCC&I). Unfortunately, his near-death experience effectively sidelined Hubby until he officially resigned his role in September 1870.

Oscar Townsend (Crisfield Johnson, History of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. D.W. Ensign & Co., 1879.); Hinman B. Hurlbut (J. Fletcher Brennan, ed., Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 1. Cincinnati: John C. Yorston & Co., 1880.)

Into this leadership vacuum stepped a new duo of recently ensconced Bee Line board members. Oscar Townsend’s board appointment in September 1868 closely followed Hinman B. Hurlbut’s similar election at the formation of the CCC&I that May. Then, following Hubby’s unfortunate accident and subsequent resignation in 1870, the Townsend/Hurlbut duo formally assumed their heretofore-tacit responsibilities as president and vice president. They could not have written a more perfect script.

Hurlbut had joined the Bellefontaine Railway’s board and finance committee at its formation in 1864. His Cleveland-centric banking business included numerous Cleveland Clique clients. Soon he was part of the group. Hurlbut had purchased the charter of Cleveland’s Bank of Commerce in the 1850s and reorganized it as the Second National Bank.

Oscar Townsend began his career with the CC&C as a laborer in 1848. Between 1856 and 1862 he advanced through the ranks of its Cleveland freight office. Townsend shifted to Hurlbut’s Second National Bank in 1862, learning his banking skills at Hurlbut’s knee.

The CC&C’s longstanding general ticket agent S. F. Pierson reported, in an exposé on the demise of the railroad, that Hurlbut had tapped the bank of its financial strength by the time he left it in 1865. While one flattering biographer characterized Hurlbut’s exit as due to “the arduous labors and close application necessitated by these and other financial tasks he had undertaken,” Pierson had a different take.

Samuel F. Pierson
Samuel F. Pierson (The Biographical Directory of The Railway Officials of America for 1887. Chicago: The Railway Age Publishing Company, 1887: 252)

From Pierson’s perspective, Hurlbut “retired, consequent upon the destruction of more than its [the Second National Bank’s] entire surplus, and some of the securities and private deposits of the Bank. These…had been abstracted, and the money lost in speculation. The cashier had ended his own life in a painfully tragic manner, and Mr. Hurlbut was permitted to retire.”

It was about this time that Oscar Townsend also left the bank and segued to a superintendent’s role overseeing the Western Department of the Empire Transportation Company. Such businesses were immensely profitable and important extensions of the railroads they served in the post-Civil War era. Responsible for developing relationships with key shippers, businesses such as the Empire Line “fast freight” often decided which railroads would transport the huge amounts of freight under their control.

Empire Line “fast freight” boxcar
Empire Line “fast freight” boxcar (The Official Railway Equipment Register, Vol 23, No 9, February, 1908. New York: The Railway Equipment and Publication Company, 1908: 50.)

At the same time, nearly all railroad presidents quizzed by an 1867 Ohio Special Legislative Committee confessed they had been offered fast freight line stock “on favorable terms, or as a gratuity.” Enticed railroad directors began to work in concert with the “fast freights” to direct high-value freight traffic over their favored “fast freight”. This left only bulkier and less profitable local freight for the railroads themselves.

Inasmuch as the CCC&I started life in 1868 as a “financiers” railroad, Townsend and Hurlbut fit right in. By the time of Hubby’s retirement in 1870, they took control.

David Kilgore, author’s personal collection.

In the Bee Line’s new form, an old and wily politician to handle the Hoosier “good old boy” network was no longer needed. The long railroad career of David Kilgore came to an end in February 1870. And with his departure went the last vestige of the Hoosier Partisans.

Routes of the Atlantic and Great Western Railway, Erie Railway, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway, Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad
Routes of the Atlantic and Great Western Railway (blue), Erie Railway (orange; partial), Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway (green; Bee Line), and Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad (purple). Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

Only one significant transregional railroad would be constructed during the Civil War. The amalgam of railroads that became known as The Atlantic and Great Western Railway Company (A&GW) would stand by itself. With huge capital infusions from London and Continental investors, the road opened for business in August 1865 along its entire 388 mile route from Salamanca in Upstate New York to Dayton Ohio.

The first Atlantic and Great Western train arrives in Kent, Ohio, 1863
The first Atlantic and Great Western train arrives in Kent, Ohio, 1863. Courtesy of Kent (Ohio) Historical Society.

Nefarious London rail broker-cum-financier James McHenry had cajoled voracious  English and European investors to fund the improbable A&GW project. Exploiting his role as proxy for these complacent capitalists, McHenry seized control of the road Ohioan Marvin Kent had brought to life in the 1850s. And by the early 1870s, he also commandeered the board of the Eastern trunk line intersecting with the A&GW at Salamanca: The Erie Railway. Now, he needed an outlet to St. Louis to complete his domination of railroads extending from New York City to the West.

(L to R): Marvin Kent, courtesy of Allegheny University, Pelletier Library Special Collections, Reynolds Collection; James McHenry, Courtesy of Pelletier Library (Reynolds Collection), Allegheny College, Meadville, PA.; Peter H. Watson (Edward Harold Mott, Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie. New York: John S. Collins, 1901.)

James McHenry’s financial flimflam with A&GW’s European investors always left free cash with which to subsidize his own schemes. He had used some of those funds to insert Peter H. Watson as president of the Erie Railway in 1872. Watson became McHenry’s conduit to Hinman B. Hurlbut and the Bee Line. McHenry would sprinkle a substantial amount of cash on Hurlbut, and their subterfuge to assume control of the CCC&I.

Within weeks of Watson’s elevation to Erie’s presidency, he penned a letter to McHenry:

I opened negotiations with the parties controlling this road [CCC&I], and my success was greater and more rapid than I could have hoped. The result is embraced in the conditional agreement made by you with Mr. Hurlbut.

Hurlbut convinced members of the Cleveland Clique to sell their shares before word of an impending takeover became public. He then conveyed the acquired shares, and others from the Bee Line treasury, to McHenry. As S. F. Pierson noted:

…several members [of the CCC&I board] were …retired from active pursuits, and not disposed to take much trouble in the matter; and of the balance, one portion used the Vice-President [Hurlbut] to further some scheme of their own, and the other hoped he might want to use them.

When the A&GW’s plans for the CCC&I became public in early 1873, members of the Cleveland business establishment and other New York investors were completely flummoxed. After all, the A&GW showed assets of less than $40 million while reporting liabilities of more than $120 million. By comparison, the CCC&I was of robust but declining financial health. S. F. Pierson was stunned, noting, “Vice President [Hurlbut] has unbolted our doors from within.”

John H. Devereux (J. Fletcher Brennan ed., Biographical Cyclopedia and Portrait Gallery of the State of Ohio, Vol. 1. Cincinnati: John C. Yorston & Co., 1880.)

John H. Devereux, soon to become a key player in the final destiny of the Bee Line, painted a more colorful picture. He characterized the possibility as “an attempt to chain a living man to a dead corpse.” Before long, as orchestrated by James McHenry, Devereux would become President of both the Bee Line and the A&GW, and vice president at the Erieall at the same time!!

McHenry had arranged for Devereux’s CCC&I presidential appointment as soon as the A&GW assumed financial and board control of it in April 1873. Devereux’s installation quelled some of the Bee Line stockholders’ angst, given his upstanding reputation as a railroad executive. But when Ohio’s legislature blocked McHenry’s plan to lease the CCC&I to the anemic A&GW, the Bee Line shareholders’ attitude shifted.

Still seeking to run the A&GW and CCC&I as a single entity in spite of his failed leasing scheme, McHenry orchestrated Devereux’s appointment as general manager at the A&GW. By January 1874 he was bumped up a notch to president – while still heading the rival Bee Line!

The Bee Line shareholders had had enough. In an effort to oust McHenry’s A&GW and Erie board proxies, they orchestrated a massive CCC&I shareholder turnout for the March 1874 annual meeting. The opposition candidate slate included several former Cleveland Clique members, New York investors, and one Hoosier: David Kilgore.

And in an interesting twist, deposed CCC&I president Oscar Townsend headed the opposition – until Hinman Hurlbut brought to light Townsend’s involvement in a freight payola ring. The revelation tipped the balance. The opposition suffered a narrow defeat. There would be no Hoosier Partisan revival.

Longer term, James McHenry’s self-induced financial problems would only mount. His tenuous grip on the A&GW and CCC&I slipped away at the hands of Peter Watson’s 1874 Erie Railway successor: Hugh H. Jewett. Jewett would extricate the Erie from McHenry’s grasp, and push him to near-bankruptcy.

(L): Hugh J. Jewett (Edward Harold Mott, Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie. New York: John S. Collins, 1901.) (R): William H. Vanderbilt (Harper’s Weekly 29, no. 1513 [December 19, 1885].)

John Devereux remained president of both the Bee Line and A&GW (exiting bankruptcy as the New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio Railroad [NYPA&O; Nypano]) until 1881. At that time William H. Vanderbilt, of New York Central Railroad fame, sought control of the Bee Line to assure an entry into Cincinnati and St. Louis. Devereux had taken control of the linchpin to Cincinnati: the Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton Railroad. He soon yielded to Vanderbilt’s advances.

By 1889 the Bee Line and the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad it controlled (between Indianapolis and St. Louis) would be folded into another Vanderbilt-controlled railroad and emerge as the Big Four route.

Route Map of the Big Four Route
Route Map of the Big Four Route (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway), c1900. Courtesy of the New York Central System Historical Society.

In making this decision Devereux, in his role as president of the NYPA&O, effectively parted ways with a livid Hugh Jewett and the Erie. A week later Devereux resigned. Soon, the Erie would subsume the NYPA&O.

Route Map of the Erie Railroad 1930
Route Map of the Erie Railroad, c1930.

The die was now cast for the future of the Bee Line as well. Its destiny would lie with Vanderbilt’s New York Central.

Oliver H. Smith
Oliver H. Smith, Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

It had been a long journey since 1848, when Oliver H. Smith challenged the citizens of east central Indiana to avoid being bypassed by the technological marvel of the age. They would heed his warning by their investment in the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad – the Bee Line’s Indiana segment.

Smith’s prescient vision proved to be uncannily accurate. It was if he had penned Indiana’s state motto: “the Crossroads of America.” But for the Bee Line, it might never have come to pass.

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The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!

See Part II to learn about the Bee Line’s financing dilemma – the loss of control to the Cleveland Clique and Wall Street.

Advertisement, California, Gold Rush, circa 1850
Advertisement for ships to California during the Gold Rush, circa 1850.

Gold! In January 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. The Gold Rush had begun. And with it, the nation turned its gaze to the West.

image of John Brough
John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

The Bee Line and other Midwest railroads would also reset their goals – to reach Chicago or St. Louis: Gateway to the West. And for John Brough, president of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I], the prospects were particularly tantalizing. While he had already begun to implement a strategy to extend the M&I’s control to the potentially lucrative Indianapolis and Bellefontiane Railroad [I&B] building toward the Ohio state line, the thought of constructing and controlling a line to St. Louis was pure gold.

Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine
Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
A Cleveland Clique of connected businessmen, politicians and railroad investors had already struck gold of their own. The opening of the Midwest’s first regional railroad in 1851 between Cleveland and Columbus – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] – had proved to be successful beyond their most optimistic expectations. They began to consider expanding their reach, not by building, but by buying or controlling the purse strings of other roads headed west . . . to Cincinnati, Indianapolis . . . and St. Louis.

image of Chauncey Rose
Chauncey Rose, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

John Brough’s strategic and financial needs were more immediate, as the M&I’s business calculus began to wane. One of Brough’s peers on the Indianapolis Union Station’s Indianapolis Union Railway board, Chauncey Rose of Terre Haute, had already assembled a circle of businessmen from Indiana’s largest town west of Indianapolis. In 1847, along with Rose’s New York-based financier brother John, they had gathered the funds necessary to construct the first leg west from Indianapolis toward St. Louis: the Terre Haute and Richmond Rail Road [TH&R]. It would be renamed the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad [TH&I] by 1865, to more accurately reflect its final route.

Importantly, the Rose brothers also insured the Terre Haute circle would retain substantial financial control in spite of tapping into the newly available public markets of Wall Street. They would control their own financial destiny, unlike nearly all other Midwest railroads, until well into the 1870s. On February 14, 1852 the first train completed the entire seventy-three mile trip to Indianapolis. The line proved to be the juggernaut for rail travel to St. Louis and the West via Indianapolis.

Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH]
Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Rose and Brough were running into obstacles, both political and economic, in organizing a rail line spanning the unpopulated expanse of Illinois to St. Louis. While Rose initially focused on indirect connections via Vincennes and the nearly complete Ohio and Mississippi Railroad [O&M] extending across the southern third of Indiana and Illinois, Brough had a different plan. He would leverage on an 1846 Illinois charter – then moribund – for a direct route between Terre Haute and St. Louis through the former state capital (1820-1840): Vandalia. In 1850 Brough teamed with Vandalia business and political leaders – as well as James F. D. Lanier’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. – to resurrect the charter as the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A]. He soon became its president.

James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life, 1877
James F. D. Lanier. Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self published, 1877).

Brough’s venturesome efforts to reach St. Louis did not go unnoticed by the Cleveland Clique. It comported with the Clique’s and Henry B. Payne‘s (then president of the CC&C) vision for reaching and controlling lines to the West. And since Winslow, Lanier & Co. and the Cleveland Clique were already digging their financial talons into the two Bellefontaine lines that would soon carry the publicly-dubbed Bee Line moniker, the collective financial support for Brough’s effort was assured. Along with Brough’s M&I, the component Bee Line roads anted up several hundreds of thousands of dollars in spite of the tenuous financial footing of all except the CC&C – courtesy of the Clique’s urging and Lanier’s financial wizardry or skullduggery.

But Brough was having other problems. As the M&I revenue picture darkened, the I&B’s brightened. Now connected with the Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] and CC&C to reach Cleveland, the I&B’s passenger and freight revenue per mile spiked during the first year of through service in 1853. In addition, new traffic carried between Indianapolis and Cincinnati – via a connection at the increasingly critical junction town of Union – translated into booming business along the band of steel known as the I&B.

Oliver H. Smith
Oliver H. Smith, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Even before the I&B reached Union, however, the M&I was having trouble meeting its obligations under the five year operating contract the two had inked in 1850. The M&I’s inability to supply and maintain a sufficient number of locomotives and cars capable of handling the increasing traffic across the partially completed I&B was obvious. By the summer of 1852, I&B president Oliver H. Smith had initiated a series of discussions with Brough to recast the arrangement. Brough’s stance was adamant, as Smith reported: “They [M&I] claimed by resolve to run the whole Road for the time specified.” But Brough’s ego did not reflect the reality of his situation.

The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856)
The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856), courtesy of New York Central System Historical Society.

At the same time, Smith approached the I&B board with specific proposals to purchase additional rolling stock and motive power equipment. He also proposed building machine shops, an engine house and depot buildings. Smith mapped out a game plan to finance the expansion. It would require selling stock and/or floating $150,000 of bonds on Wall Street. Board member Calvin Fletcher reflected the Hoosier Partisans’ growing concern about Smith: “It was doubted by myself & others whether the Embassader [sic] intended had the qualifications to act in the matter.” Newly dominant shareholders Daniel Yandes and Alfred Harrison would handle the funding question.

image of Calvin Fletcher
Calvin Fletcher, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Things were coming to a head on many fronts. At the I&B board meeting in February 1853 a resolution was passed to terminate the M&I operating agreement effective May 1st, more than two years earlier than anticipated. The M&I and Brough were becoming an afterthought.

Then, in March, Oliver Smith challenged the I&B board to endorse his continued presidency. Given his intransigence on moving the Indianapolis depot closer to the new Union Station – for personal business reasons – Smith’s demand fell on deaf ears. Waxing eloquent, Calvin Fletcher penned a response on behalf of the Hoosier Partisans: “We have no doubt, from your standing in this country . . . that you can do for yourself and the country much better than to remain the President of the said Road.” Smith would resign the presidency on April 6th.

On hearing of the I&B’s bold move to terminate its operating contract with the M&I, Brough was beside himself. As May 1st arrived, Fletcher was concerned, noting “Did not sleep very well having been notified that the M&I would not permit the I&B to have possession & that they would defend with force & arms.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed during daylong meetings between Brough, Yandes, Harrison and Fletcher. The next day the operating contract was dissolved.

image of The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]
The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R] also shown, courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Adding insult to injury, Brough’s strategy to tighten the M&I’s grip on a second railroad heading north from Indianapolis – the Peru and Indianapolis [P&I] – was also in peril. While a combination with the M&I would be effected in 1853 as the Madison, Indianapolis and Peru Railroad, it unwound the next year. E. W. H. Ellis, president of the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad, lamented upon the dissolution of the combination: “It is to be regretted that, in the days of its [M&I’s] prosperity, the road, its rolling stock and machinery, were permitted to run down and that these heavy burdens are thrown upon the company.” The I&B was already wise to the M&I’s deficiencies.

Still, the prospect of Brough’s push to St. Louis seemed all but certain. Winslow, Lanier & Co. had successfully attracted adequate funds to begin letting construction contracts. The Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A] had overcome political obstacles thrown in its path by an alliance of Chicago and Mississippi River town interests. They much preferred a route to a smaller river town, on Illinois turf, just north of St. Louis. Much like Indiana’s push to establish Madison as its improbable center of commerce on the Ohio River, against all odds Illinois opted to create Alton as its alternative to St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

Henry B. Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To the Cleveland Clique and CC&C president Henry B. Payne, Brough’s progress in establishing and constructing a direct line to St. Louis, in the form of the M&A, was a dream come true. Controlling this line as well as the Bee Line would solidify the Clique’s plan for the West. And, as his tenure at the M&I grew tenuous, Brough would find Payne’s forthcoming offer incredibly attractive.

To the shock of the Hoosier Partisans, Brough was elected president at the I&B’s annual meeting on June 30, 1853. He was now at the head of three roads simultaneously: the M&I, M&A and I&B. Fletcher’s observations on Brough’s election summed up the feelings of the Hoosier Partisans: “In order to carry out the design we had to take Mr. Brough as president who had acted for the Madison RR . . . where interest . . . adverse to the I&B created a hostility to him. But it was obvious that we had to forgo the objection & take him.” It was not an easy pill to swallow for the Hoosier Partisans.

While it may not have been obvious at that point, the Hoosier Partisans’ decision to accept funding from the CC&C and Winslow, Lanier & Co. – let alone seeking counsel from the Cleveland Clique – would be fraught with long-term consequences.

Check back for Part IV to learn more about the fate of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad, and the related destiny of John Brough with the Bee Line – under influence of the Cleveland Clique.

Continue reading “The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!”

The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control

Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad 1853 advertisement-schedule
Indianapolis & Bellefontaine RR train schedule, printed in Calvin Fletcher’s diary, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

See Part I to learn about the origins of the Bee Line and the men who brought it to life.

The Bee Line Railroad almost never was. At the dawn of the Midwest railroad era Hoosiers were slow to embrace what became the technological marvel of the 19th century. Dependent on state funds or newly emerging Wall Street for cash, initial railroad financing prospects looked dim. Instead, canals were the preferred method of transportation in the mind of the public.

The State of Indiana began planning for a litany of “internal improvements” from its inception in 1816.  In his 1827 message to the General Assembly, Governor James B. Ray (1825-1831) admonished the legislators, noting that railways could convey “equal burdens to any that can be transported on a Canal . . . and with double the velocity.” However, at the time, the legislature was not moved by his argument.

Indiana Governor James B Ray and Wall Street financier James F. D. Lanier
(L) Governor James B. Ray, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society (R) James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self-published, 1877).

Finally, as interest in railroads began to percolate by 1832, legislators approved charters for eight – including the Madison, Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail-Road Company. Prominent among its board members was Madison banker James F. D. Lanier, destined to become the leading Wall Street financier of virtually all Midwest railroad era lines during the mania of the 1850s, including the Bee Line.

More than thirty Indiana railroads were chartered between 1832 and 1838. Nonetheless, attempts to lure private capital via stock subscriptions fizzled. Only a mile and a quarter of experimental track had been laid near Shelbyville by the end of the decade.

Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road 1850 Annual Report Cover
Annual Report Cover, Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road Company, 1850, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

Indiana’s infatuation with canals was reflected in the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act of 1836, which appropriated one-sixth of the state’s wealth for the effort. Of eight state projects funded, only one was for a railroad – what became Indiana’s first: the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I].

Much of the debt to fund these efforts was taken up by the financial barons and financiers of Europe. Rolling mills and metal fabricators in the United Kingdom (UK) were then seeking new markets for their locomotive and rolled rail products. American manufacturers capable of producing such articles were only just beginning, as the Industrial Revolution reached its peak in Europe a full generation before doing so in the U.S. It became a mutually dependent relationship through the 1850s: English products for American dollars.

By the early 1840s Indiana’s failed internal improvements push had become obvious. The state called on Lanier to extricate it from near financial ruin. Before Lanier sailed to Europe in 1847 to negotiate Indiana’s financial exit plan, it had already jettisoned its canal and railroad holdings.

Beyond his success ensuring the state’s survival, Lanier returned from Europe with the confidence of the barons of Continental and English finance. Since the UK was America’s primary source for finished iron rails until the Civil War, the importance of such developed trust was pivotal. These relationships became the cornerstone of Lanier’s success as the Midwest’s preeminent member of Wall Street’s new financial sector: investment banking.

Wall Street Investment House floor circa 1865
Wall Street Investment House, circa 1865.

As part of its privatizing move in 1842, the Indiana legislature had authorized the M&I to borrow money and issue bonds to complete the line to Indianapolis not later than 1848. In his role on the M&I’s reconstituted board, Lanier orchestrated placement of $50,000 (in 1845) and $100,000 (in 1846) of private bonds through the Wall Street firm which would soon bear his name: Winslow, Perkins & Co.

With funds in hand, the M&I finished the final fifty-six miles of track to Indianapolis by October 1847, at a cost of $628,000. Daniel Yandes, subsequently the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad’s primary stockholder, had won a bid to construct ten miles of the road. The whole task was finished nearly a year before its targeted completion date. In comparison, as a state-run company, it had taken seven years and over $1.5 million to lay the line’s first twenty-eight miles.

The M&I’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Perkins & Co. began to weigh in on the railroad’s managerial approach after suffusing it with cash. It foretold the more active role financiers would take in operational decision-making of businesses they were funding. To that end, a new president arrived at the M&I in August 1848: John Brough of Ohio, whose life would revolve around the Bee Line railroad.

John Brough image
John Brough. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

Brough had been a youthful and powerful member of Ohio’s legislature. As a freshman legislator at the age of 26, he chaired the Committee on Banks and Currency. Subsequently he was chosen the state’s auditor, a position he held until 1845. Brough had come to Madison, Indiana from Cincinnati, after a three year stint with his brother running the emerging Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

By the time Brough issued his first report to shareholders in January 1849, the newly christened Wall Street financial firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. held more than $92,000 of M&I cash equivalents. Both Merssrs. Winslow and Lanier held positions on the board of directors.

Wall Street was fast becoming the financial clearinghouse for matching Eastern Seaboard and European investors with Midwest railroad securities. A new class of private bankers arose, backed by European firms, which began to serve as investment middlemen. These newly coined “investment bankers” evaluated the quality of securities, served as investment advisers to individuals with surplus capital, acted as financial agents for the railroads, and frequently took investment positions themselves. They also allocated investment capital among the many railroads seeking cash infusions.

Map of Midwest Railroads, with Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Bellefontaine and Indiana, and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati railroads annotated in color
Map of Midwest Railroads, with the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], and Bee Line component lines: Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I], and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C] annotated in color. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Initially, Brough developed a strategy to build, invest in, or otherwise secure favorable operating agreements with a planned web of railroads radiating from Indianapolis. And invest he did. The M&I, Brough reasoned, would gather agricultural goods from the southern two-thirds of Indiana and funnel them via Indianapolis to Madison for transport on the Ohio River.

To assure its dominant position, Brough used his politically powerful board to block a railroad charter for a rail line headed from Indianapolis toward Cincinnati (Lawrenceburg). He also rejiggered timetables to prevent convenient connections over a newly chartered branch line extending toward Louisville (Jeffersonville) from Columbus, Indiana.

David Kilgore image
David Kilgore, from the author’s personal collection.

David Kilgore, director of the 1848-chartered Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B] – first leg of the Bee Line extending from Indianapolis to the Ohio state line – noted Brough’s aggressive, anti-competitive tactics: “now they would put their feet upon the neck of competition . . . And why? . . . Rival interests are springing up at other points, and if they can be crippled, so much the better for this city [Indianapolis] and Madison.” It would not be long, however, before Brough would prove unable to stem the tide of competition.

Brough’s involvement planning Indianapolis’ Union Station in the early 1850s, with M&I’s investment in the Indianapolis Union Railway Company, yielded insights about the financial health and intentions of other lines terminating there. Unfortunately for him, in 1851 Indiana’s new constitution was adopted, including a mandate to craft general incorporation laws. No longer would special charters be required to form new railroads. It signaled the end of the M&I’s political agility to stifle competition.

Indianapolis Union Station image circa 1906
Indianapolis Union Station, circa 1906, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

As a result, Brough shifted strategies. He now sought to make two of the newborn and financially anemic lines dependent on the M&I. Brough would set his sights on the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, building northeast from Indianapolis. It was already making plans to connect with roads angling to another key center of economic growth: Cleveland. And with the help of Lanier and his Wall Street firm, the lure would prove to be almost irresistible.

Cleveland Railway Station and Docks 1854
Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854 (James Harrison Kennedy, A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise and Progress 1796-1896. Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896).

To the surprise of investors, as well as the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s board, costs of funding construction and operation of the new railroad had been grossly underestimated. Without access to substantial credit facilities, motive power equipment, rolling stock, iron rails and operating personnel, the I&B was going nowhere. There to “help” was Brough and Winslow, Lanier & Co.

The M&I, as orchestrated by Brough, guaranteed newly issued I&B bonds that Lanier had floated.  Now, it could purchase the M&I’s surplus iron rails, and lease its motive power and rolling stock equipment. The basis of the bargain was a lucrative five-year operating agreement, which commenced in 1850. The M&I would not only supply all personnel, but also collect and distribute ticket and freight receipts, paying itself from the proceeds it handled.

Whose railroad was it anyway? By the time the I&B started partial service between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, the railroad was the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine in name only. It was all as Brough had planned.

image of Henry B Payne, president of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad 1851-1854
Henry B Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

There was another important aspect of the new line’s financial health. By 1853, when the I&B commenced service all the way to Union, the dominant regional player – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] through its president Henry B. Payne – had loaned the I&B and its sister Bellefontaine and Indiana line in Ohio a combined sum of over $100,000.

Thus, no sooner had the smaller combined Bellefontaine lines, now known collectively as the Bee Line, begun full service than they began to lose a grasp on their own destiny. Pulling the financial strings were John Brough, James F. D. Lanier, and a Cleveland Clique of businessmen and bankers headed by Henry B. Payne, then at the controls of the CC&C. The resulting tug of war between the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans for control of the Bee Line would continue throughout the 1850s.

Map of the Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Mississippi and Atlantic, Terre Haute and Richmond railroads annotated
Map of the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I] and involved lines: Indianapolis and Bellefonatine [I&B] and Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A] annotated in color, as well as the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
But Henry Payne and the Cleveland Clique had other aspirations as well. Controlling rail lines all the way to St. Louis would cement its dominant role among Midwest railroads. And John Brough, recognizing the need for the M&I to control other railroads heading to more viable destinations, had – with the help of James Lanier – already turned his gaze to St. Louis.

Check back for Part III to learn more about John Brough and the Cleveland Clique’s pivotal play to reach St. Louis, as well as the resulting impact on the Bee Line and its Hoosier Partisans.

Continue reading “The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control”

Roberta West Nicholson: Eviscerator of Gold-Diggers & Champion of Social Reform

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If Roberta West Nicholson has received any recognition at all, it’s been from Men’s Rights Groups, who have praised her revolutionary Anti-Heart Balm Bill. However, the bill, like much of her work, was progressively liberal and centered around equality. As the only woman legislator in 1935-1936, in her work to educate the public about sexual health, efforts against discrimination in Indianapolis, and champion children’s causes, West was a public servant in the purest sense. Despite her tireless work, she struggled to escape the shadow of her father-in-law, famous Hoosier author Meredith Nicholson, and to be associated with social reform rather than her “cuteness.” In an interview with the Indiana State Library (ISL) conducted in the 1970s, she did just that, but unfortunately, it has been largely overlooked.

Even as a young college student, the Cincinnati, Ohio native deviated from the norm. Nicholson attended one semester at the University of Cincinnati, leaving after an exasperating experience with the sorority system, which she found “excessively boring.” Unbending to sorority policies which required dating male pledges and attending numerous parties, it became evident that Nicholson interests were incompatible with those of her sisters. After one of several instances of bullying, she proudly returned the sorority pin, withdrew from the college, and went to finishing school.

Roberta met her husband, Meredith Nicholson Jr., at a summer resort in Northport Point, MI. In 1926, the two were married and she moved to Indiana, where she was “absolutely bowled over by the fact that it was virtually the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan and their vile machinations.” From a politically conservative family, Mrs. Nicholson soon found that in Indiana “the Republican party, as far as I could ascertain, was almost synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan. Well, how could you be anything but a Democrat, you know? That was to be on the side of angels so to speak.”

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Thomas Hart Benton’s “Parks, the Circus, the Klan, the Press,” scene on a mural representing Indiana at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, courtesy of Indiana University, accessed Indiana Public Media.

The day of her wedding, Roberta’s father received two letters, “terrible penmanship-pencil on cheap lined paper-warning him to stop the marriage of his daughter to that ‘nigger loving Jew.'”* Her father spent a large amount of money trying to identify the author of the “vitriolic hatred,” an attempt that proved unsuccessful. The couple’s wedded bliss was also impeded by the Great Depression, in which Meredith Jr. lost everything in the stock market and “this beautiful dream world we’d been living in is all of a sudden gone.” Following the bankruptcy of her husband’s company, Roberta took a job at Stewarts book store, supporting the family on $15 a week.

After the adoption of liberal principles, Nicholson engaged in her first real reform work in 1931. Birth control activist Margaret Sanger solicited Nicholson to establish a Planned Parenthood center in Indianapolis. A New York representative visited Nicholson in the city, describing the “very, very disappointing lack of progress they seemed to be making because there was apparently very little known about family planning and very little support in general terms for such a concept.” Nicholson was convinced that this should change and established a chapter in Indianapolis. Thus began Nicholson’s 18 years-long work as a family planning and social hygiene advocate.

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Margaret Sanger, circa 1917, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Outside of her role in Planned Parenthood, she worked as a public educator, going into cities, sometimes “very poor, miserable ghetto neighborhood[s],” to increase awareness of the “menace of venereal disease.” It became clear to Nicholson that ignorance about sexual health was widespread, including her own lack of knowledge about diseases, which she had referred to syphilis as the “awful awfuls” and gonorrhea the “never nevers.” During these often uncomfortable meetings with the public, Nicholson sought to inspire an open dialogue and a back and forth about taboo subjects. Nicholson also showed reproduction films to middle schoolers a job that provoked titters by students and sometimes outrage on the part of parents.

Her dedication to improve the welfare of children intensified during the Great Depression, when she witnessed impoverished children modeling clothes made by WPA employees. This was an effort to prove to those Indianapolis newspapers highly critical of Roosevelt’s New Deal that social programs were effective. Seeing these children being used to “get some bigoted publisher to change his views on some very necessary emergency measures” made her think of her own children and brought her to tears. In her ISL interview, she stated that “I decided that I was going to spend the rest of my life helping children that were disadvantaged, and I have.”

In 1932, Nicholson founded the Juvenile Court Bi-Partisan Committee, to convince politicians to reform juvenile justice and “keep the court out of politics and to employ qualified persons to handle the children.” These efforts proved successful, when in 1938 Judge Wilfred Bradshaw reformed the court. Nicholson served as a longtime committee member and in 1946, when other members became frustrated with progress and resigned, Nicholson stayed, saying “I feel that because you are going to sometimes lose your point of conviction doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Nicholson also worked to improve the lives of Indianapolis children as the president of the Children’s Bureau, an adoption agency and group home, and in her work on the board of Directors of the Child Welfare League.

At the encouragement of her mother-in-law, she worked with the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Repeal. In her interview with ISL, she explained her motive for joining the effort to repeal the 18th Amendment:

“These women felt very deeply about the fact that prohibition had inaugurated the era of of the gangsters: the illicit traffic in liquor, with no taxes and everything. They were building this empire of crime…And I said, ‘I am interested in it because these are the craziest days.’ Everybody had a bootlegger. I suppose real poor people didn’t but you never went to a party where there weren’t cocktails. I remember feeling very deeply ashamed to think that my children would be growing up with parents who were breaking the law. How was I going to teach them to fly right? I certainly wasn’t up to bucking the trend. So I thought, ‘All right, Ill work on this, that’s fine.’”

In 1933, Governor Paul V. McNutt appointed her to the Liquor Control Advisory Board and she was elected secretary to the state constitutional convention that ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing prohibition.

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Terre Haute Brewing Company, circa 1934, likely celebrating the repeal of prohibition, image courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Her experience and qualifications made her a natural choice for public office. In 1934, she was convinced by the county chairman to run for Legislature during the FDR administration because “the Democrats smelled victory, because of the dramatic actions of the president. They wanted to get some names they thought would be meaningful to the voters so they invited me.” Although Nicholson had studied the issues in depth, it turned out that in order to be elected “all that was expected of one was to step up to the podium and say, ‘I stand four square behind FDR.’ That did it.”

Win she did, becoming the only woman to serve in the 1935-1936 Legislature, where she routinely faced sexism. According to the Indianapolis Star, during her time as secretary of the public morals committee, she informed her committeemen, “‘If you you think you’re going to stop me from talking just because I’ll be taking minutes, you’re wrong-I’ve got some things to say, and I’m going to say them.'” Nicholson elaborated that many of her colleagues thought:

“Wasn’t it cute of her. She’s got a bill. She’s going to introduce it just like a man. Isn’t that darling?’ I restrained myself, because after all I was in the distinct minority. I could not offend them. So I would just bat my eyelashes and beam at them and act as if I thought it was the way I wanted to be treated. Wasn’t that the only thing to do?”

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Indianapolis Star, January 16, 1935, accessed Newspapers.com.

Not only did she “have” a bill, but her breach of promise bill, dubbed the “Anti-Heart Balm Bill,” made waves in Indiana and across the country. Nicholson’s proposal would outlaw the ability of a woman to sue a man who had promised to marry them, but changed their minds. She felt that deriving monetary gain from emotional pain went against feminist principles and that if a man did the same to a woman he would be absolutely condemned. Nicholson described her reasoning for the bill,  which had been protested by some women’s groups:

“…it just seemed perfectly silly to me, that from time immemorial, a female being engaged to be married could change her mind and say, ‘Sorry Joe, it’s all off.’ But if the man did, and if he had any money, he could be sued. I thought that was absolutely absurd. . . . The thing that was so amazing and truly surprising to me is that it was widely interpreted as giving free reign to predatory males to take advantage of chaste maidens which, of course, was diametrically opposed to what my conception was. I thought-and I still think-that it was an early blow for women’s liberation. I thought it was undignified and disgusting that women sued men for the same changing their mind about getting married.”

Nicholson’s bill passed the House fairly easily, but was held up in the Senate because, in her opinion, “Something new was being tried and several of the senators felt, ‘Why should we be first?” The bill also encountered resistance by lawyers who profited from breach of promise suits. Eventually the bill passed, inspiring similar legislation in other states. The Indianapolis Star credited Nicholson’s bill with bringing the “Spotlight, Pathe News, Time and Look magazines hurrying to Indiana by sponsoring and successfully promoting the famous heart-balm bill which has saved many a wealthy Indianian embarrassment, both social and financial by preventing breach of promise suits.”

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Karl Kae Knecht Cartoon, courtesy of Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library, accessed Indiana Memory.

After passage of the “Gold-Diggers bill,” Nicholson was invited to speak around the country. At an address to the Chicago Association of Commerce and the Alliance of Business and Professional Women, she said “It seemed to me that we should say to these gold diggers and shyster lawyers, as did the Queen in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Off with their heads!” She added, “I am not a professional moralist, but I have attempted to set up a deterrent to irregular relations by removing the prospect of pecuniary profit from them.”

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The Post-Democrat (Muncie), March 20, 1936, accessed Ball State University Digital Media Repository.

Nicholson also received criticism during her legislative career for supporting the Social Security Act, for which a special session was called in 1936. The Head of the Indiana Taxpayers Association stopped her near the statehouse and asked if she would be voting for “‘that terrible communist social security.'” When she confirmed she was, Nicholson noted that his face creased with rage and he sped off in his chauffeured car. A state senator shared his conviction, contending that the act’s supporters were “‘Trying to turn this country into a GD Ethiopia!'”

Perhaps the most intense scrutiny Nicholson faced as a lawmaker was in her role as a working mother. The Indianapolis Star noted that nothing made Nicholson madder than “to have interfering friends charge that she is neglecting her family to pursue the career of a budding stateswoman.” The paper relayed Nicholson’s response:

“‘Some of my friends have told me that they think it is ‘perfectly terrible’ of me to get myself elected to the Legislature and spend the greater part of sixty days away from the children. . . . I told them, ‘I don’t spend any more time away from my children than other mothers do who play bridge and go to luncheons all the time.’ I try to be a good mother and so far as my being in the the Legislature preventing me from going to parties is concerned, I don’t care much for parties anyway!'”

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Nicholson with her daughter, Indianapolis Star, March 23, 1941, p.55, accessed Newspaper.com.

Despite criticism, Nicholson proved steadfast in her political convictions and was perceived of as a “force” by many observers; the Indianapolis Star proclaimed “Mrs. Nicholson yesterday wore a modish dark red velvet dress and smoked cigarettes frequently during the proceedings, and if any of her fellow legislators didn’t like it, it was just too bad. It was a pleasure to watch her.” When her term ended, the tenacious legislator ran for reelection, but lost because the political climate swung in favor of the Republican Party. However, this was far from the end of her public service.

Check back for Part II to learn about her WPA work alongside Ross Lockridge Sr.; visit with Eleanor Roosevelt; tiresome efforts to find housing for African American soldiers in Indianapolis who had been turned away; and observations about the Red Scare in local politics.

*The Nicholsons were not Jewish. It is likely that the author of the letter used the word “Jew” as a derogatory term for progressives.