An old path out of town: Albany’s interurban infrastructure

Two weeks shy of a year ago, I drove up to Albany, Indiana in northeastern Delaware County to take photos of a couple of old schoolhouses there. Heading southeast on Eaton-Albany Pike -the old road that connects those two communities- I came across something mysterious. 

Here it is: 

An old Muncie & Portland Traction Company alignment north of Albany, Indiana.

It’s long been my experience that if you happen across a random power lines extending off into the distance with nary a road or trail next to them, it’s likely that they represent an old alignment of, well, something. It could be an old road, ditch, train track, or property line. 

In this case, the elevated grade points to the site of an old rail line. More specifically, it’s the site of the Muncie & Portland Traction Company’s interurban.

The interurban was a network of electric, self-propelled rail cars that traveled from town to town and operated in Indiana from around 1900 to 1940. The Muncie-Portland line was constructed in 1906 and acquired by the Union Traction Company ten years later. From Muncie, the initial Muncie & Portland line followed East Wysor Street to the southeastern corner of McCulloch Park, where it ran south of Bunch Boulevard and East Manor Street to follow the current Norfolk Southern tracks northeast to Desoto. A portion of North Shirey Road in Muncie between Manor and East Central Indiana appears to have been built on the old right-of-way. 

Here’s the path of the interurban as it reached Albany. Satellite photos courtesy of Google, overlays that represent the site of the bridge, the traction station, and the leading photo are courtesy of me.

A mile west of Desoto, the tracks angled east northeast and diverged from the railroad towards a northern skew south of what’s now called East Edgewater Road. The interurban crossed Lake Branch just west of Albany’s Dowden Avenue Bridge, and although I don’t have any photos of them, abutments of the old bridge are still visible. 

Here’s an abutment you can see from the bridge on Dowden Avenue in Albany. Google captured this image in September, 2013. The view remains the same.

The old right-of-way is readily apparent to your right if you’re traveling southbound on Dowden Avenue. From there, it connected with a building that housed the traction company’s power substation, passenger depot, and freight depot.

The interurban crossed Dowden Avenue around a fifth of a mile north of the bridge abutments.

That building’s still there. It anchors the west side of downtown Albany and has an intriguing history.  Julia Allegre, George Current, and Rhoda Current deeded the land it sits on to the Delaware School Township on July 15, 1876. Shortly after, the township constructed a two-story, three-bay building of brick to serve as a schoolhouse. The structure was abandoned after the 1889 construction of a new, graded schoolhouse three blocks west.

Here’s the 1876/1906 traction station and powerhouse in Albany, looking southwest. The original portion of the building, though, heavily modified, is to the left.

After the schoolhouse was replaced, the building served as a house before the traction company bought it to use as substation and depot around 1906. The company added an L-shaped segment that wrapped around the north and west sides of the original structure, then remodeled the schoolhouse to match the Italianate style of the new additions.

Several old Italianate window infills such as this are about all that remains of the old traction depot’s original provenance as a schoolhouse.

As reconfigured, the old schoolhouse portion of the structure was converted into two waiting rooms, a bathroom, a lobby, and a ticket office. The addition to the west served as the substation, and the northern portion of the building was used to store freight to be shipped. 

As seen from Eaton-Albany Pike, the interurban line continued on from Albany towards Dunkirk.

From the traction station, the interurban line followed North Delaware Street until it angled northeast just south of Eaton-Albany Pike, which is where I took northbound photos of the right-of-way. The interurban crossed North County Road 800-East -sometimes called the Green Street Road in those parts- about a fifth of a mile north of East County Road 920 North. From there, it followed the modern-day path of Indiana State Road 167 until it reached the interurban station in Dunkirk at the southern corner of 167 and East Railroad Street. At the station, the interurban peeled southeasterly, following the Contrail/Pennsylvania Railroad tracks to Redkey before angling up to their terminus in Portland via a path that followed the modern-day configuration of Indiana State Road 67. 

The old Dunkirk interurban station as it appeared in 2022.

The Muncie-Portland line was discontinued in 1930 when the Union Traction Company was acquired by Indiana Railroad, which was controlled by Midland Utilities Company until 1942. I actually, randomly, have a remote connection to the interurban system. In 1912, a company called Indiana Service Corporation became part of the Indiana Railroad conglomerate. Twelve years later, on May 20, 1924, five people were killed during a head-on interurban collision at Roanoke, southwest of Fort Wayne. One of the victims was the 22-year-old Welker F. Earhart who, had he survived, would have been my great-great uncle on my dad’s side. His sister, Maro, was my dad’s grandmother.

This article appeared on page 1 of the September 3, 1924 edition of the Huntington (Indiana) Herald.

After its days as a station and powerhouse ended, the old building in Albany became home to a Sunoco station, an auction house, the Albany Sales & Service Ford dealership, and a Pizza King restaurant. In 1979, it was even proposed to become the town’s new municipal building. Most of the alterations to the building’s interior layout likely occurred during its time as a service station and Ford dealership.

In 2021, the Beautification Committee of Albany, Inc. acquired and announced plans to renovate the structure. Around a month ago, the committee gave me a tour of the building, which, by the looks of it, is going to require a lot of work to stabilize and restore. 

Here’s hoping that Albany’s early monument to transportation gets the support that it deserves. 

2 thoughts on “An old path out of town: Albany’s interurban infrastructure

  1. Those old interurbans are fascinating. I learned that one such line was the source of the street names of Stop 11, Stop 12 and Stop 13 roads in Southport.


    1. I’d wondered about the curious naming of those streets. I knew German Church Road was named after the interurban stop that was named for the actual church

      Liked by 1 person

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