Wheeling, New Wheeling, and the CI&E Railroad

Indiana University says that nearly two-thirds of the 23 million acres that make up Indiana is farmland1. As much as we’re known for corn and soybeans, that wasn’t always the case: pioneers clear cut enormous swaths of forest down in the years after they arrived here, which means tree lines that seem random to us in 2023 are usually anything but! One stretch, visible from Old US-35 in northern Delaware County, hides an old alignment of the Chicago, Indiana & Eastern Railway. New rail during the gas boom meant big money for any town on its path, and the line’s completion convinced an entire community to try and reorganize itself nearly a mile west of where it stood.

The old CI&E and PRR path (green) and Wheeling Pike (blue) near the town of Wheeling in Delaware County’s Washington Township. Satellite imagery courtesy Google, copyright IndianaMap Framework Data. Landsat /Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. 

Growth in Washington Township in the northwest corner of Delaware County was hampered by vast swamps. Nevertheless, settlers gathered around the Mississinewa River after David Conner organized a trading post there in 18232. Fourteen years later, William McCormick platted a town on the site. It was known as McCormick’s Post Office, Cranberry, and Cranberry Post Office before it was eventually rechristened Wheeling3.

The former Wheeling Methodist Episcopal Church, as seen on March 21, 2023.

Wheeling eventually grew to host a hotel, two taverns, a sawmill, a smithery, a church, and a schoolhouse4. Along with nearby Matthews, there’s a common misconception that the village narrowly missed out on being named the state capital of Indiana. It’s not true. No iteration of either community existed when the state capital was first organized in Corydon in 1815, nor when it moved to Indianapolis during the 1820s.

Washington Township’s old District 2 schoolhouse at Wheeling. Photo taken April 14, 2021.

Wheeling was hit by a tornado in 1922. The storm ruined homes, blew the roof off of the town’s Methodist Episcopal Church, and partially destroyed the District 2 schoolhouse5. The school was fixed but closed after the 1924-25 term as the last in Washington Township to fold into the consolidated building in nearby Gaston. Today, the town of Wheeling consists of about thirty-five homes, the old church, and the old school. A post office in town was shuttered in 19336.

Wheeling Pike, State Road 21 in this 1932 INDOT map, from Muncie to Marion through Wheeling.

The right-of-way for a road that connected Muncie and Wheeling was granted by county commissioners in 1867. The highway served as the first regular mail route to Washington Township and mail was even delivered along its path as far north as Logansport7! The road eventually became a turnpike, then Indiana State Road 21. After World War II, the road was also US-358 before the state highway commission abandoned it in 19679. Today, the road’s known simply as Wheeling Avenue in Muncie or Wheeling Pike in the rest of Delaware County.

The old railroad alignment is demarcated by a tree line that crosses Wheeling Pike just south of West County Road 900-North, near where a community called Stockport once sat. The Chicago, Indiana & Eastern Railway was incorporated on March 8, 1893, to connect Chicago, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio. The first section, eight-and-a-half miles between Matthews and Fairmount, opened in 1895. Three years later, about twelve miles opened between Fairmount and Swayzee. The greater railroad never materialized, but the part I’m interested in, 17 miles between Muncie and Matthews, was completed in December 190010.

The northern section of New Wheeling, as platted in 1902.

Railroads were game-changers for Delaware County. Prominent settlement on the Mississinewa River were quickly overtaken once the trains came through, and residents of Wheeling wanted in on the action even though the railroad ran seven-tenths of a mile west of the town. Local boosters platted “New Wheeling,” a community that consisted of seventy-five lots, adjacent to the tracks in 1902. The depot sat at the southwest corner of where the railroad met Eaton-Wheeling Pike, also called North Jonesboro Road in that part of the county.

The old CI&E/PRR railroad right-of-way, looking south down Martin Road towards the site of New Wheeling. Photo taken March 21, 2023.

It seems like folly to connect a string of such small towns by rail today, but the gas boom was in full swing in 1900. Places like Fairmount, Swayzee, and Matthews were flourishing! The prosperity encouraged the Pennsylvania Railroad to acquire the CI&E in 1907 to gain a foothold into the boom’s epicenter at Muncie11, but the growth didn’t last much longer. By 1917, it was clear that the line was no longer the moneymaker it had been after the gas ran out12.

The remains of a CI&E/PRR trestle over Van Devender Ditch at the site of New Wheeling. Photo taken March 21, 2023.

The PRR discontinued passenger service in 1925 and obtained trackage rights to Muncie over the Big Four line from Anderson five years later. Most of the old railroad was abandoned in 193313. The Muncie-Matthews portion remained in service to serve grain elevators at Matthews and Anthony for forty more years before it was finally discontinued14.

Wooden steps down the old railroad bed allow a New Wheeling resident access to their mailbox. Photo taken March 21, 2023.

Today, it’s hard to see any evidence that a settlement, or a railroad, once came through here. The only clues are the right of way, visible as a linear hump extending back into the woods near Jonesboro Road, along with the remains of a wooden trestle just north of the intersection. New Wheeling itself seems to have died along with the railroad: although it grew large enough to host the Wheeling Glass Bottle Company factory by 190415, there’s little sign of the community today.

New Wheeling and Wheeling, as seen in online maps provided by the Delaware County Assessor’s Office.

North Martin Road, west of Wheeling, partially follows the old CI&E tracks. That’s where the trestle can be seen, along with an abandoned mattress if a traveler turns onto it from Eaton-Wheeling Pike or North Jonesboro Road. Nevertheless, the best way to see the town of New Wheeling is through online resources provided by the Delaware County Assessor’s Office: the ghost town is still demarcated in the county’s Beacon web app and visible if you check the “Subdivisions” filter. It’s a subtle reminder of the promise the gas boom and railroad seemed to bring even our smallest communities.

Sources Cited
1 Farmland in Indiana (n.d.) INcontext. Indiana Business Research Center. Kelley School of Business. Indiana University [Bloomington]. Web. Retrieved March 22, 2023.
2 Haimbaugh, F.D. (1924). History of Delaware County, Indiana. Volume I. Historical Publishing Company [Indianapolis]. book.
3 Flook, C. (2019). Lost Towns of Delaware County, Indiana. The History Press [Charleston]. book. p. 120.
4 Roysdon, K. (2005, November 16). Wheeling businesses gone, but family history remains. The Muncie Star Press. p. 4.
5 Property in and Near Wheeling Damaged by Tornado That Swept Northwest Part of County (1922, April 19). The Muncie Morning Star. p. 1.
6 Forte, J. (n.d.). Indiana Delaware County. Jim Forte Postal History. Retrieved January 14, 2023, from Jim Forte Postal History.
7 Kemper, G. W. H. (1908). Education in Delaware County. In A Twentieth Century History of Delaware County, Indiana, Volume 1 (Vol. 1, p. 252). book, Lewis Publishing Company.
8 Greene, D. (1975, September 12). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 4.
9 Field, L. (1967, October 16). Old U.S. 35 Route Given To County. The Muncie Evening Press. p. 1.
10 Sulzer, E.G. (1998). Ghost Railroads of Indiana. Indiana University Press [Bloomington]. Book.
11 (See footnote 10).
12 Spurgeon, B. (1973, March 18). For CI&E’s Last Segment, the End Is Now in Sight. The Muncie Star. p. 39.
13 Abandon Converse to Matthews Line (1933, February 3). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 7.
14 Spurgeon, W. (1975, December 14). Penn Central Serves Notice Of Lines to Be Abandoned (1975, December 14). The Muncie Star. p. 2.
15 A Bottle Plant Down For Repairs (1904, September 19). The Muncie Times. p. 5.

2 thoughts on “Wheeling, New Wheeling, and the CI&E Railroad

    1. One of the resources I used to research this is an insane, interactive Google Map some dedicated rail fans put together that lists, I believe, every extant and defunct railroad in Indiana, including the interurban. So I think the answer is yes!

      Also- congrats! You finally made it!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s