If you lived in Zionsville during the early part of the 20th century, you may have traveled around Indiana on one of the many interurban railroad lines that sliced up the state like spokes on a wheel. Indianapolis was the hub of that wheel; the core of the Indiana’s many lines of track that connected downtown Indianapolis with suburban communities and cities throughout the state.
The interurban rail cars were similar to trolley cars. They were powered by electricity from a cables that ran above the tracks. From around 1900 through the 1930s, the interurbans were state-of-the-art mass transit technology. After the depression, they were eventually replaced by a combination of affordable personal cars, buses with better route flexibility, along with better roads and highways.
Learn History of Zionsville and the Interurbans
The dark path of bricks down the center of Main St. in Zionsville symbolize the path of railroad tracks that previously ran through town. Here are several sources of information about the history of Zionsville and its close relationship with the interurbans and railroads.
- Long Gone Zionsville branch: For specific history of Zionsville and the railroads, a good place to start is this online transcript of a conversation at Indiana Railroads, an online Hoosier railroading forum.
- There Used to be a Station Right Here: This detailed article by Scott Bogren, along with several photos from the Indiana Historical Society, focuses on the Traction Terminal built in downtown Indianapolis in 1904, which was the hub of Indiana’s interurban light rail system.
- Interurbans: Their rise and fall across Indiana: This summary of a Hoosier History Live! radio show on WICR 88.7 provides a brief overview of the history of interurbans in Indiana.
- Roadtrip: Zionsville’s trains, trolleys and Main Street bricks: This brief article, also from Hoosier History Live! (second article on the page), adds a few more details about the history of Zionsville and trains—and the story of the dark bricks in the middle of Main Street.
- History of Zionsville: The Village Heritage: This 3-page PDF summary of Zionsville’s first 150 years (courtesy of the Zionsville Chamber of Commerce) provides a few more details about the local interurban train station. This article is written by Joan P. Lyons, author of the 185-page book Rails to trails: 150 years of Zionsville, Indiana, history : a history of the town of Zionsville from its founding in 1852 to 2002 (available on Amazon.com).
- The Interurban in Carmel, 1903-1938: Zionsville and Carmel share a border and much history. The interurban rail lines had a great impact on the entire Central Indiana region. This Carmel Clay Historical Society article about interurbans adds a lot of detail and flavor to the overall story of how railroads affected the development of Indiana in the 20th century.
Watch Video of Indiana’s Interurban Railroad
Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of a documentary video that features rare film footage of the Indiana interurbans.
History Repeats Itself
The Indiana interurban electric rail system was one of the most advance regional transportation systems in the nation during its heyday. Back then, it was easy to use public transportation to commute from town to town throughout Indiana. Today, the state is sorely lacking an equally comprehensive, affordable, and environmentally-friendly public system of urban and suburban commuter transit.
Not-so-coincidentally, Central Indiana’s transportation initiative, Indy Connect, is currently considering four rapid transit alternatives between Noblesville and Union Station in downtown Indianapolis—and two of the four options are light rail systems. Imagine how different rush-hour traffic would be in the Indianapolis area if the interurban system had been maintained instead of abandoned. If only foresight was 20/20 like hindsight.