I don’t think that the availability of transportation in Knightstown was all that different from any other small Midwestern town. Knightstownians may have enjoyed some advantage due to being located on the primary east-west artery in America in the early days of the westward expansion of our country. However, the advantage was sight if at all. Also, our little town did have access to one of the earliest Railroads in Indiana but, here again, it’s hard to see if any benefit came of it. Never-the-less, I think it worth the time and effort to include on this little site some of the few facts I’ve been able to gather about the transportation in K-town through the years.
This is US 40 west of K-town in the early 1900s. It wasn’t much of a road back then. The Interurban track is along side and the covered bridge is over Montgomery Creek. The building on the left is the Knightstown Electric Power Co. Generator Plant.
I’m going to start with an article written by Mildred Leisure Irvin for the Banner in 1947.
Many forms of transportation have come and gone since Knightstown became one of the pioneer cities of Indiana. In the early days, a fast horse was considered the best means of traveling. There were no roads worthy of the name and even light wagons were unable to go far in the new country. When corduroy roads were laid over the great mud holes and the hundreds of swamps that dotted the country side, wagons of different kinds made their appearance. When the stage coach lines came through in the eighteen thirties, people felt that the ultimate in comfort had been reached, such elegance could never be surpassed.
In eighteen fifty, the first rail road entered the county. It came all the way from Shelbyville, a town few residents of this section had ever seen. The rails were of wood with iron strips on top of them. We can hardly picture such a primitive road as this was. The trains were small, narrow, and slow, They burned wood and had a habit of jumping the track at unexpected times, Many a traveler arrived at Knightstown dirty, dusty, and disgusted, vowing never to ride the infernal thing again. One traveler who made the trip from Madison on the early line had to get out five times to help put the train back on the tracks and had to gather wood over and over again for the hungry boiler.
In spite of the disadvantages found in the early railroad, it was one of the most important improvements that had been made up to that time. It connected Knightstown with the outside world, Only people and mail could travel by stage but many things could come and go by rail. The stores had less trouble getting stock in and raw material began to flow back to the eastern markets.
A few years later, the Panhandle (Pennsylvania) railroad was built through Knightstown on its way from Richmond to Indianapolis. The road was similar to the ones we see today, and trade with the world beyond the forest became a common thing. Grain was shipped to the east and finished products came back.
The Big Four (New York Central) railroad was built over the old road bed of the first line as far as Carthage, and then on to Rushville. The old grade from Carthage to Shelbyville is still visible. With the coming of the new railroads, many people began riding to Carthage and Rushville and Charlottesville and Indianapolis. They went to visit friends and relatives and shop. The new roads were toll roads and often cost as much or more than the railroad fare. For instance, the toil on the Carthage road was 27cents and the round-trip fare on the Big Four was only 25 cents. Many people from the surrounding country drove into Knightstown and put their horses in the livery barns, and did the rest of their traveling by rail.
About 1900, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis, and Eastern Railway Company built an interurban line through Knightstown. This really made the transportation lines complete. The first station was built where the Willis Farm Implement store is now. The cars pulled in at the east side. Even now one can see where the large opening was.
The “street-car” served long and faithfully and seeing the tracks and cars disappear was almost like saying “good-bye” to a beloved friend, but progress could not be stopped. As the stage coach made way for the train. so the interurban made way for the modern bus. Service had been good but buses were more economical.
Now Knightstown is within easy reach of the whole country. Trains thunder through at regular intervals, buses race down Main Street every hour of the day and night and great trucks haul produce to distant markets. No longer do great cities or river towns hold the advantage. Now, thanks to a hundred years of ambitious and farsighted building for the future, this town set in rich fields offers more advantages than the crowded cities.
Mildred closed on an optimistic note and the future did indeed look rosy for Knightstown back in 1947. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as expected and there has been a slow, steady decline in public transportation since then.
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