Piece of Huntington history briefly sees light of day

A crew from E&B Paving scrapes up remnants of the old interurban track from the middle of Market Street, in Huntington.
A crew from E&B Paving scrapes up remnants of the old interurban track from the middle of Market Street, in Huntington. Photo provided.

Originally published Oct. 6, 2016.

A piece of long-buried Huntington transportation history briefly saw the light of day in a project to improve the quality of today’s transportation.

Railroad ties underneath Market Street, part of an interurban line that ran from Huntington to Fort Wayne a century ago, are being removed to create a smoother ride for the motor vehicles that now use the street, says Anthony Goodnight, director of engineering services for the City of Huntington.

This is the third phase of a project to remove the rotting railroad ties, Goodnight says. The ties were removed from underneath portions of First Street in 2008 and 2011, he adds.

“The wood ties have basically rotted, and it’s left voids underneath the asphalt,” Goodnight says.

There’s concrete between the ties. The deteriorating ties between strips of concrete combine to create a washboard effect on the street, he explains.

“It’s started to show its wear the past few years,” Goodnight says of the section currently being repaired on Market Street from First Street to Guilford Street.

The interurban route followed the Wabash River from Wabash into Huntington, where it took Market Street to First Street and then to U.S.-24 on its wayto Fort Wayne.

The first interurban trolley arrived in Huntington from Fort Wayne on Dec. 12, 1901, and the electric railway operated in Huntington County until 1938. Cars made stops in Andrews, Roanoke and Huntington.

Eight cars stopped in Huntington each day, and passengers could travel to either Fort Wayne or Indianapolis. From those two cities, passengers could travel to other cities via the interurban’s statewide grid.

It cost 1-1/2 cents a mile round trip, or 2 cents a mile for a one-way ticket.

For the most part, the interurban tracks followed the route of the old Wabash and Erie Canal. Often, that route took them down the middle of city streets — as was the case in Huntington.

The last interurban went through Huntington on Sept. 5, 1938, By December of that year, crews were dismantling the rails and the overhead electrical equipment.

The railroad ties were left in place and paved over.

Goodnight says he believes the interurban railroad ties in the downtown area were removed when that area was changed from a pedestrian mall to an area allowing vehicular traffic.

He asked contractors to dig test holes every 50 to 100 feet  to look for remnants of the interurban track, and says they didn’t find any signs of rotting ties anywhere on Market Street west of Guilford Street.

The last of the ties under the section of Market Street were removed on Saturday, Oct. 1, and paving was set for Wednesday, Oct. 5 — weather permitting.

The plan is to repave the entire width of Market Street, he says, not just the center section where the ties were removed.

There are still some old ties beneath State Street, between Oak and LaFontaine streets, that will be removed eventually, Goodnight says.

“It’s not bad enough yet to where we need it done,” he says.

Complaints about the washboarding feel on Market Street have increased over the past couple of years, Goodnight says, but he decided to wait until after Vectren replaced a gas line in the street earlier this summer before starting a paving project.

“The last thing I want to do is pave a road and then dig it up,” he says.

The Market Street work is funded in part by a Community Crossing Grant awarded through the Indiana Department of Transportation. The City of Huntington is paying for the remaining 50 percent of the project, using funds from a special income tax distribution awarded by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year.

The Market Street project is one of several road paving projects set for this fall, with all projects — weather permitting — slated to be completed by the middle of the week of Oct. 10, Goodnight says.

Other streets to be paved are Ray Street, from Merillat Boulevard to College Avenue; Guilford Street, from Lynwood Drive to Madison Street; Guilford Street, from Tipton Street to East Park Drive; and Kocher Street, from Broadway to Condit Street.