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Throughout the history
of cities, there have been many advances and changes in technology
that modify the urban form. In the early times, the defensive
city wall created a small, dense city. When cannon were developed,
the city scene changed again to one more readily defended against
the artillery. When ships became large enough to cross the oceans,
towns were founded in more widespread places, from the New World
to the coasts of Africa. However, probably the development with
the greatest impact on the urban form was the Industrial Revolution,
and more specifically, the development of the railroad system.
With a railroad, it is possible to move mass amounts of industrial
resources, as well as people, throughout a large area. With such
a great and powerful force as a railroad, a city formed and grew
to match the location and desires of the trains and industrialization,
rather than the needs of defense or the desires of the government
as in preceding centuries. This paper will examine some of the
trends in the changing urban form related to the growth of the
railroads and present several examples of them in the layout of
As stated above, railroads were, and are, heavily related to industry. The first railroads were built in England in the early 1800s in order to connect mines with processing plants and canals. The first chartered common-carrier railroad in America was the Baltimore and Ohio, in 1830. This too connected the burgeoning industry of Maryland with its resources farther west. However, after the railroad system started to become established in the middle of that century, it was more likely that a track running through a city would be the source of industrial growth, rather than the product of it.
Thus, in 1848, when the charter for the second railroad in Indiana was being written, it was already known that the railroad would bring growth and prosperity to the cities it would connect. In 1848, a Delaware county commission was authorized to invest $12,000 ("Trains Reach Muncie," 1938) in the new Indianapolis and Bellfontaine Railroad that connected those two cities (via an intermediate line) and in the process ran through Pendleton, Chesterfield and Muncie. It reached Muncie in the middle of 1852 (Simons & Parker, 1997). At that time, Muncie was still an agricultural and trading settlement with only a small portion of what is now downtown inhabited. With the coming of the railroad, the population of the city rapidly grew, filling in much of its location in a bend in the White River by 1880.
So Muncie growth exploded when the railroads reached it, just like other American cities in the years around the Civil War, albeit Muncie got its first line earlier (therefore an earlier start as well) than most cities. Industries located alongside the tracks, where the access to their production transport was easy and cheaper. In these of only one railroad, there was not a lot of industrial growth, but enough to encourage another company, the Fort Wayne, Cincinnati, and Louisville, to build through Muncie to Fort Wayne. With the coming of this railroad in 1867 and another, which became the Lake Erie and Western, in 1879, the town became a junction city for the railroads ("Trains Reach Muncie," 1938). Many towns throughout the United States were also located at the junction of two railroads; Muncie, however, had the benefit of the natural gas boom in central Indiana and Ohio in the late 1880s to ensure that railroads and industry would grow in this town.
The natural gas boom provided a cheap, efficient power source for numerous new factories, almost all of which located near the now-sprawling railroad tracks. By the early 1890s, a branch line of the FWC&L on the formerly-agricultural south side of Muncie served several large plants, including the American Lawnmower Co, the Hemingray Glass Co, and the two huge Ball Brothers Glass Manufacturing Company works (Hefel, 1890z). Surrounding these factories were large tracts of working class housing, which will be talked about in more detail below. In 1902, a belt line, another feature common to many American railroad cities, was incorporated using a large part of the FWC&Lbranch, and connected on the northeast side to the Chesapeake and Ohio that was built in stages from 1900-07. This line, the Muncie Belt Railway, serviced primarily the growing Ball plant, in conjunction with the Muncie and Western, and transferred carloads from there to its interchanges with the four other railroads in Muncie (Spurgeon, 1994). This line was primarily owned by the by the Ball Bros. and provided assured transportation for the Ball Corporation in case of problems with one railroad. For one company to own its railroad transportation was a common occurrence everywhere in the country as industries that required intensive railroad service found major lines to be inadequate or costly.
Not only did
railroads bring industry with them though. As a railroad was built
through, in, or near a city, it provided a convenient edge for
a street grid to be laid from. Cities and towns that were built
prior to the coming of the railroads are typically oriented either
according to the natural topography or to the national survey
grid. After the coming of the railroad, grids were typically oriented
perpendicular to the tracks. In towns that already were platted,
the trains would cut across the laid-out street pattern as needed.
New sections of old cities would grow according to the railroad
Muncie is an unusual case in that, for the most part, it contains no track-related grids. All of the rail lines cut through the established north-south grid of the city. One line even bisects Beech Grove Cemetery. This is possibly due to an early, widespread platting, or the cohesive nature of Muncie neighborhoods in the early years of the city growth. The only exception is on the north side of the White River, on the west side of the FWC&L, opposite what is now McCulloch Park. This variation goes as far back as the Hefel map of the mid-1890's. It not present, however, in a bird's eye view of 1884. On the map, the Whiteley Malleable Castings Co. parallels the trackage and is across from an apparent railroad shop on top of what would become the McCulloch Park.
Also visible in the 1890's map by Hefel is a long cutoff on the north side of the White River between the FWC&L and the Big Four (the successor to the Indianapolis and Bellfontaine). The FWC&L, because of the city's eagerness to have it, entered Muncie from the north on Madison Street and continued on that street south to parallel the I&B. It is surprising that this street trackage, which added congestion along the second busiest street in downtown and a main fire truck route, survived until a 1953 line relocation that caused it, ironically, to swing to the north side of the river. Why, in the early 1900's, this cutoff was removed and a park put in its place is beyond the comprehension of this writer. It seems that the benefits of removing a large and constant disturbance as a train down a street (examples of street line relocations exist countrywide; the latest in Lafayette, Ind.) would outweigh those of a park on the north side of the river.
Perhaps, though, the park was an act of politics. The Ball Brothers' mansions were located only three blocks farther down river from the park, and nearly the entire area north of the Big Four and west of the Nickel Plate railroad tracks were mapped in the Middletown studies of the twenties and thirties as "Homes of Business Class." This class segmentation of a city by railroads was widespread in nearly every urban area of the United States. Chicago's eastside, for instance, was the location of the famed stockyards, and a little farther east were the steel mills of Gary. To the opposite of these industries were the affluent suburbs like Aurora, Riverside, and others.
Returning to Muncie, the Middletown map also shows the concentration, or at least the proximity, of the "Homes of the Working Class" to the large industry on the south side of the Big Four tracks and bounded by the Belt Line tracks. This again presents the common pre-urban cadastre of a railroad providing an edge to development. Previously in Muncie history, before the building of the belt line, the Indianapolis and Bellfontaine contained most of the urban growth to the north of its tracks and south of the White River. This is what allowed for the construction of so many industries on the open fields to the south.
A side note
among most history books, except those on urban and railroad history,
the interurban was a prominent feature in American cities from
the late nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth century. Indiana
state senator Charles L. Henry is the person credited with the
term "interurban," and it is no surprise that, with
such leadership, Indiana's interurban mileage would be among the
highest, and that the Indianapolis interurban terminal was the
largest in the world. Countrywide, the interurban connected previously
isolated rural areas with growing metropolises and provided a
faster alternative for those in less important cities than the
local steam passenger train. Most of these lines were built by
1920, crisscrossing the nation with electric wires. Due to direct
competition with the automobile, and a generalization that most
lines were financially unstable, almost all the interurbans were
abandoned by 1950. The very exceptional Chicago, South Shore,
and South Bend is the lone survivor in Indiana (Middleton, 1961).
Streetcars gain more recognition from the public than the interurbans, but still are often neglected as an important piece of urbanity. Trolley lines allowed the working class to be further away from their places of employment as well as enjoy the emerging (thanks to the centralized railroad depot) downtown and outlying parks often built by the trolley company. While many streetcar lines have been killed by competition with the automobile, many larger cities are reevaluating their use, using the term "Light Rail" for a revitalization of public urban transit (Bradley, 1991).
Muncie, as a microcosm of urban American railroads, not only had interurbans and trolley lines, but was a key city in the Union Traction (and later Indiana Railroad) lines. "As a forerunner of the Union Traction Company's system in Muncie and Delaware County, there was a street railway company organized in Muncie in 1887, but not until 1890 did the first train operate with a small steam engine or "dinky" pulling a car. The line was along Main street [sic] to Walnut and then south to Twelfth street [sic]. There was much dissatisfaction with the steam line. The first electric line was opened May 13, 1893" ("Trains reach Muncie," 1938). By the 1890s, Hefel showed street railway lines stretching west from downtown to the McKinley Reserve, and south to a loop in West Side Park. Another loop went south from downtown on Walnut Street, then east to the factory district, and back north to meet an east line on Main Street. This shows the planning behind the railway to get the workers to where they work, shop and recreate.
By 1907, interurban lines going towards Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Portland had augmented these street lines; a line to New Castle was done in 1916. The downtown terminal with wide car shed was promoted as the third largest in the world. Operations continued through Muncie until January 1941, having been gradually replaced by buses (Bradley, 1991). The trend of the future was already being echoed in the Muncie Morning Star's article of 1938, "Five motor bus lines now serve the city as inter-communicating facilities, while numerous intra and interstate bus lines operate into and out of Muncie over the splendid system of state highways. Muncie is the center of a vast network of state highways in central-eastern Indiana."
So, Muncie's form is a microcosm of American railroads and their effect on the urban form. Industry, broken grids, segmented neighborhoods, and public transit all were typical pieces of American cities shown in the composition of Muncie. Railroads were only one of many technological changes through history to change the urban form, although they, along with the accompanying Industrial Revolution, probably had the biggest impact in history. However, the automobile is still trying making its impact, so only the future can tell which will have had the most importance in the style of urban living.
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