Not often does a building serve a community well into its second century. Our Wysor Street Depot has done so, with no sign of slowing down. Let’s take a look at the Depot’s and Cardinal Greenways Historic perspective.
It’s hard to imagine two modes of transport less similar than railroad trains and bicycles. Yet, the rail rights-of-way laid out by engineers 150 and more years ago are admirably suited to both.
Steep hills and tight curves are annoying to bicyclists and hikers. In the 19th century, they were show stoppers to railroaders and contributed to untold deaths. The statistics of the carnage are elusive as railroads were not required to keep precise records. When questioned, railroad management would simply reply “accident” or “act of God.” Steep downhill grades caused runaway trains. Uphill pulls greatly increased coal and water consumption, reduced payloads and caused hard mechanical wear on locomotives.
As the 19th century wound down, two inventions made a great difference. The Westinghouse airbrake came along in 1869. By the late 1880s, it was being applied to freight cars. No longer would a brakeman have to scramble, in the dark, rain or snow, down the tops of speeding, swaying cars to wrestle with the brake handwheels to apply mechanical brakes on each car.
1888 saw the introduction of modern knuckle couplers. No longer was it necessary for a worker to get between each car to set or disconnect the link-and-pin couplers that caused many railroaders to be crushed if a locomotive unexpectedly lurched.
Congress noticed in the form of the Safety Appliance Act of 1893 which mandated adoption of the new technology.
Our Depot was still a few years in the future when, also in 1893, a new land speed record was set by the New York Central & Hudson River Rail Road. Engine number 999 steamed a passenger train at 112.5 mph. The record stood ten years. Note that a horse-drawn carriage, at the time, was good for five to eight mph. Since only about four percent of roads were paved, rain effectively closed the mud trails.
The Financial Panic of 1893, caused largely by the manipulation of railroad securities, triggered the most severe economic collapse until the Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.
The Panic’s effect was felt in Muncie, but far less than elsewhere. The Indiana Gas Boom, starting in the late 1880s, meant a degree of prosperity and growth. From 1890 to 1901, when our Depot opened, Muncie’s population nearly doubled to almost 21,000. Muncie was not without problems. Some businesses failed, but others expanded. Contemporary accounts called the White River a “malodorous sewer,” filled as it was with factory effluent and human excrement. Small pox outbreaks also caused concern.
In nearby Illinois, the 1894 Pullman Palace Car Company Strike saw Federal infantry and Cavalry troops called out to restore peace. The severity of the strike caused American labor law to be forever changed. A Muncie militia company also served at Pullman.
Our bicycles changed greatly in the 1890s. The high-wheelers, which achieved limited popularity in the 1870s, were built with a front wheel as much as five feet tall and a very small rear wheel. These high-wheelers were difficult to mount and dangerous to ride. An upset often meant that the rider would be launched over the handlebars and land on his head; often with fatal consequences.
Beginning in the late 1880s, the “Safety Bicycle,” with two much smaller wheels replaced the “Ordinary” bicycle, as the high-wheelers came to be known. The pneumatic tire also debuted at about the same time. The Safety bike accounted for about 200,000 sales in 1890 and a million by 1899, as bike riding became wildly popular.
An automobile from 1900 bears very little resemblance to the car in your driveway today. But the bike of 1900 looks remarkably like what we ride in 2018. Some details have changed, but the cyclist of 1900 would have few surprises transitioning to today’s two-wheeler.
Our Wysor Street Depot opened with the new century in 1901, by the Cincinnati, Richmond & Muncie Rail Road. The Depot was taken over in 1910 by the Chesapeake & Ohio line. Passenger traffic was served until 1949; freight until 1950. For a number of years it was used as a track maintenance office and later as office space for Muncie Gear Works. Amtrak used the platform and parking lot for passenger service. The Depot then stood vacant.
By this time, the building was in a fairly advanced state of decrepitude. On the very positive side, it had escaped much of the ill-inspired “remuddling” that destroyed the architectural integrity and historic fabric of so many significant structures.
When Cardinal Greenways took title in 1993, along with 60 miles of CSX right-of-way, the depot had lost its dormers and tile roof but was still fully recognizable. Dedication of the Depot took place in 1996 as restoration progressed. 1997 saw the Depot placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 2004 saw the Wysor Street Depot again open for business as headquarters for Cardinal Greenways.