Home > Old School Picture of the Week > “Let’s Elevate The Nickel Plate” – 1954

“Let’s Elevate The Nickel Plate” – 1954

By Randy Harter

Fort Wayne Reader


To the delight of those on the south side of Fort Wayne, the side by side Wabash and Pennsylvania railroad tracks running parallel to Baker Street through downtown were elevated during 1911 - 1913. This eliminated the street level bottlenecks on a number of thoroughfares from Hanna Street to Fairfield Avenue. While this opened the south part of town to ease of access and increased development, the Nickel Plate tracks situated between Columbia and Superior streets would continue to create a hindrance to north side development for another 40+ years.

By the 1940’s reportedly 51 trains every day came through downtown at street level on the Nickel Plate tracks, resulting in delaying an unbelievable 50,000 vehicles daily. For years, one mayor to the next heard from the constituents the cry “No More Wait – Let’s Elevate The Nickel Plate!”

While it had been in the works for a number of years, it was during the administration of Mayor Harold W. Baals that the final agreement was made. This precipitated a grand speaker’s platform and groundbreaking at Ewing Street (which crossed the tracks in those days) on December 14, 1953 with the mayor turning the first shovel of dirt for the $8 million project.

Construction didn’t actually began until the next year (1954) and while the dedication for its completion was held on October 4, 1955, in actuality, at that point only one of the two tracks on the new elevation had been laid and total completion wouldn’t occur until 1956. For the dedication, about 350 officials and invited guests boarded the 12-coach train led by the old No. 767 steam engine at the Fulton Street Crossing (behind Henry’s restaurant). The “dedication” train then made the trip east to the new elevated Calhoun Street passenger loading platform where they disembarked for the speeches and a ribbon breaking by forward movement of the train’s engine.

The $8 million elevation ended up costing about $9 million and entailed building overhead train crossings at seven downtown streets from Coombs Street to Fairfield Avenue. In 1964 the Nickel Plate merged with several other Midwestern railroads and became the Norfolk & Western. That combine then merged with the Southern Railway in 1982 becoming Norfolk Southern Railway. Today the Norfolk Southern has over 19,000 miles of track connecting 22 states and its Fort Wayne Division employs over 400 people.
This wonderful image was captured in December 1954 by Sgt. Ellsworth Crick, photographer for the Fort Wayne Police Department. Crick took the image from an elevated position at Harrison Street and is looking east. At lower center is the temporary track (later removed) that was laid next to the new concrete piers so that the Nickel Plate trains could still traverse Fort Wayne during construction.

At extreme upper left is part of the Wayne Paper Box Co. at Superior and Calhoun, currently being converted to the Superior Lofts apartment project. Across the intersection to its east now stands the Allen County Justice Center and County Jail. On the southeast corner of this intersection and facing us is the original Trolly (British spelling was used) Bar restaurant, now a vacant lot. Behind and above the restaurant can be seen the gas holder in what is now Don Hall’s Old Gas House parking lot. The large dark building at upper right of center is the grocery wholesaler G. E. Bursley at the southeast corner of Superior and Clinton. The Bursley building is still standing and is now home to A Party Apart party and tent rentals.

(Image courtesy of ACPL)

A tip of the hat for use of research by Walter Sassmannshausen, and photo enhancement by Daniel Baker.

Randy Harter is a Fort Wayne historian, author of three books on local history, and the history/architecture guide for FortWayneFoodTours.com

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