Road Trips

The mystery of the unfinished, abandoned bridge

As we explored an old gravel alignment of Indiana State Road 46 in Clay County, we came upon these enormous bridge abutments. We stopped to look them over, and tried to figure out why they were there.

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

We even spotted an elevated bridge over a nearby creek. It lined up perfectly with these abandoned abutments.

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

My companion Dawn said, “These look like parts to a railroad overpass, but I don’t see where any tracks might have been.”

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

Dawn was right – these abutments were meant to carry a railroad. But it turns out that tracks were never laid.

John Walsh was an Irish immigrant who built a fortune selling newspapers in Chicago. He expanded his empire to include three banks, a Chicago newspaper, and a railroad – the Evansville and Richmond, which Walsh renamed the Southern Indiana Railroad.

Walsh set about expanding his railroad, first building a line up to Terre Haute, and later starting a line from the small town of Blackhawk in Vigo County that he meant to extend to Indianapolis. Contracts were let in about 1903. The road was graded from Blackhawk to just north of Bowling Green in Clay County. These abutments (marked with the red arrow on the map below) and the nearby bridge were built, along with an abutment for a bridge over the Eel River nearby.

sr46bowlinggreen
Imagery and map data © 2013 Google.

But Walsh overextended himself building his railroad, and work stopped at Christmas in 1905. By 1907, the United States was in recession, and Walsh watched two of his banks fail. The feds started sniffing around and found considerable evidence that he had drained funds from his banks to build his railroad. He was charged with 180 counts of misapplication of funds, and was later convicted of 54 of those counts. He spent five years in prison at Leavenworth.

Wooly worms on the concrete

Today, these abutments on a narrow gravel road are a curious testament to John Walsh. His failed accomplishment makes a wonderful home for wooly worms. Dozens of them were crawling all over the shady south abutment.

I also found remnants of a bridge near Bedford. See photos here.

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Last updated on 26 March 2020 by Jim Grey

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9 thoughts on “The mystery of the unfinished, abandoned bridge

  1. Amazing. I’m sure most everyone in the area has no idea. That’s the type of thing that would bug me until I figured it out. It’s a shame there isn’t a type of historical plaque explaining all this…..

  2. Eric L. says:

    THANK YOU! I’ve read about these in Elmer Sulzer’s book, “Ghost Railroads Of Indiana”, but I could never locate their position for years. Thanks again!!!

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