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October 11, 2008

Historical Perspective: D.J. Mackey, John R. Walsh and the Southern Indiana Railroad

Earlier this year the former Southern Indiana Railroad freighthouse at Seymour — on the National Register of Historic Places since 2003 — became the Jackson County Visitor Center.

Rededication of the historic building brings to mind the inaugural Southern Indiana Railroad passenger train trip from Terre Haute on Aug. 20, 1900: a special newspaper excursion for the benefit of the Terre Haute Express.

It also recalls the contributions of David J. Mackey and John R. Walsh, two rail barons who had major impacts on Indiana and the Wabash Valley.

A close friend of Crawford Fairbanks, Mackey lived in Terre Haute briefly. Walsh was beloved by quarrymen and coalmen throughout southern Indiana, including Bedford.

Walsh’s impact on the Wabash Valley deserves more attention than he can be given here.

On Jan. 1, 1900, eight railroads were serving Terre Haute. The Southern Indiana Railroad, successor to Mackey’s Evansville & Richmond Railroad (E&R;) was the ninth.

Chartered in 1882, the Evansville & Richmond commenced passenger service July 6, 1890, with a round-trip between Seymour and Elnora in Daviess County.

An Evansville dry goods merchant, Mackey was one of the wealthiest men in Indiana before the end of the Civil War. In 1869, he paid more property taxes than anyone in Vanderburgh County.

One of Mackey’s early ventures was the Evansville & Terre Haute Railroad. He also acquired a major interest in the Evansville & Richmond Railroad and other railroads serving Evansville, the Lake Erie & St. Louis Air Line, Belleville, Centralia & East St. Louis Railroad and the Peoria, Decatur & Evansville Railroad (PD&E;).

Married to one of the daughters of Judge John Law of Vincennes (Judge Law’s other daughter was married to Henry Curtis Gilbert of Terre Haute), Mackey bought the right-of-way of the Evansville & Richmond RR believing “The Mackey System” would eventually connect Evansville with Richmond and northern Indiana.

Evansville & Terre Haute Railroad guaranteed the bonds of the Evansville & Richmond. Traffic on the E&R; partially opened on May 23, 1890 and was completed from Elnora to Seymour by the end of 1890.

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    March 12, 2010