Electric transportation is not a new technology. With the arrival of the electric car we are reminded that electric technology has a long history in Terre Haute. Beginning in the 20th century, electricity became the leading energy source for Terre Haute. Soon after, the interurban rose to prominence as the leading method of transportation within the city of Terre Haute and the Wabash region. The interurban, or an electric passenger railroad, came to Terre Haute in 1892 and with the completion of the first line on July 16, 1893; it was one of Indiana’s earliest interurban lines. Each interurban could seat 64 passengers and many photographs exist today that can be seen at the Vigo County Historical Society Museum in their Transportation Exhibit.
Forming the Terre Haute Electric Co., founders William Riley McKeen, Demas Deming, John G. McNutt, John E. Lamb and John Beasley incorporated in 1899, quickly expanding with the acquisition of the Terre Haute Street Railway Company. By 1900, electric interurban service expanded into Brazil, and again in 1902, the Stone & Webster syndicate of Boston built an interurban line between Terre Haute and West Terre Haute in 24 hours’ time.
In 1903 the company reorganized under the name Terre Haute Electric Traction Company where they laid interurban railroad track to Dana, Farm Ridge, and Clinton. With expansion into Sullivan from Terre Haute, the company was renamed again to the Terre Haute Traction and Light Company. By 1906 interurban service went to Shelburn, St Mary’s village, Sandford and Paris, Ill.
With service to a large number of towns in the Wabash Valley, the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company was formed on March 1, 1907. Founded by Hugh J. McGowan of Indianapolis, W. Kelsey Schoepf of Cincinnati, and Randal Morgan of Philadelphia, the new company quickly acquired all of Terre Haute’s interurban electric lines and expanded service to Indianapolis. The average fare for using the interurban was about 3 cents per mile so that a one way ticket from Terre Haute to Indianapolis cost about $1.22.
The rapid growth of interurbans in Terre Haute necessitated the building of a terminal in which to manage all of the interurban lines and in the 1911 a terminal was built at 820 Wabash Ave., where Terminal’s Sports Bar is now located. The popularity of the interurbans remained high throughout the decade but by the end of World War I, the interurban declined in popularity with the rise of the paved roads and the automobile.
Despite a few resurgences, by January 1940 interurban services ceased to operate in Terre Haute, ending one of the most popular methods of travel for many Terre Haute residents. While interurbans may not be in existence any longer, you can get a feel for their experience by visiting the Vigo County Historical Society Museum located at 1411 S. Sixth St. There you can see pictures of interurbans and read more about these fascinating technological marvels.
• The Vigo County Historical Society’s museum is at 1411 S. Sixth St. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through