Shelbyville Interurban Line Was Doomed From The Start
City And Rail Line Battled In Court For Years


From the early 1930s, this L. and I. Interurban car was leaving Louisville heading for Shelbyville when a photographer from Scholes Photos snapped the picture. The author shares this and other photos/ illustrations with our readers.
By Charles H. Bogart - 2000

In February 1901, the Shelby County Electric Power and Railway Company was chartered. The company's charter stated that it could build a line that was "12 miles in length, unless a larger distance was determined upon." The proposed line was to run from the Shelby County Courthouse to the grounds of the A. and M. Association, and then north to Eminence, Kentucky. Tentative plans called for the extension of the line beyond Eminence to New Castle and then to Pewee Valley, to connect with the Interurban line running from there to Louisville. This line was never built, as the company was unable to raise the necessary funds to start the work.

April 1901 saw the Louisville, Anchorage, and Pewee Valley Electric Railway Company announce its intention to build a line to Shelbyville via Simpsonville. It proposed to start the line from a point on the Louisville line near Middletown. Upon completion of the line to Shelbyville, it would commence construction of a line to Frankfort.

On June 13, 1902, the company announced that the line to Shelbyville would begin at Lakeland located on the Louisville, Anchorage, and Pewee Valley line. The proposed Interurban line would follow the south side of the State Pike to Long Run Creek. From there, the line would parallel the south side of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad to Simpsonville. Here it would cross over the State Pike. At Simpsonville the line would run along the north side of the State Pike to the Shelbyville Fair Grounds, and then follow Washington Street to the county courthouse.

By 1903, a number of re-organizations of the Interurban company had taken place. The Louisville, Anchorage, and Pewee Valley Railway Company was now under the control of the Louisville and Eastern Railway Company.

On May 18, 1903, the L. and E. announced that construction of the extension from the Louisville line to Shelbyville would begin on June 1, 1903, from Lakeland. Once the track reached Shelbyville, the line would be extended to Frankfort. After the track reached Frankfort, a branch line from Shelbyville to New Castle, and on to Milton, across the Ohio River from Madison, Indiana, would be built. Upon completion of this line, a sub-branch line would be built from Milton to Carrollton, Kentucky. This line to Bedford, after it was built, would, within a few years, be upgraded into a main line running from Madison, Indiana, to Nashville, Tennessee.

The L. and E., the promoter of this new Interurban line to Shelbyville, however, was unable to raise the necessary money to build this line. Over the next few years, every six months or so, a new press release would come out stating that the L. and E. would begin work on the line within the next few months. A few weeks later, it would be noted in the newspaper that L. and E. engineers and contractors were looking over the proposed road, and contracts were being signed for the route's rights of way. But beyond a ceremonial shovel of dirt, little actual work was done.

In 1906, it was proclaimed that Eastern capitalists were begging to invest money into the Shelbyville line. How much money Eastern capitalists invested is unknown, but in February 1907, ground was broken by the L. and E. for actual construction of the line at Beechwood, on what had been the Louisville to Pewee Valley line. At this time, the L. and E. also started to extend the Pewee Valley route to La Grange. By the end of February 1907, a total of 22 miles of grading contracts were issued for the line to Shelbyville. The L. and E. proclaimed that Interurban service, between Louisville and Shelbyville, and between Louisville and La Grange, would start in October 1907. La Grange would see the L. and E. reaching its city, but Shelbyville would not.

While the raising of capital was one reason for the delay in building the Shelbyville line, another reason was the attacks by a set of NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), or more correctly, NIMFYs (Not In My Front Yard). These persons objected to the Interurban traveling down Shelbyville's Main Street to the courthouse. Those favoring the Interurban on Main Street contended that there would only be one track on Main Street, unlike Fourth Street in Louisville, or Main Street in Lexington. These people also pointed out that Shelbyville's Main Street was wider than these two streets; that the most prosperous streets in these two towns were the streets with the most streetcar and Interurban traffic; and that Frankfort, Versailles, Georgetown, and Paris all had interurbans running on single tracks down the main streets of their cities.

Those opposed to the Interurban running within the city replied that Shelbyville's Main Street had only three blocks of businesses, but ten blocks of residential homes; and that the Interurban would have to pass these ten blocks of residential housing, before reaching the business district. The result would be that the now- quite residential area would be assailed with the clanging of streetcar bells, the blowing of horns, and the flashing of headlights. In addition, the Interurban line would result in the erecting of more poles and wires on the street; the street would be torn up for a considerable period of time, while the tracks were being laid; that Interurban cars would operate at unreasonable speeds within town; and that despite what the Interurban's charter said, the company would, in the near future, begin to haul freight cars down the street, just like it was a steam railroad.

The end result would be that one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods would suffer irredeemable blight and would no longer be a desirable place to live. The L. and E., in response, said it had no plans to haul freight cars down Main Street. Furthermore, the Interurban would be built to a five-foot rail gauge, and thus, not be able to pull steam railroad cars on its track, as steam rail cars were built to run on a four-foot 8.5-inch gauge track; that the cars would only use bells in town at street crossings; that the cars would stop at all street crossings in the city, before crossing them; and that the cars would not speed through the city, endangering lives, but would observe the speed limit established by the city, while the cars were within the city.

These statements did nothing to lessen the attacks by the NIMFY. The NIMFYs organized to gain control of the Shelbyville City Council and hired lawyers to file lawsuits against the L. and E. The NIMFY coalition stormed the city council and fought to have the sitting council declare the existing Interurban franchise to operate in Shelbyville null and void, due to the Interurban company failure to meet certain deadlines. In a closing argument at the city council meeting, the group proclaimed that, "this is both the age of civic improvement and the age of civic suicide. City fathers do not rob us of the best we have given to others. Save our city (from the Interurban), and immortalize yourselves." The result was that the city council requested a meeting with the Interurban company to renegotiate the franchise. At the same time, the L. and E. began to face challenges by some of its ownership regarding the rights of way it had acquired.

Construction of the line from Beechwood to Shelbyville, which began in February 1907, was not completed by October 1907. January 1908 found the grading and bridge work incomplete. The two miles of grading, immediately to the west of Shelbyville, had not been started. The first drill hole had not been sunk into the rock, cut at Middletown. The bridge over Floyd's Fork was lacking a deck and bad weather, plus a national financial crisis, had slowed construction. At this same time, a new controversy concerning the Interurban broke out in Shelbyville. The L. and E. franchise, for operating in Shelbyville, required it to pave half of Main Street with brick, when the city paved its half. The trouble was that the existing city council preferred the dirt street, due to the cost of laying brick, the main problem being the city would have to borrow money to pay for its half of the paving. This would mean the city would have to pay interest on the money borrowed, instead of living off its tax income. The result would be less money to do other work that was needed. The city, thus, would have to raise taxes or go deeper into debt. Many, however, felt that a bricked Main Street, for which the city had to pay only 50 percent of the cost, was a golden opportunity for the city to improve its image. Bricked streets were, to these people, a sign of a city with civic pride.

The Shelby Record editorialized on the subject, as follows: "If a thousand dollars in interest means a good brick street, from one end of the town to the other, would it not be better to pay this, than to pay two-thousand dollars a year for alleged repairs of the street, that result in nothing but mud holes and miserable crossings in the winter, and blinding and stifling dust in the summer?"

July 1907 saw Main Street in Shelbyville being torn up by the L. and E. for the laying of track. Completion of the work was subject to stop-and-go construction. The NIMFY group filed a number of lawsuits against the company, claiming property damages, and seeking monetary rewards. In addition, a number of injunctions were requested, and some were obtained to stop work until one or another issue of a lawsuit or claim had been settled. While the Interurban line was bending every effort to complete its road, weather, financial difficulties, and lawsuits, and injunctions were delaying completion of the line. It soon became apparent to the L. and E. that the line's track, within the city of Shelbyville, would not be in place by August 1, 1907, as called for by its franchise.

Appealing to the city for an extension of the completion date of the line in Shelbyville, the council informed the L. and E. that there would be no extension granted. The city did agree, however, to negotiate a new franchise with the Interurban company, which would allow a delay in completing the line. But this new franchise would require the Interurban company to completely pave five blocks of Main Street with brick. The Interurban company response to this was to transfer all its contract workers to Shelbyville to complete the track and overhead line work in the city by the deadline. Even with this extra work force, the L. and E. was unable to complete the track work on time.

The city filed a lawsuit against the Interurban company, demanding that it remove all the track and poles it had placed in and along Main Street and that the street be returned to the condition it had enjoyed before track work had begun. This action helped throw the L. and E. into bankruptcy. The city of Shelbyville, with the Interurban company in bankruptcy, and a receiver appointed to run it, threw another obstacle into the path of the company. The city annexed property for another half-mile beyond its present western city boundary. Upon the completion of this action, the city informed the receiver that he would have to take up all the track that had been laid in this area, and return the street to its former glory; and that any future building by the Interurban company, within this area, would be in compliance with a new franchise to be negotiated with the city. The city also ordered the Interurban company to cease using the depot it had opened outside the city, but which was now within the city limits, as a result of the annexation.

This attempt by the city to impose new rules on the Interurban, after it had finished its track work, in compliance with the franchise it had obtained from the Shelby County Fiscal Court, was to be fought in federal and state courts until 1913. The Interurban's position was that it was legally in procession of its track, wire, and depot in the newly-annexed area, being upheld in every state and federal court decision on this issue. The Interurban company, to end future court action against it by the city of Shelbyville, agreed to maintain a brick pavement between its track, plus three feet on each side of the track, from the old city limits to the new city limits. This financial drain within the Interurban company, from fighting the lawsuits filed by the city of Shelbyville, had gutted its financial sheet.

In late 1909, the L. and E. began construction of the line to Shelbyville. Money was short, and work proceeded slowly. It was not until August 1910 that the line was completed and ready for operation. Opening day was set for August 20, 1910. The L. and E. would operate its cars from the station at the Fair Grounds, on the far west side of Shelbyville, to Louisville. Running time between the two depots was to be 80 minutes. Fare was set at 60 cents one way and one dollar for the round trip. Express cars would run in the mornings and evenings, which would make the trip in 66 minutes. Motor freight cars, that would carry milk and small packages, would operate over the line in the mornings and afternoons.

The Interurban station, being located over a mile west of the courthouse, soon gained the local name of "Council Bluff," because it was so far west. The Interurban track, at this time extended from the Council Bluff depot to the Shelby County Courthouse, but difficulties with the city of Shelbyville prevented the L. and E. from operating over this portion of the line. The company proposed, as an interim measure, to operate a streetcar from the depot to the courthouse. In addition, the Interurban company proposed to relocate its track from around the courthouse, eastward, three blocks to First Street. At First Street, it would build a wye to turn the cars and erect a passenger and freight depot. Once this was in place, the streetcar operation would be discontinued, and the Interurban cars would run through town to First Street. Until this was allowed, the streetcar would be used to carry passengers through the city.

On August 20, 1910, at 5:40 a.m., the first Interurban car carrying fare-paying passengers reached Shelbyville from Louisville with little fanfare. This first car was named the "City Of Shelbyville." The last car for that day left Shelbyville for Louisville at 12:40 p.m. During the day there was a steady stream of Interurban cars running back and forth between Louisville and Shelbyville. There was, however, no connecting streetcar to carry people from the Council Bluff station to downtown Shelbyville. The city had vetoed its operation.

In addition to numerous flag stops made by the Interurban, on its way to Louisville, regular stopping points were Scott Station, Record, Simpsonville, Connor, Eastwood, Middletown, and Beechwood. While the Interurban had reached the west side of Shelbyville, the battle with the city raged on. The newspaper was full of rumors that the Interurban line would build a branch line from Scott Station, three miles west of the Shelby County Courthouse, northward to Eminence in 1911. In addition, a branch line would also be built south, from Scott Station to Mt. Eden. Furthermore, once the city allowed the Interurban cars access to the east side of Shelbyville work would start on the line to Frankfort.

None of these proposed lines were ever built, and in retrospect, seemed to have been part of a campaign to bring pressure on the Shelbyville City Council to allow the Interurban cars to run through the city. Agitation against the Interurban was continued by many influential people in Shelbyville. Many of these people had earlier been in favor of the line, but had now turned against it. The reason for this seems to have been the result of various factors. Many became convinced that, instead of bringing new business and prosperity to Shelbyville, the Interurban would carry it away to Louisville.

Those who championed this position pointed to Frankfort, Versailles, Paris, and Georgetown. When the Interurban lines from Lexington reached these towns, they did not see a boom in business. Instead, Lexington saw a growth in business, as people from the small towns used the Interurban for the convenience of going to the "Big City." Some saw the Interurban as causing an increase in property taxes, as the taxing authorities viewed the Interurban as increasing the value of their property. Others held that once Main Street was paved with brick, there would be demands by residents living on other streets to have brick pavements put on their streets. This would force the city to borrow money or raise taxes.

Some opposed the Interurban, because it would bring the wickedness of Louisville into Shelbyville, or allow Shelbyville youth easy access to improper places located in Louisville. The fight against the Interurban operating down the streets of Shelbyville climaxed in 1912. The year before, the L. and E. had been absorbed by the Louisville and Interurban Railroad. In 1912, the L. and I. decided to force the issue of operating through Shelbyville on Main Street. Thus, that year the L. and I. bought a lot at Second and Main on the east side of Shelbyville and started to build a passenger and freight depot. Rehabilitation work was carried out on the track and overhead wires leading through town. The city immediately sought an injunction to stop this work, and sent its police force to arrest the workers. The L. and I. fought back against the city in court, and obtained a judgment against the city to cease harassment of the company. The city now changed its tactics, and instead of fighting the L. and I. over laying rail on Main Street, refused to issue a building permit to the company for its new depot. Once again it was back to the courts, and once again the Interurban company prevailed.

With the track and wire in place through Shelbyville, but with no station on the east side of town, the Interurban company introduced streetcar service between the Council Bluff station and Second Street. This service was initiated on August 19, 1912, and ran to December 20, 1912; Interurban service through Shelbyville finally being inaugurated on that day. Hereafter, for the rest of the life of the line, the Interurban cars ran through Shelbyville to the depot at Second Street, where it turned on the wye before heading back to Louisville. The line, as completed, stretched three miles from the Louisville passenger station at Third and Liberty to the Shelbyville Depot. The main passenger stations along the line were located at Hegan; Mile Post 15.27 (from Louisville), where a spur track was located; Eastwood, at MP 17.2, which had a combination station and substation, stock pen, platform, and a wye; Simpsonville, at MP 22.38, which had a freight/passenger station, platform, stock pen, and spur; and Scott Station, with its combination station and substation, stock pens, platform, and spur track.

For the next ten years, the L. and I., Shelbyville Division, would earn a modest return on its investment. The line provided prompt and frequent service, while a night owl car allowed locals to attend places of entertainment in Louisville and return home the same night. Express and regular freight car service was developed. Those going to Louisville to shop did not need to carry their purchases back home, but could have them dispatched via the Interurban. The farmer, in turn, could ship milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables to the Louisville market. Thanks to the Interurban investing in stock cars and building a spur into the Bourbon Stock Yards, livestock could be shipped to the Louisville market for sale.

Starting in the early 1920s, improved roads, the spread of the automobile, and labor strife among the Interurban workers led to a decline in the use of the Interurban by people along the line. Slowly the line began to sink toward insolvency. The Great Depression of 1929 drove the final nails into the Shelbyville line's coffin. Service was, at first, reduced by the company to save money. Less service also made the line less convenient. The result of less service was the loss of more customers and less revenue to meet fixed costs. Trucks began hauling most of the freight that the Interurban had carried. To add insult to injury, the trucks ran, free of charge, down Shelbyville's Main Street, which the Interurban company had paved and had kept in repair. In addition, the L. and I. had to pay Shelbyville $500 dollars per year in franchise taxes, plus pay property taxes on rails and wires within the city limits. The result was that the Interurban company announced, in 1933, that it would file a petition with the state to abandon its line.

In 1934, the Interurban line received permission from Kentucky to abandon its line to Shelbyville. The last day of service was May 15, 1934; the last car departing Shelbyville at 5:30 p.m. for Louisville. Shortly thereafter, those citizens who had fought to have the Interurban's tracks and overhead wires removed from Main Street had the satisfaction of seeing the rail and wire removed for salvage. The citizens of Shelbyville, true to its relationship with the Interurban, now complained about the lost revenue that the city was experiencing with the shutting down of the Interurban. To make up for the shortfall in tax revenue, brought on by the closing of the Interurban line, the city said it would have to increase taxes or cut services.

Thus ended Shelbyville's relationship with the Interurban.


Charles Bogart, 201 Pin Oak Place, Frankfort, KY 40601-4250, shares this story and related materials with Kentucky Explorer readers. Thanks!