At the turn of the 20th century Fort Wayne, Indiana was a vibrant railroad town, hosting six railroads including the New York Central, Wabash, Nickel Plate Road, Pennsylvania Railroad, Grand Rapids & Indiana, and Fort Wayne Union Railway. The city also had an enviable interurban network that linked it to the rest of the state. As a result of this expansive network, the average household spent only 5 percent of its income on transportation.
As an integral part of the city’s industry, the railroads amassed numerous yards, shops, and engine facilities, and employed thousands of local residents as engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen, stations agents, and locomotive and car shop laborers to maintain the railroad’s extensive network of freight and passenger trains and the locomotives that powered them.
The railroads connected Fort Wayne to every major city in the country. An estimated 3,000 people used the Baker Street Pennsylvania Railroad station every day during World War II and the city was home to the original high speed rails of the Nickel Plate and Pennsylvania Railroads. The city’s south side was dominated by the Pennsylvania yards and shops at Winter Street, as well as the Wabash Railroad terminal off Broadway.
To the north, the Nickel Plate commanded the Nebraska Neighborhood south of Burgess and Osage streets and at 4th Street the New York Central Railroad and its predecessors maintained an urban yard replete with locomotive and car shop facilities and built Cass Street Depot, which was once known as Fort Wayne Union Station. The railroad, famously known for creating the red carpet treatment on its passenger trains, directly served the surrounding neighborhoods and hosted annual community traditions like the unloading of the circus train.
The railroads influenced every day life in the past, but city development in the future. The 1950’s saw the Elevate the Nickel Plate campaign create an engineering landmark that raised the railroad above a dozen city streets, beginning a new era of city expansion north of the St. Mary’s River.
Fort Wayne was a major player in the railroad industry, building locomotives, freight, and passenger cars; moving people and freight and connecting us to the rest of the world.