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Thursday, July 17th, 2008

More Mind-Blowing Louisville Historic Transit Pictures

In follow-up to my recent posting, David Schooling sent me an absolutely astonishing series of Louisville historic transit photos, with permission to reproduce them.

First, a section of elevated rail along the waterfront.


You can see the rail line to the left in the picture. This was built in 1884 and lasted 100 years into the mid-1980′s. I put this first because it belies one of the central claims of the 8664 group. Namely that the construction of the I-64 riverfront parkway cut the city off from the river. The city was long cut off from the river by this rail line. What’s more, back in the day, the river was dirty, industrial, and a sewer – not the place for a nice stroll.

I think we’re too harsh on some aspects of previous civic decisions. The world was a different place when the riverfront rail lines and expressways were built. Today, rather than saying it was a mistake, let’s just acknowledge that we now live in a post-industrial age where the worst of pollution has been cleaned up. This gives us the opportunity to rethink things for the future.

Here’s the 4th St. elevated station, circa 1905


An electric passenger train and a freight train prepare to pass each other on what appears to be a timber viaduct.

Two of the three East End elevated lines


The still surviving Baxter el station


Ok, so now you know that Louisville had an extensive elevated rail system, which at a minimum had both freight and electrified passenger service. But did you know it also had a freight subway system downtown? I knew Chicago had one of these, but was not aware that other cities did too. Who else might have had one? Here’s a picture.


As if that weren’t enough, in the 1940′s and 50′s, Louisville apparently had a commercial seaplane port on the river at 2nd. St. Here’s the picture.


One of the more interesting planes based there was the RC-3 Seabee flying boat, the same plane from “The Man With the Golden Gun”. Here is a picture of that bad boy.


This just goes to show that there is an amazing transportation history out there about our cities. It’s definitely sad to see how much of this has been lost forever.

13 Comments
Topics: Transportation
Cities: Louisville

13 Responses to “More Mind-Blowing Louisville Historic Transit Pictures”

  1. thundermutt says:

    “I think we’re too harsh on some aspects of previous civic decisions. The world was a different place when the riverfront rail lines and expressways were built. Today, rather than saying it was a mistake, let’s just acknowledge that we now live in a post-industrial age where the worst of pollution has been cleaned up. This gives us the opportunity to rethink things for the future.”

    I fully agree. Ranting about the “stupidity” of things like combined sewers, which were great advances in public health and engineering at the time, is counterproductive at best.

    In fact, one picture in the post unintentionally shows why cities needed combined sewers: horses and donkeys on the street pulling wagons. Equine excrement and urine was a health hazard and getting rid of it was a benefit. For a long time, “dilution was the solution”.

    Let’s just figure out how to fix things in a way that makes sense today, and get on with life.

  2. CoryW says:

    I am so glad that here in Indy I don’t have to drive by an “abandon El Station.” I would be sick with grief everytime I drove past! Since I don’t live in Louisville and am not familiar with this station or where it could possibly go, but why haven’t civic leaders demanded that this infratructure be reused?

    Great pics too!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Nice pictures. I always love to see photos of old transit facilities in our cities. Doesn’t Cincy have a never used abandoned subway system? I can’t wait until I take my young son to the Shedd Aquarium or the Field Museum and point him out where Meigs Field used to be.

  4. Jefferey says:

    That Baxter Street station was part of the L&N, not a rapid transit line, as far as I know. Which seems to imply that Louisville had commuter rail at one time?

    The freight tunnels are a real shock. I have never heard mention of them before.

  5. The Urbanophile says:

    Jeff, I suspect that this was more of an elevated interurban, not what we think of as heavy rail today. But the world worked very differently back then. The “suburbs” that these commuter or interurban lines served were often in-city neighborhoods. And it wasn’t unusual to see a mixture of freight and passenger service on many lines.

    Two quick examples: the CTA north main line in Chicago saw freight service on it north of Wilson for decades. Also in Chicago, the Northwestern, which today focuses on peak period service from outlying suburbs to the Loop, used to have a huge number of in-city stations, most of which were closed. I can’t remember exactly, but I seem to believe there was a mass station closing in the 50′s, and there is little sign that there were once lots of in-city stations.

    I believe there was once electrified passenger service on these elevated systems with 15 minute headways, almost 24×7 which puts them more in the rapid transit side of the ledger moreso than interurban or commuter service, even if that is how they might be classified today. I don’t know how many stations there were in the city.

    If you’re interested, I can try to put you in touch with the guy who sent these to me,

  6. Gary says:

    Speaking of rail tranist. Editotial in today’s Star from he head of CITRA defending the north east corridor for the commuter rail line.
    Interestingly enough everyone one that board lives…guess…Fishers and nearby. Once again I say build transit in areas people already support transit. “Hamilton County ain’t it.”

  7. Anonymous says:

    Cincinnati,did ideed and still does have and unused abandoned subway system with station(s) plural. Safely sealed up with rail never installed. It ran out of money and civic willpower. Tours are not an option. But a book was authored about it. The book is very informative. Switch of subject "Forty Feet Below" another book details the Chicago Freight Tunnels, while the forthcoming book
    "Louisvilles Elevated & Electric Rail" details the titled subject as well a a whole lot more including Louisvilles Freight Subway….. Posted by the author.

  8. Steve Magruder says:

    Very very interesting! I’m a local history buff, but I really didn’t realize Louisville ever had an el train. It’s kind of shocking.

    In a related vein, I wonder if anyone has images of the trolley turnaround point in front of the endangered Colonial Gardens in the South end.

    It’s starting to be rather sickening how “urban renewal” (or kowtowing to the auto industry) in this city has cost us so many worthwhile infrastructural wonders over the years.

  9. Alan Evil says:

    If you follow those same tracks that cross Baxter St. you’ll find plenty of still standing rail stops, one at Logan Street, and there’s another near UofL’s campus. I bet for a relatively small price we could have a light rail line using existing track that could get people from the Highlands to downtown.

    What is really interesting is how many old street car lines are just below the asphalt (some are still level with the surface). When I lived in New Orleans they were paving St. Peters St. in the French Quarter and for a while the old Desire streetcar tracks were exposed, still looking useable. What was even more fascinating was the old original road bed was still intact, consisting of large blocks of cypress.

  10. timecruncher says:

    People, people! Louisville did not have an "el system." There were some grade separations on existing steam rail lines that were built to separate rail main lines from street crossings where lenghty delays were problematic.

    The abandoned Baxter Avenue station was built by the L&N Railroad and served its trains between Louisville, Cincinnati and Lexington (and points in eastern Kentucky). The CCC&StL bridge — also known as the "Big Four" bridge, did, indeed, carry electric interurbans of the Indiana Railroad and its predicessors across the Ohio River, but it was not in any way an elevated passenger railway in the sense of Chicago or New York systems. By the same token, streetcars of the Louisville & New Albany Electric Railway (The Daisy Line), used to operate over the K&IT bridge between Portland and Vincennes Street in New Albany. These streetcars were wide-guage to operate on Louisville Railway trackage on the Kentucky side of the river. This was streetcar service, however, and simply operated on a freight railroad river bridge!

    Steam (and later diesel) – powered passenger trains used all of these bridges at one time or another, but commuter rail service in and out of Louisville on the major rail lines never amounted to more than a couple of "accomodation" trains out to LaGrange or Bardstown.

    Baxter Avenue station is no more than a sad testament to the loss of good intercity rail passenger service. This was once a convenient boarding spot for north and eastbound trains that did not require driving downtown to Union Station. L&N ceased using it in the early 1960s.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Louisville's well documented elevated trains did exist. This rock solid, incontrovertable fact was no surprise to the tens of millions who rode the early El trains back in the 1880's, 1890's and 1900's. They were so popular that by 1906 ridership surveys showed 1.25 million were taking the El trains anually.

    The K&I bridge was not simply a freight railroad bridge. It was Louisville's first truly multi-modal Ohio River crossing, providing for freight, passenger and commuter rail trains from the very start, plus early wagon roadways.

    The bridge company's propiatary commuter rail service started right after the bridge was opened in 1886. Initially it's coaches were steam hauled, then from 1893 until late 1907 it operated multi-unit 3 car electric trains, which were standard 4'8.5" gauge. Over and after crossing the bridge there was no deviation in gauge, no gauntlet and no street running PERIOD.

    It's trackage was elevated both in western Louisville and downtown where it ran atop a 15 block long elevated railway structure with three purpose built, commuter elevated stations.

    In March of 1908 another company initated single (trolley) movements over the K&I bridge with a non-standard gauge arraingment and a changed routing linked to streetcar trackage right after the bridge crossing.

    Some otherwise astute railfans get their historical time frames confused and somehow tend to substitute the second company's operations in place of the original,…. despite the virtual plethora of differences; routing, equipment gauge, street running vs elevated, etc..

    The original multi-unit, standard gauge, electric trains, the elevated trackage, the multiple elevated stations are all very well documented by photography, Sanborn Maps, the Kentucky Historical Society, the University of Louisville Archives, the Encyclopedia of Louisville, many text references and even specific articles by George Yater, universally acknowledged as Louisville's preeminent rail historian.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Someone above mentioned that Louisville's commuter rail service never amounted to more than a – couple of "accomodation" trains out to La Grange or Bardstown.

    This statement is wildly inaccurate. May I refer this party to the Railroads section in the Encyclopedia of Louisville, from which the following is excerpted :

    Pg 745 para 3….Other RR's, especially the L&N, IC & Southern provided "Commuter Service from; Anchorage, Crescent Hill, Harrods Creek, Jeffersontown, Pleasure Ridge & Valley Station.

    Pg 745 para 6 the B&O, Monon & New York Central called at their respective ( local passenger ) stations in Jeffersonville & New Albany.

    Pg 745 para 8…. "Commuter Trains were operated to Charlestown Ind. and Ft. Knox.

    Pg 747 para 6…. Smaller stations were maintained by the city's railroads at various city and suburban locations: L&N's Baxter Ave., then IC, Southern and L&N's other small stations at; Anchorage, Beuchel, Highland Park, Jeffersontown, St. Matthews, Valley Station, where – local passengers "Commuted" to and from the city. (Louisville)

    In fact the short list of examples is not so short after all. For the sake of brevity, the author only chose to list the above.

    There were a hundred such local main line stations , from which locals commuted, not including another 150 electric interurban commuter stations in the area. Likewise again this also does not include the vast Louisville streetcar system.

    These excerpts thouroughly lays to waste of the concept of "no more than a couple" of trains. That statement is very far off the mark.

    The Encyclopedia author repeatedly uses the exact words commuter service and commuter trains, and specicifically mentions ALL of the Mainline Railroads being involved in providing commuter service to all of these bedroom communities.

    Most importantly this information is from the pen or rather keypad of Louisville's most respected rail historian, Charles B. Castner, Author of the Railroad Section of the Encyclopedia of Louisville which was in turn edited by the ultra authority, the late, George Yater.

    Mr. Castner is the rail history archivist at the University of Louisville, which also houses the George Yater railroad collection, a major resource of thousands of items, all railroad related.

  13. Anonymous says:

    While the Baxter Station might be abandoned, the rails are still in use. I should know, I live a block away. Trains still carry supplies along the tracks, it is just that the tracks no longer host a commuter rail.

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