A Brief History
The Cardinal Greenway in Indiana used more than 60 miles of what was once the Chesapeake & Ohio’s (C&O) main line to Chicago. The corridor was constructed by a predecessor company at the turn of the 20th century and was soon acquired by the C&O to give it access to the Windy City. At its peak, the C&O was one of the largest eastern railroads. It connected southern Virginia with the Midwest, later reaching into Michigan and even Buffalo, New York. Its main line through southern West Virginia allowed the C&O to move prodigious amounts of coal, a profitable source of traffic that throughout most of its history allowed the railroad to remain financially sound. It would later become part of the Chessie System, which helped to form CSX Transportation in the 1980s. In the late 1970s, sections of the C&O’s main line west of Cincinnati were abandoned, and most of the route through Indiana was gone by the early 1990s.
What became the classic Chesapeake & Ohio began humbly as the tiny Louisa Railroad, chartered in 1836 as one of Virginia’s earliest. It was completed between Taylorsville and Frederick Hall a year later and would eventually reach Shadwell via Louisa and Gordonsville. It was renamed as the Virginia Central Railroad (VC) in 1850 and saw lines extended into Richmond and as far west as Covington. Further expansion was halted during the Civil War, at which time the VC became an important transportation artery for the Confederate Army. The railroad, both during and after the war, was plagued with extensive damage, since its lines were located near much of the fighting. However, by spring 1866, the VC’s entire route had been reopened for service. The following year, leadership changed its name to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company in an effort to better reflect ambitions of reaching the Ohio River.
Before 1870, the C&O had opened rail service to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, located along the eastern edge of the Allegheny Mountains. But it took 3 years of additional work to carve out a low-grade route to Huntington at the shores of the Ohio River. The line skirted the banks of the New and Kanawha rivers much of the way. In 1876, the company fell into bankruptcy and emerged as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company in 1878, its name remaining unchanged until it disappeared into CSX Transportation. The new C&O spent the rest of the 19th century improving operations, updating its property, and constructing or acquiring secondary lines to tap the region’s rich coal reserves. In December 1888, the railroad opened a link to Cincinnati; at the turn of the 20th century, it began focusing its attention into Ohio and Indiana.
The C&O’s extension to Chicago, what now comprises the Cardinal Greenway, was thanks largely to the Chicago, Cincinnati & Louisville Railroad. This system was formed in 1903 through the consolidation of the Cincinnati & Indiana Western and Cincinnati, Richmond & Muncie. Both of these early companies saw little construction, although under the CC&L, work proceeded quickly. By the spring of 1907, service was opened from Cincinnati to Chicago. The road soon fell into bankruptcy and was acquired by the C&O in 1910, which renamed it as the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company of Indiana. On paper this subsidiary survived until being merged into the C&O in 1934, although it was more commonly known simply as the C&O’s Chicago Division. The company was now a formidable eastern railroad with an all-important connection into the Windy City. However, further growth after that point saw it reach Ohio via Columbus and Toledo during the 1920s. In 1947, the C&O acquired full control of the Pere Marquette Railway, which stretched throughout Michigan and into southern Ontario, even reaching Buffalo, New York.
The Chesapeake & Ohio provided only modest passenger services and was never as flashy as others like the New York Central, Pennsylvania, or even the Baltimore & Ohio. However, it holds an endearing legacy as creator of the now-classic “Chessie the Kitten.” This marketing tactic immediately became a public sensation when introduced by company president Lionel Probert. The Kitten’s creator was Guido Grenewald, from Vienna, and it first appeared in the New York Herald Tribune in 1933 associated with an article about animal kindness. The tiny creature was depicted with its head on the pillow and tucked away warmly under the sheets with one paw slightly forward. After receiving permission from Grenewald, Probert used the image with the slogan “Sleep Like A Kitten” to market the railroad’s Pullman berth services. It first appeared in the September 1933 issue of Fortune and set off a publicity firestorm. Within two days of its release, the advertisement had received hundreds of requests for copies of the print.
In the end, Chessienot only became a strong promotional tool for the C&O, but also turned into a successful merchandising campaign. It also became so closely aligned with the company that the C&O’s unofficial nickname became Chessie. Even today, the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society continues to sell calendars, mugs, and numerous other items bearing the sleeping kitten’s image. Thanks to the railroad’s considerable coal traffic, it survived the lean years of the Great Depression without falling into bankruptcy and then saw traffic volumes surge with the onset of World War II. After the war, the C&O spent money to re-equip its top passenger trains with lightweight, streamlined equipment, such as the “George Washington”and “Fast Flying Virginian.” However, it remained focused on its freight business and purchased the financially frail Baltimore & Ohio in 1963. While the B&O remained independent for many years afterward, the purchase gave the C&O entry into the lucrative northern West Virginia coal fields and a gateway to St. Louis.
In 1972, the C&O, B&O, and Western Maryland (controlled by the B&O) came under the umbrella of the Chessie System, a corporate holding company for all three that brought back Chessie’simage. This time the silhouette of the kitten was used within the “C” as part of the paint scheme adorning locomotives. The vermillion, yellow, and deep blue livery is still regarded as an all-time classic. As early as 1978, the Chessie System began cutting back the C&O’s Chicago route, severing the line just west of Cincinnati. A few years later, service also ended between Malden and Hammond, Indiana. The rest of the route survived through the 1980s, during which time the Chessie System merged with other allying railroads to form CSX Transportation in 1987. During the early 1990s, CSX abandoned the remaining section between Fernald, Ohio, and Malden, Indiana. Shortly thereafter, sections were converted into what is now known as the Cardinal Greenway rail trail.
Nearby railroad attractions in the Hoosier State include the Hesston Steam Museum (train rides powered by steam locomotives) in La Porte; Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum in North Judson; Indiana Railway Museum in French Lick; Indiana Transportation Museum in Noblesville; Linden Railroad Museum in Linden; Madison Railroad Station in Madison; National New York Central Railroad Museum in Elkhart; Wabash Valley Railroaders Museum in Terre Haute; and the Whitewater Valley Railroad in Connersville.Do you have Historical Photos of the Cardinal Greenway?
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