ushered in new era
for Oldham County commuters
La Grange, Buckner train depots
were busy stops on route
Helen E. McKinney
LA GRANGE, Ky. (January 2003) In its heyday, the
Interurban Railway brought convenience to Oldham County by providing
a fast, safe mode of transportation. Its dramatic impact was felt all
across the county at the turn of the 20th century.
The interurban electric railway typically drew its power from overhead
wire. Unpowered trailer cars were often used, making a two-car train.
Interurban ferried passengers
from Louisville to La Grange and other
towns. Below are the La Grange train depot (right) and the Buckner
train depot (left).
Percival Moore was a wealthy Anchorage, Ky., resident
who instituted an electric railway line that began service on Nov. 18,
1901, traveling to Beards Station in Crestwood. Known as the Louisville,
Anchorage and Pewee Valley Electric Railroad, this new method of transportation
took residents of Oldham County to and from Louisville in one day.
It was just a blessing, said Oldham County resident Jim
Calvert, who has always been fascinated by trains. It was fast,
and warm in the winter.
By 1903, the line was reorganized, now under the control of the Louisville
and Eastern Railway Company (L&E). In an era when the only other
way to travel was by horse and buggy over unpaved, dusty roads, the
interurban was a luxury to those who used it.
Calvert, 80, remembers riding the interurban to Camp Kavanaugh when
he was a boy. A round trip ticket to Louisville cost 60 cents.
It meant a lot to Oldham County, he said.
In competition with the L&E, a second interurban company, The Louisville
and Interurban Railroad (L&I), opened its first interurban line
east to Jeffersontown in 1904. The L&I was owned by the Louisville
Traction Co., a holding company that also owned the Louisville Railway
Interurban tracks continued to stretch across Oldham County as the county
embraced this new concept. A new line was opened northeast to Prospect
the same year by electrifying a Louisville & Nashville steam railroad
The L&E interurban line to La Grange was completed by 1906. According
to the History and Families of Oldham County, Ky: The First Century,
1824-1924, it had established itself as a quick and convenient
way for people to travel between Louisville and La Grange, which just
a few years earlier, would have been impossible to imagine.
The idea of the interurban had trickled down from the larger cities
to the suburbs. Cars usually had a two-man crew, the motorman and conductor.
If a trailer was used, a second conductor was added.
Calvert said it was great for dairy farmers and their
wives. It was now possible for the farmers wife to go to town,
do her shopping, and still arrive home in time to fix dinner. The interurban
could travel at speeds of 65 to 80 mph on the long runs such as
Louisville to La Grange, said Jack Diehl. Diehl has researched
the interurban and written a column about it for the Division 8 National
Model Railroad Association. In the city, they averaged 15-20 mph, said
train enthusiast Charles Keeling of Louisville.
Keeling, 86, also rode the interurban, a ride that he compared to, A
rolling barn-with wheels on it.
For the most part, the ride was smooth, and the cars were fast, said
Diehl. His mother, Sylvia Vatter, lived in Louisville around 1918. Now
93, he said she remembered riding the interurban on its Jeffersontown
The ride was smooth because they were heavy in comparison to other
types of vehicles. They were fast because the trains were short and
the locomotives were electric and accelerated much faster than steam
The interurban was not just a passenger electric train. Some lines also
provided freight and cattle services.
Farmers could ship milk to Louisville creameries more quickly. If taken
by regular train, there was no method of refrigeration and the milk
would often heat as the railroad cars were being switched out.
Calvert said the La Grange line was easy to build. There were no major
bridges to construct, as occurred within some of the seven routes that
branched out from the downtown Louisville terminal at Third and Jefferson
streets to points in Jefferson, Oldham and Shelby counties, as well
as Jeffersonville and New Albany, Ind.
Five of these routes were the Prospect line, the Shelbyville and La
Grange line, the Fern Creek and Jeffersontown line, the Okolona line,
and the Orell line. Stops were made every hour on each route in such
towns as Harrods Creek, Glenview, Glenarm, Anita Springs, Eastwood,
Buechel, Valley Station and Pleasure Ridge.
There were also suburban lines running from the downtown Louisville
terminal over the Big Four bridge to Jeffersonville and over the K&I
bridge to New Albany. These routes had been arranged between the Louisville
& Southern Indiana Traction Co. and the Big Four steam railroad.
One of the earliest passenger specials was a Sunday trip
labeled, Meet The Steamer, in which a resident of Seymour,
Ind., or points south could take the interurban to Louisville to board
one of two steamers, City of Cincinnati or City of Louisville. The combined
cost of this enjoyable scenic river cruise and interurban ticket was
Most interurban routes passed through serene countryside en route to
the bigger, bustling cities like Louisville and New Albany, Ind. Calvert
said that Henry Watterson, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal,
remarked that traveling the interurban to and from work each day was
the most peaceful time of day for him.
The interurban had a quick rise, and a slow decline, said
Calvert. By 1935, the La Grange route was defunct, the Depression having
taken its toll on America. The advent of the automobile slowly contributed
to its demise, as many workers carpooled.
Bus lines eventually began operating in competition with streetcars
and the interurban railway routes. This was perhaps the biggest detriment
to the success of the interurban, as many lines were phased out and
replaced by such companies as the Chaudoin Bus Line. This line replaced
the La Grange interurban route.
Interest in light rail travel may rise again with the completion of
the Interurban Greenways Trail. The nonprofit Greenways for Oldham County
have chosen to institute a walking and bike trail along the original
route of the interurban railway.
It will run from the La Grange train depot to Pewee Valley, a distance
of roughly 10-13 miles. Greenways president Judy Hall said the interurban
route was chosen because it represented the history of the railroad
itself. We thought it was a golden opportunity.
Phase I of this project is scheduled for completion in late spring of
2003, said Hall. The trail will eventually be part of the county parks
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