In 1854, the first railroad to Evansville opened. The state of Indiana had seen a boom in railroad construction, and the Evansville & Crawfordsville Railroad was just a small part of that.
But it wasn’t until 1885 that Evansville truly started to become a railroad town. That’s when the Louisville and Nashville Railroad opened a bridge across the Ohio River that connected Evansville to the L&N’s burgeoning system in the south. From that point, until it was merged out of existence in 1982, the L&N was a major factor in Evansville’s growth.
The bridge put Evansville on one of the prime Chicago-to-Florida routes in the U.S. It also meant businesses in Evansville were in a prime location to ship their goods all over the country. And when the L&N purchased the former Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad line from Evansville to St. Louis, the opportunities only increased. Evansville became the social and economic center of the Tri-State.
Howell, now a neighborhood of Evansville, was platted as a town by the L&N in 1885, named after Lee Howell, the local L&N freight agent. By 1889, the town was booming, as the L&N completed construction of its shops and yard. Howell had its own post office, school, banks, churches, and more. Most town residents were employed by the L&N. Howell was annexed into Evansville in 1915.
In 1902, the L&N opened its new terminal depot on Fulton Avenue. Architecturally inspired by the 11th and 12th Century Romanesque cathedrals of France and Spain, it welcomed visitors to Evansville for almost 70 years.
The L&N formed an agreement with the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad to operate joint Florida-to-Chicago passenger trains. Other railroads, including the Southern, New York Central, and Illinois Central came to Evansville as well. By the 1950s, more than 30 passenger and 50 freight trains arrived daily in Evansville.
But that didn’t last.
On April 30, 1971, the last L&N passenger train arrived in Evansville. It was running four hours late due to engine problems. Amtrak was in the process of taking over passenger railroading, and the federal agency did not include Evansville on its routes. The L&N sold the depot property in 1974. It sat vacant until February 1985 when — despite its recognition as an Evansville icon — the depot was razed.
Nationally, railroads went through a difficult time starting in the late 1960s. The spectacular failure of Penn Central in 1970 began a period of mergers, which eventually engulfed the L&N. It was absorbed into the Seaboard System in 1982, and in 1986 became part of CSX Transportation.
Today, CSX continues to use much of the same tracks in the Tri-State, including the Henderson bridge, which replaced the original structure in 1932. That serves as a reminder of a time when Evansville was an important stop on the L&N.