Wandering The Northern Division

The Chicago and Wabash Valley Railroad

The Chicago and Wabash Valley Railroad was built by Benjamin Gifford, who came to northwest Indiana in 1891. Gifford was very resourceful. He acquired his education, taught school, studied law, became a lawyer, and in 1861 volunterred and served under General Grant in the Union Army. During the war he was wounded several times, and carried a bullet in his spine until he died in the hospital in Rensselaer in March 1913, at the age of 73.

Benjamin Gifford

Benjamin Gifford started to acquire land in the southern portions of Lake County and the northern part of Jasper County, until his holding were around 36,000 acres of the low-lands, known as the Black and Copperas Marshes. Gifford had located the divide between the Kankakee and the Iroquois Rivers. His dream was to transform the swamps into gardens to supply the city of Chicago with fresh vegetables. He drained the marshes by building miles of dredge ditching. Gifford also constructed public roads, dug smaller ditches, and divided his land into farms of 80, 160, and 320 acres. Each farm contained a set of farm buildings. By the late 1890's the annual harvest in the area was nearly one million bushels of corn, oats, onions and potatoes, with the prospect of annual crops topping that. While drilling wells for water on his land north of Gifford, Indiana, oil was discovered and Gifford invested a million dollars and constructed a refinery. By 1900 more than 100 wells in the area were producing 400 barrels of oil daily at a town named Asphaltum. Gifford soon built a four-mile spur rail line from Gifford to Asphaltum, the site of "Gifford's oil fields."

The Chicago and Wabash Valley Railroad formed on September 10, 1898. Kersey, Indiana, two miles east of DeMotte, became his center of operation, where Gifford built a depot, general store, elevator, school and engine shed, and several homes for his employees. He started building his railway to the south, and crossed the now abandoned Chicago, Attica, and Southern Railway, creating stations at Laura, Gifford, Newland and Moody. The railroad followed a southeasterly tract with Gifford owned, or controlled land on either side. The line ran 24 miles from Kersey to McCoysburg where the line met the Monon Railroad. The route was planned to cross the Kankakee River and travel north to Lowell, Cedar Lake, or perhaps on to Chicago Heights. Some thought that the farmers in West Creek Township didn't want to sacrifice valuable bottom land for a railroad but several businessmen from Lowell urged Gifford to come closer to town. Gifford started receiving the hearty cooperaton of the many local business and land owners. Gifford began a survey of his "One-Man Railroad" in August 1898. Gifford furnished all the money, and controlled the railroad officially known as the Chicago & Wabash Valley Railroad. That same year, 20 miles of track were completed, starting at Zodac, first to the southeast, then to the northwest into Lake County to a point east of Lowell, called Dinwiddie Station. Today it is the intersection of I-65 and State Rd. 2. A spur was also built to the oil refinery at Gifford. All total, the line boasted forty miles of track.

Soon after acquiring engines and rolling stock, Gifford's railroad operated two to three daily trips, with Kersey, Indiana, as headquarters. The line served the adjoining land for many years. After Gifford's death in 1913, the line was sold to the Monon Railroad. Gifford's ultimate aim was to build his railroad into Gary, but he died before this dream was realized. The line was never completed north of Dinwiddie Station. The right-of-way was graded to a point south and east of Crown Point. In September of 1935. the Monon Railroad was given permission by Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the Gifford Line. The loss of this railroad caused great inconvenience to the area. Two grain elevators east of Lowell, the Lowell Grain Company, at Dinwiddie, the Fifield Elevator on Range Line Road eventually went out of business.

Click on image to enlarge

1917 Time Table. Courtesy of the Monon Railroad Historical-Technical Society Archives.

 

- Excerpts Courtsey of Lowell Pioneer History , by Richard Schmal, Lowell Town Historian, and the Lowell Public Library-

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