It has been nearly 80 years since passengers rode on the Winona Interurban Railway. Only a very small percentage of the population can actually recall what it was like to ride on the cars powered by overhead electric lines.
And it has been more than 60 years since freight was moved on the Winona. Remembrances of the electric interurban are fading fast and minimally preserved through museum displays, research and writing.
So when railroad history buff Brady Peters, chief engineer for the short line Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad coming through Warsaw, heard the city of Warsaw was unearthing some of the original rails for the Winona, he took advantage of the opportunity. According to Tim Dombrosky, assistant city planner for Warsaw, the rails were dug up beneath one city block of South McKinley Street because utilities needed to be routed to a new restroom building and shelter for the Krebs Trailhead Park, part of the bicycle and pedestrian path system.
As first reported by StaceyPageOnline.com in mid-August, Peters asked city officials if he could have the old Winona rails (See related story and video). Assuming there was enough room, Peters wanted to recreate a portion of the Winona Interurban line as a historical monument. Dombrosky noted the request was presented to the city, as well as a bicycle advisory committee for Ride+Walk Warsaw+Winona Lake.
“They (city and committee) thought it would be a nice thing to do,” he said, noting the rails were going to be salvaged anyway. CFE paid for the materials and the city prepped the site for the project.
On Aug. 16, Peters and a crew laid original 70-pound rails for the Winona with the ties at Krebs Trailhead Park on McKinley Avenue. In a matter of hours, a visible historical monument to a major portion of local transportation history was in place. Peters is not only a railroad history buff, but has specifically researched the Winona Interurban.
In the days before automobiles became prevalent, the interurban was a major step forward in transportation. Wagons, buggies and horses were not so reliable on dirt or gravel roads washed out by heavy rains. Steam powered trains left black soot on the clothes of passengers and train schedules were limited and not so flexible.
But the electric interurban could transport passengers in a cleaner and faster manner. Schedules were more flexible, too.
Beginning in the early 1900s, the Winona Interurban entered Kosciusko County from Elkhart County and traveled through Milford Junction, Milford, Leesburg and then to Warsaw. Going south it went through Mentone before leaving the county.
The line entered Warsaw on Detroit Street (SR 15) and ran to Market Street where it turned west to Lake Street. On Lake it went to Center Street where it turned back east. The rails ran down the middle of Center Street to between Maple and Bronson streets where passing tracks were built.
The main line continued east on Center to what is now South McKinley Street, where it turned south. It eventually passed under the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks near the powerhouse for the interurban.
Eventually, though, the automobile became a primary factor in the demise of the interurban. Passenger service ceased in 1934. Freight was moved on the line for another 18 years before it ceased in 1952.
Almost all of the Winona Interurban rails have been dug up within Warsaw, but Peters noted there is still a portion left under the road on McKinley one block south of the trailhead park.
More tree planting and landscaping work needs to be completed, but the city will have a grand opening celebration in October on a date yet to be announced.
Original train crossing signals from the 1920s will also be added to the interurban tracks and historical information and maps will be part of a display on the shelter building, Dombrosky noted.
The section of interurban track is the only replica or actual monument to the old Winona in existence.