By SHIRLEY WILLARD
Historian, Fulton County Historical Society
DELPHI — “Boom then bust,” that’s what happened to canals in Indiana after the Civil War. “Boom and no bust” was true for the emerging railroads.
“Simply stated, the railroads took the shipping and passenger business away from the country’s canals,” Dan McCain, president of the Wabash & Erie Canal association, Delphi, said. “In Canal Park, the story needs to be told of this transition from canals to rails and why it happened.”
A historic, restored 1800s depot building will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17, in conjunction with Canal Park’s Harvest Festival.
The origin of this 1884 structure was Fulton County. It served as the train depot in a small town known as Leiters Ford, west of Rochester, along the Tippecanoe River. The railroad line was originally known as the Chicago and Atlantic Railroad and in the 20th century was known as the Erie Line.
“Fifty-four miles away from Canal Park, the depot was disassembled at Leiters Ford by an Amish crew hired by the Canal Association, but when it came to putting it back together in Canal Park there were up to a dozen canal volunteers working Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for nearly a year to get this completed,” McCain said.
A grant from North Central Health Services through Tippecanoe Arts Federation, Lafayette, was secured for the foundation, roof and windows. “The original wood was reused for more than 75 percent of the restoration. Paint colors were researched and other materials that were used followed historic guidelines so the restored building was as authentic as possible,” McCain said.
“The Wabash & Erie Canal was a manmade waterway and it found rail competition too great to bear when the canal’s wooden locks and crib dams began disintegrating and expensive repairs to the canal mounted. The boats were becoming idle as the shiny new railroads were running circles around the mule-towed watercraft” McCain said.
In Delphi, business and community leaders knew the end was near by the 1860s. The construction of the canal had already caused Indiana economic distress. There had been two prosperous decades for canals when they shipped to other communities and eastern markets, but those opportunities were fading.
Times were changing. Railroads were expanding. Progress with year-round shipping and passenger service left most residents happy that they could depend on faster service and new markets. “Delphi’s lime and paper production suffered a decline in production after the Civil War era but enjoyed robust new business with the new rail connections,” McCain said.
Activities from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on dedication day will include narrated rides in a replica 1800s canal boat. Several log cabins in Canal Park’s pioneer village will be open, including the loom house with weavers demonstrating on historic looms, a bowl carver, blacksmith, cooper and broom maker. The 1844 Reed Case house will offer tours.
Tickets for boat rides and Case House are available at the dock. Admission is free to Canal Park, the depot and to the Canal Museum. Towpath trails are open until dusk.
The Canal Association is seeking more railroad-related memorabilia. McCain urges those who have railroad items to offer for permanent display to contact Wabash & Erie Canal, 1030 W. Washington St., Delphi, IN 46923 or www.wabashanderiecanal.org. For more information, call (765) 412-4308 or come to the interpretive center at Canal Park between 1-4 p.m. any afternoon.