News and Tribune

Floyd County

April 21, 2013

THE LINES OF TIME: Tour to focus on historic Silver Hills trolley line

NEW ALBANY — Now that the path has been cleared, it’s easier to envision a trolley car meandering through the plush hillside near Spring Street Hill Road.

On May 18, people will be able to walk a sizable portion of a railway line that was constructed 122 years ago.

The self-guided “Scenic Railway” tour will attempt to shed light on the trolley line that traversed Silver Hills and eventually connected to New Albany.

Silver Hills native and resident Kelly Carnighan headed a volunteer effort to organize the one-time tour over what is now private property.

He and other volunteers spent countless hours clearing vegetation, constructing two pedestrian bridges and even unearthing five of the original, wooden railway ties since January.

Carnighan’s research on the New Albany Highland Railway Co. and the subsequent owners of the line has inspired him to want to write a book and create a still-frame movie about its history.

After all, the Silver Hills trolley is a subject he’s deeply immersed in.

“Growing up on Silver Hills as kids we knew about this trolley car line because our parents knew,” Carnighan said.

“We knew where the line was as kids, so we’d hike the line and we’d find spikes occasionally here and there. We just thought it was terrific.”

For a 14-year period during its existence, the line was exclusive  to Silver Hills, as it didn’t connect with New Albany.

The history of the line is marked with real estate aspirations, intriguing owners and ingenuity. It was the first electric street line to run in Floyd County, and one of the premier electric lines in Southern Indiana.

“It was considered one of the first inner urbans in the state of Indiana because it ran outside of the city limits,” said Carnighan, as Silver Hills had yet to be annexed into New Albany when the line was in operation.

“These guys took electricity, and a very early design of street cars, and they developed a street car line,” he said. “It was innovative.”

The exclusive Silver Hills line featured electric trolley cars about two years before New Albany, which didn’t electrify until 1893.

Initial investors from New Albany hoped to spark development on Silver Hills through the railway line.

There was a park and a campground for religious retreats, and there were plans to sell plots for houses.

The initial dreams didn’t all come to fruition, as a serious financial depression in 1893 cut into the business plans of the investors.

The line eventually went into receivership and was sold.  

As modernization led to the popularity of other forms of transportation, the line closed in 1932.

But there are still remnants of the line, even if some are buried and hidden from the naked eye.

The vast trestle that started near the former train depot along Eighth Street still lies under what is now Spring Street Hill Road.

A second trestle was filled-in when the line was closed for a two-year period beginning in 1904. Carnighan said he plans to excavate the second trestle  — which participants will be able to walk over during the tour — once the event concludes.

He will also remove the five railway ties and eventually display them in a museum the Silver Hills Historical Society aims to one day open.

Carnighan said he’s pleased the tour will be held during New Albany’s bicentennial year, which is a fact not lost upon Floyd County Historian David Barksdale.

He praised Carnighan for leading the effort to inform the public about the Silver Hills line.

“Here again, it’s a piece of our history that really would have been lost had [Carnighan] not gotten into this,” Barksdale said.

“He was so tenacious going after it, and getting volunteers and clearing” the path.

Barksdale also credited Carnighan and others for starting the Silver Hills Historical Society.

“Silver Hills has such a rich history up there on the hill, so I’m very happy about that,” he said.

The tour will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is free to the public. There will be informational signs and photos taken from when the line was operational on display.

There will be a registration booth at the foot of Spring Street Hill Road — which will be closed for the event — and participants can then walk about a mile portion of the former line.

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