The Wabash River
In 1896, with the aid of dynamite, mules, and strong backs, railroad workers began cutting through the ancient Wabash reef thus creating the “Big Four Cut.” The Wabash reef, located northeast of the park and visible from where you are standing, is estimated to be 400 million years old. Archaeologists believe that such formations are a results of the Silurian Sea that, at one time, covered part of Indiana and the Great Lakes region.
It is believed that reefs such as this were exposed and modified by the rise and fall of the ancient Wabash River. The partially exposed Wabash Reef is approximately 5.7 acres in size and is composed of dolomite. The reef is nationally recognized as a fine example of Silurian Reef. The reef is located on private property. Please view it from afar.
During the 1900s, the Wabash River was rich with many species of mussels. The shells were harvested and used for food, tool making, and as buttons which were made at the local button factory. Shanties populated the area and barges were constructed on the river for ease of harvesting the shells. The development of plastic after World War II led to a fall off of mussel harvesting.
Excavation of the rock formation known as the Wabash reef began shortly after the Cincinnati Wabash & Michigan railroad arrived in 1873 with the intention of cutting the rock away from the river to straighten out the main line. The C.W. & M. never removed near enough material to meet this goal. In 1892 the C.W. & M. became part of the Cleveland Cincinnati Chicago and St. Louis railroad known as the Big Four. Fire destroyed the shops in 1894 and as part of the rebuilding of the shops and improvements of the rail yard, large amounts of material was excavated from the rock formation. The C.C.C.& St. L's began to cut the rock back in 1895 as the C.W. & M. had originality planned, but shortly after the work was began, it was stopped because it was deemed too expensive. After only a few months, in May of 1896, it was decided that the work was essential. A new contractor was brought in and work began again. Rock removal began on the east side heading towards the west to make room for a rail yard. The cut was started through the reef at the same time with the crews to meet in the middle clearing all of the rock material from the cut to the river. However once enough rock had been removed for a track through the cut and there was enough room for a rail yard, the work was once again stopped. The job of removing all of the rock between the cut to the river was never finished.
The main line at the time of excavation crossed the Wabash river several hundred feet north of the current railroad bridge. After the cut was made, in order to straighten the main line it was necessary to lay new track, build an new bridge and create a fill north and south of the new bridge in order to bring the grade up to meet the new proposed bridge. The cut was finished August 1896, however the fill north of the bridge, from the cut to the bridge, and especially the fill south of bridge, that went all the way from the Wabash river to south of Lafontaine Avenue, was a larger undertaking and was not complete until 1898. The new bridge was not set in place or operational until the month of October, 1898. The old bridge was removed shortly after. The railroad tracks and bridge that are seen today are the results of the cut and the straightening out the main line that started in 1896. Kyle Coble