Henderson County, Kentucky


Unique traction car ran between Henderson, Evansville for 16 years.

The Henderson Daily Gleaner headline on July 28, 1912 announced the debut of the Interurban that would make its maiden voyage at 7:15 that morning and repeat the Henderson-Evansville trip every two hours until nearly midnight.

The traction line was a combination of street car and ferry operation that rook riders from the Interurban station on North Elm Street to Evansville in 45 minutes - 12 minutes of that trip spent on the river.

Only a couple of inches away from the headline that heralded the new Interurban - one of the few street-car-ferry operations ever operated in North America - was bold black type about Horace KEARNEY'S brush with disaster.

The pilot had been 2,000 feet above the earth on Saturday, July 27, when suddenly his engine went dead and he abruptly dropped 300 feet. "I realized I was in a perilous position as I was not certain I could keep in the air long enough to land on the Fair Ground," he told the Gleaner reporter.

Through gliding and the fact that he got the engine "working a little," he managed to land the biplane.

The Gleaner predicted that "many Henderson and Evansville people are expected to take a traction car today in order to view the scenery along the route and enjoy the experience of riding over the new road."

Though Sunday was the initial day of operation for the new transportation mode operated by the Evansville-Henderson Traction Company, the formal dedication of the service hadn't yet taken place. That was to occur on the following Tuesday, when Hoosier VIPs "seventy-five strong" were expected to come to downtown Henderson for the ceremony.

"They will receive a royal reception at the Commercial Club," the Gleaner said. "They will arrive about 2 o'clock. The citizens of Henderson are urged to turn out to greet them."

The paper reported that efforts to organize the service had begun the winter before, "and although the company met with many setbacks. The line was established in a comparatively short length of time. One reason for this is that they were able to lease the old Illinois Central track from Evansville, which saved the expense of building a new roadbed."

As historian Maralea ARNETT explains in her county "Annals and Scandals," rails "ran down the bank to low water level where they joined a floating cradle 150 feet long. Two cars, one for passengers, one for freight, could be edged onto this cradle, which was then locked into position against the ferry.

"Trolley wire was run to the ferry and taken up on a revolving drum mounted about the cradle. On the opposite shore the procedure was reversed."

History indicates that, for the most part, the Interurban operated fairly smoothly. But there was one memorable evening when, during a particularly swift current, a rudder broke during the 6 p.m. trip and the cars didn't make safe landing until 4 a.m.

Then there was the 1917 ice pack on the frozen river that damaged the Interurban cradle so severely it had to be replaced.

That year was a dismal one for the service as it also, on June 6, saw the deaths of four Barret High students who, with two friends who survived, had tried to race a traction car to the intersection of Watson Lane and the Henderson-Evansville Road.

The Interurban had a 16-year run, ending in 1928. Its demise was signaled by the beginning of ferry service for automobiles.

Reprinted with permission.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, March 30, 1996
Written by Judy Jenkins

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS