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While the hills embracing the town of Madison were lovely to behold, they proved to be a stumbling block to the progress of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad.
There was no direct way to get the railroad out of Madison except by means of an inclined plane. It would be necessary to make a climb of 413 feet and achieve a grade (slope) with a rise of 113 feet per mile. This was the equivalent of an average grade of 5.89 per cent and it would attain a length of 7,012 feet. This gave the Madison incline the dubious honor of being the steepest line-haul grade in the country. The terrain was of solid rock and the only means of carving the incline was by hand labor and blasting with black powder charges to loosen the rock. The mostly Irish workers would then laboriously haul the stones out of the right-of-way with mules and horses. Some of the rock was selected for use in the building of St. Michaels Catholic Church.
Five Years of Work
The incline, or “cut”, was actually built in three stages by three different contractors. The upper third was contracted to John Giddings, the middle to Joseph Hendricks and the lower cut was done by the Flint and Stough firm. Overall construction was supervised by Col. Thomas A. Morris, chief engineer. The lower cut plunged about 100 feet deep and the upper cut only about 40 feet. The Hendricks crew had the honor of achieving the deepest cut. Their portion attained a depth of over 125 feet. The right-of-way for the track was 25 feet wide and the distance between the rails was the standard gauge of 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches. The rails used were made of iron and known as “T” rails made in England. Ironically, there was no steam engine available so the heavy cars laden with materials were pulled by horse. Slowly, the road advance up the hill and there it connected with the line from the north. The incline had been started in 1836 and was finished in 1845. It had taken five years of arduous work and one wonders that it was accomplished at all.
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