The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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Southwestern Car Shop

Map of South Western Car Shop location
Early in June of 1851, William Vincent Clough and Joseph Farnsworth obtained a “suitable” lot in the west end of Madison near the riverfront where they could erect a large building for the manufacture of railroad cars “of every description”. On June 26th the construction of the building began. The original building constructed was two hundred feet by sixty feet and was calculated to employ forty to fifty workers. The new enterprise was christened The Southwestern Car Shop. Late that year the first cars were produced.

Farnsworth, who was also associated with the Madison Foundry, was already making railroad car wheels for railroads in Ohio and the interior of Indiana. It seemed only proper that the building of an entire railroad car would be advantageous and profitable, especially since the shops of the Madison road had been frequently put under requisition to furnish cars for the roads connected with it.

Indeed, the business seems to have been an early success. The location, being near the terminus of the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad and on the Ohio River, proved to be an advantage and orders must have been all the two men had hoped for because the original building quickly expanded into a “complex” of buildings by 1853. In 1853 and 1854 the company advertised in the American Railways Times, “Passenger Cars, House Cars, Cattle and Hog Cars, Gravel Cars, etc.” for sale. Sometime before 1857, for unknown reasons, Farnsworth must have sold his portion of the business to William Clough because from that point on there is no reference to him as co-owner. William Clough, still a young man in his twenties seems to have been a good business manager, however, because on June 1, 1857 the Madison Courier noted that, “Clough is sending, in flatboats, another lot of railroad cars for the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Road, making an aggregate of seventy-five cars sent to this road from his establishment since 1st March. There are four superb passenger cars nearly completed for the same road; and in process of construction, passenger cars for the New Orleans and Opelousa and Great Western Road, for the Vicksburg and Texas, and for the Southern Pacific Roads. There is no establishment in the state in a more flourishing condition than the Southwestern Railroad Car Factory”. The car shop was, no doubt, still riding the “bubble” of prosperity with which Madison had been so blessed. But as the bubble began to deflate, it would seem orders and subsequent profits began to dwindle, also. In the panic of 1857 many of the southern roads the car shop was dealing with went into bankruptcy, dealing the shop a blow from which, it would seem, it never recovered. The shop closed its doors somewhere around 1860 and on August 21, 1863, the newspaper announced, “Mr. Vawter, the purchaser of the Southwestern Car Shop, has been for about a week past engaged in refitting the establishment. The Shop, which is quite extensive, was formerly, as most readers are aware, owned by Mr. Wm. Clough, who did a large business in the way of car building, etc. Adverse times setting in, the proprietor was obliged to suspend operations, and for years the establishment has been closed. The property at recent public sale passed into the hands of Mr. Vawter, who is repairing and fitting it up, intending to convert it into a mammoth Planing Mill.”

In April of 1867 the old car factory, or at least a good portion of it, fell down from the immense weight of starch placed in the second floor by one of the local starch factories. It was propped up for use as a warehouse for a time but the constant flooding of the Ohio River and prolonged neglect that the buildings sustained soon took their toll. The building, or buildings, fell into ruin and, as with many of the structures along the riverfront, without any fanfare, faded into oblivion.

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