Read Rachel Shenk’s recent article in the Goshen News about bicycling on the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail. Download the article as a pdf file.
Many creeks and drainage ditches cross the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail are often unnoticed because they flow under the trail through small culverts.
Sometimes the culverts are at low points in the trail grade causing rain water to gather at the culvert and flow into the drain ditch at that point. The heavy rains this spring eroded the soil around a culvert between County Roads 1000 and 1100 in LaGrange County. The erosion threatened to undermine the trail. In mid-May the asphalt above the the culvert was removed and the culvert was repaired.
Land ownership disputes dominated development of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail in early stages of the project. Settlements with neighbors sometimes involved trading parts of the railroad corridor for strips of land around the perimeters of farm fields. Friends hired Blake Doriot to conduct an especially difficult land survey of the railroad corridor between County Roads 127 and 26 in Elkhart County. Legal descriptions were needed to prepare deeds for the land exchanges.
Track maps, created by the former railroad operators, provided vital data for the land survey. However, this section of the corridor had a couple curves that were difficult to define. The track maps called out reference points that were destroyed earlier when neighbors farmed across the corridor. The usable track map data described property lines that misaligned with adjacent known property lines.
Friends spent more than two years searching for better data. For instance they visited railroad collectors in a search for track maps with the critical data. Then a clerk at the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office’s was searching for a document he needed for his work when he noticed a survey that he thought might be important for the Pumpkinvine project. It was a survey conducted by Weaver in the mid-1940s. The Weaver survey installed a pipe in a fence line hundreds of feet south of the railroad corridor and specified the location of the corridor relative to the pipe. The survey also called out a railroad mileage sign within the railroad corridor in the woods east of County Road 127. The concrete sign had crumbled flush to the soil and reinforcement rebar were bent down flush so it was not readily visible under the woods liter. The railroad corridor boundary was also specified relative to the sign. The Weaver survey provided the additional information needed to completely define the railroad corridor boundaries between the two county roads. If the Weaver survey had not been discovered construction of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail could have been delayed for an unknown number of years.
In 1888 the Canada and Saint Louis Railway Company acquired land for the Pumpkin Vine Railroad by issuing land contracts to the property owners. On August 17, 1889 the Canada and Saint Louis Railway Company was acquired by the Sturgis, Goshen and St. Louis Railway at a foreclosure sale. Soon the land contracts were purchased from the owners in exchange for either warranty or easement deeds. The deeds described the boundaries of each railway property as being either 33 or 40 feet from the center of the railroad tracks. The descriptions were unsatisfactory in that the boundaries would become undefinable if the tracks were moved or removed.
From the beginning the Pumpkin Vine Railroad was operated by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Company (LSMS). In December 1914 thirteen railroad companies, including the LSMS, stretching from New York State to Chicago, were consolidated to form the New York Central Railway Company. New York Central adopted a policy of documenting their properties. Surveyors were employed to measure the locations of the Pumpkin Vine Railroad property lines relative to the tracks and draftsmen recorded the data in drawings called track maps. The maps on 3 x 2 foot sheets of velum were stacked sequentially according to the path of the tracks and were bound into bundles for each railroad branch. They were updated biannually. New York Central held one copy and a second copy was archived in the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office.
The track maps specified the locations and bearings where the railroad property lines crossed the township section lines. Where there were curves between section lines the track maps cited additional reference points such bridges and other permanent structures.
The New York Central Railroad, including the Pumpkin Vine Railroad, underwent several mergers and re-incorporations during the 20th Century. In 1975 Penn Central, the corporate owner at that time, filed a notice of abandonment for the Pumpkin Vine Branch at the Interstate Commerce Commission. Track maps for abandoned railroads became collector items among railroad memorabilia buffs.
Friends purchased the abandoned Pumpkin Vine corridor from Penn Central in 1993. As development of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail progressed Friends were fortunate that a set of track maps was available in a small archive at the Elkhart County Surveyor’s Office. The maps provided valuable information for re-finding the property lines of the trail corridor, especially where the railroad bed was destroyed and occupied by neighbors. Some parts of the corridor might have been lost without the maps.
Why is there a masonry wall along the trail in Middlebury?
This story is about a decision made in 1888 that influenced the design of the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail over 120 years later. Edson and Mary Foster owned a farm immediately south of what is currently Sunrise Drive in Middlebury. In 1888 the Fosters granted a warranty deed to the Canada and St. Louis Railway Company for a 66 foot wide and 1300 foot long strip of land across their farm. The Fosters placed several conditions in the deed including the following: “If the said Railway Company its successors or assigns shall fail to construct and operate a Railway from Sturgis Michigan to Goshen Indiana within two years of the date thereof on the right of way herein granted or if such Railway is completed and put in operation it shall cease to used, then in either event this grant shall cease to be operative and the right of way herein granted shall terminate and shall revert to the grantor, his heirs and assigns.”
This condition meant that Friends did not become owners this section of the railroad corridor when they purchased the remainder of the corridor from Penn Central in 1993. Instead when railroad operations ceased in 1975 the Foster parcel was divided with the east half of the corridor reverting to ten adjacent landowners and the west half becoming the property of one landowner. Friends were anxious about how to build a contiguous trail through Middlebury.
Friends were delighted in 2006 when Mary Heign sold them the 33 foot wide strip she owned on the west side. Thirty three feet ought to be sufficient width to build a 10 foot wide trail. However, the railroad bed cut through a hill. At that point the west side of Friends’ 33 foot strip was largely occupied by a steep slope populated with large trees. During trail construction in 2013 the trees were removed and the top of the hill was removed. The masonry wall was installed to hold back the remainder of the hill making space for the trail.
The Foster deed is available as a pdf file.
The Quaker Trace Trail seeks letters of support
Friends of the Quaker Trace Trail are asking for demonstrations of public support. The Quaker Trace Trail is envisioned as a multi-use trail connecting Elkhart, Bristol and Middlebury running primarily along County Road 8. More information about their appeal for support can be found here. Follow this link for detailed information about their project.
2018 Pumpkinvine Bike Ride registration is open
Early registration for the bike ride ended on May 16. Registration at a higher fee will continue through ride day on June 16. Visit ride.pumpkinvine.org for information about the ride and for a link to the ride registration site.