How the New York Central Railway helped find the Pumpkin Vine Railroad corridor

rcarrico Trail Notes

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.