Thanksgiving, of course, provides a time to contemplate what we’re most thankful for. Even as we trudge ever on through this pestilential mire, it’s important to pause and count our blessings. The pandemic notwithstanding, I’m grateful for many things, but this year I’m most thankful for the Cardinal and White River Greenways. For two decades, I’ve walked, jogged, and biked along these routes. But in the past 18 months, the greenways have become a central feature of my life.
There’s a few reasons for this, but Bexley, our new family dog, is the foremost. Despite her numerous neighborhood walks, our little mutt is only satisfied with greenway odysseys. If we’re pressed for time, we take the new Muncie Central Levee Loop that surrounds the riverbend’s west side. This trail is a legit adventure for Bexley as she navigates us through the gaggles of geese who hold dominion over the levee. Usually there’s a point on the walk when she encounters some oversized über-goose blocking the way. The ensuing standoff plays out like some trans-species version of "West Side Story." After excessive amounts of ludicrous posturing, hissing, and barking, someone blinks and both sides go about their business as if nothing happened; canine and avian egos safely intact.
But when time is not a factor, our preferred route is the Kitselman Bridge Loop, which in my humble opinion, provides the most beautiful vistas in the Magic City. We usually start at the McCulloch Trailhead and walk along the White River Greenway, through the Craddock Wetland, and then on to the Kitselman Bridge. We then loop back to McCulloch on the Cardinal Greenway.
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The dog and I have never discussed it, but I assume she likes greenway walks for the same reasons I do: they provide urban escapes into nature, stunning views of the river, and an opportunity to exercise. The routes also take us on journeys through Delaware County history.
As you may know, the Cardinal Greenway is the old path of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. In its glory years, the C&O connected Cincinnati to Chicago with a 285-mile route through Richmond, Muncie, Marion, Peru and Hammond. The railway actually began as an amalgamation of three corporations that built the line.
The Cincinnati, Richmond, and Muncie Railroad incorporated in 1900 and finished the route from Richmond to North Judson in 1902. The company also built the beautiful Wysor Street Depot. Around the same time, the Chicago and Cincinnati Railroad finished the section from North Judson to Beatrice and the Cincinnati and Western Indiana Railroad completed the route from Richmond to Cincinnati. In 1903, the companies merged as the Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville Railroad. As the name implied, the new company planned to continue the railroad to Louisville, though this never happened.
The Cincinnati, Hamilton, and Dayton Railway purchased the line and finished the route into Chicago in 1907. But CH&D went bankrupt the following year and sold the railroad to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1910. C&O operated the line until 1973 when it became part of the Chessie System. C&O ran mostly freight trains of coal on the route throughout their ownership. In Richard Simons’ and the late Francis Parker’s 1997 book, “Railroads of Indiana,” the authors wrote that 32 freight and six passenger trains ran each day on the railroad in 1930, but this “dwindled to a pair of local runs between Cincinnati and Hammond following World War II.” My favorite vestige from this era is the epic overgrown sand pile along the Greenway in Blaine. The sand was dumped from C&O trains for use at Frank’s Foundry.
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Many years later, the Chessie System merged with Seaboard Coast Line Railroad to become CSX. Amtrak ran a few passenger trains on the corridor for a bit, but the line was ultimately abandoned in 1985.
When Cardinal Greenway, Inc. formed in 1993, it purchased 60 miles of the former track to build a rails-to-trails greenway. Cutting through Delaware, Grant, a bit of Henry, Randolph, and Wayne counties, the now 62-mile trail was completed in stages over the ensuing years. A 15-mile gap exists between Gaston and Jonesboro, though bikers and runners can bridge this separation over the road.
The Wysor Street Depot was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997 and opened as the headquarters for Cardinal Greenways in 2004. In the late 1990s, the 2-mile Cardinal Equestrian Trail was added and the first part of the White River Greenway was finished. Like the Cardinal Greenway, the WRG was realized in phases over several years.
The White River Greenway has its own unique history, dating back to the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th century. City Beautiful was an urban design philosophy that pushed for grand civic landscapes filled with neoclassical architecture, urban greenspaces, and harmonious terrain. The movement was popular in Muncie and had several adherents. As the river was (and remains) a titular feature of the city, there was a concerted effort by the movement’s acolytes to clean it up, improve water flow, and beautify the course. Then in the early 1920s, Edmund B. Ball, through his role as a park commissioner, organized the construction of the boulevards that hug the north bank through the city. The Muncie Star wrote in 1927 that Edmund “planned and promoted the beautiful seven-mile boulevard drive along the shore of White River, dredging the stream, cleaning and rip-rapping its banks.”
After his death in 1925, the city renamed the boulevard’s eastern section to “Ball Road” in honor of Edmund’s efforts. This was later changed to “Bunch Boulevard” in 1986 when Leo Voisard, a city council member at the time, pushed to rename the thoroughfare after his mentor, Rollin Havilla “Doc” Bunch.
City Beautiful efforts died out during the Great Depression. But throughout the 20th century, boosters pushed forward various efforts to improve the river. Then in the early 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers finished the levee systems, which eliminated most major flooding. Environmental renewal began two decades later, most notably with the work of John Craddock. We have Craddock to thank for the fact that the river is no longer the open industrial sewer it had become a half century ago.
In recent decades, planners also thankfully didn’t prioritize cars in river greenspace development. After Minnetrista was built in 1988, the uninterrupted automobile boulevard was broken, which allowed for the White River Greenway a decade later. As a heavy user of this trail, I appreciate this decision. It’s refreshing to walk, jog, and bike along a car-free corridor right through the heart of the city.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to be living in a community that builds these kinds of spaces. If I’m understanding the long-term objectives correctly, what’s to come will expand the system even further, with new neighborhood and town connections along the routes. I’m looking forward to this future and to many long greenway walks with my fearless furry companion.
Chris Flook is a board member of the Delaware County Historical Society and is the author of "Lost Towns of Delaware County, Indiana" and "Native Americans of East-Central Indiana." For more information about the Delaware County Historical Society, visit delawarecountyhistory.org.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Bygone Muncie: Giving thanks for our greenways