Benton Harbor: Once A Rail Center



Aeriel view of the Benton Harbor bridge.
It is now open for a gravel boat.


This is the railroad station in St Joseph.
It serves the two daily Amtraks and is a restaurant too. Picture is from the embankment going up to the town. Beyond the station is Whirlpool Field, then Lake Michigan.


Overview of Railroad History in
Benton Harbor – St Joseph

Current CSX line through Benton Harbor and St Joseph.

Was Pere Marquette before CSX.

Previously Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore Railroad Company. Incorporated in Michigan and authorized to build a railroad from the St. Joseph River at the village of St. Joseph, Michigan, to the Indiana line west of the township of Galien, Michigan (1869). Agreed to consolidate with Lake Shore Railroad Company of Western Michigan to form Chicago and Michigan Lake Shore Railroad Company (1869).

In 1998, CSX spent $2.5 million to replace the electrical and mechanical systems in its troubled St. Joseph bridge at St. Joseph. The bridge was built in 1905.

The Michigan Central had a branch line into St. Joseph from South Bend. The branch crossed the MC’s main line at Galien.

In 1889 the Indiana and Lake Michigan Railway Company built a railroad from South Bend to St Joseph. Baroda was one of several communities established along the railroad track.

In 1901, the MC built a short branch line called the Benton Harbor extension from St.Joseph into Benton Harbor. This extension crossed the river on its own bridge.

Abandoned 1958

The Pere Marquette Railroad’s Benton Harbor and Buchanan Branch extended from Benton Harbor to Buchanan, a junction point of the Chicago Division of the Michigan Central Railroad Company. Only important station was Berrien Springs.

In 1897, the Milwaukee, Benton Harbor & Columbus Ry. completed the line from Benton Harbor to Berrien Springs. St. Joseph Valley RR completed north from Berrien Springs to Benton Harbor as part of the Milwaukee, Benton Harbor & Columbus RR.

In 1903, the Milwaukee, Benton Harbor & Columbus (former St. Joseph Valley RR) was sold to Pere Marquette which operated it as the Buchanan Branch until abandonment in 1924.

The Big 4 Railroad, later New York Central had a branch from South Bend through Niles to Benton Harbor. Other towns served were Eau Clair and Sodus.

In 1980, Conrail abandoned the Benton Harbor branch, north from Niles.

The House of David was a religious community near Benton Harbor in the early 20th century. The community had a number of attractive recreational activities including a tourist railroad and baseball team. The miniature railroad even had a station.


Benton Harbor to Niles

Can anyone tell me when the following lines were abandoned: Big Four from Elkhart to Niles, and from Niles to Benton Harbor, and Michigan Central between South Bend and Niles?

Can’t help with dates, but I believe the South Bend-Niles branch is still operable as far as Notre Dame, for their coal supply.

Goshen-Elkhart-Niles 1942.

Niles- Benton Harbor around 1976.

Niles-St. Marys College 1984.

Are you sure Niles to BH didn’t last longer? I remember it being on a 1978 Conrail system map, and I thought it lasted until 1980. What industries did you service on that run? French Paper is the only one I can name along there. What condition was Niles Yard in?

You may be right about the 1980 date. Will check it out. I believe they stopped the assigned train from working Monday-Saturday. It was manned with freight pools as needed from Anderson. This all happened during those years. Niles-BH was part of the B4. In 1942 when the track was taken up agreements were reached that allowed the Anderson crews trackage rights Niles Jct.-South Bend and South Bend- Elk. I don’t think the job ever worked beyond South Bend. In late 1950 or early 51 the assigned engine was the 2000. It was an H-7 2-8-2 with the feed water bundle on the front like an H-10. Benton Harbor was the home terminal. Arriving at Niles Jct. headed in the siding and backed the train to the yards and then left with cars for South Bend. At South Bend there was a turntable and they would turn the engine leave with the Niles cars and reverse the moves. After the diesels came the job still worked out of BH for some time. Then they changed the home terminal to Niles. It stayed this way for quite some time and then they made South Bend the terminal for a time. The terminal returned to Niles until it was abandoned. When the diesels came, they used a 5600 GP-7 the move at Niles Jct. changed. You headed in the siding pulling the cab clear of the Jct. switch came back the main got in the siding on your train and headed to the yards or Benton Harbor.

About the work; leaving Benton Harbor at Napier Ave. there were many car loads of manure for the fruit farmers. Also cars of lumber and gons of wire. This was done coming north. Also leaving Benton Harbor you had from 25-40 cars of washing machines 6 nights a week (Whirlpool). After, 1954-55 steel and supplies into Clark Equipment and finished tractors out. At the end of the month they really shipped. Cold Storage shipped well until cold weather. At Sodus the fruit plant during season plus in the early years a coal yard and another industry. At Eau Claire 2 fruit plants, elevator and lumber yard. At the south side of town an industry from Berrien Center unloaded 7-8 car loads of lumber a week. Eau Claire was also a block station until the late 50’s. Berrien Springs 3-4 cars a month. A normal train in the summer 35-55 cars both directions. During the fruit season they would run 1 or 2 solid fruit extras a week BH-NILES. This was extra work and went to Michigan Central crews.

South Bend, Niles, Benton Harbor was BIG 4 up from Anderson, Indiana. Check out an old NYC or Big 4 map. Conrail was still in Benton Harbor in 78 and 79. Their yard slid right up beside the C&O along the river. They also had trackage rights on C&O over the bridge into St. Joe where they had some trackage too. They had a swing bridge themselves somewhere in St. Joe. Found this in the 62 and 65 NYC timetables. When Whirlpool had their plant in Benton Harbor they gave cars to C&O and NYC. You can still see NYC tracks in the CSX yard and in the street down towards the cement silos just below the CSX swing bridge. The old crossbuck railroad crossing sign in St. Joe on the riverfront, under the CSX bridge is also NYC origin. I guess I need to look into an old map of Benton Harbor/St. Joe.

New York Central had a bit of the old Michigan Central line in Benton Harbor that went south through Galien to South Bend. A stub of the Pere Marquette branch down to Buchanon lasted until the 70s or so in Benton Harbor too. It crossed over the Big Four on a bridge south of town.

Railroading to Benton Harbor in the winter was a bear. The way the track was laid the drifts would be from 3 to 8 ft. deep. The train would come uncoupled because the plow had not been run and the snow lifted pin levers. As long as there were walkways on top of the cars the brakemen would walk the top of the cars and couple the train. After they took the walkways off you could not recouple the train. From then on if they had a deep snow storm they ran the plow. The wind and snow drifted back in a cut south of Eau Claire. One train had 3 units and 27 cars and was stuck in that drift and could not move. Two units came to pull them out but the train would not move. The two units had to take the 27 cars back to Niles, come back, couple on to the 3 units and still would not move. They brought in the section men and they had to dig the units out.

The above article came to us in a roundabout way from Maurice Lewman. Thank you for your contribution to rail history Maurice.

Benton Harbor – South Bend Branch
Big Four and later MCRR operation

The Official Guide of June 1893 listed four trains each way out of Benton Harbor. Numbers 23 and 24 were listed as having day coach service between North Vernon and Benton Harbor. Service between North Vernon and Louisville were by the Ohio & Mississippi Ry.

The north end of the line started at Benton Harbor, ran south through Eau Claire, Berrien Center and into Niles, then southeast through Granger and into Elkhart. From there, maps indicate, it ran on its own right of way to Goshen, then south to New Milford, Warsaw and on to Anderson. It was still part of the Big Four in 1926. There were only two each way out of Benton Harbor but three each way south of Elkhart.
MCRR 1932 ETT 420 listed the “South Bend Branch” between Benton Harbor and South Bend, and it had one first class train in each direction. In 1940 the MCRR ETT No. 15 no longer listed any scheduled passenger service.

Note- The employees always referred to the branch as the “Big Four.”
Note- Employee timetables still carried the MCRR name on the cover until around 1951. No. 33 of April 29, 1951 carried the NYC Railroad Co. name on the cover.

Here is a link to a 1928 NYC Lines timetable.

Look at Table 97. It shows trins 33 and 34, dly X Su, with coaches between Louisville and Benton Harbor and between Indianapolis and Benton Harbor. Running time for the 303 miles is 10.5 to 11 hours.


Recent Recollections from Maurice Lewman

Yes we would cross the river on the PM and go down the track that took off from the PM depot. About 3/4 mile up river there was a turn bridge and when we wanted to use it they would call out an operator for the bridge. We would come across and go to the cold storage about 2 blocks from the old B4 freight house.

Editor’s note: New York Central could use the Pere Marquette (now CSX) bridge from Benton Harbor to St. Joseph, then follow the shoreline to serve several industries. Nothing remains of the New York Central except an old siding at a former box factory (now an art center called “The Box Factory”). I did have someone show me where the old NYC bridge was. The cold storage in Benton Harbor was razed in the the late ’90s and the thick walls took a lot of dynamite!

That sure does bring back some memories.

Editor’s note: As well as the NYC (Big 4) branch to Niles, there was an old Benton Harbor to South Bend (former Michigan Central) branch. The point where the two branchs diverged coming out of Benton Harbor is near the Intersection of Pipestone Road and Empire Avenue and it is easy to see where the tracks where. You can also see excellent traces of this line in Baroda.

The NYC (Michigan Central) to So. Bend was called the Baroda Branch (they cut it from Baroda in 1942 to So.Bend). The engineer on the BH yard engine was from the Baroda Br. He stayed on the Yd. engine until retirement ca,60-65 and I was forced assigned to the job. I don’t remember how long we kept this job but let the MC have it because it was an undesireable job for the Anderson men.

Have you seen the elevation map on Roger Hensley’s site of the track from BH to Niles Jct. As the article said it was a wonderful training ground for engineers.

The PM run their trains on schedule,freight and Pass. When it was time for a train it was never over 5 mins. off schedule. They also had red ,yellow and green fusee. When they were still runing steam and one evening with nothing to do one of their freights stopped across from our engine house and I climbed on. First and only Berk I was ever on but they were a fine engine.




Pere Marquette to Chicago

The “PM”, later The “C&O(PM)”, ran trackage rights over the Water Level Route, “NYC(W)” between Porter over The Tolleston Branch,IN to get to Clearing Yards (“BRC”) and into Burnham Yards of The “C&O of Indiana”.

The Pere Marquette line from Grand Rapids to Chicago ended at Porter IN (about 40 miles east of Chicago). Porter was the crossing Water Level Route and the Michigan Division Mainline (Michigan Central). It was also the EJ&E’s eastern most terminus. PM trains ran from Porter to South Chicago Jct about 38 Miles, where they turned on to the BRC and ran to their yard at Rockwell St.

A later arrangement (post Chessie) C&O trains entered the Buffalo to Chicago Mainline at Porter and ran west to Pine/Clark Jct where they entered the B&OCT trackage and terminated at Barr Yard.

The C&O of Indiana (from Cincinnati) ended at State Line Tower (after running joint with the Erie from Griffith). From there they ran via the Chicago & Western Indiana (later BRC’s Burnham Branch) to Pullman Jct and on to the BRC to either Rockwell St or Clearing Yard.

The Tolleston Branch was a 70’s name for the Michigan Central main west of Porter, after the diamonds were removed. It was later named the Ivanhoe Br and later the Porter Branch.

Today “CSX” along with one ( 1) eastbound train from “CPRS” gets on The Water Level Route from The “B&OCT” and runs up the AMTRAK Line to the drawbridge at Michigan City, IN where it re-enters its own right of way.

In the 1980’s CP (Soo Line) trains stated running over the Pere Marquette from Detroit to Chicago using the same route as the later arrangement mentioned above. However they stayed on the B&OCT and ran on the joint B&OCT/IHB line to Tower B12 and into Bensinville Yard. Just in the last year or two, most of the CP trains started running via the IHB from Bensonville, over the ex NYC mainline to Butler IN, then via the ex Wabash to Detroit.

For at least 20 years there has been talk about connecting the Porter Br (a later name for the Ivanhoe Br, Michigan Central west of Porter) with the Pere Marquette. One idea was to build a connection between the over/under crossing of the Pere Marquette and the Michigan Central at New Buffalo Michigan and run the CSX trains over the former MC from there to Porter then reinstall the diamonds. With the Conrail split up CSX got control of the former Michigan Central west of Porter (Amtrak has owned it east of Porter since 1976). There has been some survey work and land purchases to bring the Pere Marquette into the NYC main about 1/4 mile east of the current location. Where existing crossovers would be used to access the Porter Br.


St Joe, Michigan

As I mentioned in a previous article, I’m working in Benton Harbor, Michigan and living across the river in St. Joseph. In back of my apartment is a busy CSX rail line which also handles several CP freights.

St. Joe is 96 miles from Chicago (measured from Grand Central where C&O used to leave from). An equipment detector at mileage 91.9 is a little over a mile from my apartment and gives me a “sneak preview” of what kind of train will be passing as I get length and speed.

This line goes from New Buffalo to Grand Rapids. At New Buffalo, there are connections to Chicago and the rest of the CSX. From New Buffalo, the line hugs the Lake Michigan shoreline with the hamlet of Stevensville being about the biggest town. After St. Joe and Benton Harbor, the line goes through Watervliet, Hartford and Bangor (Michigan, not New York or New England). Next city is Holland where a branch heads towards Muskegon. At Grand Rapids, other lines go east to Detroit and north into the remainder of Michigan. Along the way there are several branch lines. My maps show two starting at Hartford. One goes 15 miles to Paw Paw but is obviously out of service. Rails are in place and crossbucks guard the highways, but the growth and rust speak for themselves. Another 15 mile branch to South Haven has been ripped up.

CP usually runs trains with two engines. The lead is a CP (or SOO) and the other is many times a leased unit such as HELM 3567, Electromotive 6500 & 6503, Morrison-Knudson 9523 or somebodys? 5447. Just saw a long almost-all container train with three leased units behind SOO 776: HLCX 3066 looking like Union Pacific; CR 601 in blue (no lettering); and ElectroMotive 204 (the “Richard T”). One of the few non-container cars was an old, faded yellow D&H box car with no letters or numbers visible except newly-painted weight/capacity markings. I apologize for not being very diligent about logging locomotive numbers, but at night I can’t see them and during the day I am mostly away.

Types of trains vary with CSX having a lot of coal and CP a lot of hoppers (grain?). I also spotted an old and weary, but unmistakable D&H hopper re-lettered RRLX (could not spot a number). CSX has been experiencing a power shortage recently. They cut it very close on assigning motive power as I have seen their trains almost on their knees climbing the grade from the St. Joe bridge to CP “Hilltop”.

The most exciting thing that has happened was when somebody (CP or CSX?) going downhill toward the bridge from CP “Hilltop” dumped his air at 5:38 am.

The current CSX rails through St. Joe are traced to the Pere Marquette Railway which was formed in 1900 from several roads including the Chicago & West Michigan Railway. The C&WM ran from La Crosse, Indiana, through New Buffalo, St. Joe, and Benton Harbor to Holland, Michigan. The Pere Marquette had several owners including the Van Sweringen brothers until control went to the Chesapeake & Ohio in 1932. It was merged into the C&O in 1947.

Benton Harbor was once the terminus of a 37.7 mile New York Central (Michigan Central) branch from Niles, Michigan. It ran through Benton Harbor in a cut/ravine. It was not abandoned that long ago as traces of it are still visible (roads with rails across that have not been paved over, etc.). It still shows in the map contained in the Ameritech phone book. This line was listed as “freight only” in my 1964 Official Guide.

The Michigan Central was a descendant of the Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad which started in 1832 and intended to go across the state from Detroit to Lake Michigan at St. Joseph. It ran out of money part of the way across the state at Kalamazoo, was reorganized and changed its direction more southerly towards New Buffalo and reached Michigan City, Indiana in 1849. Using a combination of Monon predecessor New Albany & Salem and Illinois Central, it reached Chicago in 1852. A stock owner since 1869, the New York Central leased the Michigan Central in 1930. Conrail owns what is left of it.

I went home to Long Island for the Labor Day weekend and missed the nightly parade of trains passing my bedroom window. I did see an exceptionally long passenger train to the Hamptons and Montauk with three engines, a dozen coaches and six parlor cars. On the trip out and back there are lots of tracks to try and figure out what railroad owns or owned them. For instance, I drove over, alongside, or under the following ex-New York Central lines:
(1) main line Chicago to Buffalo via South Bend, Toledo and Cleveland;
(2) Chicago to Buffalo via Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Detroit;
(3) “Big Four” Cleveland to St. Louis via Indianapolis;
(4) Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati route;
(5) Toledo to Cleveland via Norwalk branch;
(6) Ashtabula to Youngstown, Ohio branch;
(7) Kankakee Belt Route;
(8) Jackson, Michigan to Fort Wayne, Indiana;
(9) Dorset Junction, Ohio to Oil City, Pennsylvania;
(10) Detroit to Toledo;
(11) Williamsport, Pennsylvania to Clearfield via Jersey Shore, Lock Haven and Snow Shoe;
(12) Lyons NY to Williamsport, PA;
(13) Pittsburgh and Lake Erie.


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