by: Francis Parker
The Whitewater River formed a natural trade route for the Indians and for early settlers. In 1836 the new state of Indiana approved funds to build the Whitewater Canal, following the river from Lawrenceburg, IN all the way to Hagerstown, IN 76 miles. It was opened to Connersville in 1845. While improving trade for the area, it suffered from alternate droughts and floods, which carried away aqueducts and embankments. It was so damaged by floods in the later 1850s that residents petitioned the state to sell the right of way for a railroad. In 1863 the Indianapolis and Cincinnati Railroad acquired the right to build on the old towpath, although many portions of the canal remained open as a source of water power for mills like the one still operating in Metamora. The canal remained open in Connersville until 1953, when Western Avenue was built over the top of it.
After the Indianapolis & Cincinnati purchased the canal right-of-way, its subsidiary, the White Water Valley Railroad, reached Connersville in the Spring of 1867, and continued on to Hagerstown in 1868. The WWVRR connected with the I&C main line at Valley Junction, 17 miles west of Cincinnati, and ran trains into Cincinnati over that line. Initially operated by the I&C, it then became independent for a few years. In 1890 it was absorbed by the growing *Big Four* - the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis. The Big Four (later NYC) operated commuter trains from Connersville and from Harrison, Ohio, into Cincinnati, and briefly operated through trains and parlor cars from Cincinnati to Fort Wayne, changing at Connersville to the tracks of the Lake Erie & Western. The little used section between Connersville and Hagerstown was abandoned in 1931, and all passenger service ended in 1933. Local freight continued behind steam until 1957, and behind diesel until discontinued by Penn Central in 1972. With the formation of Conrail in 1976, Conrail initially provided switching service in Connersville, disconnected from the rest of the Conrail system. This was taken over by Indiana Hi-Rail in 1981. Freight operation from Brookville to Valley Junction was taken over in 1979 by the Indiana & Ohio. Freight service was later abandoned on the Whitewater line between Brookville and Connersville.
The present Whitewater Valley Railroad was formed as a not-for-profit corporation in 1972, and began weekend passenger operations in 1974 on 25 miles of leased Penn Central track between Connersville and Brookville. After a substantial washout closed the track between Metamora and Brookville in 1974, Penn Central lifted 4 miles of track in 1976. The remaining 18 miles of line from Connersville through Metamora were formally purchased by the Whitewater Valley in 1983, followed later by an additional mile of track in Connersville. Operations have always been entirely by volunteers, supplemented by a paid office manager. Track upgrading has been assisted by matching grants, totalling over one million dollars since 1994. The railroad operates historically significant diesel locomotives and open window coaches on a regular schedule, from Connersville to Metamora. Another WVRR train comprised of a locomotive and one or two coaches operates as the Metamora Shuttle, carrying passengers further South on a two-mile excursion along the restored canal, past the Canal Boat dock, a working aquaduct, and a restored lock.