Elkhart, IN (EKH)
Elkhart has a rich rail history dating to the mid-19th century. The current Amtrak station was built in 1900 by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad and sits across from the National New York Central Railroad Museum.
131 Tyler Avenue
Elkhart, IN 46515
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 21,317
- Facility Ownership: City of Elkhart
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Elkhart
- Platform Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
- Track Ownership: Norfolk Southern Railway
Lake Shore Limited
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
Elkhart has a long and rich physical rail history dating to the mid-19th century that includes structures ranging from depots to locomotive repair shops. The current Amtrak station was built in 1900 by the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, later becoming part of the New York Central System (NYC). It sits across the tracks from the National NYC Railroad Museum.
The Elkhart Depot is composed of three intersecting volumes erected in red brick with limestone trim. The central two-story portion features a projecting pavilion and is flanked on both sides by one-story wings. The projecting pavilion on the front façade displays a hip-gambrel roof that is broken by a gable with a compressed Palladian window. A large arch frames a shallow porch and the main entrance in a design move more reminiscent of late 19th century Richardsonian Romanesque aesthetics than the restrained Georgian Revival features exhibited on the rest of the façade. These include a base of coursed ashlar limestone blocks, stone window surrounds, and a belt course that circles the structure at the bottom edge of the grouped second story six-over-one windows.
Trackside, a deep eave runs the length of the platform to shelter passengers from inclement weather and hot summer sun; the sturdy brackets are supported by stone bases. At one end of the station, there is a porch that provides an outdoor waiting area. The first floor also has a projecting volume with a three sided bay, a design feature that would have allowed the station master unobstructed views of the tracks in order to monitor rail traffic. This projecting volume is topped with a second floor balcony that breaks through the eave. According to historic images, the station was originally set amid a well-kept garden that displayed neat beds of colorful flowers and a row of trees along the tracks; this manicured landscape was not only a pretty introduction to the city for first time visitors, but it also buffered the streets of downtown from the noise and dirt associated with steam engines and freight trains.
A recent joint proposal by the city government, the Downtown Elkhart, Inc. Main Street program and Indiana University-South Bend (IUSB) calls for the renovation and restoration of the depot. IUSB has shown interest in expanding its Elkhart campus, and university architects have proposed a feasibility study to be completed over the summer of 2012. If the study recommends that the university proceed with the project, the depot could be rehabilitated as instructional space for the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts in time for the start of the 2013-2014 academic year.
Elkhart became an Indiana rail center early in its history. Although the state legislature chartered a railroad in 1838 to run from Indiana’s eastern boundary to Michigan City via South Bend, nothing immediately came of this effort. By 1850, the Michigan Southern Railroad had built a line from Toledo to Hillsdale, Michigan, only a few miles distant from the northeast border of Indiana. Michigan Southern hoped to proceed to Chicago but needed to build through Indiana to do so and thus the Northern Indiana Railroad was formed to continue the work. The two companies immediately consolidated to form the Michigan Southern and Northern Indiana Railway (MS&NI) and construction commenced towards the southwest.
The railroad finally arrived in Elkhart on a late Friday afternoon in October 1851 to great celebration that included public gatherings and bonfires. People flocked to the town from the surrounding area as the railroad had promised a free excursion on the new line. Years later, the MS&NI consolidated with the Lake Shore Railroad, providing a connection to Buffalo and points further east though Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central.
Located at the junction point of the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern main line and Air Line, Elkhart was a natural location for a rail maintenance complex that included locomotive works, repair shops, a carpenter shop, boiler shop, and two round-houses with 49 stalls, freight houses, and offices. Begun in 1870 one mile west of the downtown depot, in just 20 years the collection of shops would employ more than 1,200 people, and an observer noted “when to these shops are added the large force continually employed in and about the Station and Freight Office a pretty clear idea will be had of the Lake Shore’s importance to our city…” In time the Lake Shore freight yards also developed into a classification area where the railroad could assemble freight trains. Only 100 miles from Chicago, a major Midwestern and continental rail center, sorting the cars at Elkhart made sense as it avoided potential delays and confusion that might have resulted from locating the yard in the metropolis. Trains made up in Elkhart could simply cruise on through the busy Chicago rail yards and crossings on their way west.
By 1914, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern merged with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad to form the “new” New York Central—a move which would guarantee Elkhart a continued, important role as part of the NYC System
The area around Elkhart was inhabited by the Miami American Indians until they were pushed out in the late 19th century by the Potawatomi and Ottawa peoples. Early accounts by French fur traders refer to a village in the area as “Coeur de Cerf,” or “Heart of a Stag,” which in turn may have been a reference to an early Miami designation for the area as “Mishiwa-Teki-Sipiwi,” or “Elk-Heart-River.” The Miami name is associated with an island at the confluence of the St. Joseph and Elkhart Rivers whose shape resembles an elk’s heart. A century later, the Potawatomi were pressured by the Shawnees under the leadership of Chief Elkhart who moved into the region from Ohio. With all of these references to “elks heart/elkhart,” the true origin of the town’s name is cloudy and no one version is accepted as “official.”
Although traversed by fur traders and hunters for over a century, the first permanent settlement by European-Americans did not occur until 1829 near the intersection of the two rivers and Christina Creek. The early village of Pulaski had a post office, mill and a few houses located on the north side of the St. Joseph River. Seeing the possibility for future industrial growth based on water power, a settler from Ohio named Dr. Havilah Beardsley purchased land on the south side of the river in 1831 from a Potawatomi chief; the next year it was surveyed and platted for development. Beardsley was quick to build his own mill for grinding corn, which was soon followed by a sawmill. Eager to see his property value and business interests grow, Beardsley relentlessly promoted the settlement, and is credited with securing its place on the MS&NI line; he also donated the land upon which the railroad’s shops were built.
Goods were early transported by arks and flat boats down the St. Joseph River until they were replaced by steamboats in the late 1840s that made stops at Elkhart, Mendon, Bristol, and Niles among other river towns; the era of river navigation quickly came to an end with the arrival of the railroads and the advent of improved, efficient connections to markets across the continent. Civic boosters promoted the construction of an early hydroelectric dam across the St. Joseph River which provided electricity to the growing city. As Elkhart grew, its industrial base expanded to include numerous mills producing flour, paper, tissue-paper, cigars, and boxes. In 1880, Dr. Franklin Miles opened a business to manufacture medicines along with the attendant informational materials like books and pamphlets. Decades later, Miles Laboratories made popular products such as Alka-Seltzer and One-A-Day vitamins.
The popularity of recreational vehicles in the decade prior to World War II and the years immediately after provided the town with a new industry concentrated on sport trailers and mobile home units; Elkhart gained the nickname of “RV Capital of the World.” Visitors can learn about the RV industry at the RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum where exhibits display vehicles, advertising, and photographs detailing the manufacturers and vehicle styles that made Elkhart the center of RV production in the United States.
Many young musicians participating in a school band might know Elkhart for a singular reason: instruments. The town has long been known as the “Band Instrument Capital of the World.” As early as 1875, the firm of Conn and Dupont set up a factory to produce brass instruments, and over the next century, more than sixty instrument manufacturers would come and go; today three major companies remain as well as a number of small, artisan-based shops where instruments are finely crafted on an individual basis. Today the Conn-Selmer plant produces more than 50,000 instruments a year, including trumpets, trombones, and flutes. Fine hand made pianos come out of the Walter Piano Works.
With this active musical heritage, it is no surprise that for 20 years Elkhart has hosted a popular summer jazz festival along the Elkhart River that attracts more than 100 artists and 15,000 music lovers. The arts have a permanent home at the historic, city-owned Lerner Performing Arts Center; since 1924 the building has hosted vaudeville shows, theatrical reviews, and movies. It now functions as a live theater and music venue and is undergoing a multimillion dollar series of upgrades that will enhance acoustics and the structural and technical systems essential to a modern playhouse.
Rail buffs are drawn to Elkhart not simply for its interesting rail history, but also for a look at the operating Elkhart Classification Yards and the NY Central Railroad Museum. New York Central built the Robert R. Young Yard in the mid 1950s; here freight cars are sorted or “classified” to create new trains according to destination. This is a “hump yard,” meaning that cars are pushed over a “hump” and then gravity carries them down to the appropriate track. The cars are ordered on the train so that they can be easily distributed at junction points and other railroad connections. When first opened in 1958, the $14 million, 675 acre operation had 109 tracks and could classify up to 3,500 cars in 24 hours. Half a century after its construction, the Elkhart Yard remains one of the largest in the world.
The National NYC Railroad Museum is located opposite the tracks from the Elkhart Depot in a 1907 LS&MS freight house. Founded in 1987, the museum preserves both local and national railroad heritage. The mood is set as visitors enter the museum through a 1915 passenger coach. Exhibits cover Elkhart’s place within the regional and national rail system, tracing local rail roots back to 1833 and the LS&MS, and then move forward in time to the New York Central. In the future, the curator hopes to add an exhibit about the creation of Penn Central, Amtrak, and Conrail. Videos show footage of the railroad at work over the years. Researchers head to another passenger car that houses the archives and library. Apart from the exhibits, visitors can also examine the museum’s collection of rolling stock which includes steam and diesel-electric locomotives, boxcars, a railroad post office, and a 150 ton crane.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at the Elkhart station which is served by four daily trains.
- 5 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 15 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Pay Phones
- Wheelchair Lift