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  • Forging the Bee Line Railroad 1848–1889: The Rise and Fall of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique by Arthur Andrew Olson III
  • Paul Yandle
Forging the Bee Line Railroad 1848–1889: The Rise and Fall of the Hoosier Partisans and Cleveland Clique. By Arthur Andrew Olson III. (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2017. Pp. xxix, 228.)

Arthur Andrew Olson's meticulous scouring of railroad records forms the basis for his reconstruction at the micro level of the fairly common American [End Page 196] story of local and regional antebellum railroad investors envisioning a railroad to boost their portion of a state, then finding themselves trapped in a corporate game that is far beyond their ability to play. Olson also reveals the role that express companies, holding companies, and predatory freight agreements played after the Civil War in the consolidation of regional railroads into networks controlled by a handful of powerful interests.

Olson's work centers on the Bee Line between Cleveland and Indianapolis. His story begins with two local roads, the Madison and Indianapolis (M&I) and the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine (I&B). The M&I was an Indiana road chartered in 1832 as a state-supported corporation and reorganized by private investors ten years later. Madison, Indiana, sits along the Ohio River, and the goal of M&I's boosters was to provide Indianapolis with an outlet to the Ohio River Valley. A leading force behind the M&I was John Brough, a Marietta, Ohio, native and Cincinnati newspaper man who became the road's president in 1848. Olson argues that Brough was one of the first midwestern railroad investors to look toward the Mississippi River; he hoped to tied the M&I with other roads that would provide Indianapolis with access to St. Louis. The I&B was the brainchild of boosters, including Indiana politicians Oliver H. Smith and David Kilgore, who hoped to join up with an existing road between Bellefontaine, Ohio, and Sandusky, Ohio, and eventually gain access to New York and other major eastern outlets.

The I&B began losing local control when an operating agreement with the M&I gave a group of M&I investors known as the Hoosier Partisans an entree to take control of the I&B's board and oust Smith from the I&B presidency in 1853. However, the Hoosier Partisans themselves would face a challenge from officials for a third railroad, the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati (CC&C), which began as a connection between Cleveland and Columbus. With support from CC&C operatives, to whom Olson refers to as the "Cleveland Clique," John Brough became president of the I&B, which reorganized as the Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland (IP&C). For several years, the Hoosier and Cleveland factions struggled for control of the IP&C. After the Civil War and a series of reorganizations, however, a new generation of leadership came along that led to the IP&C and the CC&C falling under the control of William H. Vanderbilt.

Olson lets the reader know up front that he is not an academic historian and freely admits in the book's front matter that he has made sparse use of up-to-date, scholarly secondary sources, and that his work does not fit well into larger thematic historiographical conversations (one of his endnotes cites Wikipedia as a source of biographical information for steamboat pioneer James Rumsey). Anyone who has dealt with nineteenth-century railroad history will recognize the problems Olson faced with his primary sources: the loose, [End Page 197] inconsistent nomenclature used for roads in nineteenth-century newspaper accounts; the often maddening lack of first names; and the secret nature of under-the-table deals that make primary-source narratives intentionally vague. In part because of these challenges and in part because of the byzantine complexity of the web of roads with which he had to deal, Olson's narrative tends to become bogged down with detail at times. Passive voice tends to muddy the narrative and, occasionally, the degree of detail Olson gives to peripheral issues masks the larger direction of the narrative, making important thematic moments anticlimactic. A timeline, organizational flowcharts...


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