The arrival of the railroad fostered commerce and travel to and from the recently platted town.
In 1853, when Bourbon was platted and lots sold, the town was situated with thoughts of a railroad through Bourbon township in mind. The surveyors for the Ft. Wayne & Chicago R.R. had already blazed a potential path through the country from Ft. Wayne to Plymouth. Due to the foresight of individuals who saw the potential of great things to come, they were able to raise over $26,000.00 in subscriptions to put towards the railroad though the county was poor and sparsely populated. Ground for the railroad was donated or sold at a cheap price to encourage the development of the new railroad.
Experiencing financial difficulties, the railroad consolidated and became the Pittsburgh, Ft. Wayne & Chicago Company in May 1856. This was the same year that they reached Bourbon from the east and by November were in Plymouth where the track ended. To get to Chicago, the train had to change to a line from Plymouth to LaPorte, then on to Chicago. The management of the P., Ft.W. & C. R.R. wanted a more direct route and began construction from Plymouth to Lake Michigan. Chicago was finally connected in December, 1859. This 467 mile line from Pittsburgh to Chicago would become one of the nationís longest trunk lines through a country sparsely inhabited and but little improved. This all changed as now the towns along the line were connected to the outside world, including Bourbon.
Bourbon was to become a major shipping point, sending out vast amounts of sawn timber from many sawmills set up around the countryside. Grain elevators sprang up along the tracks to ship excess crops along with livestock and other manufactured products to sites all over the country.
The first depot was set up in a building on the north side of the tracks along the south side of Jefferson (now Quad St.) and just west of East Main (now Harris St.). Around December, 1872 a new depot was built east of Bourbon at the end of present day Thayer St., south of Center. This depot burned to the ground in May, 1883. A room in the Erwin & Mendenhall grain elevator served as depot, ticket & telegraph office until a new depot was ready for use by December of that year.
In December, 1896, the town council and other interested citizens received word that the depot was to be moved farther east of town to accommodate a new switch at the Bourbon Elevator and because of complaints of holding the wagon crossings closed by stopped trains. Citizens, led by James H. Matchett, and with the blessing of the town council, persuaded the railroad to move the depot nearer to the business district of Bourbon. Concessions of land were given by the Davis family and the town agreed to close the Washington and Thompson street wagon crossings. Land was bought so that Jefferson (Quad St.) could be moved 10 feet to the north and closed off between Washington and Main streets. The large elevator of the south side of the tracks was torn down to make room for the new side tracks. This all happened around
1899 and grounds were made ready for the depot to be jacked up, slid onto rail cars and moved to its last location. Facial improvements were made to the building at the new site. Porches and sheds were erected along the track for travelers.
Other railways contemplated coming through Bourbon in later years, but none of them materialized. They were: Indianapolis & Chicago in 1878; Sturgis, Mich. to Danville, ILL. in 1882; also in 1882, the Indiana Pacific R.R. from North Judson to Auburn; and a line from Benton Harbor coming from the north through German, Bourbon and Tippecanoe townships in 1893. The Sturgis & Danville fine would have come into the north side of Bourbon from Milford and followed Thayer street south to the depot before going on to Argos.
In the early 1900's a second track was laid to avoid the stopped trains on the 2 mile switch east of town and to keep the traffic flowing. This was pulled up in the 1980's. Now Bourbon is visited only by an occasional passing train ..... gone are the glory days of the railroad.
Written by James Bates Jr. For the Bourbon Sesquicentennial History Committee