Historical society raising money to preserve Shirley history

SHIRLEY, Ind. - The rail system once boosted an east central Indiana community. Now, a new fundraiser is underway to preserve Shirley's early years.

The town, which lays on the border of Hancock and Henry counties, was at its largest in the early 1900s. A big part of it was due to the town having a rail line that ran both east-west and north-south.

The tracks met at an area that's known Wednesday as the big four.

"It was the making of Shirley years ago," said Joan Cupp. Her father was a foreman on the railroad. His job was to inspect tracks between Indianapolis and the Ohio state line.

Workers would ride into town each week when the town supported several large employers.

"We had a bunch of factories and the population was swelling in the week to close to 5,000 people, who would come in, work all week, then go home," said Jerry Duke, the president of the Shirley Historical Society. "There were big hotels and everything here, but there were some big fires here that took care of all that."

The town has never had much more than 1,500 people living there during its peak. Wednesday, the population is a little over 800 people.

Eventually, the railroads and workers left.

The Shirley Historical Society is trying to preserve the community's history by restoring an old caboose that used to roll into town.

"It’s the last ones in tack, even though it needs a lot of work," Duke said.

The train car was found and purchased in Knightstown, but it needs at least $20,000 of work to restore it to what it used to look like in the late 1800s.

A GoFundMe campaign recently started to try to raise $5,000 to cover a piece of the cost. Duke said an organization in Greenfield would provide a match of up to $5,000. The money needs raised by Dec. 1.

"We’d like to get it restored and get it back to what it was, to display some of our memorabilia, and have it open for tours," Duke said.

Any visitor can quickly notice trains are a big piece of the town's history. An engine and the Shirley train depot are both on the town's welcome sign, and a large mural of Shirley painted downtown has a train engine on it, too.

Along the route of the old rail lines remain old traffic signals for conductors and railroad workers.