Landmark legacy

Greene, crew work to clear
historic railroad incline, cat steps

The Madison Correctional’s
PLUS unit assists Greene

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(August 2008) – There is a saying that goes, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” Madison resident Bob Greene is the embodiment of that saying. Greene, the instrumental figure in clearing debris to open the riverfront section of the Madison Heritage Trail, has taken on the monumental task of clearing two more historic landmarks in Madison.

Bob Greene

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Bob Greene takes a short break
from work clearing the historic cat
steps that were used by Madison State
Hospital workers to traverse the hilltop.

Greene, with the help of other volunteers, including a specialized unit of women offenders from the Madison Correctional Facility, has worked for months on clearing debris along the historic railroad incline and unique cat steps leading up the steep hill to the Madison State Hospital grounds.
Greene has envisioned officials eventually opening up the landmarks for unique historic walking trails that would offer tourists and residents more opportunity to experience Madison’s historic legacy. “I call the railroad incline and the cat steps the greatest architectural landmarks in Madison,” said Greene. “What a tremendous contribution these make to our already-rich historic tradition. It will be wonderful when residents and tourists can walk these sites and experience the magnitude of effort that went into the making of these landmarks.” Greene is calling his project the “Legacy Projects celebrating the Madison Bicentennial.” He would like to have much of the work done in time for the 2009 Bicentennial the city is celebrating.
Some officials in Madison are starting to take notice. “We are very appreciative of the work that Bob Greene and the Madison Corrections workers have done on the incline,” said Cathy Hale, president of Madison Railroad. “We’ve been looking for some time at options to best use the incline. Bob Greene’s enthusiasm has pushed us ahead of schedule.”

Incline Steps

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Greene and the Madison
Correctional Facility’s PLUS unit
work daily to remove debris and
clear a path along the steep,
historic Madison Railroad incline.

When Greene and the other volunteers finish clearing what they can along the incline, Hale said railroad authorities hope to move in with equipment and remove the boulders on the track. They will also have the area sprayed to keep it clear. “There is a lot of public sentiment about the incline,” she said. “We are definitely working to develop a plan to best use it.”
The Madison Railroad incline was built by 1,000 Irish immigrants over a four-year period in 1836-1841 as part of Indiana’s 1836 Internal Improvement Act. The incline measures 7,012 feet long and elevates 413 feet to achieve a 5.89 percent grade. More than 500,000 tons of rock and earth were moved in construction. It is still considered to be the steepest standard gauge main track ascended by wheel-adhesion locomotives in the U.S.
There is still a mystery surrounding the little-known concrete cat steps that lead up the hill to the Madison State Hospital grounds. Scant information is available about them. Workers built the steps to use them to traverse the steep hillside on their daily trek to and from the State Hospital. They were also used to transport goods from the hillside down to the river to be loaded on to boats.
Offenders from Madison Correctional Facility’s PLUS Unit have become involved in the special service project. Each morning they head out with their officer and community volunteer Bob Greene to help clean up the Madison Railroad Incline so that it can be utilized as a hiking trail one day.

Incline Steps

Photo courtesy of the JCHS Research Library

This historical photo shows the
original wooden cat steps. Later, the
steps were redone in concrete.

PLUS stands for Purposeful Living Units Serve and is a faith and character based housing unit. The unit, which currently includes 50 offenders, is sending an average of 15 or so offenders each morning to work on the incline. Community service is an integral part of this program which is designed to provide an opportunity for offenders to explore and choose alternatives to criminal thinking and behavior through an emphasis on spiritual, moral and character development, life-skills training, and intentional preparation for living as law-abiding citizens who contribute to the well-being of their community.
“Our offenders are really enjoying working on this project,” stated Superintendent Jan Davis. “It is important to them to know that they are giving back to the community. They are taking great pride in the work that they are doing!”
“I am very proud of the work that the women incarcerated at Madison are doing in the community,” said IDOC Commissioner J. David Donahue. “It’s an integral part of our reentry programming for offenders to get out into the community to provide services.”
Workers from the Henryville Correctional Facility have also provided valuable manpower to the legacy project.
So far, Greene has relied solely on donations and volunteers to continue to clear debris from the area. “It is incredibly hard work, but what a legacy project this will be for our community,” he said. Greene said more donations are needed to complete the work, and hopes community members will come out and support the efforts.
In mid-July, the project got a tremendous boost when energy company Vectron Corp agreed to donate an all-terrain John Deere Gator to Greene for continued work. Vectron employee Kelly Brooks played a role in helping secure that gift, which will actually be given to the Madison Correctional Facility at the request of Greene. “We have been walking all the equipment up the incline every day. The all-terrain vehicle will certainly be appreciated.”
All of the work by Greene got started in the summer of 2007. Greene, who had just moved to Madison, needed a place downtown to walk his beloved flat-coated retriever, Brandy, in a nice, natural setting. What he found as he walked along the Ohio River at the western end of Vaughn Drive was literally tons of trash and debris. Greene, however, was not daunted; he saw the potential for a beautiful, scenic walking trail along the historic, 150-year-old Madison Railroad tracks.

• For information on volunteering or donating contact Bob Greene at (317) 696-0860 or email him at robertrgreene@gmail.com.

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