Theses Master's

Strategies for Heritage Valuation on Adaptively Reused Transportation Corridors: An Examination of Rail Trails in Central Indiana

Story, Madison

As infrastructure that dramatically reshaped the landscape and development of the United States, railroads are important heritage corridors that, once abandoned, are often preserved as heritage railroads or rail trails. To evaluate the heritage effects of adaptive reuse of railroad corridors, this thesis looks at two rail trails converted from abandoned Monon Railroad rights-of-way in Indiana. The central question of this research asks: What features of planning, physical preservation, and heritage interpretation contribute to the positive impact of the adaptive reuse of rail trails on a community’s engagement and appreciation of rail and rail-related heritage?

Through historic research, fieldwork, surveys taken by trail users, and interviews conducted with preservation and trail advocates and professionals, this thesis aims to explore the rail trails’ history as lines of the Monon railroad, understand what the rail meant to communities historically and what the trail means to contemporary communities, how the rails’ conversion and representation of history is reflective of political and cultural intention for the corridor, and how continued development of the trail serves to reinforce those political and cultural intentions.

My findings indicate that the governing body’s goals for the rail trail affect the preservation strategies applied to the trail itself as well as surrounding neighborhoods. These strategies in turn affect how residents and trail users value the rail trail – whether as a recreational, transportation, or heritage resource (or some combination thereof) – and how they understand the rail’s historic role in the community. Further, the presence of historic features does not necessarily reflect political and/or cultural intention, but their continued existence may have a significant impact upon community valuation of rail heritage. Overall, this research suggests that a variety of preservation methods (such as adaptive reuse, branding, and interpretive signage), regardless of the amount and existing interpretation of extant heritage, may be most successful at encouraging community valuation and understanding of heritage on rail trails.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Clark, Carol A.
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 2, 2021