The Town Name is the Name of the Road, but How Do We Get There?

Indiana is nowhere near unique in the naming of roads. Throughout the state, there are roads that are named using three major principles: location, person or destination.

Most county roads, at least south of Marshall County, and not including Marion County, have coordinate naming: CR 500 S, meaning 5 miles south of an arbitrary center line. In Marshall County, the roads running east-west are named for their distance from the northern county line. St. Joseph County, they are more or less alphabetical by mile from the Michigan State line. These are just a few examples.

But, what I wanted to discuss is roads named after destinations. And why you can’t really follow that road name to its destination easily.

For instance: Shelbyville Road in Marion, Johnson and Shelby Counties. It’s easy to start…heck, Indianapolis didn’t change the original road’s name that much from where it started at Fountain Square to almost the township line at Troy. (Yes, it’s called Shelby St. because it was the old Shelbyville Pike.)a

And, yes, Carson Avenue is a little puzzling. But we can deal with that. Leaving Marion County, it is called Shelbyville Road. And from there, poof. No idea where it goes. I would assume that it meets the Michigan Road at the intersection of SR 9 and Boggsville Road. But that is only a logical estimation. I really can’t find anything about it.

My wife went to Franklin College. Right off the campus, there is a road called Greensburg Road. Guess what? It used to be the Franklin-Greensburg State Road. But just as the road enters Shelby County, the name just disappears. Another logical assumption is that the old route would have included Vandalia Road, which is a straight line (more or less) from SR 9 west of Geneva to Greensburg. But how it gets from the Shelby County line at just south of CR 500S to the south center of Shelby County at SR 9 near CR 900S is beyond me.

There are a lot more examples of such things: Lafayette Road west from Noblesville, Mooresville Road south from Indianapolis, and Franklin Road connecting Franklin and Noblesville are just three. I am sure that wherever you are, if you are in Indiana, there is an example of such a destination road near you…that might wind its way to that destination.

I know that part of the reason for this is that early in Indiana history, very few roads were actually built to go directly to the destination. Most roads in this state follow survey lines. While some roads were started in the general direction of the destination, the builders would inevitably find a reason to use existing paths. Sometimes it was the easiest. Sometimes, it was land owners that wanted nothing to do with a road crossing their land.

All I know is that I would love to find out two things: 1) what were the paths of those old roads and 2) how on Earth did they mark them for travel.

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