The National Road in Marion County

Originally published on 09 Feb 2015.

There has been a lot of discussion in other groups that I belong to concerning the National Road. Most people consider US 40/Washington St. the old road. And for the most part, they would be correct.

However, there are sections of the old road in Indiana that were bypassed when the state decided to make US 40 a four lane divided highway. This occurred in the 1930s and 1940s. One section east of Knightstown comes screaming to mind. There are other sections that had been bypassed, as well, outside of Marion County.

Today, I want to focus on Marion County. East of downtown Indianapolis, Washington Street holds true to the old road’s path. There are, however, two places on the west side of Indianapolis where that does not hold true.*

(Editor’s Note) * Later research shows that there was another slight variation created in the National Road, at the location of the junction of the old National Road (US 40) and the new Rockville Road (US 36) just west of the Big Eagle Creek bridge and just east of the old Big Four railroad overpass.)

Near the town of Bridgeport, just north of Indianapolis International Airport, is a section that has basically been lost to history. Starting near what is now Washington St and Bridgeport Road, the old National Road turned slightly right to cross the East Fork White Lick Creek. Just west of the creek, the old road is called Old Washington St. The bypassed section is about 1/2 mile long, and would have connected to another bypassed section in Hendricks County that is now cut in half by the Ronald Reagan Parkway. (One of the reasons for this bypass was a very shallow crossing angle for the Pennsylvania Railroad.)

The other bypassed section was created long before US 40 even existed. Originally, the old road crossed White River west of downtown Indianapolis at a 90 degree angle…typical of road building at the time. This created a short section of the original road to travel north of due west. That section was still called National Road for many years, but eventually was named Washington Ave. It has been completely removed for the building of White River State Park. The old road crossed the river, landing on the west bank at almost the same spot as the old Washington Street bridge (again, removed from service by White River State Park).

The old road’s path now sits under the Indianapolis Zoo. So does another transportation landmark that is now gone…the Indianapolis Street Railways West Washington Street barns – where all of the street cars, trackless trolleys and busses, at one point, started.

The old National Road covered bridge lasted into the 20th Century. The old Washington Street bridge lasted until the late 1980s. The ISR barns, which became part of Metro in 1975, lasted until 1985.

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