When Property Owners Put Themselves Ahead of Military

In 1903, the United States Army opened a fort in Lawrence Township called Fort Benjamin Harrison. It was quite the fixture in Marion County for a lot of years, until the late 1990s when the federal government decided that the fort was no longer needed. Fort Benjamin Harrison was returned to the state, most of which became Fort Harrison State Park. But if one property owner had his way, the fort would have moved out a long time before it actually did…like in 1918.

The Indianapolis News of 27 May 1918 reports that a project that the military wanted was on hold due to a lawsuit filed by a property owner. The project in question was the improvement in Lawrence Township of the Pendleton Pike, the quickest route between downtown Indianapolis and Fort Benjamin Harrison.

John Reichart, through his lawyer William V. Rooker, filed a suit in circuit court against the improvement of the Pendleton Pike. His suit was intended to benefit property that he owned along the Thomas C. Day Road. According to the article, “due to particularities of the antique road laws of Indiana, may have a priority right of construction over the Pendleton Pike.” The suit was brought on the theory that the payment by the county for the Pendleton Pike project “would cloud the title of his client’s property in view of the priority right this road might have over the Pendleton Pike.” The road in question forms the township line between Warren and Lawrence Townships. That road today is called 38th Street.

Due to the road indebtedness limit of Lawrence Township, the improvement of both roads would not be possible. The Chamber of Commerce, through its military affairs committee, started out to get all of the petitioners of the Day Road to sign waivers allowing for improvement of Pendleton Pike. Forty five people signed the waivers. There were only three people that did not.

The first hearing of the suit was set for 1 June 1918, in the court room of Judge Louis B. Ewbank. Although Judge Ewbank could deny the injunction, “an appeal to the supreme court might still further delay the work on the road.” At this point, according to the News, the improvement of the Pendleton Pike could be delayed until 1919.

The question that comes up is why did the state not step in and claim the road for the state? Well, the constitutionality of the State Highway Commission law of 1917 was still in play. It wouldn’t be until the new law was passed in 1919 that state could have done anything about it. Even then, the Pendleton Pike wasn’t accepted into the state system, at least to the Marion-Hancock County Line, until at least 1922. By 1923, the road all the way to Pendleton became state road 37.

Due to World War I, traffic to and from Fort Harrison increased exponentially. Crushed stone was put on the old Pike out to Acre (now Post) Road. County commissioners “spent practically all of the road maintenance fund of the county in keeping up the repair of the fort roads as best they could.” John J. Griffith, county road superintendent, describes the graveling, at a cost of $8,000, was “like throwing money into a ditch as far as any permanent benefit was concerned. The traffic to the fort made it necessary for half of this stretch of road to be temporarily repaired, while the other half was used by vehicles.” The county is, at the time of this article, trying to get the Thirtieth Street road from Pendleton Pike to the post, or Acre, road improved as a bypass to allow construction on the Pike. Acre Road is a stone road running from Washington Street (National Road) north to the fort. It is reported in good condition.

Mr. Johnson, County Attorney, recommended that another way of fixing the road may be available. “The surest way to get the permanent improvement of the pike in Lawrence township completed by fall would be for a number of patriotic men to agree to underwrite the bonds for the improvement, so that the contractor could go ahead with the work while the legal questions were being thrashed out.” The bonds in question were estimated to be in the neighborhoo of $73,000.

The News makes the point that the Day Road would be of no benefit to the fort. It is also noted that it is “doubtful if the state council of defense would give its approval for its construction at this time even though the question of the fort road were not involved.”

A motion in the case would be filed on 21 May 1918 to separate the actions into two cases, one for Pendleton Pike, and one for the Main Market Highways. It would seem that the lawsuit filed by William Rooker had postponed not only the Pendleton Pike work, but also that on the Main Market Highways designated by the State Highway Commission law of 1917.

By 4 July 1918, the News reported the the State Council of Defense recommended that Marion County’s Center Township annex Lawrence Township to ensure that the Pike gets the improvements needed. Even the lawyer, William Rooker, stated that he would drop his lawsuit if this plan was put into place. Needless to say, there were eight other governmental townships in Marion County, and the residents of those townships, that were not at all enthused with the idea of becoming part of Center Township.

Through the efforts of both Marion County and the State of Indiana, Fort Benjamin Harrison would remain in Lawrence Township. As it turned out, the end of World War I in 1918 would decrease the crush of traffic to the fort, allowing some time to complete the Pendleton Pike and Day Road projects.

4 thoughts on “When Property Owners Put Themselves Ahead of Military

    1. I found it that, as well. I figured it would be good to share such information, since these are little tidbits that you never hear. My outlook on it is simply that it hasn’t always been eminent domain or fair market value when it came to roads. It would seem strange these days, but back then, given the rules in play at the time, it seems to be more normal. If that makes sense.

      Like

      1. Stuff like this is probably what led us to eminent domain and FMV.

        I guarantee you, this is the only place on the entire, vast Internet where search will be able to lead someone to this story.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Jim Grey Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s