Brightwood

Across Indiana, there are numerous towns that started life tied to the railroad in one way or another. The most known of these, at least in central Indiana, would have to be Beech Grove. The “Grove” was built to support the railroad yards completed by the Big Four in 1908. But north of Beech Grove, along another railroad that became part of the Big Four, was another railroad town: Brightwood.

The town of Brightwood was originally designed in 1872 to take advantage of the “Bee Line” running through the area. The “Bee Line” ran right next to what was, at the time, the “Pendleton Turnpike.” The town became incorporated in 1876. It was named in honor of local railroad man, John Bright.

Brightwood’s transportation history starts with the creation of railroad yards just outside the original town area. The yards were built just east of what was originally Brightwood Road, now called Sherman Drive. Brightwood was the closest yards of the “Bee Line” to Indianapolis, with the exception of the freight house yards located near what is now the Indianapolis Heloport along the tracks at East Street.

Brightwood would become part of Indianapolis itself in 1897.

The Brightwood yards were fairly large, stretching from just east of Sherman Drive to the (now closed) 32nd Street overpass. A roundhouse was built at the western end of the yard. The 32nd Street overpass, at one point, included not only the main line, but also the throat into the yard area. As an aside, the 32nd Street overpass was also built as the only way to get from Emerson Avenue north of the railroad to Massachusetts Avenue and Emerson Avenue south of the tracks.

But the “Bee Line” wasn’t the only transportation facility serving the area. The Pendleton Pike, which had its name changed to Massachusetts Avenue as the city limits moved to the north and east, was the direct route to downtown Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Belt Railway also traversed the town. The north leg of the belt, first isolated then abandoned, entered the town in the southwest corner.

Eventually, Massachusetts Avenue was accepted into the state highway system as SR 37. This originally connected Indianapolis and Brightwood to Fort Benjamin Harrison on Marion County’s northeast side. With the great renumbering, SR 37 became SR 67. Later, US 36 was also added to the route, giving Brightwood two official state routes connecting it to the rest of the state.

With the rerouting of US 36 and SR 67 to 38th Street, north of Brightwood (and outside the Indianapolis city limits), the old route was changed to SR 367. SR 367 would be part of the state highway system until 1964, when it was decommissioned and returned to the city of Indianapolis.

1948 USGS Topograhic map of Brightwood Yards and Airport.

Another transportation facility that was near Brightwood was the Brightwood Airport, located at 4000 Massachusetts Avenue. (Mass Avenue is numbered as an east-west road, which would put 4000 two blocks east of Sherman.) The airport lasted more than two decades. It advertised itself as the closest airport to downtown Indianapolis. (Sherman Drive is three miles east of Meridian Street. The airport was 2.5 miles north of Washington Street.) The airport would be purchased by merchants that had in mind the Indianapolis Produce Terminal. Part of the area of the airport is now under I-70. (To the east of what was Brightwood Airport was another airport, Sky Harbor. It, too, is under I-70. The difference is that there is at least one hangar left from Sky Harbor. The property itself is not only belongs to INDOT, but the Indianapolis post of the Indiana State Police is on the old Sky Harbor grounds.)

Looking at a current Google Earth image of Brightwood, traces of the roundhouse for the rail yards are long gone. The area was replaced with a drive-in theater, that, too, long gone. You can still see the remnants of the drive-in today. The width of the yards is very clear, even if the tracks were removed decades ago. One would assume that one of the major problems with the old Brightwood Yards is the fact that it was a stub end yard. The Big Four built the above mentioned Beech Grove yards and a major yard in Avon. Both were through yards, meaning it could be entered from either end. Brightwood had no such ability.

Today, Brightwood is merely a neighborhood of Indianapolis. But that belies its place in transportation history.

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