South of Indianapolis, along the White River (West Fork), is a small town that, although bypassed now, was a transportation “hot spot” of sorts, and important to the history of Indiana and Indianapolis. That town is Waverly.
Now, Waverly is known as where SR 144 connects SR 37 to Mooresville. But in the early days of the opening of the central part of the state to settlement, the first trail (or trace) in the area ended at the bluffs of White River. That is now the location of Waverly. Jacob Whetzel, of Franklin County, bought some of the first land opened to settlement north of the Indian boundary. In 1817, he set out to blaze a trail from Laurel to the bluffs of the White River, where his new purchase was. This trail, called the Whetzel Trace, was cut in a relatively straight line, almost due east and west.
The Whetzel Trace, had it survived, would have connected its two termini through Andersonville, Shelbyville and Whiteland. Before the Trace disappeared back into the forest of central Indiana, it was used to bring commissioners to the Waverly area in 1820 to determine a location for the new centralized capital of Indiana. The Bluffs were so favored at the time that it was entirely possible that the new capital city would have been located there. Instead, a location one mile east of the mouth of Fall Creek on White River was chosen. (Before you look at a map an argue against this description, trust me. I argued the same thing. Until I saw a map of the original Fall Creek path. But that is a general history subject, not a transportation history subject.)
There is a blog spot entry that I found online at http://fairfield200.blogspot.com/2015/02/whetzels-trace.html. It covers the history of the Whetzels and the Trace very well.
Also in the 1820s, the area around Waverly saw for the first time, and the last, a steamboat making its way up the White River to Indianapolis. Unfortunately, near Waverly on the way back down the river, that steamboat hit one of the numerous sandbars that can be found in the White River. There the “Samuel Hanna” languished for a few months waiting for the water level to rise again enough to get back to sailing. The journey of the Samuel Hanna lead to the realization that Indianapolis was located on a non-navigable waterway, thus killing the possibility of riverboat transport to the remote settlement.
The next important transportation history item involving Waverly was the creation of the Bluff Road. As the name suggests, the Bluff Road connected the bluffs of the White River to Indianapolis. That road started on the south edge of what was Indianapolis at the time, at South Street. It would connect at the main drag, Meridian Street. Further south, it would turn off to the southwest from Meridian Street (at the time, Three Notch Road).
In the early 20th Century, the Bluff and Martinsville Roads from Waverly would become part of the path of the Dixie Highway. The Dixie Highway connected northern Michigan and Chicago (two routes, interesting history) to southern Florida. The Dixie Highway was the second brainchild of Greensburg native/Indianapolis resident Carl Graham Fisher. (His first being the Lincoln Highway.)
With the creation of the state highway system, the Dixie Highway through Waverly became part of SR 22. SR 22 would separate from the Dixie Highway at Paoli, where the DH turned to the southeast. North from Waverly, SR 22 would follow the Bluff Road to its end at South and Meridian Streets.
In 1926, SR 22 would be renumbered to SR 37. And “downtown” Waverly would remain on the state highway until 1962. The attached map shows that a SR 37 bypass is being built around Waverly in 1961. The SR 144 shown on this map came into being in 1941, although it had been planned since 1937. SR 144 was to connect Mooresville to Franklin. In actuality, it does. Technically, it does not. SR 144 was never added to the state road system east of Waverly.
There is a road built to connect SR 144 at SR 37 (Waverly) to SR 144 at SR 135 (Bargersville). But that is a county road, never taken into the state system. (Called CR 144, actually.)
The 1962 map shows that SR 37 bypass is complete. SR 144 was disconnected from the new SR 37 for a short while. That would be resolved, at least according to the official maps, the following year.
The next change to Waverly was the building of the SR 144 bypass.
It started with rerouting SR 144 along old SR 37 north out of Waverly, then connecting 144 to new SR 37 at the junction that is currently SR 37 & 144. This was in 1965. It would remain in this configuration until 1970, when a new bridge was completed over the White River north of Waverly.
Looking at the above aerial photo of Waverly, one can still see the old path of SR 144 from the west. The old route of SR 37 is clearly labeled…repeatedly.
But this isn’t the end of the road changes around Waverly. Over the next several years, that SR 37 bypass will be upgraded to become I-69, connecting the Indianapolis area to Evansville via Martinsville and Bloomington. This upgrade will not affect the little old burgh much. That happened over 50 years ago with the moving of SR 37 in the first place.
11 thoughts on “Waverly”
While I appreciate your work here, I do not seem to get a response. Is anybody actually still running this blog>
I am trying to find a photos of the original Waverly Elementary school, that I attended in the ’50’s, anyone ?
Waverly was my home from 1951 to 1960 when I entered the US Army. It was a great childhood. I mowed the church lawn, and delivered newspapers on my bike. I attended grade school at the original Waverly elementary school at the top of the hill, boated in the river, and in the cornfields during the annual floods, hunted, trapped, fished, listened to stories told by the old guys that hung around an old store, with horse rails out front across from “Grasses” brick grocery store that was originally a bank, talking about fishing for sturgeon in the river in the 1800’s, using model-T’s to pull the huge fish from the river. That was before the packing plants in Indianapolis starting dumping all their waste into the river, which then created such a stink, that people had to repaint their houses (ours included) because the original paint turned black because of rotting animal corpses and odor that washed down river. During the annual floods, we could see carp washing across the one street in town, and the water would rise to the window sills in some of the houses in the lower parts, in additional to washing out our dirt basketball court. those were the days my friend. Upstream about a half mile, was what seemed to be the remnants of an old wooden dam, and up on the bank, down below the hill where old Rd 37 ran, was the remnants of an old dance hall-bar, complete with a rotting piano, furniture, etc. How much i regret not getting photos of all of this. I worked on the Ayres Farm, mostly bordered by Rd 37. “Huggin Holler” and Banta Road, for most of those years, mowing hay, setting many fence posts, riding horses, hunting, skinny dipping in the local pond. Great memories.
I always thought Waverly was a strange little town mostly cut off from even the original highway. When I did my SR 37 tour …lordy, 13 years ago… I *forgot* to pull off and see it. Looks now like there’s little left of old SR 144 as it heads toward where the bridge used to be.
Greatest abandoned road I’ve ever found is at the north end of this old SR 37 alignment. The only time I’ve ever been chased off by the cops on a road trip happened at the other end of this alignment. There’s a brief abandoned section with a bridge on it that I didn’t know was private property until the local sheriff came specifically to tell me.
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I really appreciate the work that you have put in to this blog. I look forward to seeing what is coming up all the time. Thanks, Bob
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