Terre Haute, Indiana. Opinions of the town vary. No matter your opinion of the city on the Wabash, one thing is certain. Terre Haute’s place in transportation history is set in stone. There are so many subjects that can be covered about that city. Today, I am going to focus on one of the early important parts of that history: the National Road.
But before we can focus on the National Road history, a little bit of Terre Haute history is in order. The “high land,” or terre haute in French, had been the site of a Wea native American village for an unknown number of years before white settlement came in the form of Fort Harrison a few miles north of what would become the town of Terre Haute. When the Wea were forced to move from the area, their orchards and meadows became the site of the new town which would become the Vigo County seat of government with the creation of that county in 1818.
Fast forward to 1834, when the National Road was completed across Indiana. The reason for Terre Haute being on the route was simply because the route was to connect the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. The capitals of Ohio and Indiana are still in the same location as they were then: Columbus and Indianapolis. But, the capital of Illinois was at Vandalia, meaning a southwestly route from Indianapolis. (Had the capital of Illinois been moved to Springfield when the road was being planned, it’s entirely possible that what is now US 36 west of Indiana would be US 40.)
Because Terre Haute was on an almost straight line between Indianapolis and Vandalia, it was natural for the road to connect to what, up to that point, had been an important town on the Wabash River and the Wabash and Erie Canal. The original road would come into town via the same route it does today, Wabash Avenue. Below is a 1925 map of the route of the National Road through Terre Haute. (The complete map, which I recommend if you have any interest in Terre Haute, or any of the other connections to the “Capital of the Wabash” at the time can be found here: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/3626/rec/2)
To show that little had changed, the following map (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/2890/rec/6) is from 1907. According to the hand written notes on the map, the red lines represent Terre Haute, Indianapolis and Eastern tracks, whether they be city street cars or the interurban to Indianapolis. The blue lines are the city boundary. (Honestly, the way those blue lines are drawn confuse the living Hades out of me. Check out the link!)
In 1917, the old road through Terre Haute was taken into the State Main Market Highway system as Road #3. (There were only 5.) Or, at least, it was supposed to be. Due to fighting about the Constitutionality of the Highway Law of 1917, the road would be designated but not officially under state maintenance until the new rewritten law of 1919. Thus, the National Road, along its original route, became State Road 3. In 1926, that was changed to US 40.
No changes would take place in the routing of US 40 until about 1974. At that point, westbound US 40 ran to US 41 (Third Street) on Wabash Street, turning north one block in multiplex, then turning west again to cross the new Cherry Street bridge over the Wabash River. Eastbound, it entered downtown on a new Ohio Street bridge to Third Street, where it turned one block north to Wabash Street and the original route.
The next change would appear in 1977, when the eastbound used Ohio Street to 10 1/2 Street (at least that’s what it looks like on the official map of that year). The westbound route would turn north on Ninth Street to Cherry Street. It would stay this way until the mid 2010’s, when US 40 was completely removed from Terre Haute. At that time, the official US 40 route would be moved to “Old SR 46” (name on the street sign at this point), running south with SR 46 to I-70. US 40 then multiplexes with I-70 to just west of the Illinois-Indiana State Line.
West of Terre Haute, there would be several changes in the official route of US 40. Those I plan to cover at a later time.