On 23 February 2019, I posted an entry about roads that are named for their destination. There are numerous examples of this across Indiana. Just out of Indianapolis, the state has turned many of these into state roads: Rockville (US 36); Crawfordsville (US 136); Pendleton (US 36/SR 67); Lafayette (US 52). A quick look at a map of Indiana makes you wonder why SR 38 west of Noblesville exists. A big reason is called the Lafayette Road.
Without looking at a map, one would think that connecting Noblesville to Lafayette, via Frankfort, makes sense. That had been the whole purpose of the early state roads: connect the seats of government of the counties. This one road connected three (Hamilton, Clinton, Tippecanoe)! But as I mentioned in the blog entry “The Town Name Is the Name of the Road, But How Do We Get There?,” there were very few of these roads that would be anywhere near a straight line. And Noblesville’s Lafayette Road is a prime example.
To be honest, until I started really looking more into the history of the roads of Indiana, I would often question why SR 38 existed west of Noblesville. Anyone that has driven that road, especially between Kirklin and Sheridan, knows what I am talking about. One of the functions of the state road system is to allow trucks to traverse the state. The section of SR 38 near Terhune gets a little fun, and a lot of slow down and turn sharp, when it comes to trucks. Kirklin is literally a one stop light town…and it is a block SOUTH of the state road.
But this section of road shows how strange the original paths between these cities really was. Unless it was clearly marked, or you were very familiar with the area, I can see where one could get lost trying to get between these two points.
But this part of what became part of SR 38 wasn’t on the minds of the Indiana State Highway Commission originally. It was announced in the Noblesville Daily Ledger of 12 February 1932 that the ISHC finally decided to take over the Lafayette Road. The decision was made after the people of Hamilton County asked repeatedly for the state to take it over. The article, shared below, mentions that the “Lafayette road connecting Noblesville with Sheridan” would be placed “on the dotted line for the present and improving it at a later date.”
It is also mentioned that the County Highway Superintendent is of the opinion that this new state road would be numbered “37.”
The Lafayette Road is not the only old state road that the designation “SR 38” would be attached. The SR 38 east of Noblesville was part of the old Richmond-Crawfordsville State Road, another of the 1820s trails called state roads at the time. The Richmond-Crawfordsville Road continued out of Noblesville to the west (roughly) along what is now SR 32. Ultimately, it would connect five county seats: Richmond (Wayne); New Castle (Henry); Noblesville (Hamilton); Lebanon (Boone); Crawfordsville (Montgomery).
Strangely, the Lafayette Road section of SR 38 would be added slowly. The first section would appear on the 1933 official map, as shown above. At this point, the section from Lafayette to SR 39 north of Frankfort was added, as well. The three map snippets show the changes in this section of the road. The section from Noblesville to Sheridan was pretty much a straight line, and was easily completed. SR 38 ended at the Michigan Road (SR 29 at Kirklin) until 1940, when it was added west of Kirklin to Antioch on SR 39.
So searching newspapers for an answer to why SR 38 exists here has answered the question. It is a very old road to a far away destination. I have to believe that traffic on this section of road is low: low enough to not justify straightening is, but high enough to keep it in the state road system. That, I am afraid, requires more research.