1822. The state of Indiana is, officially, around half a decade old. Travel around the state at the time was difficult at best. The state government, still based at Corydon, decided to pass laws creating a series of state roads to and from Indianapolis. One of these state roads was set up to go “from Horseshoe Bend, to Paoli, Palestine, Bloomington, thence to Indianapolis – 100 miles.” This was to be known by many names in many locations. Here, I’ll refer to it as the Paoli State Road.
A quick glance at a map will show that there is, still today, a state road that connects Indianapolis to Paoli. That would be SR 37. And, yes, this 1822 state road would form the basis of the current route. But, throughout the years, the old road had been moved, rerouted, and flat out destroyed along the way.
The description of the route, listed in a short list of state laws of 1822, mentions the road starts at “Horseshoe Bend.” I can find no reference to that location name. I would have assumed it was on the Ohio River, but the mileage doesn’t add up. As a matter of fact, using today’s SR 37, Paoli is 95.6 miles from the Indianapolis terminus of the Paoli State Road. That terminus was the corner of South and Meridian Streets, just south of Union Station. (This would also be the terminus of the Madison State Road, established in 1822, as well.)
The 1849 Indiana Gazetteer listing for Paoli shows that the town is on the turnpike from New Albany to Vincennes. That turnpike, now the basis for US 150 through the area, had been used for many years before the Europeans arrived. It forms the easiest path between crossing points of the Ohio and Wabash Rivers. The entry also mentions that there are 400 inhabitants in the town…the same number listed in the 1833 Gazetteer.
The next mentioned location in the route was “Palestine.” A quick Google map search of Palestine, IN, takes the user to New Palestine, a town along the Brookville State Road (US 52) not far from my current location. The 1833 Gazetteer does not list Palestine, either. The one line entry in 1849 states “PALESTINE, a small town in the south-west of Monroe, on Indian creek.” (This entry makes more sense, given the location, than the other Palestine listed: “a small town on Sugar Creek, in Hancock county.” Oh, wait. I’ve already mentioned that “Palestine” in this paragraph.) I can not find this location on any map that I have seen so far. It also seems a bit out of the way, given that Paoli is almost due south of Bloomington. Between Paoli and Palestine would be Orleans, Mitchell, and Bedford.
The 1822 road continues north through Bloomington, Martinsville, and Waverly, eventually ending at the above mentioned point in Indianapolis.
The Paoli State Road would become an important part of the auto era when it came at the end of the 19th century. The entire route, from Paoli to Indianapolis, would become part of the second cross country auto route: the Dixie Highway. The Dixie Highway, well covered by the internet, will be the subject of a later post. Due to the location, since 1820, of the state university at Bloomington, the route has pretty much always been a busy road. The road has been the scene of almost constant widening and rerouting. Little sections have been moved slightly, like north of Paoli, at Mitchell, two sections between Mitchell and Bedford (still called Dixie Highway), through Bedford to north of Bloomington, and assorted places north of that. It’s being rerouted even more now north of Bloomington as the old road is being replaced by I-69. Heck, even some of the previously bypassed sections are being replaced, but not as a state road, with the building of the new interstate.
As of the writing of this entry, most of the road is still able to be accessed and traveled. One major section is north of Bedford at Oolitic. The old road is not only not accessible, it is completely gone as there is a quarry in that location. At the Indianapolis end, the section of Meridian Street between Henry and South Streets (one block – which requires use of the original Madison State Road) is gone, as well.
I will say that if you ever get the chance, I recommend spending some time driving the old road. The section north of and through Bloomington is a very pretty drive. With the new section of I-69 open, starting this journey is even easier. Instead of trying to cross a busy multilane SR 37, there is an exit and frontage road giving access to the old road. Get off of I-69 at Exit 134/Liberty Church Road, turn east to Hacker Creek Road. Turning south on Hacker Creek Road, the road turns into Old State Road 37. This old road eventually ends at College Avenue after crossing the road that was built to bypass this section (called Walnut Street/SR 37 Business). Most of the old road south of that crossing is winding and has only one junction between Walnut Street and College Avenue (the southbound SR 37 Business and south of this point, the southbound replacement for the old road that was actually on Walnut Street through town).