The Road North

When the original State Highway law passed in 1917, the search was on for the first five Main Market Highways. Some of the highways chosen were not controversial at all. SR 2 was the original Lincoln Highway route across northern Indiana. SR 3 was the National Road, or at least most of the 1830s route was included. SR 4 and SR 5 would connect across southern Indiana. However, the one that raised questions was SR 1.

The idea was that SR 1 was to connect Louisville to South Bend through Indianapolis. South of Indianapolis, this was pretty straight forward. The route was mostly in place as the Madison State Road and the Jeffersonville State Road. Just like the railroads that went between these cities, they shared the same right-of-way (in this case road or trail) to Columbus, splitting there to go to the respective destinations.

But north was a different story.

Survey map of Marshall County, south of Plymouth. The circled survey section numbers are those that were part of the original Michigan Road survey, prior to the area being surveyed to match the system in the rest of the state.

This is where a little bit of Indiana history comes into play. When the state was young, there were state roads created to connect towns across Indiana. One of the first was the Michigan Road. This road would connect Madison (on the Ohio River) to Lake Michigan at a new town to be called Michigan City. The route north of Indianapolis would not be directly north because a large section of the land due north of Indianapolis was still part of the “Great Miami Reserve,” a large area that had belonged to Native Americans. So the original Michigan Road would leave Indianapolis to the northwest, skirting the Great Miami Reserve to the west to Logansport. At Logansport, the state would buy land from Native American tribes in one mile sections to build the road through what would become Rochester, Plymouth and South Bend. If you look at any map of the area which includes survey lines, it becomes obvious where the road was placed. The attached map shows the survey sections south of Plymouth in Marshall County.

Map of north central Indiana showing the 760,000 acres of the Great Miami Reserve (dotted line) set up in 1818. Thin black lines show the current Indiana county lines.

The other road north was the Range Line Road. This road started at what is now Broad Ripple as the Westfield State Road. Just south of the Hamilton-Marion County line, it would follow the dividing line between to survey townships, otherwise known as a range line. At the time of the creation of both the Michigan Road and the Westfield Road, the Great Miami Reserve, set aside in 1818, contained lands that were north of a line that was from a point 34.54 miles due south of Logansport east northeast to a point 34.54 miles due south of Lagro.

It would not be until 1838 when the land of the Great Miami Reserve would become government land, pending the end of all Native American titles to said land. In 1844, two of the last three counties in Indiana were created from the Miami Reserve: Richardville and Tipton. (The third of those counties was Ohio.) It turned out that a trading post on the Wildcat Creek in Richardville County would be on the range line as it was extended and surveyed north through the new lands. That trading post would be setup as the town of Kokomo.

The Range Line Road would be extended to the new town, which would become the county seat of Richardville County. In 1846, the name of the county would be changed to Howard. The road would then travel due north from Kokomo to just south of the Wabash River, where it would turn to go into the town of Peru. From there, it would connect to the Michigan Road at Rochester via Mexico. Most of this route is marked today as Old US 31.

Indianapolis News, 23 August 1917

Now that the general history is done, let’s get back to the 1917 decision of the route north of Indianapolis. I can’t say for sure why the decision was made, but the Indiana State Highway Commission decided that the Range Line would be used instead of the Michigan. Before the decision was officially made, there were many people on both sides of the argument. One of the people on the Michigan Road side of the article was none other than Carl G. Fisher, creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways. His arguments are shown in the attached article from the Indianapolis News of 23 August 1917.

As pointed out in the article, the number of towns, especially county seats, along the Range Line is higher than those on the Michigan before they join at Rochester. The travel distance between Indianapolis and South Bend doesn’t vary much between the two routes. Granted, in the time of horses, a two mile difference in distance was almost monumental. But in the time of the automobile, not so much.

I guess it should be mentioned that, at the time, the only direct railroad route between Indianapolis and South Bend would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort and the Vandalia South Bend line (both Pennsylvania Railroad properties). This would take train travelers through Lebanon, Frankfort and Logansport before heading north to Plymouth and South Bend.

As it turned out, the ISHC would decide the Range Line Road would be the official winner of the SR 1 sweepstakes. This would lead to what ended up being bypass after bypass being built to fix little problems that had plagued the Range Line Road. One that comes screaming to mind, and was corrected about a decade after the decision, was the area at Broad Ripple. Narrow and winding, that section of OSR 1 would be a thorn in the side of the ISHC until it was removed from the state system around 1968 (removed from US 31 in 1930, it would become SR 431 until the completion of Keystone Avenue to the new I-465).

This is far from the last controversial road decision made by the state of Indiana. But it was one of the first. After, of course, the constitutionality of even having to make the decision in the first place. In the end, the historic Michigan Road, one of the first state roads in Indiana, would be one of the last added to the inventory of state maintained highways.

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