Survey Lines and the Addressing Center of Marion County

I have mentioned several times over the course of the last six or so months about survey lines. When the Northwest Territories were created in the late 18th Century, it was decided that the land would be surveyed into one mile squares, with six mile by six mile collections of these one mile surveys being ranges and townships. When looking at Marion County, it is very easy to look at the two major roads that make up the center of addressing (Washington and Meridian Streets) being on these survey lines. Unfortunately, that assumption is wrong.

Starting with Washington Street, a survey line is crossed twice by this road…but never is Washington Street actually on that line. West of Indianapolis, the survey line is crossed by Washington Street near the first meeting of that street with Tibbs Avenue. This would be at the west line of the old Central State Hospital. The other point where this survey line is crossed is where Washington Street skirts that line between East Street and College Avenue (formerly Noble Street).

1889 map of Marion County showing the survey line that runs through the area just south of Washington Street. This survey line is one mile south of the geographic center of Marion County.

Meridian Street is on the survey line…but only on the south side of the city. The current Meridian Street running from McCarty Street north to South Street connects the center of the original town of Indianapolis to the survey line that would be used for the Bluff and Three Notch Roads. North of the mile square (actually, north of 10th Street), the survey line is located along the line of Illinois Street until it ends at Kessler Boulevard. That survey line runs to where it meets White River, where it moves to the east to become the line of College Avenue.

The addressing of Indianapolis starts at the corner of Washington and Meridian Streets, which are both arbitrary lines. But there is a historic reason for this offset of survey lines where Indianapolis was located. The center of the town, which was originally Circle Street, now Monument Circle, was located one mile west of the mouth of Fall Creek at White River. In 1821, that was actually where Market Street would have met the river, had it been built that far.

The survey line that is Illinois Street is located there because the plat of the town of Indianapolis was actually put in place out of alignment with due north. A quick look at the Mile Square shows that downtown Indianapolis is actually skewed by around 2.5 degrees to the east. After what is now 10th Street, the streets in the city straighten out to match due north. At 16th Street, Illinois was moved slightly to the east to match the survey line.

It should be noted here that, at the time, the survey lines actually were not in place as yet, or had just been placed. The area that Indianapolis was located would not have been part of the state until around 1820. Until then, it was still Native American territory. As such, it hadn’t been surveyed prior to it becoming legally part of the state of Indiana. (Although Indiana had become a state in 1816, most of the state was still not actually legally part of the United States that could be settled. It wouldn’t be until around 1836 that all of the state was under the non-native jurisdiction of the United States.)

Rockville Road, the center of addressing through Wayne Township, is located on the survey line from west of Rockville Avenue to the county line. Again, it is still one mile south of the geographic center of Marion County.

South of what is now the line of 62nd Street, the geographic center of Marion County was located one mile east of Meridian Street (south side) and Illinois Street (north side). On the south side, this would be the line of Shelby Street. On the north side, it gets a little hard to trace. North of 38th Street, north to Broad Ripple, the survey line is what is now the Monon Trail. The Monon turns slightly to the west at where 62nd Street would have been located.

While most of the major streets that weren’t built as early state roads are located along these survey lines, more than half of the addressing center of Indianapolis is not. For instance, I live one half mile south of Washington Street on the far east side of Indianapolis. The survey line that would run across the county one mile south of 10th Street is located just north of my back yard fence.

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