Bicycling the Madison Road

In the early days of the state of Indiana, when state roads were being created, a road leading to the southeast from what was, at the time, the south edge of the town of Indianapolis would go on to be one of the most important roads in Indiana. The state road that was built would be used for the road to Louisville, Kentucky, via Franklin, Columbus, Seymour and New Albany. It would also take travelers to Mauckport on the Ohio River, again via Franklin. But its name came from its original destination: Madison.

Unlike most of the posts of this series up to this point, this “Bicycling Thursday” will start away from the downtown area. The reason for this is really quite simple…that’s how the Indianapolis News article about it did it. This was because the Madison Road was the way back to the city after chasing the Three Notch Road (covered last week) away from Indianapolis.

This trip starts, then, at Southport. Before tackling the road, the News reports that “the Pennsylvania railway runs through the town, and in case of a break-down which is beyond the skill of the village blacksmith, the unfortunate can return to the city by rail.” In 1896, the village of Southport did not venture far from those railroad tracks and/or Union Street (now Southport Road). Most of the residential area of the town was actually east of Market Street, that being one block east of Southport’s East Street (which is basically the alley on the south side of Southport Road across from Derbyshire Road).

Going back to the Madison Road, on the southeast corner of Union Street (aka Southport Free Gravel Road) is the Perry Township School #12…later to become Southport High School. From here, it is a seven mile journey back to the city. (In survey terms, Southport Road is seven miles from the Circle…so the trip along Madison Avenue [nee Road] is a bit longer than that.) The Madison Road runs parallel to the railroad tracks, traveling northwest towards Indianapolis. “It is one of the levelest roads in the county.” The west side of the road from Southport north is “heavy timber.”

If the seven mile trip “seems too short a ride for the ambitious wheelman, he can turn southeast on this road to Greenwood, but he would stand a chance of walking most of the way, as the road is badly cut up, and will not be in fit condition for a month or so.”

The first crossroad is one mile north of Southport. That road is now Edgewood Avenue (or, as it was called within three years of the News article source, Stop Eight Road). “To the east, it is graveled for some distance, but to the west it just now presents a sorry spectacle.” North from here, “for the next mile the Madison road is pretty badly cut up, and should be ridden with caution.” A half mile later, is “another unsatisfactory dirt road,” which is now Epler Avenue. “Half a mile further on the Madison road crosses another east-and-west road, which is much more encouraging. This road run into the Shelbyville Pike, a mile to the east, and will soon be fit for riding.” This road, as shown in the map from last week, is now called Thompson Road.

Heading more along the road, a “good bridge” crosses Like Creek (now where Madison Avenue crosses I-465). After that, the rider will pass District (Perry Township) School #4, which was one building south of Hanna Avenue (or where Hanna Avenue will be eventually). Hanna Avenue is named after the property owner listed on maps at the time. The lone house shown on this map snippet below on the east side of the old road is mentioned as “a big brick house well back from the pike and surrounded by a heavy grove of evergreen trees. There is also a big orchard just south of the house.”

A quarter mile north of this brick house, now known as the Hanna House, is another dirt road (Sumner Avenue) running east-west. A giant elm tree stands nearly in the middle of the road. Another half mile brings the rider to the line separating Center and Perry Townships (Troy Avenue), allowing the first view of the city. “The road from here to Pleasant run is monotonous. Before reaching the run the road has turned north and becomes a continuation of Madison avenue (now at Southern Avenue).” Fresh gravel, at the time of this article, had been placed along the road. A groove, it is reported, is being pushed down in the middle of the road to allow better riding.

After this point, the Belt Railway is crossed, and Madison Avenue (and the ride thereon) continues for another two miles through residential and business areas before reaching the downtown area. The trip down the Three Notch Road (from last week), the Southport Road, and the Madison Road creates a short, relatively flat 16 mile ride.


7 thoughts on “Bicycling the Madison Road

  1. Another great article, Richard. i don’t know the south side well nearly as well as the north side, having lived on the east and north sides all my life. But I can picture my grandparents and their circle of friends (calling themselves the “Cuckoo Club”) striking out on the weekends in their horse drawn carriages to the edge of town in every direction. That would have been right around the turn of the century when that News article was written.


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