Bicycling the Rockville Pike

For this week’s Bicycling Thursday, I will be covering the return trip from the journey that I posted on 26 September 2019 (“Bicycling the National Road West from Indianapolis“). This return to Indianapolis starts at Danville along what is now US 36, known in Marion County as Rockville Road.

The Indianapolis News of 11 April 1896 (source for this post) reports that “Danville is due west of Indianapolis; some say twenty and others twenty-two miles. To the wheelmen making their first trip over this route the latter distance would probably seem more accurate.”

The view of what the Rockville Turnpike actually was at the time is interesting. Today, if asked, one would automatically say that the extension of Washington Street is just that, Washington Street. But in the late 19th Century, due to its location along roughly the same line as Washington Street downtown, the Rockville Road was seen as this extension. (“The Rockville turnpike…is in reality a continuation of Washington street.”) The News muses that “the people of Danville seem to derive some little pride from this fact, for the rider asking his way back to the city will be told that by taking the street along the north side of the square you will run right into Washington street, and that the principal square in one town serves the same purpose in the other.”

Running due east from Danville, the first challenge for bicyclists is a long downhill grade. Along the way, the old road crossed a stream. It is noted that the view of the town, dotting the hills to the west, will cause some riders to look back at the wonderful view. On the east side of the stream, across the bridge, is “a country home, which is one of the most pleasing spots on the road.”

Two miles from Danville is a cross road, and a school. There is also an “excellent well.” In Hendricks County, the road is “not nearly so level as the National, however, and is now in excellent condition for riding.” Four miles east into the ride, a dirt road runs south to connect to the old road that connects Danville directly to Plainfield. Another dirt road south leaves the road one mile later. Here, a steep hill down begins. This hill will test most riders.

At the eight mile point east of Danville, the Rockville Pike runs parallel to the Big Four Railway (old Indianapolis & St. Louis). The old pike gently descends into a heavily timbered deep valley, while the railroad rides along a high embankment. From here, the Pike is undulating then climbs a long hill. This is ten miles east of Danville.

Starting at this point, the Rockville Road is “freshly graveled for about three miles.” That makes this new gravel stretch roughly from one mile west of the county line between Hendricks and Marion Counties to what is now Girls School Road. This would put the rider near the Sabine post office.

Within a mile, two roads cross the old road, the first connecting to the Wall Street Pike (now 21st Street), and the next connecting all of the east-west pikes (National Road, Rockville Road, Wall Street Pike and Crawfordsville Pike). The Rockville Road turns southeast at a point five miles from downtown Indianapolis. This turn is what is now Rockville Avenue. It crossed the Big Four railroad (at that time, at grade), and connected to the National Road at a point where Holt Road now crosses Washington Street.

It is noted that the county line is ten miles west of the city, and that with the exception of the section that is freshly graveled, the road is level and “is in about the best condition of any road in the county.”

The entire trip, including the National Road to Cartersburg, then to Danville and back on the Rockville Road is listed as roughly 45 miles. In terms of the day, this is a medium length trip, as quite a few riders would try to become part of the “Century Club,” which is riding 100 miles in a day.

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