When the Great Renumbering occurred on 1 October 1926, most of the roads were just that, renumbered. One of the purposes of the State Highway system in Indiana was to connect the centers of county government to each other in the form of state roads. There was, however, a large missing section in this plan. In the “donut” counties surrounding Marion County, to get from, say, Martinsville to Shelbyville using the highways required going far out of the way to accomplish this task. Today, people use SR 44…but this was a very late addition to the entire plan.
When SR 44 was created on that day in 1926, the road only connected Connersville to Liberty on a less direct route than is used today. The road was also under construction from Rushville to Connersville, although the route hadn’t been completely set out before maps were issued showing the new road numbers. The centers of government of Shelby and Johnson Counties were served by only one state highway each. The seat of Morgan County was served by two, but they were both north-south routes. Shelbyville was on SR 29, Franklin was on US 31, and Martinsville was served by SR 37 and SR 39, with a connection across the White River to SR 67.
For someone to travel from, say, Martinsville to Rushville, using state highways, required going either through Bloomington, Columbus and Greensburg via SR 46 and SR 3, or going through Indianapolis using SR 37 and US 52. Both Franklin and Shelbyville were suffering from the same fate.
But this wasn’t always the case. In the Auto Trail era, these three cities were connected to Rushville using a road called the Minute Man Route. This Auto Trail connected Farmersburg, on the Dixie Bee Line (future OSR 10/US 41) through Clay City and Spencer to Martinsville. From there, it was a (more or less) direct line through Franklin, Shelbyville, and Rushville to Connersville. At Connersville, the Minute Man Route used a more northern route to Liberty than the 1926 version or the current SR 44.
The Minute Man Route was designated when the Lexington Automobile Company, which had a plant at Connersville, started building a new model of car. That car was called the Minute Man, with the name being chosen for the highway that would be marked at that time.
The four counties from Martinsville to Rushville started very quickly to get the State Highway Commission to accept the Minute Man Route into the state highway system. It began before the Great Renumbering, with newspaper articles published on 17 July 1926 in both the Rushville Daily Republican and the Martinsville Reporter-Times reporting that the Franklin Star covered a meeting on 15 July 1926 “for the purpose of promoting the movement to have the State Highway Commission take over and improve the Minute Man route which connects Shelbyville, Franklin and Martinsville.” It was brought up that the ISHC was “neglecting southern Indiana.” An investigation into the subject “found that in comparison to other counties, the counties crossed by the Minute Man route do not have the east and west improved roads that they are entitled to.”
The Franklin Evening Star of 13 September 1929, three years after the start of the movement, reported that Shelby County was taking a decided step in the direction of getting the road accepted by the state. The county government in Shelbyville authorized $15,000 “for the purpose of widening the narrow grade between Shelbyville and Franklin.” It was believed by the newspaper that this improvement would help in the effort to get an east-west state highway across these counties. The state rebuffed such efforts at that time.
In 1930, the ISHC added some 600 miles of roads to the state highway system. Alas, according to the Franklin Evening Star of 09 October 1930, “the 600 miles of road taken over by the state, did not however, include the proposed state highway between Rushville, Shelbyville, Franklin and Martinsville.” It went on to state “agitation for the inclusion of this route in the state system has been urged by business men of the four cities at various times during the four years but no formal action has been taken by the highway commission.” The ISHC stated that “action was prevented at that time by a lack of finances but that the route would be placed on the preferred list and taken over as soon as conditions would permit.” One problem with this excuse, at least in my eyes, is that the Three Notch Route had been taken over by the state, connecting Nashville and Trafalgar to Indianapolis as SR 35. The state saw this as a relief route to US 31 to southern Indiana.
This rebuffing by the ISHC of taking the Minute Man Route into the state highway system continued. The Franklin Evening Star of 10 December 1931 stated that a report to the ISHC made it “Hardly Possible That Cross-State Road Will be Put in Highway System Soon.” This report was made by I. N. Brown after a conference with John J. Brown, the director of the State Highway Commission. The study included extending the route to Richmond.
Partial success occurred in early 1932, with the Franklin-Shelbyville section of the road taken into the state highway system. The section of the road between Martinsville and Franklin was in limbo at the time due to failure to reach an agreement with Morgan County officials regarding the payment of a bill for $8,000, which the county owed the state.
Over the years, SR 44 has been straightened in many places between the four cities involved. There are many sections of road through especially Johnson, Shelby and Rush Counties marked “Old SR 44.” The route, however, is no longer a continuous road. In the past decade (as of this writing on 25 October 2019), SR 44 was decommissioned through Franklin. SR 44 ends, on the west, at SR 144, west of the city. East of the city, the official beginning/end of SR 44 is at Interstate 65. Parts of a truck route around Franklin exist, but an official state routing requires a long drive to either Indianapolis or Edinburgh.