I am sure that almost everyone has heard of Ben Hur. Some even know that it was written by Lew Wallace: Major General US Army, 11th Governor of the New Mexico Territory; Minister to the Ottoman Empire; Adjutant General for his home state; and, oh yeah, Hoosier. The book he wrote, Ben Hur, made him and his family wealthy and famous. Lew Wallace was born in Brookville. He lived, and died, in Crawfordsville. So, it made sense to have an Auto Trail with the name. And hence, it was.
The Ben Hur Route was created in 1918-1919. The ultimate route would start in Huntington, traverse the state via Marion, Kokomo, Burlington, Frankfort, Crawfordsville, Rockville and Terre Haute. The route would find itself, in big sections, left out of the state highway system when it was created and renumbered. As state roads were added over the years, parts of the old road became state maintained.
Starting in Huntington, the Ben Hur route left the town to the southwest along Etna Road. By 1920, this would become OSR 11. The route between Huntington and Marion was covered in my Road Trip 1926 series, the entry for SR 9. The original route would travel through the town of Mt. Etna. I mention this because SR 9 doesn’t. SR 9 was moved with the creation of Lake Salamonie. The current SR 9 is west of the town by about a mile. After the Mt. Etna bypass rejoins the old SR 9, that state road is followed to north of Marion, where it turns on Washington Street.
The Ben Hur Route left Marion via what is now CR 200 to the town of Roseburg. From here, the highway traveled south for a mile along CR 300W. At CR 300S, the Ben Hur Route turned west to travel through Swayzee. CR 300S becomes CR 200N at the Howard County line. The old road then turns south on CR 1100E to Sycamore. There, travelers would make their way to CR 850E, and the town of Greentown, via CR 100N.
At Greentown, the original Auto Trail followed what became OSR 35, now, incidentally, US 35/SR 22, into Kokomo. While SR 22 turns west on Sycamore Street in Kokomo, the original Ben Hur Route turned west on Jefferson Street, rejoining SR 22 west of town, on its way to Burlington. As SR 22 curves to the southwest going into Burlington, the Ben Hur Route continued west on what is now Mill Street. Here, the Ben Hur Route met the Michigan Road and Dixie Highway.
South from Burlington, the utility poles contained three painted signs (Dixie Highway, Michigan Road and Ben Hur Route) from there to Michigantown. The ISHC would take over this section of highway in 1920, creating OSR 15. At Michigantown, the Ben Hur Route left the other two roads to follow Michigantown Road towards Frankfort. It enters Frankfort as Washington Avenue. In Frankfort, the route gets a little hard to determine, with the exception of the fact that one most go from Washington Avenue to Armstrong Street. Whether that be using Main Avenue or Jackson Street (now SR 39), it is unknown by me at this time.
The continuing Armstrong Street is the Ben Hur Route through rural Clinton County. The current road turns due west as CR 200S. At CR 350W, the highway turned south for one mile, then turning west again on CR 300S, also known as Manson Colfax Road. At Colfax, the road turns south along Clinton CR 850W until it becomes Boone CR 1050W. A jog in the road, then becoming Boone CR 1075W, the route encounters what is now SR 47.
Northeast of Darlington, a quick turn west onto CR 500N, then Main Street, into Darlington. The old highway then turns south on CR 625E, to CR 300N. West along this county road brings the traveler back to current SR 47 which takes the old route into the east side of Crawfordsville. Southwest bound out of Crawfordsville, the route still follows SR 47. At least as far as northeast of Waveland. At CR 600W, the Ben Hur follows Waveland Road into Waveland, crossing the town along Main Street (SR 59) until it intersects CR 1150S. Here, it follows that road, and Saddle Club Road to intersect SR 59/236. It the follows SR 236 into Guion.
At Guion, the Ben Hur follows Guion Road to Judson, then Nyesville Road to what is now US 36 east of Rockville after travelling through Nyesville. Out of Rockville, the old road doesn’t follow what is now US 41, but Catlin Road through Catlin and Jessup to Rosedale. From there, the rest of the old Auto Trail heads towards its end at Terre Haute. Rosedale Road, Park Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue brought the old road to end at what is now US 41 in Terre Haute. Lafayette Avenue was, at the time, the Dixie Bee Line, and would become OSR 10. At the intersection of Park and Lafayette Avenues, the Ben Hur and Dixie Bee multiplex their way toward downtown Terre Haute. At the time, Lafayette Avenue ended at Third Street, not Fifth like it does today. And the Ben Hur Route ends at Wabash Street, at the junction of the Dixie Bee Line and the National Old Trails Road.
This Auto Trail was not the only reference to the “Ben Hur Route” in Indiana. The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company, the interurban lines, also had a route called the “Ben Hur Route.” It had been originally the Indianapolis, Crawfordsville & Danville Electric Railway. This small company was purchased by the THI&E in 1912. There are very few remnants of either of the Ben Hur Routes today. While the old Auto Trail can be followed, most of it is county roads with some in questionable shape…at least those that are still intact. It is a trip that someday I would love to tackle.