Riley Highway, SR 9, and the ISHC

When the state highway system was expanded in 1920, original State Road 11 left Greenfield along the Pendleton-Grteenfield State Road. I have covered Pendleton, and its important location, in a previous post. Anyone looking at a map will notice that route being covered by what is now SR 9. The same reader will notice that SR 9 continues south of Greenfield, toward Shelbyville and Columbus. But that was not the case in 1920. Or even at the time of the Great Renumbering on 01 October 1926. It wouldn’t be until 1931 that SR 9 would be extended south of Greenfield. Before that, the road did have a name: The Riley Highway.

The original Riley Highway left Greenfield along Franklin Street, heading south toward Fountaintown. The highway itself was a collection of county roads that continued south through Shelbyville, Hope, and on south to Seymour. Through most of Shelby County, the road still has the name Riley Highway.

As early as December 1929, plan were underway to get the Riley Highway to be included in the 2,000 miles of roads that were to be taken over by the ISHC in 1930. “Paving of the Riley Highway from Greenfield to a point east of Columbus…is expected to materialize within the next few years.” So reported the Hancock Democrat of 05 December 1929, in a story that had been reprinted from the Shelby Democrat.

The original plan to extend SR 9 from Greenfield south was taken up by representatives of the towns of Fountaintown, Shelbyville and Hope. Those towns put together committees to petition the State Highway Commission to lengthen the then current SR 9 to at least Hope, a town on the Big Four Railway connecting Columbus to Greensburg. The meeting with the ISHC was planned for 20 August 1930.

The Greenfield Daily Reporter of 18 August 1930 reported that “it is estimated that between eighty and ninety per cent of the milage along this route, known as the Riley highway, has already been secured through these grants, which call for the moving back of all the fences to a distance thirty feet from the center of the road.” While Shelby County residents were all for this extension, there was “considerable amount of opposition had been encountered from residents along the Riley highway in Hancock county.” This caused the work of the extension of SR 9 to work on a more eastern route, one that connected to the then current SR 9 at US 40 west of the Hancock County Courthouse. This would leave Greenfield heading south, connecting to the Riley Highway about one mile north of Fountaintown.

The Riley Highway itself, originally, ran through four counties: Jackson, Bartholomew, Shelby and Hancock. According to the Columbus Republic of 16 July 1931, part of the issues brought up by the people trying to get the road added to the state highway system is the lack of state roads in some of those counties. Bartholomew, for instance, was 64th out of 92 in state mileage. Shelby County was 88th. The only counties that had less mileage than Shelby were smaller counties: Union, Fayette, Blackford, and Ohio. Jackson was 32nd and Hancock was 77th.

Up to this point, the most active people in getting the Riley Highway added to the state system were those of Shelby County. The only state roads in the entire county were US 52, which skirted the northern edge of the county and SR 29 (future US 421), the historic Michigan Road, that connected to Shelbyville. The people of the Bartholomew County town of Hope was also big in getting in on the potential new state road.

Disappointment was in play in 1931, when the ISHC added 374 miles to the state system without including the Riley Highway. (Edinburgh Daily Courier, 18 May 1931) The Riley Highway had been named a year prior as to be added to the state road system, but hadn’t been included in those roads taken over thus far in 1931. It was reported that both the Riley and the Minute Man Route would be among the next roads that were in consideration for inclusion. It was understood that the Riley Highway would be first in the list of inclusion in 1931, but was not taken in due to “financial concerns.”

The fight would finally come to an end in July 1931. “Riley Highway Now Part of State System” was the headline in the Hancock Democrat of 23 July 1931. The plan was for the state to ask Hancock, Shelby and Bartholomew Counties to give up the road in the fall of that year. Paving would be completed over the following two years. This would, when complete, make the Riley Highway the only north-south road in Indiana (at the time) to connect to US 40, US 52, SR 29 and SR 46. The route was still being determined by the ISHC, but it was believed that it would lead south from Greenfield along State Street, then along the Fountaintown Pike to the Riley Highway at Fountaintown. Paving work would begin in September 1931.

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