Road Trip 1926: SR 39

Today’s Road Trip focuses on a road that was numbered in two sections, one of which was around one mile long. The official description, released by the Indiana State Highway Commission describes the road as connecting Monticello to Lebanon, using the then current State Road 44, and “the short pavement west out of Martinsville to White River, about one mile long.”

The section out of Martinsville, while marked on the last map as using the current SR 39, that’s not entirely accurate. The original SR 39 at Martinsville actually runs north of the current route. The old route is still partially in place as a section of brick pavement running west from Park Avenue, between Pike and Harrison Streets. The entirety of the 1926 SR 39 in that area basically doesn’t exist. Even the bridge that is there now is south (barely) of the old route. The road is so minor now, that getting a Google map of the original road is only possible if you zoom in, requiring two maps to show less than one mile of travel.

The two sections of this road were connected with a 1930 authorized addition to the state road system. That connection would appear on the 1932 Official Indiana State Highway Map.

Repairing Roads in Early Indiana

In the early days of Indiana, there was no real system of roads. Most roads in the state were barely wide paths through the wilderness, hardly marked, and very rarely improved. Most of this came from the fact that traffic, at best, was light for distances longer than from farms to towns. But the government of Indiana realized very early that things would have to change when it came to transportation if the state were to grow.

One of the first, and longest lasting, ways to make this work was implemented in the law of the Indiana Territory in 1807. This created a system of “Road Supervisors,” a county office in charge of creating and maintaining a transportation system. This system relied on a “road tax.” But this tax wasn’t exactly what we would see it as today. It was more a forced labor system that would maintain roads in lieu of a road tax.

A quote at the time stated this: “There is probably no other feature in our road system which has so far served to maintain the low state of our American road-making as this ‘corvee,’ or forced-labor system on the highway.” This created a system where road maintenance was seen as a nuisance, and the concept of as little work as possible was the deal of the day.

In 1807, a law was passed that stated “all male persons of the age of twenty-one years and not exceeding fifty, who have resided thirty days in any township, of any county within this territory, and who are not a county charge, shall be liable yearly and every year, to do and perform any number of days’ work, not exceeding twelve, whenever the supervisor of the district in which he resides shall deem it necessary.”

This created a large number of road workers. It was also mentioned that if the person didn’t show up, or refuse to obey the instructions of the supervisor, or waste the day not performing the task assigned to him, that person would be fined 75 cents a day to be paid to the township supervisor. And if the worker asked of anything from travelers along the road, i.e. food, drink or toll, the worker would be fined $1 a day.

The territory of Indiana decided, in 1814, to change the age range to 16 to 50. This didn’t last long, and the lower age was returned to 21, where it remained until the road supervisor system was eliminated with the creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1917.

The problem with this system came down to the fact that it didn’t lend itself well to any type of permanent improvement of roads. This work system created temporary repairs to keep them passable in certain seasons of the year.

Most of the argument against this system involved words like “forced labor” and “serfdom.” But it was in place for around a century to keep the state government out of the “road maintenance” business. Part of this would lead to the banning of state road maintenance responsibility in the 1851 Constitution of Indiana. That banning also led to problems when the Indiana State Highway Commission was initially formed in 1917. This constitutionality problem led to a recreation of the ISHC in 1919.

Bicycling Indianapolis

In 1896,the Indianapolis News published a series of articles about bicycling in and around Indianapolis. That series of articles is what I have been using to create these “Bicycling Thursday” series of posts here at Indiana Transportation History. These articles generally have covered riding different roads, usually old state roads, leaving Indianapolis. I will include links to all of those below. But this article is about something different. There was a proposed bicycling route that covered quite a bit of the north side of the city and Marion County.

Today’s information comes from the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896. This plan was to be financed via the sale of subscriptions, much like the way that roads were paid for before this, and how Auto Trails, starting in the 1910’s, were going to be financed afterwards. Most of the route wouldn’t use roads in place. Where it did use roads, it would be built along side that road. Most of the route would make use of riding on the banks of water courses through the county.

Proposed bicycle route through Indianapolis and Marin County as described in the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896.

The potential route started along Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It would follow that road to where it crossed Fall Creek. It is mentioned in the News that the condition of Indiana Avenue, at that time, from West Street to Fall Creek, is such that “no worse road was found in going over the entire course than in this street.” The path would then follow the levee along the north bank of Fall Creek “south of the new pumping station of the Water Company.” The proposed route would continue along Fall Creek, then the east bank of the White River until crossing the Indianapolis Belt Railway. Here, the bicycling route would join the Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road until that road crossed the White River. The Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road is now Waterway Boulevard (after having been named Speedway Avenue), and it crossed the river at the Emrichsville Bridge, later replaced by the current 16th Street bridge.

The proposed path would then continue to follow the White River until after it crossed the “Flack Pike,” now 30th Street, passing “many giant sycamores, winding in and out with the deviation of the stream.” Just north of the Flack Pike the river and the Central Canal come close to one another, where the proposed route would switch over to the tow path along the north bank of the canal on its way to Broad Ripple.

“The ride up the tow-path every wheelman and wheelwoman in the city is familiar with – its beauties, its dangers and it tribulations often.” It is described as a beautiful ride. However, washouts, gullies, chuck holes and soft spots are common along the way, “and a sudden dip into the canal has a most dampening effect on enthusiasm.” The tow path continues through Fairview Park, now the site of Butler University. There is a fairly steep climb before the path would cross Illinois Street. Here, a bicycle rider could choose to use either side of the canal to get to Broad Ripple. But the official route would continue along the north tow path.

At Broad Ripple, the path would follow the Westfield Pike north past the Broad Ripple damn and across the White River on a large iron bridge. After crossing the river, the path then turns south to follow the river along the north/west bank to a point where it crosses White River again at what is now the 82nd Street crossing after passing the Haverstick Farm. After crossing White River, it would follow what was then the Fall Creek and White River Free Gravel Road (FCWRFGR) back towards the city. The first part of that free gravel road doesn’t now exist above what is now 79th Street. From there, it is known as River Road to the point where the FCWRFGR turned south on what is now Keystone Avenue.

The new path would be built along the FCWRFGR until it got to Malott Park, at what is now 56th Street. The route would then turn east “on the dirt road from Malott Park to Millersville.” It is mentioned that this dirt road is very narrow in places, with “scarcely room on either side for the path.” Here, the builders of the route hadn’t decided whether to follow Fall Creek’s north bank or the Millersville Free Gravel Road and the south bank of Fall Creek to Meridian Street. Here, riding down Meridian Street would bring rider back to downtown Indianapolis, and the point where the route started.

Some of the path, as described, has, in more recent times, been added to the Indy Parks trail system. It starts on what is now the White River Trail. It then crosses over to the Central Canal Trail above the old Riverside Amusement Park north of 30th Street. At Illinois Street, where the rider in 1896 had two choices, the path chosen by Indy Parks runs along the opposite bank of the Canal than was chosen to be followed then. Most of the rest of the route, that can still be traveled, can be followed by using the streets that exist now. There are a few places where this can’t happen.

The following is a list of the other entries in this “Bicycling Thursday” series.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race
Allisonville Pike (Allisonville Road to Noblesville)
Crawfordsville Pike (Old Crawfordsville Road to Crawfordsville)
Madison Road (Madison Avenue from Southport to Indianapolis)
Michigan Road North (MLK/Michigan Road north to Augusta)
Michigan Road South (Southeastern Avenue)
National Road West (Washington Street west to Plainfield)
Pendleton Pike (Pendleton Pike to Oaklandon and beyond)
Reveal Road (Dandy Trail through Eagle Creek valley)
Rockville Road (Old Rockville Road from Danville to Indianapolis)
Shelbyville Road (Old Shelbyville Road from Indianapolis to SE Marion County)
Three Notch Road (Meridian Street south to Southport Road)
Westfield Road (Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street from Westfield south)

The Midland Route

Indiana has been known as the “Crossroads of America” for a very long time. But what is less realized is that title was earned before there were that many good roads. Indiana was the crossroads of railroad companies. Looking at a map today, you’d be hard pressed to realize that. But you could go almost in the state by rail. Some say that it was because there were so many rail routes, it helped lead to the collapse of many railroad companies. A lot of these railroad companies were started with what was thought to be a good idea, but not enough traffic to support themselves. One such road was the Midland Route.

What would be named the Midland Route started on 3 July 1871 as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis (AL&StL) Railway. As you can tell by the name, it would connect across northern central Indiana, creating a direct route to St. Louis without having to go through Indianapolis. As with what happened quite a bit with a railroad line at the time, the area where the AL&StL was built improved quite a bit by the new railroad. Unfortunately, the flip side of the same coin was that the railroad itself did not do well financially. Foreclosure started on 12 December 1878, and was completed 23 December 1881. It then gained a new name in the process: Cleveland, Indiana & St. Louis (CI&StL) Railway.

Before continuing, it should be mentioned that one of the early creations of the AL&StL was a town named after the shape created when the railroad crossed the old Pendleton State Road to the northwest. Samuel E. Busky, a railroad company director at the time, noted that the crossing of the road and railroad looked like a man’s coat lapel. Hence the name of that town.

The CI&StL didn’t do much better than the AL&StL before it. Less so, really. Three and a half years later, on 1 April 1885 was sold again at foreclosure. The person that acquired the route, Thomas C. Platt, did so with a cash outlay of $40,000. In July of that year, it would be reorganized, gaining the name, and nickname, that it would have for the rest of its existence: Midland Railway.

It was during this time that the Midland would be built to its original longest extent. Starting in Muncie, it would parallel the Bee Line of the Big Four to Anderson. From there, the road would turn more or less due west through Noblesville and Lebanon, then turn southwest through Advance and Ladoga, ending at Waveland.

In 1891, the stock of the company was purchased by another man, Chicago attorney Henry Crawford. The road would change name again, this time to the Chicago & South Eastern (C&SE) Railway. This occurred on 9 October 1891, and 11 days later, all of the Midland was conveyed to the new C&SE. During the time of the C&SE, the road was built even longer. Using trackage rights along the Terre Haute & Logansport (later part of the Vandalia/PRR Terre Haute to South Bend line), the Midland connected Waveland Junction, west of Waveland, to Sand Creek. From Sand Creek to Bridgeton, and from Carbon to Brazil, the C&SE built its own track. Between Bridgeton and Carbon, the railway leased the Fort Wayne, Terre Haute & Southwestern (FWTH&SW) (in 1892) to connect the two separate sections of track. The FWTH&SW was purchased by the C&SE in 1902.

On 1 September 1902, Henry Crawford sold his interest in the C&SE to both the Big Four Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad. 16 March 1903 saw the final change of names of the railroad to the Central Indiana (CI) Railway. Three days later, operations of the route would be taken up by the Big Four/PRR owners. The plan was to use the route as a bypass of Indianapolis. It crossed several important lines of both companies: Bee Line (Big Four), Lafayette line (Big Four), St. Louis line (Big Four), Peoria & Eastern (Big Four), and Terre Haute line (Vandalia/PRR). It would later be crossed by the Indianapolis & Frankfort (PRR). Connections were also possible with the Baltimore & Ohio.

In the interurban age, residents of Ladoga would ride the CI to New Ross, along the Ben Hur route (Crawfordsville Traction), then ride the electric traction to Indianapolis. It would also serve as transportation for western Hamilton County students to go to Westfield High School.

Its use as a bypass would become a financial problem for the company. By the 1920’s, the Big Four/PRR started trying to abandon the entire route. This led to protests by local residents. On 14 September 1928, the company was given permission to abandon all but the section connecting Anderson and Advance, though the plan was to abandon the Advance to Lebanon section. The abandonment happened on 30 November 1928. The track that ran inside the city of Muncie would be sold to the Big Four.

The section from Advance to Lebanon would last until permission to scrap it came down from the Interstate Commerce Commission on 18 October 1943. Sixty days later, track gangs started ripping up the 8.27 mile section of railroad.

The Central Indiana would end up as part of the Penn Central in 1968. In 1974, the Penn Central was given permission to abandon the section from Westfield to Lebanon. In 1976, the line would be conveyed to Conrail. This is important in that when Conrail was created, it only had to take routes that it felt would be profitable or a good fit. There were many tracks in Indiana that had been part of the Penn Central that never made it to Conrail. This route was given the name of Westfield Secondary. But Conrail would change its mind with this route in 1982, when it was given permission to abandon the Westfield Secondary from Lebanon to Gadsden and from Lapel to Westfield.

Today, the remnants of the line, from Lapel to Anderson, is a shortlined railroad. The rest of the road, in sections, has become, or will become, a Rail Trail. In Westfield, it is called the Midland Trace Trail.

Survey Notes of the Michigan Road

When the Michigan Road was being planned and surveyed, the plan was to connect the Ohio River at Madison (chosen as a result of a vote that ended up 11 for and 10 against) to a new town on the shore of Lake Michigan to be called Michigan City. Because of the sparseness of the settlement in Indiana at the time, the surveyors were given directions to connect Madison to Greensburg, Greensburg to Indianapolis, Indianapolis to Logansport, then Logansport to the Lake. Along the way, other towns were included as they were in the path between the two destinations.

Researchers have an advantage these days. There are sources online that allow researchers to have access to more information to the surveys of the Michigan Road than most topics in the transportation field. For instance, most of the information for this entry will be from one book: Development and Lands of Michigan Road.

The most confusing part of the surveys with the Michigan Road is the place where the counting starts. The town of Logansport is 102 miles, by way of the Michigan Road, from Lake Michigan and Michigan City. Those 102 miles are not counted from Michigan City, but north out of Logansport. South of Logansport, the mileage counting starts at 102 for the journey to Greensburg at mile 220. The last 46 miles are numbered from Madison at mile 1 to Greensburg at mile 46. This brings the total surveyed mileage to 266.

Another thing that should be mentioned at this point is how survey directions work. Most surveys are done in reference to due north and south. From there, directions are measured in degrees east and west of that true north/south. Hence, a 45 degree line to the west would be referenced as North, 45 degrees West. Also referenced is the measurement unit called a “rod.” A rod is 16.5 feet, or 1/320 of a mile.

There are two survey references to Michigan City in this source (page 15). At mile 102, the road is surveyed to aim in a direction that is described as north 53 degrees west for 108 roads, turning to 20 degrees west for 76 rods “to Edge of Lake.” This turn takes place at Washington Street in Michigan City.

The Michigan Road survey notes through Logansport. The survey boundary, when it came to the road, was the north bank of the Eel River at Logansport. From this point, survey sections would be to Michigan City and to the “Governor’s House” at Indianapolis (now Monument Circle).

In Carroll County, at mile 110, the survey is kept in what is probably the straightest line ever created in Indiana at the time. The survey turns to South, 19 degrees east. This line, with very few exceptions, is maintained to the crossing of Crooked Creek in Marion County near where Kessler Boulevard crosses Michigan Road. At Indianapolis, the road was to connect to the original mile square at the northwest corner (called the intersection of North and West Streets and Indiana Avenue), then follow Indiana Avenue to its end at Ohio Street. There, the Michigan Road turned east one block, south on Meridian Street to the Governor’s House on Circle Street. That ended the survey north of the town of Indianapolis.

From the Governor’s House, the Michigan Road would continue on Meridian Street to Washington Street. The survey would then follow Washington Street one mile, before turning South 71.5 degrees east along what is now Southeastern Avenue. To show the difference in length from the survey lines that separate Indiana’s land grants to the length of the survey of the Michigan Road, range lines are six miles apart. The turning of the Michigan Road from the National Road happens about one block west of a range line, in this case, Shelby Street south of the old B&O/PRR tracks. This is in mile 173. The next range line, which is now known as Franklin Road, is in mile 180.

Northwestern Shelby County and the Michigan Road was covered by me back in May 2019. Little need to go over that again. Suffice it to say that the road between the Marion-Shelby County Line and Shelbyville is pretty much a straight line, with an exception, mentioned in that May post, at Pleasant View. It’s in Shelbyville where things, according to the source that I shared, get a bit puzzling. The survey itself states that after crossing the Big Blue River (where SR 9 and Michigan Road meet north of Shelbyville), the road then connects to Public Square, then turns east on Washington Street to Noble Street. From here, the road travels south to Jackson Street then east again before turning to South 69 1/2 degrees east after having left the town. Jackson Street, today, is one block north of that is now SR 44 in Shelbyville, which follows Broadway. I have yet to find any sources to show how Jackson Street and Michigan Road directly connected. If you have further information, I would love to have it.

The next thing of note in the survey is the 215th Mile. The original survey for the Michigan Road in this section was done in 1828. However, there was a change made in 1833 in this section by William Polke. The change involved, actually, the Lawrenceburgh State Road that was established before the Michigan Road. The description is very complicated. But the change made the road nine rods shorter than the original Michigan Road survey. From there, the road continued to Greensburg, with no real route through the town mentioned.

Through Jefferson County, after climbing its way out of the Madison lowlands, the road was surveyed at North six degrees east, with little exception, to the town of Napoleon at mile 33. Here the Lawrenceburgh State Road is mentioned again, as it leaves Napoleon to the east at this point. From this point to the 46th mile, where the road meets the Greensburg plat, then another 10 rods to Greensburg’s Main Street, the Michigan and Lawrenceburg State Roads share the same trail. At Main Street in Greensburg, the last mention is that the Michigan Road bears west from where it enters the town.

Illinois Corn Belt Route

The Auto Trail created a series of routes that some would question the purpose. Some of those start and end in Indiana. One starts in Indiana, but works its way due west out of the state toward the state that is in the name of the route: Illinois.

The original plan for the route was to start in Effner, Illinois, crossing the entire state to Burlington, Iowa. The Brook (Indiana) Reporter (23 February 1917) reprinted an article from the El Paso Journal (El Paso, Illinois) about the pending route. The plan was for the route to parallel the Toledo, Peoria & Western (TP&W) “and run from Effner to Burlington, Iowa.” Citizens from several towns “formally launched the Illinois Corn Belt Route to traverse the highway east of Peoria to the state line at Effner and west of Peoria through Farmington to the Mississippi River at Burlington The route is a straight bee line through the state east and west.”

Had it stayed in Illinois, then why would it be included on Indiana Transportation History. Because there was another route that was being put together at the time called the Peoria Detroit Air Line. That route was to traverse the Illinois Corn Belt to Effner, then connect across Indiana via Logansport and Fort Wayne.

In the end, the Peoria Detroit Air Line would not be built. A close look at a map would make one realize that the proposed Peoria Detroit Air Line would have basically followed what is now old US 24 across Indiana. The Illinois Corn Belt Route was moved to start in Logansport. From there, it worked it’s way across Cass, White, Jasper and Newton Counties for the Illinois State Line. It, too, followed the now US 24 corridor across the Hoosier State.

1920 Rand McNally Auto Trails map, with the Illinois Corn Belt Route marked by the number [30].

There isn’t much to write about this route. From Logansport, what will become the US 24 corridor to Toledo would be covered by the Wabash Way to Fort Wayne. With the exception of the road directly out of Logansport, most of Illinois Corn Belt Route, at least in Indiana, is part of US 24. And US 421. And US 231. And US 52.