Editor’s Note: For those that like roads, this post covers the Jeffersonville Road (future US 31), Madison State Road (US 31 and SR 7) and the Michigan Road and its Auto Trail variety (US 421).
Near the end of the 19th Century, with bicycling becoming one of the most popular means of transportation, many organizations put together meetings of “wheelmen” across the nation. In 1896, the League of American Wheelmen, or LAW, held their national meet in Louisville. The plan was to have Hoosier bicyclists meet in Indianapolis and take a two day ride south to the Kentucky city on the Ohio River. Unfortunately, as is typical in Indiana in the summer, the weather turned hot and dry. This would cause the LAW Indiana division to cancel the ride at the last minute. This didn’t stop some of the riders from deciding to do the run anyway. Those riders were worn out by the end of the two days.
In August 1898, the LAW national meet would be held in Indianapolis. Some riders from southern Indiana and northern Kentucky decided to try the 1896 ride in reverse. But, as printed in the Indianapolis News of 17 June 1898, the route from Louisville would be rough. The route would cover basically the same route that would, in 1917, become Main Market Road 1, and later in 1926, US 31. “The first half of the journey, in which the roads are of a mixed character and very hilly, but in August are in fairly rideable (sic) condition.”
“The run really begins at Jeffersonville, which, by road, is 133 miles from Indianapolis.” I mentioned that the route would later become OSR 1, but the start of the route would not. OSR 1 would go through New Albany, which is just west of Jeffersonville. Historically, the two routes would come together just north of both towns. Seven miles into the ride, the route enters Hamburg. Soon two villages, very close together, would be next on the route: Sellersburg and Speeds. At the 17 mile point, the town of Memphis in encountered. To this point, the road is in rough condition between Jeffersonville and Memphis.
Another 5.5 miles north, and the riders enter Henryville. Scottsburg is another 14.5 miles later. The next part of the journey is a level earth road to Uniontown, 15 miles north of Scottsburg. A good condition road carries the riders the ten miles to Seymour. At Seymour, “a long stretch of macadam” begins, running to Franklin. Along the way, the 14 miles through Rockford, Jonesville and Azalia “is rough.” Between Azalia and Columbus, a distance of 15 miles, the hilly sections of southern Indiana gives was to a level road. “From there on there will be no further trouble with the hills.”
From Columbus, the riders will travel 12.5 miles to Edinburgh, through Taylorsville, then another 10.5 miles to Franklin, through Amity. Most of this route, historically, was the Indianapolis to Madison State Road. After Franklin, the 20 miles to Indianapolis was a very popular ride for bicyclists. Again, this is part of the Madison State Road. The road from Franklin was maintained very well, and riders will find the route in excellent condition. There are two small hills between Franklin and Indianapolis “which will, however, cause no difficulty to the average rider.”
The route above was the shortest of the routes between Jeffersonville and Indianapolis. There were three routes planned. The other two routes would take riders through Madison. The first of those two routes would connect to the one mentioned above at Columbus.
The run from Jeffersonville to Madison totalled 44 miles. As is typical of southern Indiana, the travel would be hilly the entire way. The first 13 miles, which takes riders to Charlestown, was in fairly good condition, as the road was macadam. The road conditions go down hill from there, as the route connecting the 12 miles from Charlestown to New Washington was a very poor condition earth road. The next 13 miles to Hanover were on a road that was in better condition. Fairly good travel connected Hanover to Madison.
After climbing out of Madison via the old Madison State Road, now roughly SR 7, was a very hilly 50 mile ride to Columbus, “which will make walking a greater pleasure than wheeeling.” The road conditions are described as “this is, however, the old Madison road, well known in the early days of Indiana and, while for late years it has not been kept up properly, it would not be a bad road if the wheelmen are hill-proof.” This route passes through Dupont, Grayford, Vernon, Queensville and Elizabethtown.
The third route climbs out of Madison along the old Michigan Road. Like the current US 421, the described route varies from the historic road in that it goes through Versailles. The 26 mile section of the route between Versailles and Madison is macadam and earth, and fairly level. Another six miles of macadam, but rough, road takes the riders into Osgood. Fairly good roads cover the 19 miles to Greensburg. At Napoleon, the described route and the Michigan Road again become one heading toward Greensburg.
Two bad hills, and earth roads, are encountered in the 22 miles from Greensburg to Shelbyville. After Shelbyville, the road is macadamized, or gravel, all the way to Indianapolis. After Fairland, there is one bad hill, the last one encountered before completing the 96.5 miles between Indianapolis and Madison.
The distance of the routes described above, according to the Indianapolis News, are as follows: Jeffersonville-Columbus-Indianapolis, 133 miles; Jeffersonville-Madison-Columbus-Indianapolis, 137 miles; Jeffersonville-Madison-Greensburg-Indianapolis, 140 miles. This trip was designed to take two days. It is possible, however, that the journey could be done in one day, making those riders that complete it members of what was known as the “Century Club,” those that complete a ride on 100 miles or more in a day.
The League of American Wheelmen, founded in 1880, still exists to this day. It is now called the League of American Bicyclists. It is online at www.bikeleague.org. Their history page states, not inaccurately, that “the success of the League in its first advocacy efforts ultimately led to our national highway system.”