Winners and Losers, Routing the Dixie Highway Through Indiana

The Dixie Highway, described in the Indianapolis News of 18 September 1915, as “that born-in-Indianapolis enterprise,” spanned the eastern United States from both Chicago and northern Michigan to Miami, Florida. There were two routes of this cross-country highway. Both of them crossed Indiana. And both met in Indianapolis, home of Carl G. Fisher, creator of the Dixie Highway. But routing the highway got to be contentious. Towns across the state argued that the route should go through their area. Even Mr. Fisher got involved. Here are some of those stories.


First, we start with Bloomington. The Martinsville Reporter-Times, of 25 May 1915, reports that “Bloomington Will Celebrate. News of success in securing Dixie Highway brought joy to the people of University City.” The news reached Bloomington from Chattanooga, the home base of the Dixie Highway Association, via the local newspaper, the Bloomington Telephone. Bands played, flags flew and politicians made speeches celebrating the news. “The Chamber of Commerce is making plans to hold a big celebration in a few days over the result of the Dixie Highway contest. Thomas Taggart, who stood by Bloomington from the first to last, will be a special guest for the celebration and no doubt will be given a royal reception.”


This led to some hard feelings in other southern and central Indiana communities. First was Franklin. The town had the advantage of being on the state roads that connected Indianapolis to Madison, Jeffersonville, and Mauckport, as well as other destinations throughout the state. The Franklin Star, through the Reporter-Times article mentioned above, reported “the Dixie Highway will not be routed over the State road. Instead it will take the circuitous route leading from Louisville through Paoli, Bedford, Bloomington and Martinsville to Indianapolis.” The newspaper reports that the direct route “never had a chance, not even from the first.” This was due, according to sources, to the fact that the “direct route” didn’t have a member on the Commission deciding the route. Mr. Fisher himself lobbied for the route to go through Franklin, Columbus and Seymour as “it was the best and shortest.”


Columbus and its newspaper, the Republican, were more poetic in their disapproval of the choice. “The Dixie highway from Miami, Fla., to South Ben (sic), Ind., does not touch Columbus, side, edge or bottom. A gentleman by the name of Thomas Taggart, who was one of Indiana’s commissioners, seems to have had things his own way. As a result the route comes through Indiana from Louisville through Paoli (which is only a short distance from Taggart’s tavern at French Lick, and then includes Salem, Bedford, Bloomington and Martinsville as it winds its weary way over the hills and gullies to Indianapolis.” It also went on to say that “on the heels of the announcement that Franklin, Columbus, Seymour and Salem ‘also ran,’ comes a dispatch from Salem stating that articles of incorporation were to be filed with the Secretary of State today for a new association which would build a direct route through Indiana, connecting the local cities and making a highway that tourists would rather use than the official route through Bedford and Bloomington.” Carl Fisher was reported to have been a backer of the local association.


The Seymour Republican’s editorial board added this response: “Because of the winding, hilly, circuitous course selected in Indiana for the Dixie Highway it has been characterized as the ‘Nixie Highway’ and ‘pretzel road.'” The paper noted that it was almost a foregone conclusion that Seymour would be left off the Dixie Highway when it was decided that there would be two routes, one through Cincinnati and one through Louisville. “It was conceded then that politics had overshadowed the great purpose of the Dixie Highway movement and that the powers ‘that be’ would route the Indiana highway by way of French Lick.” The paper had less than pleasant things to say about Thomas Taggart, whom is described as the “king of Plutoville.” Mr. Taggart was busy from beginning to end of the talks. “Carl Fisher’s direct route plan was completely smothered under by the political machinations that were hatched up at the conference.” Although Fisher created the route, and the Lincoln Highway as well, he was all but ignored, and the decision “was left to the men having the most influential political pull and Thomas Taggart was ‘there with the goods.'” It is noted that the actions of the commission creating the route was in direct contravention with all the ideas of the “national good roads movement which has been to select the most direct route considering the number of people that will be benefited.”

The Seymour Republican went on to add something that would become prophetic: “the route through Bloomington and Bedford is so winding and hilly that it is doubtful if it will ever become a national highway. The government, it is conceded, will be slow to recognize it as a main highway and it is very doubtful if federal aid will ever be given for its improvement.” When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in 1917, the “direct route” would be chosen as one of the first five “Main Market” roads, given the number 1. The Dixie Highway, from Martinsville to Paoli, would be added to the state road system two years later as SR 22. From Paoli to New Albany, it would be given the designation SR 42. SR 1 would become US 31 in 1926.


The city of Crawfordsville was very happy with the decisions of the Dixie Highway routing commission. “The choosing of the route through Crawfordsville means more to the city and county than many realize.” Much is touted about the pending coming of “thousands of tourists,” feeding money into the community via the “merchants, hotel men, garage proprietors and others.”


The Greencastle Banner reported that “Greencastle will not be on either of the Dixie highways.” “The routes go most any way and the finsh (sic) was not satisfactory and the finding may be changed later to one route. Greencastle is no nearer the route than Martinsville or Indianapolis as at present arranged.”


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