Lebanon, county seat of Boone County. Boone County was created in 1830, effective 1 April 1830. Lebanon would become the seat of Boone County after Jamestown was not met with a great deal of approval. The choice was made when Commissioners chosen to find a new site met at the center of the county and basically said “yep, this is it” on 1 May 1831. In 1833, the move was officially made…and the town was given a name. From that point on, Lebanon had been a crossroads town both in trails and trains.
The town would find itself along the paths of several “state roads” the were created in the 1830’s. The first I want to mention is the Richmond-Crawfordsville State Road. As the name suggests, it started at Richmond. I covered parts of this road several times in the past year. It basically follows what is now SR 38 out of Richmond to Noblesville, then SR 32 across Indiana through Westfield and Lebanon to Crawfordsville. This road would connect the town to the cross-state highway called the Michigan Road.
The second road that would traverse the town would be the Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road. This road started in near downtown Indianapolis, leaving Marion County on what was the original US 52. This is a topic we will come back to. This historic route would continue through the town to its terminus in Lafayette, where it ended right at the banks of the Wabash River. Through Lebanon, it would become Indianapolis Road southeast of town, and Lafayette Road northwest of it.
Another road connecting the town would become an important feed to Lebanon in the early 20th Century would be the Frankfort State Road. Frankfort would become the county seat of Clinton County in May 1830, two months after the creation of the county and one month after the creation of Boone County. (Yes, you read that right…Clinton County is one month older than Boone County!) The Frankfort State Road left Lebanon along what is now SR 39. But, like other early state roads, the path between the two towns was anything but a straight line.
The next topic of this crossroads town is the railroad. Lebanon would come to have three railroads connecting it to the rest of the country, and all three would be in the hands of the two largest railroads in the United States east: New York Central and Pennsylvania. The third would be, eventually, owned by both.
The Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad was created on 19 January 1846 to connect the title cities. The route that was chosen took the railroad through Lebanon. (It should be noted that this railroad did some street running in Zionsville on its way to Lebanon.) The Lafayette & Indianapolis would be consolidated into several different companies to eventually become part of the Big Four – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis.
The second railroad that connected to the town was the Midland Route, which started life in 1871 as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis Railroad. The railroad would find itself in constant financial bad times, as most smaller roads did in Indiana. After one of its bankruptcies, the ownership of the company fell into the hands of both the New York Central (through the Big Four) and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was planned to be used as an Indianapolis bypass. That plan never really came to fruition.
The last railroad that would connect to Lebanon would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort, a Pennsylvania Railroad line that would commence construction from Ben Davis, near what is now the Indianapolis International Airport, in 1913. The road was built because up to that point, the Pennsylvania had no direct route from Indianapolis to Chicago, and it was using trackage rights on other routes to connect to PRR tracks heading into Logansport. The railway was completely elevated through Lebanon, along the western edge of the town.
Before the Indianapolis & Frankfort came to town, though, Lebanon was already the center point of another railroad empire – the interurban. For a smaller city, Lebanon had three interurban routes crossing the town. The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company connected the town to Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lafayette. A short line connected to Thorntown. Unfortunately, the lines would be abandoned relatively quickly when they started going out of business. The Lebanon-Thorntown like would be abandoned 27 August 1926. The Indianapolis-Lafayette line would end services on 31 October 1930. In 1933, the Indiana State Highway Commission was attempting to acquire the right-of-way from Lebanon to Frankfort for SR 39. But the traction company that owned it had quit claimed the deed to the property…causing it to revert to the 66 owners of the land prior to the coming of the interurban.
When the Auto Trail era came into being, Lebanon was included in that, as well. The Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road, into Lebanon, and the Frankfort State Road north out of Lebanon, became part of the Jackson Highway. The Jackson Highway started in Chicago, roughly following the Dixie Highway, usually on a different path, to Nashville, Tennessee. From there, it connected to New Orleans. It entered Lebanon from the north on Lebanon Street, leaving town along Indianapolis Avenue.
Another Auto Trail that came through Lebanon was the Crawfordsville to Anderson. Just as it sounds, it crossed the state between the two titles cities along what would become, in 1926, SR 32. Most of the route is still in the same place, with the state making very few changes in SR 32 over the years (with the exception of north of Nobleville to Lapel). Later, this road would also carry the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway across Indiana. From 1916 to 1922, the PPOO connected to Indianapolis. From 1922 on, it connected (just like the Crawfordsville to Anderson) Crawfordsville, Lebanon, Westfield, Noblesville, and Anderson.
Lebanon also has the distinction of having the very first section of Interstate 65 that was built in Indiana. The section in question was built as a bypass of the town for US 52, skirting Lebanon along the south and west sides. When the interstate system was being created (and it was decided that I-65 would go from Indianapolis to Chicago instead of following US 31 like it did since southern Alabama), the logical route to use was what was already in place around Lebanon…a limited access highway that was wide enough to become part of the Interstate system.
Today, Lebanon sits with most of its transportation facilities close to intact. US 52 had been removed from the city in the early 1950’s. SR 32 and SR 39 still traverse the town. The Big Four railroad line from Indianapolis to Lafayette has long since been removed. The Midland Route to Westfield and Noblesville, likewise gone. CSX now runs trains along the old Indianapolis & Frankfort, which still connects to the title cities.