Along the northern tier of Indiana counties, from Elkhart (city) to the Indiana-Ohio State Line east of Fremont, there is a state road that was a late comer to the Indiana highway system. SR 120 was numbered to be a daughter to US 20, and for the most part, it is. For a little while, though, it wasn’t.
For most of its route through Indiana it is known as Vistula Road. Vistula is an unincorporated place in Elkhart County, northeast of Bristol, almost in Michigan. Vistula Road, however, doesn’t go there. But that is not where the road got its name. Vistula used to be the name of another town, that happens to be on the road. The name of the town was changed to the name of the river on which Vistula was located – Elkhart.
The road was, in its early days, known as the Territorial Road, and “was probably the first cross country highway connecting the New England states with the territories of the mid-west.” (Angola Herald, 20 Jan 1954) It was a Native American trail that connected Lake Michigan (near Chicago) through Toledo and Sandusky to Fort Duquesne (Fort Pitt), now Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This road that was made into SR 120 in Indiana actually predates the United States by 75 years. It acquired its first name, and the name it still uses in Michigan, “Territorial Road,” around 1816. Therefore, the road was under French, English and American jurisdictions (in that order) when it came to the European powers in the area.
SR 120 started showing up, as itself, on Indiana Official Highway Maps in 1937, as an authorized addition. There were, however, two sections that predate SR 120 and the authorized addition. Out of Elkhart, connecting to Bristol, was a state road that was added in 1932 known as SR 19. SR 19 connected to SR 15 at Bristol which took it closer to Vistula than any other state road would get. SR 15 would eventually become US 131…for a while. In 1936, SR 19 between Elkhart and Bristol became SR 319, as SR 19 was the number given to the road that was US 112 leading north from Elkhart.
At the Indiana-Ohio State Line end, SR 827 into Fremont was being constructed to the due east to the state line. That was in 1936. 1937, SR 827 would be completed to the state line, and SR 120 would be shown as a connection route between Bristol and Fremont. The SR 120 route would not appear on the 1938 map, but would be back, in almost full completion, on the 1939. On that map, it connected SR 13 to SR 3 at Brighton, and Orland to the state line. At Elkhart, it was still SR 319.
Between Brockville (now Fremont) and Willow Prairie (now Jamestown)
By 1941, SR 120 would extend for the entire length. It should be mentioned here that the original Vistula Road connected to the Lincoln Highway between Mishawaka and Osceola. That road is broken up by the Elkhart River, but it continued along Indiana Avenue in Elkhart County, turning onto Franklin Street, following that, Vistula Street and Jackson Boulevard until it connects to what is now SR 120 at Middleton Run Road. Middleton Run Road was actually SR 120 when it was completed in 1941.
Even though SR 120 was essentially replaced by the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/90 was later assigned to that route), the ISHC, and later INDOT, kept it in place. There are some people that question this, mostly due to the truck traffic avoiding the toll road. Keep in mind that as long as a road has a state road marker on it, unless specifically forbidden, is a truck route. And the only reason that turcks would be banned is for safety reasons…such as the fact that SR 9 in Shelbyville goes through Public Square which won’t fit a truck really well. SR 120 doesn’t fall into that category.