In the 1910’s, Indiana was crossed by one of the first cross country highways ever created – the Lincoln Highway. The original route of that road took it through Fort Wayne, Goshen, Elkhart, South Bend, Laporte, Valparaiso, and finally left the state at Dyer.
When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in 1917, the original Lincoln Highway was given one state issued name for its entire length – Main Market Road #2. This would be changed to State Road 2 when the ISHC was again created in 1919 after settling some state constitutional issues.
The state would change the number of the road in several places, as State Road 2 was applied to a more direct route between Fort Wayne and Dyer in 1923. But the original route was still kept under state maintenance. The Great Renumbering, and the section from Fort Wayne to South Bend was once again given the name State Road 2. And this would last until 1937…when a new U. S. highway came to Indiana…US 33.
But that isn’t the entire story. In 1932, officials were negotiating to get a new US highway added to the Indiana landscape. That highway would cross the state, connecting Detroit with Fort Wayne, Muncie, and Indianapolis, ending at Vincennes. The requested number for the new US highway? 33.
In the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 20 April 1932, it was reported that “delegations from a number of cities including Fort Wayne and Muncie, called on the Indiana highway commission here today to request that a new federal highway, to be known as U. S. 33, connecting Detroit, Mich., with Vincennes, Ind., by way of Fort Wayne, Muncie, and Indianapolis, be authorized.”
Such a highway could not be approved by the Indiana State Highway Commission. Approval of US highway numbers and routings were done by the American Association of State Highway Officials, and today the successor organization still does that job. But it didn’t stop people from trying.
What would such a route look like? When the Great Renumbering occurred in 1926, there was hope that a US highway connecting southern Illinois to Cleveland, Ohio, would be designated across Indiana. The number that was supposedly going to be assigned to such a route is US 67. In Indiana, US 67 would have entered at Vincennes, going through Indianapolis, Anderson, and Muncie to leave the state somewhere (probably) in Jay County. But Indiana was thinking ahead…and gave the pending US route the name State Road 67. The US route never came…but we are left with a reminder of what was (hopefully) to be.
The wanted US 33 would have, most likely, followed SR 67 from Vincennes to Muncie. From Muncie, it would have been more likely to have used SR 3 north. In 1932, when the request was made, SR 3 didn’t follow the route that it does today. It turned east at SR 18 then turned north again on what is now SR 1. The following year, SR 3 was continued due north, and did connect directly to Fort Wayne via Hartford City. This is most likely the route that would have been chosen had that US 33 been approved.
But the approved route of US 33 wasn’t done in a vacuum. The entire highway, running from Richmond, Virginia, to (now) Elkhart, Indiana, was formed in conjunction with an auto trail, called the Blue and Gray Trail, which was designed to promote a direct link from the Great Lakes to the Tidewater Region of Virginia. (Tidewater is the name given to the area that encompasses what is now Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, and other communities near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.) A motorcade, starting in Richmond, Virginia, trundled its way along the new US highway to St. Joseph, Michigan, where it ended originally.
Outside of Indiana, US 33 has the distinction of being labeled directionally wrong. Starting in Ohio, the highway is labeled as EAST US 33 and WEST US 33. This is in Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. This is a throwback from when the route was originally labeled as “SOUTHEAST US 33” and “NORTHWEST US 33.” Indiana never labeled the road that way. Even if the road does go the wrong direction (i.e. State Road 47, which ends going east and west), the roads label would still be correct.
The Blue and Gray Trail was one of the last Auto Trails to be named. It was created at the same time as US 33, meaning that it was long after most of the other Auto Trails were winding down. To me, it seems fairly appropriate that in Indiana, at least from Fort Wayne to South Bend, it would follow the Lincoln Highway. And…the Dixie Highway from South Bend to Niles, Michigan. That has to have been planned.