Marion County Free Gravel Roads, Starts and Ends

One common misconception of the end of the toll road era is the the toll companies that bought the roads in the 1840s bought entire routes, or at least those in one county. Nothing can be further from the truth. The National Road east of Indianapolis, for instance, was actually owned by three different companies. The names that are given to roads today for en entire route was just the name given to a specific section of that road.

Getting back to the National Road. In 1895, the Irvington Free Gravel Road started at what is now Rural Street (one block east of the city limits at the time, which was Eastern Avenue). The Indianapolis & Cumberland Toll Gravel Road took over where the Irvington Free Gravel Road ended – at what is now Audubon Road. Muessing Street, in Cumberland, marked the transition from the Indianapolis & Cumberland Toll Road to the National Road before it entered Hancock County a quarter mile later.

The original Indianapolis-Brookville State Road, now called Brookville Road, was divided into two private sections in Marion County. From the beginning of the road (which is covered in the ITH article “The Indianapolis end of the Brookville (State) Road“) at what is now Ewing and Washington Streets, to the Franklin State Road (now Franklin Road), was known as the Brookville Free Gravel Road. From Franklin Road to the County Line, it was the Grassy Creek Free Gravel Road. Before the toll roads started being purchased by the county, these were toll roads of the same names.

On the south side of the county, the town of Southport had its name on several old turnpikes. But not entirely the road that one would think would have the name. The Southport and Indianapolis Free Gravel Road, originally built as the Madison State Road, started at the Indianapolis Belt Railway and progressed south to Union Street in Southport (no longer Union Street, now called Southport Road through the town). The entire route of the Madison State Road also was known as the Madison Road from the county line north to Indianapolis Belt Railway, a name it still basically has today as Madison Avenue.

The road that is now called Southport Road through the city of Southport wasn’t actually called that anywhere near the city. On both sides of Southport, the name given to the road was “Buck Creek Free Gravel Road.” This road started at what is now Sherman Drive and County Line Road, progressed up Sherman Drive to Southport Road. There it turned west into the town of Southport itself. The Buck Creek Road picked up again on the west side of Southport, where it ended the Indianapolis & Leavenworth, or Three Notch, Road, now Meridian Street. After crossing Meridian Street, the road became known as the Southport Free Gravel Road.

A road that is, well, partially related to Southport – if only due to the name of the other town – is a section of the original Indianapolis-Mooresville State Road. From what is now Mann Road to High School Road, along what is now Mooresville Road, and what is now Thompson Road into Valley Mills (Thompson Road and the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad), was known as Northport & Mars Hill Free Gravel Road. The town of Valley Mills was originally called Northport, because it is two miles north of Southport.

Another part of the old Mooresville State Road ended where the Northport & Mars Mill Free Gravel Road began. Known simply as the Mars Hill Free Gravel Road, it used what is now Mann Road, Mooresville Road, and Maywood Avenue to connect to what is now Belmont Avenue near Eagle Creek (what is now the intersection of Kentucky and Belmont Avenues). The Mars Hill Road ended at Belmont Avenue and Morris Street. One would assume that the old Mooresville State Road started at the same point. Parts of both the Mars Hill Free Gravel Road and the Northport & Mars Hill Free Gravel Road would later become, again, a state road with the creation of the State Highway Commission in 1919. At first, they were part of SR 12, but would become SR 67 in 1926.

Some roads had more than one name. And when city street names were assigned, they had nothing to do with the names the roads had before. Two that come to mind are the Wall Street Free Gravel Road/Eagle Creek & Little White Lick Gravel Road, now 21st Street from the old Crawfordsville Road west, and the Osterman Free Gravel/Old Danville State Road which became 10th Street on the west side from Cossell Road west. It should be noted that I did cover the original Indianapolis-Danville State Road.

Marion County had a lot of these types of roads at the time. Keep in mind that the county does cover over 400 square miles.

All of the road information contained in this post comes from the Palmer’s Official Road Map of Marion County, Indiana, 1895, which is available online at the Indiana State Library through the link on the name. If you are interested in all of the names given to these roads, or, like me, just like to try and figure out what the street name is now, I recommend looking at that map.

2 thoughts on “Marion County Free Gravel Roads, Starts and Ends

  1. So, if someone who lived in Greenfield wanted to visit a relative in Indianapolis, were there other roads available in order to avoid the tolls? And, did the state or county have control over who could build a toll road and where? Or did a developer with enough money just decide to install gravel on a well-used path or route and call it a toll road? I know that William Conner and some of the millers at Millersville turned Allisonville Road into a toll road, but did they have to go to the county to get permits, etc?

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    1. Well, the toll road companies would have bought, from the government, the right to upgrade and maintain already existent roads, and charge tolls on them. Most of the roads that became toll roads were original state roads – those roads built by the state and given to the counties when complete. As far as getting to Indianapolis from Greenfield, I don’t think that there was a really easy way to do that.

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