When SR 44 was extended west of Rushville, the State Highway Commission did what they normally do – take over old county roads for maintenance and worry about it later. Looking at old state highway maps, one can see this in full force. And the section of SR 44 from Rushville to Shelbyville shows this quite well.
The extension of SR 44 took half a decade to accomplish. I covered that in the article “Fight for Adding SR 44 from Martinsville to Rushville.” When the road was taken into the state system in 1932, it followed the route as shown in the 1935 map above. The winding road that became SR 44 had been used for the Minute Man Route, an Auto Trail that connected Farmersburg to Liberty across Indiana.
The big problem with this section of the route was not winding route. It had been that way for almost 100 years at that point, in one form or another. No, the big problem was created in the 1850’s, when the Shelby & Rush Railroad was built to connect Shelbyville and Rushville. That railroad was built pretty much in a straight line between the two towns. Because Rushville is east northeast of Shelbyville, and most county roads are located on survey lines that are (almost) true north-south and east-west, this led to more than its fair share of dangerous crossings of the railroad tracks.
This was not as big a problem in the days before mass amounts of car and truck traffic. There has always been an “I can beat the train” mentality when it came to some drivers. Unfortunately, this manifested itself exponentially with the increase of traffic on relatively good quality roads.
With the opening of the new section of SR 44 in 1932, it didn’t take long for the state to decide that something needed to be done about the circuitous route through the Rush and Shelby County countryside. With that in mind, 1935 saw the state going out to purchase the right of way for a new SR 44.
The Rushville Republican of 17 July 1935 reported that quite a bit of the acquisition of the right of way had been completed. By the time of the report, almost all of the purchasing had been completed in Shelby County, from Shelbyville to Manilla. Only about half the purchasing was done from Manilla to Rushville.
“The new highway will follow the Pennsylvania railroad on the south side of the tracks between Rushville and Shelbyville and will not cross the railway except at the entrance to Shelbyville. Road 44 will connect with road 29 a short distance east of Shelbyville and will be a straight highway with none of the curves, turns and railroad crossings which harass motorists on the present route.”
This was especially true in Rush County. The route of SR 44 crossed the Pennsylvania tracks five times between Manilla and Rushville. But not all of the right of way had to be purchased. East of Manilla, the original SR 44 route was used for a short distance east to Homer. This is the one location that the new SR 44 ventured very far from the railroad tracks. This is shown in the highlighted route in the Rush County map above.
By the end of 1936, the new route had been completed. This created a high quality route between Shelbyville and Rushville, as the old road was still mostly a dirt/gravel combination. The railroad that would give the new route its “backbone” would be removed by Conrail in the 1980s.