Taking Over The Pendleton Pike Inside Indianapolis

There was a time in Indiana when most major roads were not maintained by the local governments, but by turnpike, or toll road, companies. I have covered this several times over the past year. Towards the end of the 19th century, the state of Indiana had gone so far as to pass legislation allowing counties to purchase the toll roads back from these companies, making them “free” roads once again. But one road found itself in a legal quagmire with the city of Indianapolis. That road was the Pendleton Pike.

The Indianapolis-Pendleton State Road was created by the state early in its history. It was one of the late comers to the turnpike category. It would be 1861 when the Indianapolis and Pendleton Gravel Road Company turned the old state road into a toll road. Before this happened, however, the Bellefontaine Railroad was built along the north edge of the state road’s right of way. Part of the requirements for this designation is that the road be maintained in passable shape as long as tolls were collected. The Indianapolis and Pendleton Gravel Road transferred its rights in the turnpike to the Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western Railroad on 1 January 1882. From that point, the toll road company ceased maintenance of the Pendleton Turnpike.

This all came to a head in 1894, when the city of Indianapolis decided to improve Pendleton Pike inside the city limits. At that time, the official end of Pendleton Pike was at the junction of Clifford Avenue, Cherry Street, Massachusetts Avenue and the Lake Erie & Western/Louisville, New Albany & Chicago railroad right of way. Today, that is under I-65/70 at 10th Street. Pendleton Pike would be renamed shortly after “Massachusetts Avenue” to the city limits, which at the time was at Brightwood Avenue (now Sherman Drive).

There were legal questions as to whether the city could do such improvements. The Indianapolis, Bloomington & Western, the predecessor to the Peoria & Eastern Railroad, as the company that owned the toll road according to the previous turnpike company, failed to maintain the road from 1882.

The city attorney weighed in on the subject in April 1894. As reported in the Indianapolis Journal of 13 April 1894, not only did the toll road company stop maintaining the road, it also stopped collecting tolls. As such, it was the opinion of the city lawyer that the toll road company lost all interest in the road, making it a free highway once again. The argument was that the railroad company (IB&W) was given the right of way as owner…making Pendleton Pike a railroad property, not a road.

The city argued that the Big Four Railroad, owner of the former Bellefontaine and operator of the Peoria & Eastern, owned the north edge of the old state road’s right of way, and that the IB&W (P&E East) used the Big Four right of way until it veered away from the Big Four at Warren Street (now 21st Street). As such, the railroad had no right to the Pendleton Pike right of way. Since the IB&W used the Big Four right of way, it was the opinion of the city attorney that that right of way ended at the fence along the south edge of the railroad/north edge of the road. “The gravel road company could convey no more that it possessed, and as it never owned the fee in the highway, it could not convey that fee to the I. B. & W. Railway Company.”

“I am of the opinion that the failure of the gravel road company and its assignee to collect toll and repair the pike from 1882 to the present time is evidence of an abandonment of its rights in the highway, and, because of such abandonment, the turnpike has returned to its original status of a public highway, and that part of such highway within the corporate limits of the cty (sic) is now a public street of the city of Indianapolis to all intents and purposes.”

The railroad companies, both the Big Four and the P&E, did not see eye to eye with the opinion of the city attorney. There was speculation at the time (April 1894) that the Peoria & Eastern would file suit against the city for the loss of the right of way. I have not found any reference to that. But I can tell you that the improvements to Pendleton Pike were causing a ripple effect involving the Big Four and the town of Brightwood. 1896 Elections in the town were hinging on the improvement of the Pendleton Pike. But not the way one would think. Most candidates were against the improvement, but only because the Big Four would be stuck with half the expenses. Brightwood was a railroad town, after all. It had been created by the railroad, and still (at that time) depended on the railroad for its livelihood. Anything that might jeopardize that would be frowned upon by the electorate.

The improvements, in the end, were done. And this caused even more problems for the town of Brightwood. Two residents of the town had, some time prior to the improvements, installed tile pipe to allow their lots along Lawn Avenue between Putnam Street and Pendleton Pike in Brightwood to dry out. The improvement of Pendleton Pike, now called Massachusetts Avenue, damaged some of those tiles. Lots were again beginning to fill up with water, making those lots useless and threatening the health of residents. The town clerk was instructed to say there was no record of the pipes having been installed.

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