When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in (the first time) in 1917, it was tasked with creating a state road system to connect the cities, and larger towns, of Indiana to each other. An important distinction here is that those roads would only connect the towns…not go through them. It seems counterproductive today, since state roads do go through towns and cities (except Indianapolis…but that’s a different story).
In 1925, the State Highway Commission expressed concern that while the state highway system was well marked, it found itself trying to figure out how to help many lost travelers in the cities and towns of the state. The ISHC was calling for a more extensive marking of state roads. Director of the State Highway Commission, John D. Williams, “called attention that this fact is particularly true in some cities where the commission has been unable to secure permits to erect signs routing the public through the corporations on State roads.”
The state roads, as mentioned above, connected towns. Indiana has always been a state where government, generally, works from the bottom up. As such, streets in cities and towns belong to those towns…not the state. Any map showing state roads through towns prior to 1935 show recommended state routes through towns, not the actual route.
“The citizens of a few places seem to regard it an imposition for the highway department to erect signs through the business and residential sections, while on the other hand the through traveler who reaches a city devoid of signs and must inquire many times before he can depart on the desired route, often censures the department for what appears to be a flagrant neglect of duty.” (Greenfield Daily Reporter, 10 January 1925)
The only place that the ISHC could mark state roads in cities without the permission of the local government was on the back of signs showing where the road crossed the city limit. According to the Daily Reporter, one of the most popular signs with travelers were the city limit signs. “The name of the city one approaches is given, while on the reverse side is the route number together with the name of, and distance to, the next important town.”
The situation would come to a head in 1935 when the ISHC recommended a few changes in the way the ISHC was financed and what they should be responsible for. “At present the law makes the abutting property owners pay for the replacement of streets worn out by tourists, and this is not fair,” Mr. John W. Wheeler, Commissioner of the ISHC, stated, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 22 January 1935. The idea was that counties would get a reduced amount of the auto license fees, and in exchange, the ISHC would become responsible for maintaining city streets that were part of the state highway system.
In 1935, this would have transferred 450 miles of city streets to the possession of the State Highway Commission.
Mr. Wheeler went on to add that “city streets are integral parts of the highway system an should be treated in the same manner as parts outside urban areas.”
ISHC Chairman James D. Adams, in testimony to the Indiana General Assembly, said that “the commission has been besieged by delegations asking the state to take over city streets. This is impossible under present laws.”
While no legislation had been written for the ISHC’s plans, it was the belief of many members of the General Assembly would approve such a plan. Ultimately, the city streets that were part of the state highway system would be taken over by the state on 1 January 1938, almost two decades after the 1919 creation of the state highway system.