It is often times mentioned that the Michigan Road, connecting Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan, is the first state road in Indiana. However, that is not entirely accurate. There were state roads that were build before the Michigan Road. The special spot that the Michigan Road has is that it was the first state road to connect across the entire state. Most roads to that point connected one town to another. And it connected to the state capital at Indianapolis.
Crossing Marion County, it entered from the southeast section of the county, roughly two miles north of the Johnson-Marion County line from Shelby County. The road had been built to Shelbyville, and went in a directly line, more or less, from that county seat to Indianapolis. Not many towns were built along the Michigan Road in Marion County. The first built would be New Bethel, known today as Wanamaker. The town is located two miles north and three miles west of where the road enters the county.
The next location to pop up along the road would be where the road crosses from Franklin Township to Warren Township. That that location, the road meets a north-south road heading south, and a road that runs almost the entirety of the line that separates Franklin and Warren Townships. That location would acquire the name of “Five Points” due to the roads there.
It should be noted that through the 19th century, and quite a bit into the 20th, this section of the road had been known as the Michigan Road. It also had a turnpike, then a free gravel road, name: Lick Creek & New Bethel Turnpike (Free Gravel Road). This road, like many others in Marion County, would keep its original name until it entered the city limits of Indianapolis. Until the late 1890’s, the city street name for Michigan Road was Michigan Avenue. This was changed due to the fact that there already was a Michigan Street in the city which had been on the original design of the town of Indianapolis in 1821. The name was then changed to match the direction it left Indianapolis… Southeastern Avenue.
The first section of the road “ended” at the National Road east of downtown. That is now the (redesigned) corner of Washington Street and Southeastern Avenue. As with other state roads at the time…and even into the 1930s when state roads made a come back, no city streets were part of the original state road. Indiana had a history of “local, local, local” government mentality. This means the state would stand back while local government entities took care of the little things. In towns, that meant roads and streets.
But that is not to say that there wasn’t a plan on how to get the road from one end of the county to the other through Indianapolis. According to the Indiana State Board of Accounts, in a book published in 1914, the route of the road through the state capital would include Circle Street (now Monument Circle), Ohio Street, and Indiana Avenue. When the Michigan Road was built, Indianapolis was barely bigger than the original mile square. So once the road got to the corner of Indiana Avenue, West and North Streets, it was out of the town again.
Heading north, the Michigan Road was built as an extension of West Street, turning north northwest to travel in basically a straight line to the Hamilton-Marion County line. When street names were applied to the old road, the name West Street was continued until the old road crossed the Central Canal. At what was then Seventh Street, the name changed to Northwestern Avenue until the city limits…where ever those were at the time. When the city expanded, so did the name Northwestern. Eventually, the name got to 38th Street, where the city officially ended. From there, then as it is today, it still maintains the name Michigan Road.
Heading to the northwest, again there were very few towns built along the old road. North of the crossing of White River and (again) the Central Canal, a post office was installed. The post office had two names in its history: Mount Pleasant; and Alliance. The “town” of Mount Pleasant, most of which is long gone, was tucked between what is now Cold Spring Road and 51st Street. (A common mistake is that a lost of people will call it Cold Springs Road…it is singular.)
Further north is the town of Augusta. It is centered at what is now 76th Street and Michigan Road. The post office there would be called Augusta, until it was moved 1.5 miles west of town where the railroad was built. A new town called Augusta was created in the 1860’s in Pike County. When the post office was reestablished in the original Augusta, it was called Eck.
The Michigan Road keeps going, uneventfully, to the Hamilton-Marion County line at what is now 96th Street. Commercialization along the route, especially from below 86th Street to past the county line, as led to a removal of the country scenes that had graced this section of Marion County for years.
The Michigan Road, especially in Marion County, has also been a second class citizen when it came to the railroads. I mentioned about that the Augusta post office had been moved 1.5 miles west due to the railroad. This was in 1852, when the Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad was built connecting those two cities. It rain parallel to the Michigan Road for most of the journey through Marion County. A new settlement was built south and west of Augusta, originally called Hosbrook. It would be later called New Augusta. I have done some work on researching New Augusta, as it came up when I was working on my genealogy. One of the important families in the town is distantly related to mine.
Another place where the Michigan Road lost its importance to the railroad is in the southeastern section of the county. Two miles east, and three miles south of New Bethel (Wanamaker) is the railroad created town of Acton. Acton is along the line that connected Indianapolis to Cincinnati via Shelbyville, Greensburg and Lawrenceburg. The line was built in 1853 from Lawrenceburg to Indianapolis.
In a strange twist of fate, during the railroad consolidation era of the late 1860’s, the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad merged with the Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad in 1867 to created the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railway. Thus, two towns (Augusta and New Bethel) that were built along the same Michigan Road were basically replaced by two towns (New Augusta and Acton) built by what became the same railroad. The IC&L would become part of the founding members of the Big Four – the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway.