Indianapolis: Indiana Avenue Bridge Over Fall Creek

Early in the history of town of Indianapolis, when the state started building roads to connect the fledgling capitol to the rest of the state, a road was built from the northwest corner of the original Mile Square, traveling northwest. That road would be called both the Lafayette Road and the Crawfordsville Road, since it went to both. After the road crossed Fall Creek one mile north of the center of the town, it took a route closer to White River. That section would later be called Speedway Avenue and Waterway Boulevard. But the bridge over Fall Creek, connecting the two sections, would take nearly two decades for a true resolution. And it required the removing of several streets, including the historic Lafayette/Crawfordsville Road.

1937 MapIndy Aerial photograph of the Indiana Avenue & 10th Street area.

The bridge is question is shown on the above 1937 MapIndy photo. At that time, the intersection at the bridge was a confusing jumble of streets running in different directions. At what became the intersection of 10th Street and Indiana Avenue, there were also connections to Locke Street (heading south past the City (Wishard) Hospital, and Torbett Street running north of 10th heading east. Many people still referred to 10th Street between this intersection and the White River Parkway as Fall Creek Parkway…but that was its old name by the time this photo was taken.

Indiana Avenue had become a major route for people leaving downtown Indianapolis for the northwest suburbs. The northern end of both of Indiana and Speedway Avenues were connected to 16th Street, which ran west from Indiana Avenue to the Emrichsville Bridge over White River. The state had connected separate sections of 16th Street from Indiana Avenue east to Northwestern Avenue as part of State Road 34. Traffic, therefore, was heavy across the bridge.

That was until the summer of 1936.

It was then that the city of Indianapolis limited the bridge traffic to five tons. Trucks and busses found themselves having to go around the closed bridge by using 10th and 16th Streets. In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed completely to all traffic. Street cars found themselves now being rerouted around the snarl. Indiana and Speedway Avenues north of Fall Creek simply became cul-du-sacs because they had no southern end at all.

The Indianapolis News of 7 May 1943, in an editorial piece, mentions that in 1936, when trucks were banned from the bridge, the Board of Works announced a $110,000 plan to build a new bridge on the site. “In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed to traffic and a year later the city was promising solemnly to produce a new one almost immediately.”

That was followed in the fall of 1940 by the City Council and the City Engineer coming together to talk about building a new bridge for Indiana Avenue. The City Engineer was “ordered to determine ‘by the next meeting’ the precise status of the matter.” That went nowhere as it was in 1941 that a discussion was held about finding an old bridge from somewhere else to replace the old Indiana Avenue bridge that had, at that point, been completely closed to traffic for three years.

As mentioned above, the editorial was run in the News in May 1943. The bridge was still closed to traffic.

A week later, on 12 May 1943, the Indianapolis News ran another editorial on the same subject. “Mayor Tyndall expresses in one short sentence what many have had in the back of their minds for years about the Indiana avenue bridge over Fall creek. ‘If the army had to cross it, the bridge would be fixed over night,’ he declared. The bridge has stood year after year, closed to all but pedestrian traffic, while tens of thousands of motorists and others have been forced to detour by way of West and Sixteenth streets to get to the baseball grounds and parts of the city northwest of there.”

The News goes on to mention that many times over the past four and a half years, attempts have been made to remedy the situation. Without result. Some of the blame was placed on pending flood control and prevention improvements to Fall Creek. Those improvements still hadn’t happened. The News was advocating for a solution to the bridge issue sooner than later.

And action was taken when Mayor Robert H. Tyndall cut the ribbon on 1 November 1944 to open the newly repaired Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek. Traffic could begin moving across the facility again. Trolley traffic on the Riverside line would start again on 27 November 1944. And everything was great. For almost six years.

The headline in the Indianapolis News of 24 March 1950 read “Indiana Avenue Bridge Out for Baseball Fans.” Simply, it meant that the old bridge over Fall Creek was closed to traffic again. The sticking point, again, came down to whether to spend $35,000 to patch the bridge, or wait until the flood control improvements made it a requirement to replace the bridge. The flood control project, which was estimated to be around $1,000,000, was still in the works as it had been since the early 1940’s.

As it turned out, less than a month later, the city council voted to appropriate $120,000 to fix the old bridge. This was required before bidding could begin on the the contract to fix it. It would seem that it would take longer than expected. It became a political issue when, in October 1951, just prior to the Marion County elections, the political party in charge was blasted for not taking care of a bridge that not only served baseball fans and residents of the northwestern section of the city, but served as an emergency route to Wishard Hospital, which sat just south of the bridge.

The Indianapolis Star said it best in the first paragraph of a story with the headline “City To Spend $120,000 For New Bridge” on 9 April 1952. That first paragraph read “the city is going to sink $120,000 into a new bridge which may be torn down within three years.” While Mayor Clark of Indianapolis was telling the City Engineer to rebuild the bridge, he was also telling the engineer to continue looking into getting Federal money to move Fall Creek 100 feet to the north as part of the flooding control and prevention program.

The flood control issue would finally be resolved in 1959. On 9 August 1960, the old Indiana Avenue bridge was closed once again, this time for good. The bridge was immediately closed and dismantled. It would be replaced by a four lane facility. The flood control project would also require the creek to actually move 100 feet to the north of its then current position, a rerouting of Speedway Avenue, to be renamed Waterway Boulevard, to a new connection with Stadium (Indiana) Avenue two blocks northwest of its historic location, and a removal of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive for the intersection at 10th and Indiana. (The old Torbett Street had long before been cut off from the intersection, becoming a driveway for the old YMCA that stood on the northeast corner of Fall Creek Parkway and 10th Street.)

17 July 1961, Indianapolis News

The new channel for Fall Creek and the new Indiana Avenue bridge was completed in July 1961, as shown in the above photograph from the Indianapolis News of 17 July 1961. The bridge would be opened to traffic as soon as reconstruction of the intersection at the southern foot of the bridge was completed on 1 August 1961. The below MapIndy aerial photograph from 1962 shows the reconfiguration of the intersection, the new location of Speedway Avenue, and the removal of the ends of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive.

1962 MapIndy aerial photo of the area around the Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek.

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