US 41 in Gibson County

Princeton, IN-IL, 1:62,500 quad,
1903, USGS

While looking through old USGS topo maps, I found one that caught my interest almost immediately. I have talked over the past year or so about how the current state roads came to be as old county roads from early in Indiana’s history. One that shows this very well is what would become SR 10 in 1919 and US 41 in 1926.

The map to the left shows the county roads between Fort Branch and Hazelton in 1903. Yes, 1903. This is the USGS map, 1903 Edition of the Princeton, Indiana, 1:62500 scale. I have used Microsoft Paint to draw lines of two colors on it. The green lines show where US 41 is today, using the roads as they were in the turn of the 20th century. The blue lines show roads that would be, through history, part of US 41 before it was bypassed. The area in Princeton is harder to nail down, so I included two routes through the town. Both are possible, and since at the time of this map there was no US 41, it didn’t matter which way travelers went.

Historical Topographic Map
Collection, 1942, USGS

As is typical of the USGS, no new maps were truly drawn after 1903 at this scale…at least none that are accessible. What is shown to the right is the 1903 map updated to 1942. It shows several changes in the routing of US 41 between its creation in 1926 and 1942.

First, starting at the top, is the Hazelton Bridge. Construction started in 1921 to replace a ferry near that location. The bridge, as mentioned in the link above to another Indiana Transportation History article, carried SR 10 (and the Dixie Bee Highway, as it was known at the time) over the White River near Hazelton. The bridge was massive. Said to be one of the largest ever built (to that time) by a state highway department in the midwest.

Another section that would be moved before 1942 would be south of Patoka. The road that is now Old US 41 between Princeton and Patoka is actually a replacement. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Indiana State Highway Commission made it a point to shorten and straighten state highways. A lot of this put the new location of the state highway next to a section of railroad tracks.

If you have any doubt about this building technique, check out SR 67 southwest of Indianapolis (Kentucky Avenue – moved 1936), SR 67 northeast of Indianapolis (Pendleton Pike, or actually, its replacement), SR 44 from Shelbyville to Rushville (railroad tracks were in place until 1980 or so), and SR 135/252 from Trafalgar to Morgantown (road was built around 1940-1941, tracks were abandoned at very near the same time, although some remnants of those tracks still remain 80 years later).

US 41 would run beside the Chicago & Eastern Illinois tracks between Princeton and Patoka, entering Princeton north of the old route by about two blocks. South of Princeton, the old route was followed toward Fort Branch.

Historical Topographic Map Collection, 1962, USGS

By 1962, several changes were made again to US 41. From Patoka to Hazelton, the route was moved to its current location, replacing the old Hazleton bridge and widening and straightening the road most of the way. There was one section of road that was still two lanes according to the USGS maps of 1962…and that was being rectified.

The old Hazelton Bridge remained in place for years after its replacement by the Indiana State Highway Commission. It would be given to the counties for their maintenance.

At the same time, the current routing of US 41 was also completed. The USGS shows the year of the map as 1961 on the Princeton 7.5 degree quad. (The map to the left is the 1962 update of the 1959 Patoka 7.5 degree quad.)

The major point of this article is to show how the country roads looked in 1910, and before the state started taking over, to give an idea of how one got from point A to point B at that time. These maps, especially those of 1903, really show off the routes that were depended upon early in the history of Indiana. It also shows that, in Indiana, the fastest way between two points is not always a straight line.

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