More History Than Transportation – South Indianapolis

1889 map of the section of Perry Township, Marion County, containing the “town” of South Indianapolis.

I decided to write a blog entry that skirts on the transportation history, but really ventures into the history of really two spots in Perry Township, Marion County. This is why it will not be part of the normal rotation of blog entries. It also is a bit of history that I encountered in person, although much after the fact.

In the summer of 1979, my family (my mother, my brother and I) moved to the southside of Indianapolis. The area that we moved to was tucked north of Hanna Avenue and east of State Street. The thing that always puzzled me at the time, being that my mind works at 1000 MPH on things like this, is why the children in the neighborhood, myself included, went to Perry Township schools, and not Indianapolis Public Schools. Now, the area is in Perry Township. But right around one half mile south of my house was (and still is) IPS School #65. It was literally within walking distance. Yet we rode the bus to Clinton Young Elementary, Keystone (now Southport) Middle School, and Southport High School.

I would later come to know that my neighborhood had never been taken into the City of Indianapolis. It was never annexed. But the area south of Hanna, and east of Shelby Street, had been. That area started life as the town of University Heights, being the community that served the Indiana Central College (later University, then University of Indianapolis).

For many years, the children of my area did have a school close by. It was originally Perry Township School Number 4, later to be called University Heights School. This would cause problems for other children later…but we will get to that.

Back to my neighborhood. Sometime after 1870, a new “town” was platted that would be accessed via the Shelbyville Pike (a toll road leading to, you guessed it, Shelbyville). It would be located one quarter mile north of the survey line that was located four miles south of downtown Indianapolis. It would stretch one quarter mile to the west, and one quarter mile south, being square in shape. There would be three streets north to south, and five streets east to west. And, it would be given the name of “South Indianapolis.” Earliest mention I can find for the “town” is when two lots, numbers 115 and 116, were sold by Elias C. Atkins to Henry H. Mason in May 1874. The “town” itself was originally recorded in Plat Record Number 6, page 186, in the Marion County Recorder’s Office.

The street along the north edge, which did connect to the Shelbyville Pike, would connect to a county road that was located 3.25 miles east of the Leavenworth Road (or Three Notch Pike). That road also connected to the Shelbyville Pike on the south to the Center-Perry Township line on the north.

South Indianapolis was never actually incorporated, either. I would assume it was the goal to build a community separate from the city, yet still connected to it by a good road…the toll road that was the Shelbyville Pike.

I have yet to find any actual plats of South Indianapolis available online. What I can tell you is that when I was growing up, my house was listed as being in, according to the official description from the Recorder’s Office, South Indianapolis lots 163 and 164. That property is no longer listed separately, as it was consolidated along the way into the property to the north. But, since the house burned down in my junior year of high school (1984-1985), I can see why that would happen to a lot with a garage and no house on it.

Now, I want to turn back to University Heights. The Church of the United Brethren in Christ wanted to start a college in Indianapolis, but were unable to find a location for it. Developer William Elder, who created several Perry Township neighborhoods, offered to change the name of his pending neighborhood Marion Heights to University Heights, with the hopes that the church would build the college just north of his new development. This was in 1902.

The new University Heights would have a north edge along the survey line that was four miles south of downtown. This would connect that road to the road that created the southern limits of South Indianapolis. With the creation of University Heights, the Perry Township School #4 would move from just south of what would eventually be built as Hanna Avenue on Madison Avenue to a location north of the new town. That would put the school on the grounds, or at least close to it, of the new Indiana Central College. And thus created a location for elementary education for the children of the new development, which would become a town in its own right.

And that would last until 1925. The people of University Heights decided that they wanted to be part of the City of Indianapolis. So annexation was in order. This created a small problem. The children of Indianapolis went to Indianapolis Public Schools. This put the University Heights school, still belonging to Perry Township, out of the district for the children of University Heights. This caused those children to have to be taken to the McClainsville School. McClainsville was at the northern edge of Perry Township at the Shelbyville Road. The school itself was in Center Township, across the street from the town itself…much like the school at University Heights.

The parents of University Heights were in a complete uproar. Because the annexation only included the town, and not the college campus, School #4 was still legally in Perry Township, and thus would remain part of that school district. And even then, the annexation was a very strange thing in itself. At the time, the City of Indianapolis ended at Southern Avenue. The city annexed straight down Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to the street that, by that time, had been named Hanna Avenue. It was originally called Kephart Avenue when it was created by Elder.

This annexation meant that the properties along Shelby Street were still in Perry Township, while the street itself, and the interurban line that ran along it, were in Indianapolis.

The University Heights School was part of a court case in 1933. The city tried to annex the property that contained the school. There were 179 students living in the University Heights neighborhood. So the parents of the area tried to get their very close school to be part of the Indianapolis schools. The court ruled that the city couldn’t annex that property, and the school would remain in Perry Township. Some of the students would have to use the interurban to get to school…either School 72 (formerly McClainsville) or School 35, located at Madison Avenue and Raymond Street.

The township finally sold the school to the Indianapolis Public Schools in 1961. This would cause the students living in the area known as South Indianapolis to be transported to other Perry Township schools. Ultimately, this would mean Clinton Young Elementary. But IPS found themselves unhappy with the University Heights School. Its size was too small to be of use. So work started on creating a new IPS school on South Asbury Street, later to be numbered 65. Both schools survived together for a short time. Finally, the old Perry Township School #4 was closed and sold to the Indiana Central University.

The names of the streets in the “town” of South Indianapolis today are (east-west) National Avenue, Atlantic Street, Pacific Street and Hanna Avenue. (Hanna was the name of a prominent land owner in the area, as shown on the map at the top of this page.) The north-south streets would be (from the east) Aurora, Randolph, Walcott, Asbury and State. Randolph, Walcott and State are most likely not original street names, as they are now named after streets in the old city of Indianapolis in the same general area.

1910: The National Road West of Indianapolis

Today, I want to show some map snippets of the National Road, and its replacement sections, as of 1910. Now, there is a small problem with this. The maps that I am going to use here are from the United States Postal Service from 1910. And while they are available from the Indiana State Library online, there are two that are noticeably absent from the collection: Clay and Marion Counties.

Marion County is easy to deal with. There are so many historic maps of Marion County available on the web that if I really wanted to, I could get something to cover the area. Clay County is an entirely different story. That is going to take some work.

Many people, today, are used to the straight ribbon of asphalt and concrete that is US 40 through Indiana. But that wasn’t the case when the road was created in the 1830’s. As was the standard operating procedure at the time, roads were built as straight as they could be. There was no heavy machinery to move a hill, or flatten a valley, in the early to mid 1800’s. Surveyors were extremely important at that time, to get the best road possible. If it could come in using less materials, and more importantly, less money, so be it. Most bridges across streams along the way crossed at a right angle to the stream. This was to make the bridge both safer and less expensive.

The hilly terrain of the area southwest of Indianapolis made the National Road surveyors a bit of hassle, as well. Hence, the relatively straight road that we know today was a lot of work and bending the old road into shape…and out of existence. The following maps show the road as it was in 1910. I wanted to give a comparison map from USGS maps…but the earliest available at this time is 1941, meaning that the road has already been replaced in most areas. And looking at Google Maps, there are very few sections that still exist of the original road that was replaced. But, I hope that these maps will start your own research into the original federal highway.

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Vigo County west of the Wabash River.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Vigo County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Putnam County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Putnam County.

The map above shows the Reelsville bypass of the original National Road. I covered it in the article “National Road at Reelsville.”

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Hendricks County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Hendricks County.

County Roads – Getting Named

County road names. Most people don’t give it much thought. A year ago, I wrote an article about the names used around the state for the county roads. Today, I want to look at some of the histories that I have found about the subject.

The subject of naming rural roads was taken up at different times in different parts of the state. Until that point, roads may or may not have had names…but not as some sort of system. Marion County, for instance, had names like Wall Street Pike (West 21st Street from Speedway west) or the name of the resident that paid to have the road maintained. There really was no pattern to any of it.

The Cambridge City Tribune, of 9 August 1900, described the rumblings like this: “In some parts of Indiana a plan is being discussed for having all the county roads named. At the road crossings the names will be placed on posts, something like the old fashioned finger boards. In addition to that each farmer will have his name displayed on a post at the road side at the entrance to his grounds. Something of the kind will be done in all rural districts with the next few years, and it is very much needed. Farmers are beginning to discuss the matter at their meetings.”

St. Joseph County, according to the South Bend Tribune of 2 April 1918, had been working on names for the county roads since the summer of 1917. A plan was accepted and adopted by the St. Joseph County commissioners on 4 March 1918. The current names were placed on the county roads then. In 1934, the South Bend Tribune made sure to point out that rural roads in St. Joseph County were all marked the same way city streets were…with signs hanging high above the road.

The reasons for naming county roads involved things like mail delivery and safety. In the days of the automobile, it made sense to name the roads for travelers to be able to find places. But it started out as an attempt to be able to speed mail delivery. With rural routes all over the state, it was not unheard of that someone’s mail would be delivered to the wrong part of the county. Giving houses numbers, and roads names made mail easier to locate. As for safety, it goes without saying that if the farmer on such and such road had a structure that was on fire, unless the emergency crews where such and such road was, and where the farmer lived, that fire was going to be completely destrucutive.

The most common method of naming county roads in Indiana was called the “Purdue Grid Coordinates.” It is a system where every place in the rural areas of the county are assigned a location based on a central point in the county. This system often involves the north-south middle of the county to be called “Meridian,” and the east-west to be called “Division.” But that is up to the particular county, actually. Some counties do use “00” for the center.

The system was created by researchers for Purdue University’s Joint Highway Research project in the School of Civil Engineering. The plan was to create a system that would allow easier directions for rural areas. For example, the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 9 Jan 1954, used the following example of Doc Smith trying to find Ben Miller’s farm: “take this highway north about five miles, and then instead of turning with the highway at the big pear orchard, continue straight ahead on the County Farm gravel road. It winds a bit, but after about two miles you’ll come to a five-point intersection. Take the road that cuts slightly to the left, follow it to the second crossroad, then turn left. It’s only about a mile from that corner to Wahoo. You’ll have to inquire at the grocery store for Ben’s farm.”

Franklin County, in 1953, was still considering a naming system for the roads of that area. It had been recommended several years earlier, but nothing was ever done.

Hamilton County decided to start looking at their road names in 1958. It started with a report by the Jaycees. That took several years to work on. It was decided that Hamilton County would not use the Purdue grid system, since most people preferred names to numbers. Numbers were assigned from Indianapolis, giving rise to street numbers above 96th to 296th. Each county road, however, that went north and south was given a secondary number to show how far east and west of Indianapolis’ Meridian Street you were. While names were decided upon in the early 1960’s, most addresses weren’t completely determined until the 1990s.

On 10 October 1961 the Rushville Republican printed the following question when it came to county road names: “Is Rush County going to be among the last in the state to get its county roads named and numbered and house numbers for its rural residences? Decatur County is the latest to join the fold. It’s not a costly procedure and it makes it so much easier to locate places in the country. All it takes is a nod, and a bit of cash, from the county commissioners to permit this community to keep up with its neighbors.”

It would be 1962 when all counties in Indiana finally had a system in place, and signs posted. Indiana had passed a law in 1961 requiring all county road intersections to have road name signs posted.

Indiana Vs. Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad

In 1899, the state of Indiana brought forth a lawsuit against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad for tax money due for the school fund. It started with a charter. In the early days of Indiana, to create a railroad company (and basically any company, as far as that goes), a charter for the company and its goals would have to be written and taken before the Indiana General Assembly for approval. I would love to say that these things were basically rubber stamped…but I truly have no way of knowing without extensive research.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad was issued it original charter by the Indiana General Assembly in 1831. The name on the charter was the Terre Haute & Indianapolis. The TH&I was then issued a special charter as the Terre Haute & Richmond Rail Road on 24 January 1847. The company was to build a railroad between the two title cities, through Indianapolis. The official name of the company had changed twice between the special charter of 1847 and the court case of 1899. First, in 1850, the space was taken out between rail and road, making it the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad legally. Then, in 1865, the name was changed to suit the actual extent of the railroad company. It became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad Company.

Newspapers of the time often refer to the legal action against the Terre Haute & Indianapolis as the Vandalia Case. By the time of the legal action, the TH&I was already leasing the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the only line (for a while) connecting Indianapolis to St. Louis. The St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute was known most of the time as the Vandalia. The Vandalia was in financial trouble while under construction. Money was floated from five railroad companies to complete the route in 1870: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Pennsylvania, Panhandle, Steubenville and the Indiana Central. The last three being consolidated later into the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, also nicknamed the Panhandle. The Pennsylvania would gain control of the Panhandle and the Vandalia…although the Terre Haute & Indianapolis would fight it the entire way.

The whole case stemmed from how the charter for the TH&I was read, and who was doing the reading. The State of Indiana was of the opinion that the TH&I owed the School Fund somewhere between $1.2 and $2 million dollars. Obviously, the TH&I was of the opposite opinion. The entire case stemmed from a special charter that had been issued for the company in 1847, give or take a year. The new charter, keeping a provision from the old one, would allow the railroad to set its own passenger and freight rates, and allow for a 15% profit to be split among its shareholders after all of the construction bills have been paid.

The state, in its case, claimed that the TH&I was setting its rates to a point where it was earning 18% to 35% profits. Since the limit was 15%, the rest, the state continued, would be required to be paid to the state school fund. Vandalia saw things differently.

The South Bend Tribune of 4 October 1899 describes the beginning of the case as such: “Noble C. Butler, as master in chancery, began taking testimony, Monday afternoon (2 October 1899), in the case of the state against the Vandalia railroad for money due the school fund on account of the special charter under which the road operated 20 years ago.”

“Experts have been examining the company’s books to ascertain the exact earnings and the proportionate amount due the state, and their testimony is expected to be interesting. About $2,000,000 is claimed to be due the school fund from the railroad.” (Source: South Bend Tribune, 4 October 1899, pp 1 via newspapers.com.)

When the time came to defend itself, the Vandalia brought out John G. Williams, a man, according to the Indianapolis News of 17 January 1900, “who is said to know more about the affairs of the road than any other man.” Attorney Williams started talking about the charter of the Terre Haute & Richmond, the charters of other railroads, and the fact that when the original charters were written for the early railroads, the company had a choice between building a railroad and building a toll road. The state saw no real difference between the two.

He also mentioned that, according to the News, “one of the first roads built in the State was the Baltimore & Ohio. In the beginning, its cars were moved by horses and, when the wind was favorable, sails were hoisted on the cars to help propel them.” I would be that the News meant in the United States, as the Baltimore & Ohio wouldn’t have been in Indiana in 1831.

Reference is also made by the attorney for the railroad that in the beginning, the B&O charged 4 cents a ton a mile for moving of freight. “Modern railroads” (1900) are lucky to get one half cent per ton/mile. And passengers were actually weighed and charged essentially a pro-rated charge of 4 cents per ton/mile. If I am reading this right, since I weigh 200 pounds, it would cost me eight cents to travel by train from Indianapolis to Greenfield in those days. If I lived then…and the train actually was built to connect the two.

Mr. Williams went on to argue that the ability to regulate tolls by the state was left out of the charters of seven of the eight railroads that were incorporated in 1832. All eight of these charters allowed for the company to build a railroad or turnpike. Also in 1832, a company applied for a charter to build a bridge across the Ohio River at the Falls, the location of New Albany and/or Jeffersonville, and Louisville on the Kentucky side.

In 1832, five more railroads were incorporated, including the Evansville & Lafayette. It, like the Terre Haute & Indianapolis (1831 charter), had a clause stating that the State of Indiana could purchase the road after a certain period. Very few railroad company charters included the state regulation of the amount of dividends to its shareholders.

Ultimately, the Vandalia won the original case. Special Master Butler determined that the state was owed nothing by the Vandalia. The State appealed to the Superior Court, in which it was determined that the Vandalia owed the state of Indiana $913,000.

According to the Indianapolis Journal of 18 June 1902, as the case was being brought before the Indiana Supreme Court, “the charter provided that the company should pay the State its surplus earnings over the operating expenses and 10 per cent to the stockholders. The company surrendered its special charter in 1873 and has since operated under the general railroad law.” The company claimed that the surplus money was spent to improve the road, and there was no money left to pay the state.

The case before the Indiana Supreme Court lasted three days, ending on 19 June 1902. When the ruling went against the Vandalia, the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that they would appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court. That decision was made on 28 November 1902.

The Indiana Supreme Court judgement ruled that the Vandalia must pay $913,905, and a six percent interest from the date of the Superior Court judgement. This brought to total to $1,028,143. Of course, the state was to only receive $771,107 of that, with the rest going to attorney’s fees. The Vandalia would fall into receivership after the ruling, and arguments between Illinois and Indiana receivers would follow.

31 May 1904, and the United States Supreme Court ruled, after much deliberation, that the Vandalia Railroad owed a grand total of nothing to the state of Indiana School Fund. This would go on to allow the Vandalia to consolidate the following railroads into one corporate entity: Terre Haute & Indianapolis, Indianapolis & Vincennes, Logansport & Toledo, Terre Haute & Logansport, and the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute. A consolidation which created the Vandalia Railroad Company on 1 January 1905.

Terre Haute, 1854

The mid-19th Century in Indiana was both a traveler’s nightmare and dream. At that time, the state was criss-crossed, or soon would be, with multiple railroads and several canals. And Terre Haute found itself at the crossroads of both. Today, I want to look at Terre Haute through the use of a map that is available at the Indiana State Library online. That maps is at the following link: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/1064/rec/7.

First, the National Road came to the town. The idea was that the National Road would be an improved highway, in good condition throughout the state. By the time of this map, it had already been sold to toll road companies. Those companies, in exchange for keeping the road in good condition, would be allowed to charge people to use it. The National Road would connect to Wabash Street in Terre Haute, but didn’t cross the Wabash River along that path. There was a Terre Haute Draw Bridge that crossed the river along the Ohio Street corridor.

The second method of transport that would enter the town was the Wabash & Erie Canal. This canal was the longest such facility in the United States, connecting Fort Wayne to Evansville. It entered the city from the north, separating from the river near where Florida Street is, then finding itself next to the river again around Sycamore Street. At Eagle Street, the canal made a turn back to the north in a loop that would carry it back to a point along what would be Spruce Street, then Canal Street. This section is now part of the Indiana State University campus. It would turn south again just past Ninth Street, cross the National Road, then head off to the southeast as it continued its way to Evansville.

The Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad, planned to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis, came into town from the northeast, with the railroad itself ending in a station on the north side of National Road at what is now 10th Street. The railroad that would become the Vandalia connected to the TH&R near what is now 13th Street, making a looping turn to head out along the Tippecanoe Street corridor to cross the Wabash River.

The other railroad in town, the Evansville & Crawfordsville, had its station on the southside of the National Road, across the street from the TH&R station. This railroad continued north out of town, following the current rail corridor on its way toward Crawfordsville. It, too, followed the 10th Street corridor before turning west, following the same Tippecanoe Street corridor up to and crossing the Wabash.

The area between 9th and 10th Streets at the National Road would, ultimately, include all four of these transportation facilities. Today, only the path of the old E&C still exists, although part of the old TH&R is available for use as a rail trail. The old canal bed has been removed for many years.

Madison Avenue Expressway

In the early 1950’s, much had been done to help with traffic issues throughout the city of Indianapolis. With the exception, as pointed out by the Indianapolis News Editorial Staff on 21 June 1954, of the south side. But things were going to be changing soon. The Indiana State Highway Commission decided that there will be another upgrade to US 31 in the state. This time, in the city of Indianapolis on the south side. But many things not only had to come together to do this project, many controversies were unleashed with the project, as well.

First mention of the project, at least in the newspapers, came in August 1953. The Indianapolis News of 6 August 1953 covered the project on page 23. The $3 million project would lower the roadway of Madison Avenue, at the time US 31, some 20 feet to allow for the road to pass under the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Louisville line and the Indianapolis Belt Railway. A large chunk of the money for the project was to be paid out for the acquisition of properties in the 15 block project area. However, most of the coverage in that day’s News was the fact that the State Highway Commission was creating a “District of Dead Ends.” Apparently, the original plan was to start at Morris/Prospect Streets, working south. It was later decided that the work would begin at Terrace Avenue, leaving that street connected to Madison Avenue at the north end of the project.

However, from Terrace to the Indianapolis Belt Railway, no less than six streets were going to be cut in two. Palmer, which actually connected to Madison Avenue at the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing was sure to be removed. Lincoln would be cut off at the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both Minnesota and Iowa would be truncated, as they both crossed Madison in a straight line. Caven did a stutter step type crossing of the state highway. Adler ended at Madison, just north of the Belt. South of the Belt, LeGrande Avenue stutter stepped its way across Madison Avenue, as well.

While the expressway was the major part of the project, that wasn’t the entire scope. From Southern Avenue, one half mile south of Raymond Street, to where Madison Avenue becomes Delaware Street near what was Wilkins Street (now the I-70 overpass), the road would be widened to a six lane facility. Right-of-way would be purchased on opposite sides of the road, with the section from Southern to Pleasant Run Parkway, and from the Pennsylvania Railroad north to Delaware Street being taken from the east side of the street. Between Pleasant Run Parkway and the PRR, the west side would be taken for the project.

A look at a satellite image of the area today shows exactly how much property was taken in each section. The new Madison Avenue is actually west of Old Madison Avenue. (Old Madison Avenue is one of the very few roads in Marion County that includes a hint that it used to be an important facility. And even then, this only occurred when the new street signs started showing up around the year 2000, because prior to that, the street was officially called “Madison Avenue.”) The old road, which sits along the top of the hill that was created with the new road, is in two sections, the the old Belt Railway crossing removed, connecting where Iowa Street was to Raymond Street. All of the property from the old road to the alley between Delaware Street and Madison Avenue was taken for the new canyon expressway.

As an Indianapolis history aside right here, one of the most famous restaurants on Indianapolis’ south side, the Key West Shrimp House, existed in this section of Madison Avenue. It was half way between LeGrande Avenue and Raymond Street (2138 Madison Avenue). By 1955, due to pending construction, it had moved to its more famous location, 2861 Madison Avenue. Almost anyone, of sufficient age, can tell you about the pink building on Madison Avenue that once housed the Key West. Now, they still have a location…at the other end of the road – in Madison, Indiana.

Not only was the road going to be part of the project, in October 1953, it was announced that the ISHC was going to take a “pedestrian census” to see whether a pedestrian bridge would have to be built somewhere in the project area. Plans were to have pedestrian crossings at both Terrace and LeGrande Avenues. However, the project removed the LeGrande Avenue crossing when the construction was completed. The only true pedestrian specific accommodation made in the project area would be a walking bridge crossing at Palmer Street.

Contracts for the first phases of construction of the new Madison Avenue were announced in May 1954. And while the south side of Indianapolis had always been hampered by narrow roads and railroad crossings, causing it to lag behind the rest of the city, it wasn’t long until newspaper editorial staffs began to realize what was about to become a real problem. The Indianapolis News Editorial of 21 June 1954 spelled it out quite succinctly: this is gonna get bad. “Of course, the Madison Avenue expressway is coming – but there will be a crisis for the south side motorists before the expressway is completed.” With the pending closure of Madison Avenue during construction, something that could last up to two years, an already strained city traffic system would be stretched to the limit. And most of that traffic, according to the thoughts of the Indianapolis News, through Fountain Square. “Cars pile up along Shelby, Virginia and Prospect trying to get through the area. This goes on morning, noon and night.” “One improvement has been made. Woodlawn has been straightened and widened between Virginia and Shelby. But the project primarily has provided more parking space and does not help move traffic.”

It would be in December 1954 that the state announced a change in the construction plans. The original idea was that Prospect and Morris Streets would connect to Madison Avenue as they always had, as shown in this snippet from a 1915 map of Indianapolis. Morris crossed straight over Madison Avenue, with Prospect being almost one block north. It is important to note that both these streets are important arteries in Indianapolis traffic. And, they are survey roads, meaning that their location is along a survey line. (That line is Morris Street west of Shelby Street, and Prospect west of it. Shelby Street is a survey correction line, so every street corrects to the north at or near Shelby Street on the south side.) It was announced that the state would create an underpass for Morris Street, with connecting facilities to allow traffic access to Morris and Prospect Streets. As it turned out, east bound Prospect Street became a very long ramp to allow northbound Madison Avenue traffic access to west bound Morris Street. In the same vein, a slightly moved westbound Morris Street became the eastbound Morris to northbound Madison ramp.

This change, along with the grade separation at Raymond Street that had been announced the previous August, were recommended by the United States Bureau of Public Roads, which provided half of the funding for the project. These two changes added over $1 million to the entire project. Construction on the Madison Avenue expressway was “probably” going to start in 1955. But plans for the new changes hadn’t even been worked out as of the announcement, so no one was quite sure of that.

June 1955 saw the start of getting rid of “the old Shrimp House, 18 homes, and an undisclosed number of garages near Raymond and Madison.” The state would be auctioning off the properties on 28 June 1955. Those properties would have have to be moved within 30 days of the auction. The same day that the auction was announced, it was also mentioned that construction was expect to begin that summer. As it turned out, November 1955 came news that the construction would begin in 1956, as contracts had just been awarded for the project.

That didn’t apply to other locations along the project area. It was announced that the new Madison Avenue bridge over Pleasant Run would be opened to traffic on 29 July 1955. The plan was to open four lanes of the six lane span that day. Since Madison Avenue had been closed, at this point, for almost a year, traffic had been slowed to a crawl anyway.

Indianapolis News, 25 September 1956, showing construction of the Madison Avenue expressway at the Indianapolis Belt Railway.

Another sticking point with the local news media, especially the Indianapolis News, was the lack of security when it came to all the old buildings that were being removed in the construction area. This was especially apparent when it came to the fact that there were three schools in or near the construction zone: School 31 on Lincoln Street east of Madison; School 35 at Madison and Raymond; and Manual High School at Pleasant Run and Madison. There were a bunch of buildings that looked like tornado damage, and more than fair share of basements that were just open to the public without any protection whatsoever.

The article to the left, which was published on 22 March 1956, shows the opinion of the Indianapolis News, and the parents of students in the area. Especially at School 35.

Indianapolis News, 25 September 1956, showing the construction area on Madison Avenue, and expressing the Indianapolis News’ concern about the safety of children in the area. An exact location of this photograph has not been determined, but not for lack of trying.

All wasn’t roses on the ISHC end, either. I will cover it in a later post, but irregularities were exposed in 1957 when it came to property acquirement for the Madison Avenue Expressway project. These irregularities were exposed in April 1957, and found itself in court the following October. It involved someone making a ton of money from real estate purchases and sales in 1954 and 1955. Part of the problem was that these types of shenanigans caused the delay of construction, and hence, an extension of the traffic nightmare on the south side of the city. It was, in June 1957, projected that construction would be completed by September 1958.

That construction projection would be close to true, as the 1959 Indiana Official Highway Map cover shows. The new Madison Avenue Expressway was shown in its brand new, completed, status. But even with the completion of the project, the controversy remained. Stanley T. Siegel, Indianapolis traffic engineer, stated, according to the Indianapolis Star, that the project is a “beautiful road that starts nowhere and leads to noplace.” Mr. Seigel took a lot of criticism for that opinion. The problem is, on the surface, he is absolutely right. What he didn’t take into his consideration is the removal of a narrow, overcrowded street (now Old Madison Avenue), and the constrictions placed on it by two busy railroad crossings (which, at the time, they were very busy), and made a better connection with a very busy United States highway running through south central Marion County.

The Expressway would be completely opened to traffic officially on 23 September 1958. It would still be technically closed for another week for curbing and other details, and the interchange at Morris/Prospect Streets would not be ready for several more weeks after that (for railroad elevation just west of the interchange). The project would cost almost $8 million, more than twice the original estimate. It was also announced that the State Highway Department had plans to extend the expressway another 10 miles. This extension would be along State Road 431, also known as Madison Avenue, in the non-bypassed sections of the old road.