A Quick Look At Today’s State Roads, From A Historical View

A Facebook direct message from a reader of the blog started the research bug going again. Now, while I am still looking up information on his particular subject (transportation to Center Valley in Hendricks County, particularly a possible railroad there), part of his subject did come up. As well as a few others. Today, I want to look at the things that I have found while researching that topic…while not finding much about the topic.

The “town” of Center Valley is along the route that would become State Road 39 just north of the Morgan-Hendricks line. A post office existed there from 1855 to 1902. But what is important is the route that rumbles north to south through the town…the aforementioned SR 39. It wouldn’t be until 1932 when that section of SR 39 was added to the state highway system. But, the designation “state road” goes back quite a bit…like 1833.

The 17th General Assembly of Indiana passed into law several state roads. The first I want to mention would be the one that would make Center Valley (or, more to the point Centre Valley) a place. The route that would eventually become SR 39 was built as the Martinsville-Danville-Frankfort State Road. The southern end would be part of the state highway system from 1920 – the bridge over White River west of Martinsville. The northern end would be part of original State Road 6, connecting Lebanon to Frankfort. As original SR 6, it would become SR 39 with the Great Renumbering.

Two more state roads would from Martinsville would be added to Indiana with this meeting of the General Assembly. The first is one that would not become part of the state highway system. It was described as “an act to locate a state road from Martinsville, in the county of Morgan, by the way of Cox’s mill and Solomon Dunagan’s, in said Morgan county, to Stilesville, in the county of Hendricks.” This is an example of how the General Assembly would set up a “state road” through a particular person’s land. I would assume that what is now Tudor Road, southeast of Stilesville, was part of this road.

Another state road project including Martinsville did make it to the state highway system… eventually. The act created “a state road from Martinsville, in Morgan County, to intersect the state road leading from Madison to Indianapolis, at Edinburgh, in Johnson county by the way of Morgantown in said Morgan county.” This state road would be added back into the state highway system in the 1930’s…as State Road 252. A history of that road is available from ITH here.

But Martinsville wasn’t the only beneficiary of that particular meeting of the General Assembly.

A state road was created by the General Assembly to connect the town of Lagrange, in Tippecanoe County, to Logansport, in Cass County. Where is LaGrange? Well, it was a town along the Wabash River at the Warren-Tippecanoe County line. It was founded by Isaac Shelby in 1827…and had a post office from 1832 to 1835. It’s prime was with the Wabash Canal during the riverboat era. When the Wabash Railroad was built on the opposite side of the Wabash River, the town of LaGrange just dried up and disappeared.

Another road that was created at that time would connect Williamsport to the Illinois-Indiana State line via Lebanon (sic), now West Lebanon, and the now abandoned town of Chesapeake (about two miles east of Marshfield). This route will require some research.

Part of the road that would become, in time, SR 46 between Newbern and Bloomington would be added as a state road in 1833. The original road would start at the Michigan Road in Napoleon, travel through Camden (unknown today), Newbern, and Columbus to Bloomington. The section from Newbern to Columbus was part of the state highway system as SR 46, until INDOT truncated SR 9, turning the old SR 9 into SR 46.

Stilesville would be mentioned again as a state road was created to connect it to Crawfordsville via New Maysville.

The last road for this article would be a road that is still in existence, more or less, but not part of the modern state highway system. The description of the act was “to locate a state road from Green Castle, in Putnam county, to Carlisle, in Sullivan county, by way of Manhattan in Putnam county and Bowlingreen and New Brunswick, in Clay county.” Some day, I want to do more research on this road.

Wabash And Erie Canal

On 2 March 1827, the Congress of the Unites States at Washington granted land for the states of Ohio and Indiana to build a canal from Toledo, Ohio, to Evansville, Indiana. That canal, following the Maumee and Wabash Rivers, it would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Along the way, many important towns would be included, not limited to Fort Wayne, Logansport, Lafayette, Terre Haute and Evansville. What was to be an important part of Indiana transportation ended with a thud not long after construction would be completed.

The land grants given to Indiana were acted upon almost a year later with, on 5 January 1828, the General Assembly appointed three commissioner to lay out the route of the canal. Disagreements between railroad and canal interests would delay the groundbreaking for the longest canal in the United States until 22 February 1832.

Construction would be slow on the canal. Part of this would be attributable to the sheer length of the project: 460 miles. Another contributing factor would be the fact that canal building, by its nature, is a slow process requiring lots of both manual labor and engineering. By 1837, construction was moving along when the economic Panic of that year hit the United States. The canal had reached from Fort Wayne to Logansport by that time. Most of the internal improvement projects in Indiana came close to a halt. The Wabash & Erie was no exception. Construction continued…but on a very curtailed pace.

Further construction would continue, however. By 1843, the canal connected Toledo to Lafayette. Five years later, it reached Terre Haute. And five years after that, in 1853, construction was completed to Evansville. This marked the completion of the entire canal, and water traffic, albeit slowly, could traverse from Lake Erie to the Mississippi River and beyond unencumbered. This would not last, however. It should be noted here that the section from Worthington to Evansville had the original name of the Central Canal, and as such would be included as part of the Wabash & Erie.

Dawson’s Fort Wayne Weekly Times of 20 November 1859 reported that the canal would be closed soon to navigation. Whether that would be for the winter or for good was never explained in the short blurb in the newspaper. This was after citizens along the canal route had written a letter to the General Assembly in February 1859 commenting that the state should give money to the canal company in an effort to shore up its horrible finances to keep it open. Their argument being that even though the canal has been a financial failure, it has served a vital function in opening up, and maintaining markets to, the towns along its path.

Another argument is that the federal government gave the state 1.6 million acres of land to build the canal, which the state did sell excess portions of. The state owes it to the canal, and to the people along the route, to make good on their duties to keep the canal running.

It would fall on mostly deaf ears.

Most of the problems with the canal were natural. The soft topsoil of Indiana led to a lot of dredging needed along the entire route. This along required a lot of money. Add to it the native animals of Indiana, especially muskrats, that would burrow through the canal walls. Keeping the canal open was a constant, and expensive, job.

While portions of the canal would start closing to traffic as early as 1859, the ultimate end came at Terre Haute in 1876, when the canal company, then based there, decided to start selling off canal lands. The last canal boat would make its run from Huntington in 1874. By then, a majority of the canal had fallen into disuse and disrepair. Parts of it were filled in to create wagon trails. Other parts were sold to railroad companies (read Wabash, among others) for the railroad right-of-way. Parts would, in 1926, become part of US 24.

There are several places in which the canal route is marked or even sections of the actual canal maintained. In 1991, while construction I-469 near Fort Wayne, an original canal lock was found buried in the ground. That lock, Gronauer Lock No. 2, would be partially preserved. Parts of that lock are in the Indiana State Museum.

Another remnant of the canal age, and a piece of what was to become the southern part of what became the Wabash & Erie, is the Central Canal through Indianapolis. The Central Canal was to connect the Wabash & Erie at Logansport, through Indianapolis, to Worthington and beyond to Evansville. When the original Central Canal project fell through, the southern part of that project became lumped with the Wabash & Erie.

Knightstown and Rushville State Road

I have mentioned many times about the creation of the original Indiana state roads. Those roads were passed into law by the General Assembly, built by the state, then turned over to county officials upon creation. Often times, these roads connected smaller Indiana towns to one another. Today, I want to focus on the Knightstown and Rushville State Road.

First, a little history. For starters, the very existence of Knightstown is a treasure trove of transportation history…due to its name. The town was named after Bucks County, Pennsylvania, native Jonathan Knight. Mr. Knight spent a great deal of his life working on transportation facilities. In 1816, he was appointed to map Washington County, Pennsylvania. While there, he became a county commissioner for three years. He was involved in the preliminary surveys of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and National Road between Cumberland, Maryland, and Wheeling, (West) Virginia. The National Road would be laid out to cross Washington County, Pennsylvania, connecting to the county seat at Washington. In 1828, he went to work for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which used some of the same right of way as the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. From 1830 to 1842, he was the Chief Engineer for the company. He later represented southwestern Pennsylvania in the U. S. House of Representatives.

Knightstown itself was built along the National Road in 1827. It was located north of the already in place state road connecting Indianapolis to Centerville. The National Road would also connect those two mentioned towns, although more directly. (Keep in mind that most early state roads were just the state improving roads that were already in place…so they tended to be more winding than later roads that were purposely built.) The old road would be located basically along the line separating Rush and Henry Counties.

The road that is the subject of this entry, the Knightstown-Rushville State Road, would leave Knightstown on what is now called Jefferson Street. An astute map reader will notice that today it is known as SR 140. It maintains that designation to a point south of what was the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home, now the Hoosier Youth Challenge Academy. The road then continues to the south southeast, twisting and turning its way to Rush County Road 550 North. The old road then turned east along that county road, then veered southeast on what is marked on Google Maps as either Rush County Road 140 West or Rushville Road.

After almost two miles, the old state road turned east again, this time along Rush County Road 400 North. And again, it veers south, where it is once again known as Rushville Road. It winds its way through the Rush County countryside, passing old School Number 5 at Rush County Road 300 North. Another twist and turn, the old road becomes an extension of Rushville’s Spencer Street. Roughly halfway between County Roads 200 North and 100 North, the old road’s route turns southeast along what is now Foster Heights Road. The road then turns due east before it connects to what is now Main Street in Rushville. Turning south completes the old state road’s route.

Rushville itself became the county seat of Rush County shortly after it was created from Delaware County (unorganized – and no relation to the current Indiana county of the same name) on 1 April 1822. But the time the county was created, and the town started being platted the following July, there was already a school at the location. The Post Office in the town opened teh same year the county was organized. Just like Knightstown, Rushville (and Rush County) was named after an eastern Pennsylvanian. This time, Benjamin Rush.

Canals and the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act of 1836

27 January 1836. The state of Indiana was eleven months shy of celebrating 20 years of statehood. On that day, Governor Noah Noble signed what was to turn out to be one of the biggest disasters in state history: the “Mammoth Internal Improvement Bill.”

But this law didn’t come out of the blue. It actually had its roots following the War of 1812. Transportation throughout the United States needed improvement. Major improvement. Due to the expenditures, the federal debt over twenty years after the war amounted to $225 Million,

In Indiana, the history of the canal system started with an act of Congress approved on 2 March 1827. That act granted money to the states of Ohio and Indiana to build a canal to connect the Maumee River to the Wabash River. There were many political fights and alternatives recommended. So many, in fact, that it took until 3 October 1829 for an agreement between Ohio and Indiana to build the sections of the canal in their respective states. Work finally started in Indiana on 22 February 1832 on what would become the 459 mile long Wabash and Erie Canal. This canal would connect Toledo, Fort Wayne, Peru, Delphi, Logansport, Lafayette and Terre Haute. When completed, it was actually possible to travel by water from New York to points inland, and even to New Orleans, without going around Florida.

In an effort to further improve transportation to the center of the state, the subject law was passed. The Mammoth Internal Improvements Act allowed the state of Indiana to issue bonds up to $13 million at 5 percent. While $13 million is a lot of money today, it made up one sixth of the entire wealth of the state of Indiana at the time. This was a massive undertaking.

The law provided for several projects: canals, roads and railroads. At the time, the most “wow” projects were canals. While relatively expensive, canals could move more freight faster than other types of projects. For instance, it was reported that the Wabash and Erie Canal could move freight at 8 miles per hour. That’s lightning fast at that time.

And canals would be the major focus of the bill, much to the chagrin of Governor Ray of Indiana. He preferred railroads. At the time of passage, two canals were completed in Indiana: the Wabash and Erie and the Whitewater. Canal projects included in this law would connect these two canals. The Fort Wayne & Lake Michigan Canal was planned to connect Fort Wayne with Michigan City on Lake Michigan. A Whitewater extension was planned to connect Cambridge City, on the Whitewater Canal to a point in western Madison County west of Anderson. There it would connect to the Central Canal, connecting the W&E at Peru to near Marion, west of Anderson, Noblesville, Indianapolis, Martinsville, and Spencer. It would then connect back to the W&E near Bloomfield in Greene County.

The Central Canal started building in several places. One section near Anderson, the section from Broad Ripple to downtown Indianapolis, and one section through souther Marion County to the Bluffs of the White River at Waverly. Only the Indianapolis section was opened. It ended up being used for water power for mills and factories. Eventually, it came under the ownership of the Indianapolis Waterworks, later the Indianapolis Water Company.

The Wabash and Erie Canal ended up being quite the success…for about two decades. It then started falling into disuse. With not using the canal, it fell into disrepair. With neglect, and outright sabotage, most of the canal path today is gone.

And in the end, the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act ended up putting the state of Indiana almost into bankruptcy. The credit of the state was ruined. It also led to Article 10, Section 5 of a new Constitution adopted in 1851. That section states “no law shall authorize any debt to be contracted, on behalf of the State, except in the following cases: to meet casual deficits in the revenue; to pay the interest on the State debt; to repel invasion, suppress insurrection, or, if hostilities be threatened, provide for the public defense.” This, later, would affect the original State Highway Commission law enacted in 1917.