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.

Lebanon

1919 transportation map of Boone County, Indiana.

Lebanon, county seat of Boone County. Boone County was created in 1830, effective 1 April 1830. Lebanon would become the seat of Boone County after Jamestown was not met with a great deal of approval. The choice was made when Commissioners chosen to find a new site met at the center of the county and basically said “yep, this is it” on 1 May 1831. In 1833, the move was officially made…and the town was given a name. From that point on, Lebanon had been a crossroads town both in trails and trains.

The town would find itself along the paths of several “state roads” the were created in the 1830’s. The first I want to mention is the Richmond-Crawfordsville State Road. As the name suggests, it started at Richmond. I covered parts of this road several times in the past year. It basically follows what is now SR 38 out of Richmond to Noblesville, then SR 32 across Indiana through Westfield and Lebanon to Crawfordsville. This road would connect the town to the cross-state highway called the Michigan Road.

The second road that would traverse the town would be the Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road. This road started in near downtown Indianapolis, leaving Marion County on what was the original US 52. This is a topic we will come back to. This historic route would continue through the town to its terminus in Lafayette, where it ended right at the banks of the Wabash River. Through Lebanon, it would become Indianapolis Road southeast of town, and Lafayette Road northwest of it.

Another road connecting the town would become an important feed to Lebanon in the early 20th Century would be the Frankfort State Road. Frankfort would become the county seat of Clinton County in May 1830, two months after the creation of the county and one month after the creation of Boone County. (Yes, you read that right…Clinton County is one month older than Boone County!) The Frankfort State Road left Lebanon along what is now SR 39. But, like other early state roads, the path between the two towns was anything but a straight line.

1953 (1955 edition) USGS topographical map of Lebanon, Indiana.

The next topic of this crossroads town is the railroad. Lebanon would come to have three railroads connecting it to the rest of the country, and all three would be in the hands of the two largest railroads in the United States east: New York Central and Pennsylvania. The third would be, eventually, owned by both.

The Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad was created on 19 January 1846 to connect the title cities. The route that was chosen took the railroad through Lebanon. (It should be noted that this railroad did some street running in Zionsville on its way to Lebanon.) The Lafayette & Indianapolis would be consolidated into several different companies to eventually become part of the Big Four – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis.

The second railroad that connected to the town was the Midland Route, which started life in 1871 as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis Railroad. The railroad would find itself in constant financial bad times, as most smaller roads did in Indiana. After one of its bankruptcies, the ownership of the company fell into the hands of both the New York Central (through the Big Four) and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was planned to be used as an Indianapolis bypass. That plan never really came to fruition.

The last railroad that would connect to Lebanon would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort, a Pennsylvania Railroad line that would commence construction from Ben Davis, near what is now the Indianapolis International Airport, in 1913. The road was built because up to that point, the Pennsylvania had no direct route from Indianapolis to Chicago, and it was using trackage rights on other routes to connect to PRR tracks heading into Logansport. The railway was completely elevated through Lebanon, along the western edge of the town.

Before the Indianapolis & Frankfort came to town, though, Lebanon was already the center point of another railroad empire – the interurban. For a smaller city, Lebanon had three interurban routes crossing the town. The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company connected the town to Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lafayette. A short line connected to Thorntown. Unfortunately, the lines would be abandoned relatively quickly when they started going out of business. The Lebanon-Thorntown like would be abandoned 27 August 1926. The Indianapolis-Lafayette line would end services on 31 October 1930. In 1933, the Indiana State Highway Commission was attempting to acquire the right-of-way from Lebanon to Frankfort for SR 39. But the traction company that owned it had quit claimed the deed to the property…causing it to revert to the 66 owners of the land prior to the coming of the interurban.

When the Auto Trail era came into being, Lebanon was included in that, as well. The Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road, into Lebanon, and the Frankfort State Road north out of Lebanon, became part of the Jackson Highway. The Jackson Highway started in Chicago, roughly following the Dixie Highway, usually on a different path, to Nashville, Tennessee. From there, it connected to New Orleans. It entered Lebanon from the north on Lebanon Street, leaving town along Indianapolis Avenue.

Another Auto Trail that came through Lebanon was the Crawfordsville to Anderson. Just as it sounds, it crossed the state between the two titles cities along what would become, in 1926, SR 32. Most of the route is still in the same place, with the state making very few changes in SR 32 over the years (with the exception of north of Nobleville to Lapel). Later, this road would also carry the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway across Indiana. From 1916 to 1922, the PPOO connected to Indianapolis. From 1922 on, it connected (just like the Crawfordsville to Anderson) Crawfordsville, Lebanon, Westfield, Noblesville, and Anderson.

Lebanon also has the distinction of having the very first section of Interstate 65 that was built in Indiana. The section in question was built as a bypass of the town for US 52, skirting Lebanon along the south and west sides. When the interstate system was being created (and it was decided that I-65 would go from Indianapolis to Chicago instead of following US 31 like it did since southern Alabama), the logical route to use was what was already in place around Lebanon…a limited access highway that was wide enough to become part of the Interstate system.

Today, Lebanon sits with most of its transportation facilities close to intact. US 52 had been removed from the city in the early 1950’s. SR 32 and SR 39 still traverse the town. The Big Four railroad line from Indianapolis to Lafayette has long since been removed. The Midland Route to Westfield and Noblesville, likewise gone. CSX now runs trains along the old Indianapolis & Frankfort, which still connects to the title cities.

2019 USGS topographical map of Lebanon, Indiana.

Early Railroad Projects, Even Some Became Roads

In the early days of Indiana, much attention and money was spent on transportation facilities. Most of Indiana was a wilderness, and connecting remote places in the state became a priority. Starting in 1832, the General Assembly started passing laws creating railroad companies. In those early days, railroad technology wasn’t as advanced as it would be in the decade or so to come. Some of these projects would be dumped as railroads, becoming toll roads instead. One even took over, in the eyes of locals, the routing of the National Road.

On 3 February 1832, an act was passed by the Indiana General Assembly to “incorporate the Richmond, Eaton and Miami Rail Road Company.” However, less than one year later, on 2 February 1833, an amendment to that act had been passed. The amendment stated that the company is “vested with full power and authority to construct a turnpike road, in lieu of the rail road.” (1833 Acts of the Indiana General Assembly, Chapter XCVII) The toll road that would be built as a result of this act and amendment would, in the Auto Trail days, become part of the National Old Trails road. It was treated as part of the old National Road between Richmond and Springfield via Eaton and Dayton.

Chapter CXXVI of the 1834 Acts of the Indiana General Assembly, approved on 24 December 1833, sets forth an act “to incorporate the Evansville and Lafayette Rail Road Company.” The act specified that the railroad should connect Evansville, Princeton, Vincennes, Terre Haute, Covington before ending in Lafayette. While investigating ICC reports from 1917-1922, I can find no reference to this company whatsoever. The part of the route south of Terre Haute would be followed by what would become the Chicago & Eastern Illinois.

Two chapters after the last one, an act “to incorporate the Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail Road company.” This railroad was different than the one that would eventually be built through Lebanon and Thorntown. This route was laid out to connect Indianapolis, through Jamestown, Crawfordsville, Columbia (Tippecanoe County) to Lafayette. The route prescribed roughly follows what became part of the Big Four route to Crawfordsville, then along the Monon to Lafayette.

The 1835 Acts of the General Assembly list several possible railroad or turnpike projects. One section (13) of Chapter XVI, “an act to provide for the further prosecution of the Wabash and Erie Canal and for other purposes,” would allow the governor “to employ a competent engineer or engineers” for the following projects: a railroad or turnpike from Madison, by way of Indianapolis, Danville and Crawfordsville to Lafayette; a rail or turnpike road from Crawfordsville by way of Greencastle, Bloomington, Bedford and Salem to New Albany; and a railroad from Evansville to Vincennes via Princeton.

Section 16 of the same act provided that “engineers shall examine a route for a canal from or near Indianapolis to the Ohio river, at or near Jeffersonville, and if found not practicable to construct a canal between said points, then said engineers shall survey a route for a rail or turnpike road from Jeffersonville to intersect the rail road line in this act (mentioned in Section 13 above) directed to be surveyed from Madison to Indianapolis, at or near Columbus.” Both a toll road and railroad would be built in this case…the road would become part of US 31 later, and the railroad would become the Jeffersonville. The Jeffersonville would end up buying the railroad that it was to connect to “at or near Columbus.”

Section 18 allocated money for surveying a railroad from Terre Haute to Vincennes. The “report the same with an estimate of the probably cost of constructing the same, to the next General Assembly.” Section 19 allowed the same for the Lawrenceburgh and Indianapolis railroad. All of the money spent on this act was to come from funds allocated for the Wabash and Erie Canal.

This is the total list of railroad projects put forth by the Indiana General Assembly prior to the massive projects that would ultimately nearly bankrupt the State of Indiana implemented in 1836. Part of that plan was covered here.