Kokomo

On 1 May 1844, when Richardville County was created, it was actually centered on the survey range line separating Range 3 East from Range 4 East. This is the same range line that continues south through Tipton and Hamilton Counties, and forms the main drag through downtown Westfield and Carmel and stops being followed by a road facility just south of the Hamilton-Marion County Line. North of Richardville County, it formed the boundary between Cass and Miami Counties.

The law creating the county was dated 15 January 1844, and stemmed from an act of 16 February 1839, which provided that territory temporarily attached to surrounding counties “shall form and constitute a separate county to be known and designated by the name of Richardville, and at such time as the Indian title shall be extinguished and the population within same will warrant.” The territory in question became both Richardville and Tipton Counties in the end. The name of the county was changed from Richardville to Howard by a legislative act of 28 December 1846.

The site of the town of Kokomo was decided upon on 17 August 1844 as a spot on the Wildcat Creek. That location was west of the range line that formed the eastern boundary of Kokomo into the 20th Century.

The state, shortly after the creation of Richardville County, started extending the already in place Westfield State Road north to reach the new county seat of Kokomo. Unlike most state roads built before this time, the state could build the road right along the survey line, in this case range line, straight up to Kokomo.

Kokomo mainly depended on the railroad to become the manufacturing center it became before the 20th Century. The first railroad to Kokomo would be the Indianapolis & Peru, which also connected Noblesville to the title cities. It would become the Lake Erie & Western along the way. The city would also (eventually) be crossed by what would become the Clover Leaf route, which would, in 1923, joined with the Lake Erie & Western to become part of the Nickel Plate. What would eventually become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, via the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, would also cross Kokomo with its Chicago line between Richmond and Logansport.

1920 Rand McNally Auto Trails map
of the Kokomo area

The Auto Trail era brought named highways to Kokomo. The first one would be the Range Line Road (8 on the map), which, until south of Kokomo, followed that same Range Line as mentioned above. This route, south of Kokomo, was shared with the Belt Line (13).

But the Range Line (and the Belt Line) Road didn’t follow the survey range line into the city of Kokomo, which it had been following from northern Marion County. (It is Westfield Boulevard, Range Line Road, and Union Street in Hamilton County from Westfield south.) The Range Line Road south of Kokomo entered on Lafountain Street, before curving onto what is now Washington Street for its trip through the city itself. North of downtown Kokomo, the old Auto Trails still followed Washington Street to Morgan Street, where it turned east to Apperson Way. Apperson Way is on the survey range line. As shown on the map snippet to the left, the Auto Trails followed a circuitous route through Cassville.

The other two Auto Trails that connected Kokomo were the Ben Hur Route (91 on the map), which I covered in detail on 28 October 2019, and the Liberty Way (86), connecting Kokomo to Galveston and Walton to what will later become part of US 24 seven miles east of Logansport.

The Range Line Road would become, before this map was published, Main Market Road #1, and later State Road #1. The only other Auto Trail that would become part of the State Highway system at the time of the Great Renumbering would be the Ben Hur Route west of OSR 1 which was OSR 29. OSR 35 left Kokomo to the due east along Markland Avenue, which would later become US 35 (coincidence only…US 35 came to Indiana a decade after the Great Renumbering).

With the Great Renumbering: OSR 1 became US 31; OSR 29 changed to SR 26; and OSR 35 became SR 18. By this time, the route of US 31 north of Kokomo would have been straightened, bypassing Cassville to the west by 1/2 mile. This would put the highway on the survey range line north until it turned east toward Peru. Downtown Kokomo would be bypassed TWICE when it comes to US 31. But there was a chance there would have been now three bypasses of the city.

The Road North

When the original State Highway law passed in 1917, the search was on for the first five Main Market Highways. Some of the highways chosen were not controversial at all. SR 2 was the original Lincoln Highway route across northern Indiana. SR 3 was the National Road, or at least most of the 1830s route was included. SR 4 and SR 5 would connect across southern Indiana. However, the one that raised questions was SR 1.

The idea was that SR 1 was to connect Louisville to South Bend through Indianapolis. South of Indianapolis, this was pretty straight forward. The route was mostly in place as the Madison State Road and the Jeffersonville State Road. Just like the railroads that went between these cities, they shared the same right-of-way (in this case road or trail) to Columbus, splitting there to go to the respective destinations.

But north was a different story.

Survey map of Marshall County, south of Plymouth. The circled survey section numbers are those that were part of the original Michigan Road survey, prior to the area being surveyed to match the system in the rest of the state.

This is where a little bit of Indiana history comes into play. When the state was young, there were state roads created to connect towns across Indiana. One of the first was the Michigan Road. This road would connect Madison (on the Ohio River) to Lake Michigan at a new town to be called Michigan City. The route north of Indianapolis would not be directly north because a large section of the land due north of Indianapolis was still part of the “Great Miami Reserve,” a large area that had belonged to Native Americans. So the original Michigan Road would leave Indianapolis to the northwest, skirting the Great Miami Reserve to the west to Logansport. At Logansport, the state would buy land from Native American tribes in one mile sections to build the road through what would become Rochester, Plymouth and South Bend. If you look at any map of the area which includes survey lines, it becomes obvious where the road was placed. The attached map shows the survey sections south of Plymouth in Marshall County.

Map of north central Indiana showing the 760,000 acres of the Great Miami Reserve (dotted line) set up in 1818. Thin black lines show the current Indiana county lines.

The other road north was the Range Line Road. This road started at what is now Broad Ripple as the Westfield State Road. Just south of the Hamilton-Marion County line, it would follow the dividing line between to survey townships, otherwise known as a range line. At the time of the creation of both the Michigan Road and the Westfield Road, the Great Miami Reserve, set aside in 1818, contained lands that were north of a line that was from a point 34.54 miles due south of Logansport east northeast to a point 34.54 miles due south of Lagro.

It would not be until 1838 when the land of the Great Miami Reserve would become government land, pending the end of all Native American titles to said land. In 1844, two of the last three counties in Indiana were created from the Miami Reserve: Richardville and Tipton. (The third of those counties was Ohio.) It turned out that a trading post on the Wildcat Creek in Richardville County would be on the range line as it was extended and surveyed north through the new lands. That trading post would be setup as the town of Kokomo.

The Range Line Road would be extended to the new town, which would become the county seat of Richardville County. In 1846, the name of the county would be changed to Howard. The road would then travel due north from Kokomo to just south of the Wabash River, where it would turn to go into the town of Peru. From there, it would connect to the Michigan Road at Rochester via Mexico. Most of this route is marked today as Old US 31.

Indianapolis News, 23 August 1917

Now that the general history is done, let’s get back to the 1917 decision of the route north of Indianapolis. I can’t say for sure why the decision was made, but the Indiana State Highway Commission decided that the Range Line would be used instead of the Michigan. Before the decision was officially made, there were many people on both sides of the argument. One of the people on the Michigan Road side of the article was none other than Carl G. Fisher, creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways. His arguments are shown in the attached article from the Indianapolis News of 23 August 1917.

As pointed out in the article, the number of towns, especially county seats, along the Range Line is higher than those on the Michigan before they join at Rochester. The travel distance between Indianapolis and South Bend doesn’t vary much between the two routes. Granted, in the time of horses, a two mile difference in distance was almost monumental. But in the time of the automobile, not so much.

I guess it should be mentioned that, at the time, the only direct railroad route between Indianapolis and South Bend would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort and the Vandalia South Bend line (both Pennsylvania Railroad properties). This would take train travelers through Lebanon, Frankfort and Logansport before heading north to Plymouth and South Bend.

As it turned out, the ISHC would decide the Range Line Road would be the official winner of the SR 1 sweepstakes. This would lead to what ended up being bypass after bypass being built to fix little problems that had plagued the Range Line Road. One that comes screaming to mind, and was corrected about a decade after the decision, was the area at Broad Ripple. Narrow and winding, that section of OSR 1 would be a thorn in the side of the ISHC until it was removed from the state system around 1968 (removed from US 31 in 1930, it would become SR 431 until the completion of Keystone Avenue to the new I-465).

This is far from the last controversial road decision made by the state of Indiana. But it was one of the first. After, of course, the constitutionality of even having to make the decision in the first place. In the end, the historic Michigan Road, one of the first state roads in Indiana, would be one of the last added to the inventory of state maintained highways.