OSR 37/SR 37 in Hamilton County

When one looks at a current map of Hamilton County, one notices a very distinct line that runs around Noblesville. That line used to connect Indianapolis to Fort Wayne (or more actually, Cleveland, Ohio) directly in the time before the interstates. The route of that line would be directly replaced by the interstate. Ironically, it would also do so south of Indianapolis, as well. Or will in the future. That line is marked SR 37.

But that is not the SR 37 I want to talk about. Nor do I want to focus on the SR 37 that was replaced by that “new” highway SR 37. But why bring up Hamilton County? Because the original road that was given the number 37 did travel through Noblesville. It just did so in the opposite direction.

I have made a relatively large number of posts about the current, and previous, SR 37. The section of the post-1926 SR 37 didn’t make into the state highway system until the 1930’s. And even then, it was known as SR 13. The Allisonville Road, originally the Indianapolis-Fort Wayne State Road, became the route of the new SR 13. SR 37 ended in downtown Indianapolis with SR 35 (later SR 135).

In 1920, when the Indiana State Highway Commission finally found its legal footing to exist following the Indiana Constitution of 1851, there were a lot of numbered highways added to the maps of the state. As I have mentioned before, there were already five state roads designated. 1920 saw a major explosion of them. To the point that 37 wasn’t even really the last number for them.

Original State Road 37 started at Original State Road 1 in Westfield. Today, the intersection would be known as Main and Union Streets. In this area, OSR 1 was the state’s version of the Range Line Road, connecting Indianapolis to Kokomo and beyond. OSR 37 then travelled east through the Hamilton County country side. Just east of what is now Hague Road, the OSR 37 traveled straight to Cicero Creek, then turned north on Cherry Tree Road. The road that used to be OSR 37 is, today, called Metsker Lane. Metsker is the name of the postal delivery person that had that route back in 1910.

1910 map from the United States Postal Department showing the route of what would, a decade later, become part of Original State Road 37 connecting Westfield to Noblesville. The lower case words on the map are not towns. They are the names of the postal delivery people for that route.

The modern road that follows the same corridor as OSR 37 gently curves to cross Cicero Creek. When it was originally planned sometime between 1830 and 1850, the road, as shown in the map above, crossed straight over Sly Run, and turned abruptly to the east to cross Cicero Creek.

As best as I can tell, the original Westfield Road/OSR 37 crossed the White River on Logan Street. The Westfield Road would end there at 10th Street in Noblesville. From here, the original route of OSR 37 would turn north along the old Fort Wayne State Road to what is now 191st Street.

I should also mention here that this was also an Auto Trail route, as well. The Crawfordsville To Anderson Highway was made part of OSR 33 from Crawfordsville to Lebanon, and OSR 37 from Westfield to Anderson.

For the rest of Hamilton County, what is now 191st Street sufficed as several designated roads: originally it was the Noblesville-Anderson State Road (given that designation in the 1830’s); the Crawfordsville To Anderson Highway (an Auto Trail); and Original State Road 37.

Now, again, those that have looked at a map of Hamilton County notices that SR 37 runs north and south. And that the road I am describing sounds miraculously like what is now SR 32. And that, my friends, would be correct. What is now SR 32 was originally SR 37. And what would become SR 37 eventually would be a part of SR 32 from Logan Street to 191st Street along 10th Street/Allisonville Road. So I guess that means the section of 10th Street shown on the Google map to the left was State Road 37 twice. One of a very few sections of road that would have the same number before and after the Great Renumbering.

Another that I know about is SR 2 southwest of Rolling Prairie. When the original state road numbers were laid out, the Lincoln Highway was given the number 2. This would change in late 1923 as the “more direct” Lincoln Highway route (now the US 30 corridor) was given the number 2, and the original highway was given assorted numbers. With the Great Renumbering, most of the original Lincoln Highway was renumbered to State Road 2 – from Fort Wayne to South Bend, and from Rolling Prairie to Valparaiso. The latter section still has that designation.

Through the years, SR 32 would be moved a block south, rerouted directly out of Noblesville to the east, and removed from 191st Street. SR 37 would bypass Noblesville…mostly. Now that Noblesville has expanded out to the current SR 37, the word bypass just doesn’t fit anymore, does it?

Original State Roads 6-10

1919. The second law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed, and passed Constitutional muster. When the original law was passed in 1917, the fledgling ISHC created five state roads, called Main Market Roads. They were covered in my post “The First Five State Roads, and the Auto Trails They Replaced.” (Indiana Transportation History Blog, 18 October 2019) But legal issues were brought up in regards to the Indiana constitution of 1851. That Constitution was created after the debacle that was the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act. (Indiana Transportation History Blog, 23 August 2019)

The second law had answered a majority of the Constitutional questions when it came to funding roads. Some people saw the ISHC necessary, not for the creating of a state road system, but for a method to get the money the federal government was spending on creating the system. The federal government would only give money to states that had a state transportation agency in place. No money was to be given directly to any government entity smaller than the state.

The Indiana State Highway Commission wasted no time in adding roads to the state highway system. It should be noted here that the ISHC could not just take roads into the system. There were financing concerns, obviously, but also the fact that the roads in question were actually owned by the county. Most had been toll roads previously, which means the counties had to buy them back from the toll road companies in the decades prior to this.

A quick look at a map of the first state roads, when compared to Auto Trails at the time, shows that the ISHC started by using roads that were already supposed to be upgraded for car transportation. (Check out these maps at the Indiana State Library: ISHC Official Highway Map of 1920; and the Standard Series Map of Indiana, 1919.) I will be mentioning those as I cover the second five original state roads. I want to note here that when I use the term “original state road,” it is in reference to the current state roads and their numbering. All of the roads that are listed here, and the ones in the first five article, were renumbered on 1 October 1926, something I have been calling “The Great Renumbering” since I started the ITH Facebook Group on 31 May 2014. Also, the old state roads, those built by the state between 1820 and 1850, had names that showed their destinations, not numbers. Numbered state roads, at least in Indiana, are a 20th Century invention.

Original State Road 6: This road connected Madison to Monticello, via Versailles, Greensburg, Shelbyville, Indianapolis, Lebanon, Frankfort, and Delphi. For those of you keeping track at home, it may sound like the southern end looks miraculously like the Michigan Road, or at least the Auto Trail of the same name. And you would be right. From Madison to Indianapolis, it followed the Michigan Road Auto Trail. The difference between the historic Michigan Road and the Auto Trail is basically the section that runs from Bryantsburg to Napoleon. Versailles is on the Auto Trail, not the historic road.

North out of Indianapolis, OSR 6 followed the old Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road to Lebanon. From there, it used the old state road to Frankfort. This was the route used by the Jackson Highway from Indianapolis to Frankfort. From Frankfort, the ISHC just charged “cross country,” using county roads, to complete the route through Delphi to Monticello.

OSR 6 would become, in 1926, SR 29 from Madison to Indianapolis, US 52 from Indianapolis to Lebanon, and SR 39 from Lebanon to Monticello.

Original State Road 7: From the Illinois-Indiana State line west of Kentland, via Kentland, Monticello, Logansport, Peru, and Wabash, to Huntington. Map geeks will instantly recognize this by its post-1926 designation: US 24. From west of Kentland to Logansport, it was part of the Illinois Corn Belt Route (Indiana Transportation History Blog, 2 December 2019). Between Remington and Wolcott, the route was shared with the Jackson Highway, which led to Lafayette and Frankfort, where it connected to OSR 6. OSR 6 ended at OSR 7 at Monticello. From Logansport to Huntington, the ISHC used the route of the Wabash Way to create OSR 7.

Original State Road 8: From Remington, north through Rensselaer and Crown Point to Gary. The route was also the Jackson Highway from Remington to Demotte, and from due south of Crown Point east of Lowell to Crown Point. When the Great Renumbering occurred, OSR 8 became part of SR 53 from Remington to SR 2, then SR 2 to where SR 55 would come later. From Crown Point to Gary, the route became SR 55 in 1926.

Original State Road 9: From Rockville north to Hillsboro, then west to Veedersburg, then north through Attica and Williamsport to Boswell. The route then travelled through Fowler to end at OSR 7 west of Goodland. This one was interesting at the time of the Great Renumbering. The original route had been moved to the west from Rockville to Veedersburg, instead of Hillsboro. The road that headed toward Hillsboro had become SR 59, but only to Grange Corner. And even then, not for long. A lot of the route became US 41. At least from Veedersburg to Boswell. Otherwise, the original route of SR 9 was mostly forgotten. Some of this had to do with the renumbering of 1923. (Indiana Transportation History Blog, 18 May 2019) The only section of this entire route that had been part of the Auto Trail system was from Attica to the Benton-Lake County line, which was part of the Adeway. (Indiana Transportation History Blog, 26 October 2020).

Original State Road 10: Evansville, through Princeton, Vincennes, Sullivan, Terre Haute, Clinton, to OSR 33 west of Covington. This long route made use of several Auto Trails. Leaving Evansville, OSR 10 follows the route of both the Dixie Bee Line and the Hoosier Highway. (Indiana Transportation History, 23 October 2019). The two routes parted ways at Princeton, with the Hoosier Highway turning east. The Dixie Bee Line was used for OSR 10 to Perrysville Station, along the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad. OSR 10 turned east to Perrysville, while the Dixie Bee Line turned west heading off to Danville, Illinois. The rest of the route of OSR 10 crossed the countryside along county roads until it ended west of Covington.

A quick glance at a map of Indiana, and the reader would think that OSR 10 became the original route of US 41 through the state. And from Evansville to east of Clinton, that would be correct. However, near Clinton, the route crossed the Wabash River. Here, in 1926, it would become SR 63 from Clinton to its end at OSR 33/SR 34.

By 1920, state road numbers would reach into the 40’s. Not many roads were added to the system by the time the first renumbering happened in October 1923. With the Great Renumbering, the state found itself dumping some roads, although it was to be temporary. These original numbered state roads would make a wonderful road trip. I plan on doing a series of that very thing soon.

Creation of the Whitewater Canal

27 January 1836. An act was passed through the Indiana General Assembly that would create what would become the Whitewater Canal. Talk of a canal had been circulating the Whitewater River valley since 1822 or before. It was 1822 when articles about such a canal were being published. Around this time, delegates from Franklin, Wayne, Union, Randolph, Fayette and Dearborn Counties held a meeting at Harrison to look at the possibilities of creating a canal.

The talk of a canal had progressed to the point that a survey was started in 1824. The original surveyor, a Colonel Shriver, passed away while performing this function. A Colonel Stansbury took over the job of surveying the potential route of a canal. But winter set in before he could really start work, and the survey was put on hold. Until June 1834. That was when a survey performed by William Gooding was completed. That survey routed the potential canal down the Whitewater valley from Nettle Creek, near Cambridge City, to Lawrenceburg.

Support for all things transport would heat up in 1835. Work began on a large internal improvement bill to build railroads, roads and canals throughout the state. This would be the known as the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act (MIIA) of 1836. This law would create several projects that would help form early Indiana…and help bankrupt it, as well. This one bill helped push the state to create a commission to write a new state constitution in 1851…one that forbade the state going into debt.

The MIIA would specifically create what would become the Whitewater Canal. It was mentioned in section one of the act. “The Whitewater Canal, commencing on the west branch of the Whitewater river, at the crossing of the national road, thence passing down the valley of the same to the Ohio river at Lawrenceburgh, and extending up the said west branch of Whitewater above the National road as far as may be practicble.”

Anyone that has looked at a map of Indiana will notice one minor detail. The Whitewater River doesn’t go to Lawrenceburg. It actually connects to the Little Miami River northeast of Elizabethtown, Ohio. Those that wrote the MIIA noticed this, as well. It was mentioned in the bill that “if the state of Ohio shall ultimately refuse to grant leave for the construction of that part of the Whitewater Canal which passes through her territory” a railroad should be built from Harrison (Ohio) to Lawrenceburg. That railroad would have to stay within the borders of Indiana.

A total of $1.4 million was set aside for the creation of the Whitewater Canal. The act also allowed for a connection between the Whitewater and Central Canals (the Central Canal would connect through Indianapolis) somewhere in Madison or Delaware Counties.

Section 16 of the MIIA allowed for the board of Canal Commissioners “to enter upon and take possession of, and use any singular lands, streams, and materials of any and every description necessary for the prosecution and completion of the improvements contemplated by this act.” This gave the Commissioners, and anyone assigned by them, the right to take whatever was necessary to complete the Whitewater Canal, and the other projects listed in the MIIA.

The original minimum dimensions of the Whitewater Canal were later determined to be at least 26 feet wide at the bottom, 40 feet wide at the top, and have at least four feet of water depth. This was, however, subject to increasing, if such increase could be done without increasing the cost of construction. The tow path was to be at least 10 feet wide, with the berm bank (opposite bank) being at least six. Both banks would have to have sufficient footing at the bottom to allow a slope of 21 inches for each 12 of height. And the two banks would have to be built two feet above the canal’s waterline. The total right-of-way for the canal would then total 63 feet from outside shoulder of one bank to the outside shoulder of the other.

By 1839, the first section of the canal, from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, was opened. The first boat, the “Ben Franklin” owned by Long and Westerfield of Lawrenceburg, arrived at Brookville on 18 June 1839. Two more boats, the Litlle Western and the Niagara, arrived the next day.

1840 found the state in bad financial shape. The canal had been completed from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, and half of the work from Brookville to Cambridge City had been completed. This cost the state, to that point, $664,665. It was at this point all work on the projects listed in the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act was discontinued.

The Board of Internal Improvements, the government agency tasked with completing all of the MIIA projects, was abolished in January 1842. The plan was to move those projects from public works to private companies. The same month, on 20 January 1842, the Whitewater Valley Canal Company was chartered. The state then turned over all property involving the canal to the new company. The new company was to complete the canal to Cambridge City and receive, as compensation, all revenues from tolls, water power, rents and other incomes for 15 years after the completion of the project.

The canal slowly increased its length. By 1843, it had reached Laurel. Connersville became an active canal town in 1845. The end of the line at Cambridge City would be reached in 1846. The Whitewater Valley Canal Company spent a grand total of $500,000 to complete the original scope of the canal’s purpose.

Unfortunately, the hopes that the canal would prove a boon to the area were dashed relatively quickly. Most of the problems stemmed from bad engineering. By 1848, two aqueducts were swept away, and several feeder dams were nearly destroyed. Once fixed, navigation began again…lasting a year until the normal Indiana floods caused suspension of canal traffic once again.

The canal was put back into operational shape for a time. But things didn’t go well for the company that continued to lose money on the enterprise. It all came to a head on 26 November 1862 when the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company took over the property under Indiana’s condemnation laws. The canal’s receivers were paid $55,000 for the property, and the railroad became the owner of the old canal. All property of the canal company within the state of Indiana would be deeded to the railroad. Ultimately, the railroad would become the White Water Valley Railroad, a part of the Big Four and the New York Central.

The Indiana Toll Road(s)

Indiana, due to its location, has always been a vital cog in the transportation facilities of the United States. This is obvious when it comes to the Auto Trails age and the highways age. Indiana has been connected to the east coast, Florida, the Mississippi Delta, the Great Plains, and beyond, due to its location on the Auto Trail/US Highway system. But one road in the state shows a connection dependence like no other in Indiana: The Indiana Toll Road.

Any discussion of the “Indiana East-West Toll Road,” its official title, must start with a highway hundreds of miles to the east that opened on 01 October 1940: The Pennsylvania Turnpike. If there ever was a more telling transportation facility of the triumph of cars and trucks over railroads, the “Pike” (what locals call the Pennsylvania Turnpike) is it. Heck, the original section was built on an old railroad right-of-way! The Pennsylvania Turnpike would connect to the Ohio Turnpike in December 1954. The following October, the Ohio Turnpike was completed from the Indiana state line to the Pennsylvania state line. Next came Indiana.

The law creating the Toll Road Commission was passed in 1951, as “Chapter 281, Acts of 1951, page 848.” There was some question about the constitutionality of the law creating the commission. The Indiana Supreme Court settled the question with an unanimous decision handed down on 17 November 1952. The stated reason for the act was to allow Indiana to create a new type of high speed, safer highway: “emboying safety devices, including center division, ample shoulder widths, long-sight distances, multiple lanes in each direction, and grade separations at intersections with other highways and railroads.” (Source: Angola Herald [Angola, Indiana], 03 December 1952, pp 15) Also included in the law was the fact that the Governor must approve the location, with the Indiana State Highway Commission approving alignment and design. The act specifically stated that the Toll Road Commission (ITRC) was “authorized and empowered to construct, maintain, repair and operate toll road projects at such locations as shall be approved by the Governor.” This sounds like the ITRC was allowed to build more than one such road. Since this would happen before the creation of the interstate system in 1956, with basically the same design standards, this makes sense.

It was reported in the Munster, Indiana, Times of 23 October 1953 that the route for the toll road had been set, encompassing 156 miles across northern Indiana. The total cost of the project was expected to be $218 million. The details of the road were reported as “it will be dual lane, separated by grass strips, 156.06 miles long connecting the state lines (Ohio and Illinois) north of Angola and in northwest Hammond. It will be between the Michigan border and U.S. 20.” This route was not without controversies. Some of these included the closing of county roads along the route.

Groundbreaking at South Bend was celebrated 21 September 1954. The Ohio Turnpike had already turned into a successful venture. With the completion of the road, at least to South Bend, it was hoped it would be more so. And, yes. Yes it was. When the Indiana Toll Road opened in 1956, traffic in Ohio skyrocketed.

As mentioned above, the law creating the ITRC allowed for more than just the northern Indiana extension to the Ohio & Pennsylvania Turnpikes. The first such project was a “north-south toll road proposed to begin in the Calumet and end within five miles of Lizton in Hendricks County.” This project was, ultimately, surveyed by the ITRC. But the law creating this project had even more constitutional battles. Mainly, the requirement that the ITRC also improver both SR 100 and US 136 as freeway feeders to the new route. It was that specific requirement with which some legislators had problems. Before the 1851 Constitution, the General Assembly passed hundreds of these “special acts.” Those led to the constitutional rewrite.

The second proposed toll road would have connected Vincennes to Lawrenceburg across southern Indiana. Basically, a limited access replacement for US 50. There was a third proposal for a toll road, connecting Fort Wayne to the East-Wet Toll Road with a 45 mile highway. In the end, these roads were eliminated by the pending interstate system. The US 50 route would never be built as it was not considered for part of the interstates. The closest that came to being is I-64, but that actually was more an upgrade for US 60 for most of the route.

The Terre Haute Star of 28 October 1960 reports that, at the time, there were 85.8 miles of interstate highways in Indiana, with the 157 mile East-West Toll Road to “become a part of the interstate system, but it was built with bonds before the federal interstate program was started.” It should be noted that the toll road from Chicago to Philadelphia was originally designated some form of I-80. In Indiana, and most of Ohio, it was I-80. West of Youngstown, Ohio, it became I-80S. That designation would be replaced with the number I-76.

I have decided to end the discussion of the Toll Road with the building of the facility. Many changes have happened over the 60+ years since it was opened. It still seems fairly busy, at least that what it looks like when I visit South Bend. South Bend also has one of the longest interchange ramps I have ever seen on a limited access highway. The connector from the toll road to (now old) US 31 comes in at about one mile. I have no idea why…one would assume it has to do with the University of Notre Dame, which is right across SR 933 (Business 31) from the end of the ramp. I don’t know. If any of you are privy to such information, I would LOVE to know. You know…that whole curiosity thing.

As an aside, I find it ironic that the Indiana East-West Toll Road, with its counterparts in Ohio and Pennsylvania, would almost directly rival, and help end, the state named railroad based in Philadelphia. With the three state toll road, it was possible to compete directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad “Broadway Limited” that ran from Philadelphia (actually, New York City…but that’s not on the turnpikes) to Chicago. And I would bet do it both faster and cheaper. Just another nail in the coffin of the railroads in the United States, or at least the passenger railroads.

Shelbyville Lateral Branch

Personal note. I have never spent so much time in Shelby County as I have since I met my wife, Paula. For most of her life, her family has lived in a place I describe as just past the middle of nowhere, north of the Bartholomew-Shelby County line legally in Flatrock. What does this have to do with this entry? My investigative interest started in this direction due to my going to Paula’s family house. Let me explain.

There are two ways from my old house, and her old condo, to her family’s house. One way used US 421 to Shelbyville and south on SR 9. The other way would use I-65 south, and exit either at SR 44 in Franklin or at SR 252. The SR 44 route is the one that piqued my interest in what I found out to be the Shelbyville Lateral Branch (SLB). Going out the old Greensburg State Road from Franklin, we would go through the town of Marietta. The main street in Marietta is Railroad Street. Wait. What? There’s no railroad in Marietta. And no sign that there ever was. What in the world?

And hence, I started to look into a strangely named street in an out of the way little burgh.

The history of the Shelbyville Lateral Branch has more to do with other, competing, railroad companies. The SLB was done in by both that “war,” but also by roads that directly competed with it.

The SLB started, and ended, life as a feeder line for another railroad. The route connected Shelbyville to Edinburgh through the Shelby County countryside. It connected to two railroad projects at Edinburgh: the Madison & Indianapolis (M&I) and the Jeffersonville (J). The former was the first long distance railroad in Indiana, connecting the two title cities on 1 October 1847. The latter was started to connect Indianapolis to Jeffersonville (and hence Louisville). The latter would run into hard times, not financially, but due to the conceited management practices of the former.

The Jeffersonville had thought, maybe rightly so, that once their line reached Columbus, and the M&I there, that an agreement would be reached to get traffic from Jeffersonville and Louisville to Indianapolis along the M&I. Not so much. The M&I was having none of that. They were afraid that the J would take river traffic out of Madison, hurting the road financially. So the J built a parallel track from Columbus to Edinburgh. 10 miles of track, built side by side, by competing companies. And this is where feeder lines come in.

Let me say this at this point. The Madison had reason to believe that river traffic would be moved from Madison to Jeffersonville. Madison, while closer to Indianapolis, didn’t have something that Jeffersonville had – an impassible Ohio River. Right at Jeffersonville, Louisville and New Albany are the Falls of the Ohio, a shallow area where almost all river traffic had to disembark to go around the area. This was until a canal was built on the Kentucky bank of the river. (Almost said Kentucky SIDE of the river…but the Kentucky side is legally all the way to the low water mark on the Indiana bank.)

(** Edited by Paula Trefun Simpson 06/03/2021 to note that the ‘canal’ mentioned was the Louisville and Portland Canal**)

The Shelbyville Lateral Branch was built by local citizens in 1850. At Shelbyville, there were two routes out of town: the Knightsville & Shelbyville and the Rushville & Shelbyville. This ultimately connected Shelbyville, already served by the Lawrenceburg & Indianapolis (future NYC), to the Indiana Central (abandoned PRR) at Knightstown and the Junction (future B&O) at Rushville.

Now we get back to the M&I and it’s denial of service to the Jeffersonville. The Jeffersonville had been leasing the K&S in 1850. The M&I had furnished much of the rolling stock to the SLB. The M&I profited nicely from this arrangement, for a while, anyway. In an effort to reach Indianapolis, without having any chance at an agreement with the M&I, the J purchased the SLB right out from under the M&I. While not ideal, this would give the J access to Indianapolis in spite of the M&I.

By the time the Jeffersonville’s own tracks reached the connection point at Edinburgh, the Madison realized the error in their ways, making the SLB essentially pointless to the Jeffersonville. What started as control of the SLB on 1 July 1851, basically started a downslide when the J and the M&I finally came to terms in 1855. The writing was on the wall for the SLB. By this time, the Columbus and Shelby had also been built and put into service, giving Shelbyville, and its connections, direct access to Columbus, something it would have until the early-1980’s.

When it was originally built, the SLB used flat bar rail. This was basically flat iron strapped to pieces of wood or stone. While this was quick to install and cheap to build, it also had the potential to be very dangerous. The strap iron would sometimes break lose of the attachment, and, under the weight of the traffic, would bend and curve its way into the bottoms of the wooden rolling stock. The Jeffersonville would replace some of the rail with T rail. That project was never finished before the Shelbyville Lateral Branch breathed its last in 1859.

Looking at it now, the only real thing left of the the SLB is several ads that I have seen and copied, and the name of a street in Marietta that started my imagination and investigation. Unlike most abandoned railroads in Indiana, this one didn’t last long enough to make permanent marks on the landscape. Nor was it really ever elevated the way most railroads were. There are no roadbeds to see, and very few maps that I have seen even show the existence of this route. It, along the the Knightstown and Shelbyville, just up and disappeared within essentially a decade of their creation. They were both basically replaced with the line that connected from Columbus to Shelbyville to Rushville.

And, in the end, the SLB just was a microcosm of the entire railroad battle between the Jeffersonville and the Madison & Indianapolis. By 1864, after a bankruptcy and new management, the M&I ended up just becoming owned and operated by the very company that they were afraid would ruin the M&I – the Jeffersonville.

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.