1889: National Road in Warren Township, Marion County

Since it was built, the National Road has held an important place in the history of Marion County. Obviously, the city itself benefitted from the coming of the road. The road was built from east to west, which means when it reached Marion County, Warren Township would be first in line.

1889 map of Cumberland, Indiana

Cumberland. The town was laid out shortly after the coming of the road. The name of the town came from the other name for the National Road. Or, more to the point, the terminus of the road – Cumberland, Maryland. The town was laid out by Henry Brady on 7 July 1831. The original plat only included four blocks, bounded by what was called North, South, East and West Streets (now Niles Street, Saturn Street, Muessing Street and one that no longer exists).

The railroad would come to Cumberland in 1853. The Indiana Central Railway built 71.94 miles of track that year, connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio state line east of Richmond.

The next things that were encountered on the way west were a church and a toll gate one mile west of the county line. The church, built in 1855, was St. John’s Church, but the corner stone is written in the language of the congregation – German. The road would be named later German Church Road. The toll house was opposite the church, on the southwest corner of German Church and Washington.

At the corner of the National and Franklin Roads, a country schoolhouse was located on the southwest corner.

1889 map of Irvington, Indiana

Irvington. Before entering Center Township at what is now Emerson Avenue, the town of Irvington in encountered. Incorporated in March 1873, it was designed as a town of “refinement and culture.” That same year, the Northwestern Christian University was enticed to move to the new town with a 25 acre land donation and a grant of $150,000. The university was tucked between the two railroads that ran through the area, and along the western edge of the town.


Indianapolis: Sand Street

Northeast of where Kentucky Avenue crosses the White River, there is a short, and barricaded, street that connects south southeast to McCarty Street. It is used as access to a parking lot for Lucas Oil Stadium today. Looking at it closely, one can see the remnants of the old stone paving. It is called Sand Street. And where it is today isn’t always where it was. But throughout the history of the city of Indianapolis, it has been really close to where it is today.

Google Earth image of the stone paving of Sand Street, Indianapolis. This image was captured on 27 September, 2020. The Google Image was taken in August 2018.
1875 map of Sand Street in Indianapolis.

The general location of today’s Sand Street was, at one point, actually in the White River. In 1875, the original Sand Street formed the end of Kentucky Avenue at the time. It was crossed by a branch from the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad that extended south to Pogues Run, located at the corner of what is now S. Dakota Street and Terrace Avenue (if it weren’t private property). Looking at the 1875 map to the left, one would notice that the intersection of McCarty and Sand Streets doesn’t exist, as it would be in the river.

1889 Sand Street area.

Due to its “insignificant” nature, Sand Street found itself on and off maps for many years. The 1889 Atlas of Marion County shows that the White River channel had been moved, but that Sand Street was not included on the map. The location of the street, however, is, as shown by the lonely little line connecting to Kentucky Avenue and the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad. Notice that crossing the White River was done at River Avenue, which connected the intersection of River and Oliver Avenues to a bridge that connected south of Greenlawn Cemetery. This bridge had been in place for many years, and would be for years to come.

1894 Sand Street area.
1898 Sand Street area.

Sand Street would again appear on maps in 1894 and 1898. It would be shown as running along the original path, not a straight line between Kentucky Avenue and McCarty Street, which still didn’t connect past one block west of West Street. It should be noted that a second crossing of White River was completed in the years between 1894 and 1898, as the Kentucky Avenue bridge was built.

1926 Sand Street area.

The earliest map reference that I have seen that shows Sand Street in its present location is this 1926 snippet. The previous map that I have found, 1914, doesn’t show Sand Street at all. It should be noted that the two crossings of White River are still River and Kentucky Avenues, although the River Avenue crossing is labelled as Oliver Avenue on this map. Within a decade, the river crossing situation would change.

The first aerial photograph of the area that I have found comes from 1937, and is included below. It shows the new Oliver Avenue bridge across White River, connecting to Kentucky Avenue just south of the intersection of Sand and Kentucky. At this time, the entire area is very industrial in nature, and two branches from the Panhandle (formerly Vandalia, and before that, Indianapolis & Vincennes) curve across Kentucky Avenue on either side of Sand Street. The one on the east side of Sand still heads south towards industrial areas along Dakota Street (have to be careful, it is just Dakota Street…the fact that it runs north and south can create confusion!).

1937 MapIndy aerial photograph of the area of Sand Street, Kentucky Avenue, McCarty Street, et al.

With the exceptions of widenings of Kentucky and Oliver Avenues, and the curving of the Oliver Avenue bridge (between 1956 and 1962) on the east end to connect to the intersection of Kentucky Avenue and McCarty Street, not much changed in the area of Sand Street for many years. Yes, the plants along the street became abandoned and in poor shape, and the railroad connections that cross on either side of the street were removed, the street itself continued in place, and in use.

In 2009, the industrial buildings on either side of Sand Street were demolished, leaving the street itself as an abandoned reminder of what was. 2010 saw it fenced off from the McCarty Street end for the first time. The Google image below shows the Kentucky Avenue end as it appeared in 2009.

Google image of Sand Street, August 2009. If you look carefully, you can see the stone paving that is still in place today.

As mentioned above, Sand Street is still accessible…on days where parking downtown is needed. It is a privately owned street now, and has the consistency of an alley anywhere else in the city. Since it was basically vacated by the City of Indianapolis, maintenance is taken care of by the owners.

As an aside, the Indianapolis News, on 16 September 1979, ran a story called “Paving the Way to Yesteryear,” which included two photos of the granite paving of Sand Street. I will share those here.

The Indianapolis News, 16 September 1979.

Toll Roads In Marion County

Toll Roads. In Indiana, they were a way of life for over half a century. The reason they started was very simple. The counties, after having the state build a road for them, found themselves in a bind when it came to maintaining those roads. So the solution became to sell the roads to private companies, and let them do the work of maintaining the road.

By the 1880’s, the non-existent love affair with the toll road companies was becoming just flat out hatred. Citizens, mainly farmers, were tired of paying to get to the city. This led to just ignoring the toll houses, or finding another way to get to town. This led to the toll companies to lose money. Both sides were arguing for legislation to eliminate toll roads. Residents to make travel cheaper. Businessmen in town to eliminate what they saw as a tax on people to use their businesses. And toll road companies to throwing money at the roads. This led to the counties purchasing these old toll roads back, which I covered in the article “Toll Roads, And State Takeover.”

At one point, Marion County had over 200 miles of toll roads. The county started buying the roads back one at a time. The last road to be purchased, as reported in the Indianapolis Journal of 13 August 1896, was the Pleasant Run Toll Road. The entire four mile length of the road was purchased for $100 a mile. The Pleasant Run Toll Road purchased started at what is now 21st Street and Arlington Avenue, going east for those four miles to end at the Mitthoefer Free Gravel Road. Bet you can’t guess what that road is called today.

The National Road east of Indianapolis started on the way to free road status in September, 1889. The Indianapolis News of 19 September 1889 reported that the “the owners of the Cumberland Gravel Road turned the road between this city and Irvington over to the county this morning and it is now a part of the free gravel road system.” Another benefit of the turnover, at least to Irvington, is that the next day, the Citizen’s Street Railway Company would be granted permission to build a street car line along Washington Street/National Road to Irvington. The plan at the time was to build the street car tracks along the south edge of the road, leaving a 16 foot wide path on the north side of the road for drivers.

In the very same issue of the Indianapolis News, it was reported that “there has been a turnpike war on the Three-notch or Leavenworth road, leading south from Indianapolis to Johnson County.” Residents were claiming that the road was in disrepair, raising money to fight the owner of the turnpike. Many people were running the gates along the road, as there was an agreement to not pay tolls. “At the second gate from the city the pole was cut down by the ‘opposition,’ and there has been trouble all along the line.” A court case in Franklin, the day before, saw the toll road company winning, and the people paying tolls again.

An editorial in the Indianapolis News of 22 June 1892, calls for the remaining toll roads to be taken over by the county. It goes on to talk about the “shun pikes,” local roads built to avoid paying to use the toll roads. The first such “shun pike” in Marion County was English Avenue. It was improved by locals as a way to Irvington without using the Cumberland Toll Road. The next one was Prospect Street, from Fountain Square east.

One toll road that came in from the north became so valueless that the owner of the road tried to give to the county free of charge. Apparently, this wasn’t jumped on by the county commissioners. So the owner went to Noblesville, and had the deed for the toll road transferred, legally, to Marion County. It took twelve months after the deed was registered for the county commissioners to realize that the transfer had even taken place.

The Indianapolis News was the newspaper that was arguing, per an editorial of 22 January 1883, against the county buying the toll roads back. “Why should any county purchase a toll road and make it free? Those who never use it ought not to be taxed to make it free to to (sic) those who benefit by it. While it is a toll road, those who use it pay for it, as they ought.” My, how things can change in less than a decade.

It shouldn’t be lost on people that as the toll roads were being eliminated, the “Good Roads Movement” was starting. While this movement was started by both the post office and riders of bicycles, it would lead directly to what would be known as the Auto Trail era.

Toll roads reached in all directions from the city. In the end, most of the major roads that we use today have been in place for almost two centuries…and had spent time as a toll road. I recommend checking out the following map, which shows the improved roads as of 1895 (Palmer’s Official Road Map of Marion County, Indiana).

1903: Big Four Special crash kills 15 Purdue Footballers

31 October 1903. A football game is scheduled in Indianapolis between Indiana and Purdue Universities. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway (Big Four) locomotive 350 was leading the first of two special trains bringing the Purdue football team and fans along the old Indianapolis & Lafayette tracks.

At around 10:00 AM, due to a combination of limited sight lines and lack of communications, the Big Four Special smashed into a cut of coal cars near “the old gravel pit,” which at the time was at the west end of 18th St. The area is now part of Peerless Pump Company, I-65 and the Methodist Hospital complex.

The old Lafayette and Indianapolis Railroad route, which in 1889 became the Chicago Division of the Big Four, started by running north along the tow path of the Indiana Central Canal/Missouri Street. When the canal turned northwest, the route continued north to a spot south of 16th St.. Then another curve occurred at 19th St. The tracks would then head toward 30th St. and another curve before heading off to New Augusta and Zionsville.

The curve at 16th Street, in addition to the plant of the United States Encaustic Tile works south of 16th Street, created a serious slight line issue. A switch train hauling coal cars to North Indianapolis was backing up northbound slowly, the engineer believing he had right-of-way. He had no knowledge of the Big Four Special coming south along the same line.

1898 map of the “Old Gravel Pit” area of Indianapolis

Coming into the northern curve, southbound, was Big Four #350 and its special consist. Along the west side of the track, at this point, was a siding that was occupied by a cut of box cars. This led to even more slight line issues. It wasn’t until the trains were within a city block of one another that the engineer and fireman of #350 noticed the switch engine.

The Special was running at a high rate of speed at this point. The engineer, W. H. Schumaker, reversed his engine and jumped from the side of the cab. The fireman, L. E. Irvan, jumped on top of the coal in the tender, where he remained an instant before the collision.

Of the 14 coaches (carrying 954 [Indianapolis News] or 963 [Indianapolis Star] passengers and the Purdue football team) that were part of the Special, four were completely wrecked. This was in addition to the engine, tender, and several coal cars of the switch train. The first coach was, according to the Indianapolis News of the day, “reduced to kindling wood.” The second was thrown into the gravel pit down a fifteen foot embankment. The third coach was thrown to the west side of the track, badly wrecked.

The list of the dead included two assistant coaches, several players and substitutes. The list of dead and injured from this wreck took up roughly 20 to 24 column inches of the Indianapolis News that evening – in the seventh extra.

In the pending investigation, the train crew of the Special were held responsible for the crash, though that crew states they had specific orders for their train. They deny having any responsibility for the crash. The crew of the switch train were given no indication that a special train would be running that day, as was standard operating procedure. The switch engine would arrive at 10:16, pulling on to a siding at North Indianapolis to allow the passing of the daily train southbound, as part of its normal everyday work.

Mentioned in the Indianapolis Star the next morning, “it is said, however, that the operator at one of the stations near the scene of the accident failed to notify the switching crew of the coming of the special train and that they made no efforts to get out of the way.”

Big Four officials, claiming that there are standing orders to maintain control of a train between North Indianapolis and Indianapolis, i.e. maintaining slower speeds to allow stopping in cases like this, dispute the claiming innocence of the crew of CCC&STL #350. The exact rule is “trains not scheduled, when permitted to run between North Indianapolis and the shops, must keep under control, expecting to find track occupied by yard engines.”

Particularly damning was a quote by H. F. Houghton, assistant superintendent of the Big Four: “Whether it is a straight track or a curve, clear weather or foggy, a heavy train of a light train, must be considered by the crew. The method of stopping a train is perfectly simple. By the exertion of small muscular force, such as a boy of ten years could furnish, the train can be brought to a standstill.” He went on to add “the rules provide that the conductor and the enginemen are responsible for the safety of the train.”

Beginning of the End of the Original L&I

It wasn’t long after this that the original L&I route through the Gravel Pit was bypassed. The Chicago Division line was, at first, cut just short of 30th Street. The new Chicago Division was routed along the Peoria & Eastern (on some maps called the Peoria Division due to operational contracts between the P&E and the Big Four) to a point just north of 10th Street. The rails then, and still do, run along the east side of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This track ran due north to connect to the original Lafayette line around 60th Street.

Eventually, the line would be dismantled a section at a time. The south end was removed for, among other things, the building of the Indiana State Government Center. The north end became only accessible from the Indianapolis Belt Railroad.

The sight lines along the bypass were much better than the original line, since the bypass is far straighter than the old line.

Information and quotes used in this entry come from the Indianapolis News of 31 October 1903 and 3 November 1903, and from the Indianapolis Star of 1 November 1903, courtesy of newspapers.com. Map sources used include the Indiana State Library (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/search/collection/p15078coll8) and Google Maps.