Ben Davis and Mickleyville, Wayne Township, Marion County

1852. The Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad was building its main line from Terre Haute to Indianapolis. Six miles west of the center of town, the railroad decided that they would build a station. But only if someone would take care of it. There were no takers, and the railroad skipped the place. There was, however, a signal put in place in case someone did want to board or leave the train in the empty field 3/10th of a mile south of the National Road.

It would be over two decades before a platform was built at the location. This was after the assignment of a ticket agent, John Pierson, that would go to the railroad location to sell tickets right before train time. Mr. Pierson would go on to acquire a lease from the railroad, by this time the Terre Haute & Indianapolis, so that he could build a small station and store room. In 1877, the Ben Davis Post Office would be opened, and two years later an express office was added to the station.

1895 map of Ben Davis Post Office

But the station never belonged to the railroad itself, so John Pierson sold it to another person, Wilson Morrow. Morrow went on to sell the station, and the goods in storage, to Humphrey Forshea, the then current station agent. Forshea was also the name of the road that stretched south from the National Road to a point 1 mile south of what is now Minnesota Street, as shown in the 1895 map to the left. The end of the road shown on the map is roughly where High School Road turns east to go around the Indianapolis International Airport.

The station and post office was named after Benjamin Davis, a first customer of the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. Mr. Davis would ship loads of wood and lumber from the future Ben Davis to Indianapolis. He was born in Lewis County, Kentucky, on 27 October 1821. He died at his home at 2406 Parker Avenue, in Brightwood, on 24 January 1899. He had been a railroad contractor and the owner of a livery stable in the city.

Another town in the area was located where what is now Morris Street crossed the National Road. J. A. Mickley, merchant, built a store at the location that would later be called Mickleyville. Mr. Mickley would become a cobbler at Ben Davis after coming to Indiana from Pennsylvania in 1868. In 1873, he moved to the National Road location. Mickley Avenue, which is a block west of Washington Street and Morris Street, was named after the unincorporated town.

When the National Road was a toll road, the tollgate was located at what became Mickleyville. This makes sense since what is now Morris Street was also a privately owned road…called the Emma Hansch (Free Gravel) Road, which ran from the county line (now Raceway Road) east to the National Road. East from the National Road, along the same line of Morris Street, was the Jesse Wright (Free Gravel) Road that extended eastward to what is now Warman Street.

There were other post offices started in Wayne Township, Marion County. Including one along the National Road, called Bridgeport. Others, which I will cover in a later post, included: Clermont (Crawfordsville Road and the Peoria & Eastern Railroad); Mitchell Station, at the Wall Street Pike and the Baltimore & Ohio; Brooklyn Heights, on the Lafayette & Indianapolis between what is now 34th and 38th Streets; Glendale, north of Crawfordsville Road (16th Street) on the Lafayette Road; Sabine on the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway near what is now Girls School Road; Maywood on the Vincennes State Road and the same railroad; Haughville; and Mount Jackson, both of these last ones were along the National Road.

Celebrating The “Greenwood Line” For Johnson County’s 150th

1 January 1900. The first electric traction car runs into Indianapolis. More importantly, however, according to the Daily Journal of 6 March 1973, it ran into Greenwood. “Townsfolk cheered and applauded as the orange-colored passenger car screeched to a halt at the end of the line.” Thus was the beginning of the interurban era in Central Indiana. “At that proud moment, none of the overjoyed citizens had the slightest idea that the flashy monster called interurban would die some 40 years later – only a few miles down the track.”

Daily Journal photo, 6 March 1973

Greenwood, when it was created, found itself astride two important forms of transportation at the time: the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad and the Madison State Road, later the Madison Toll Road. Both of these facilities connected the little village, called Greenfield starting in 1825, to the state capital directly. The railroad ended at South Street, between Pennsylvania and Delaware Streets. The Madison State Road ended at the end of Meridian Street at South Street.

The idea started in 1894 when $150,000 was invested to construct a 12-mile line from Indianapolis to Greenwood. In 1895, the plan was laid out by Henry L. Smith to create an electric traction company to connect Greenwood to both Indianapolis and Franklin. The route would follow the Madison State Road (then known by the names of either the Madison Free Gravel Road or the Indianapolis-Southport Road depending on where you were). From Greenwood, it would run along the east side of the Madison Road right of way, switching over to the west side of the road just south of Union Street (now Southport Road) in Southport. The route would turn north on Shelby Street when it connected to Madison…connecting to the Indianapolis Street Railways just south of Troy Avenue.

While riding the new electric traction in the rural areas of Marion County, between Greenwood and Southport, “a passenger, Charles Coffin took out his pocket watch to check the interurban’s speed. In that brief stretch the motors of the car had propelled it nearly 38 miles per hour.” That was extremely fast for the time. Interurban stops were 1/2 mile apart at the time. Stops 13 and 14, numbered from Indianapolis, allowed passengers to partake of a popular picnic grounds on the north end of Greenwood – Greenwood Park. Rural stops 10, 11 and 12 were mainly for rural residents to go shopping in downtown Indianapolis. Southport did not have a stop number. Towns and/or housing additions were later built at stops north of Southport: Stop 9 (Homecroft – Banta Road); Stop 7 (Edgewood – Epler Avenue); Stop 6 (Longacre – Thompson Road); and Stop 4 (University Heights – Hanna Avenue).

By June 1900, with the financial success of the Greenwood line, the electric traction route had been extended to Franklin. And that success kept growing, for by September 1902 the interurban crossed all of Johnson County as it headed off to its end at Columbus. By 1910, the interurban had become part of the lives of thousands of people across Indiana. And that is when the wheels started coming off.

Between Bluffton and Fort Wayne, on 21 September 1910, the “worst wreck in the history of traction operations” occurred. More than 40 people were killed in the crash. On 2 February 1924, another tragic accident, caused by two interurban cars meeting head-on, killed 21 people. But nothing would hurt the interurban more than the car and the bus.

The interurban had teetered on the brink of financial failure for years. Then the Great Depression occurred. Many of the Indianapolis-centric traction routes would be consolidated. But 1933 came, and that consolidation was taken out of the hands of its owners, and placed in receivership. Many of the lines were closed at that point – either outright, or replaced with the very busses that helped seal their downfall.

But the Greenwood line soldiered on. For almost another decade. The first line into Indianapolis was also the last when a crash occurred south of Columbus. 8 September 1941 spelled the end of the interurbans along the Greenwood line. “In the end the interurban system had one weary passenger car remaining out of a mighty army of 700 as the hearts and minds of the public turned to other marvels.”

Daily Journal photo, 6 March 1973

The article in the Daily Journal is actually two parts. The top of the page covers the Greenwood line, in parts. The bottom talks about the electric street cars in Indiana, and the birth, life and death of the interurban. The best quote in that part of the story is this: “Before the interurban craze was over – and it hit like a meteor and died a painful death – there were about 200 operating companies; 250 with incorporation papers filed; and another 250 companies which tried to start. Just like canal companies and steam railroad companies, they went big in Hoosierdom.” They sure did. But in Central Indiana, it started with rumbling its way to a point south of the Hoosier Capital.

Bicycling Thursday: “Race” From Indianapolis to St. Louis

I have made mention numerous times in this blog that when the Good Roads Movement started, it was all about the bicycle…not the automobile. And the biggest thing going at the end of the 19th century was the bicycle race. There were races scheduled across the country in 1895, from Spring to Fall. Indiana would include Fort Wayne (5 August) and South Bend (7 August). But, according to the Indianapolis News of 22 June 1895, “the topic that wheelmen are discussing at present is the coming relay race from Indianapolis to St. Louis.”

It wasn’t so much of a race as a message delivery. At the time, military interest in bicycles wasn’t all that great. But that interest had improved to a point where the military had been involved in a great relay race from Chicago to New York. Indianapolis’ race would involve the bicycle corps of the Indianapolis Light Infantry. The Indianapolis News of 8 June 1895 lists the members of that corps. Many of the 13 members of the corps were Century riders: those that have completed 100 miles in one ride in one day.

This particular relay race would carry a message from the offices of the Indianapolis News to Indianapolis Light Infantry Captain Curtis in the office of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Unlike the Chicago-New York race, which changed riders every five miles, this relay would change riders every 50 miles. The route to be followed would be the National Road west from Indianapolis. Or at least as much of it that was in place at the time.

The first leg would be from Indianapolis to Harmony, Indiana. Harmony is three miles east of downtown Brazil. East of Harmony, the National Road followed pretty much the poath US 40 does now…with the exception of the area of Reelsville. That is an interesting story in itself, and would like to refer you to Jim Grey’s “Down the Road” blog, and the 22 January 2018 entry “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana.”

The next legs connect Harmony to Martinsville, Dexter, and Pocahontas, Illinois, before the last leg carries the message into St. Louis.

What is important to remember is that at the time, the Indiana portion of the race was carried on some road that were considered, at the time, in very good condition. The National Road was, in 1895, just restored to a free road status, having been a toll road (the National Pike) for around half a century. Guide books at the time described the road conditions going downhill fast once you cross the Illinois-Indiana state line.

The “race” didn’t go as planned. “After seeing the dirt, plank, gravel and sand roads, to say nothing of the hills, they (the Indianapolis Light Infantry bicycle corps) realized that they would be unable to make the race in the time they had allowed themselves in case it rained.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 6 July 1895) There was consideration to postpone the race in case of rain. That idea was shot down because “it was decided that it would hardly do for a military relay to be hindered on account of a little rain.” Well, it did rain. And the last three riders would find themselves “hub deep in mud.” The Indiana end of the race it didn’t rain nearly as much.

“Where there were good roads, the first two relay drivers gained one hour and thirty-six minutes on the schedule time.” That would be from Indianapolis to Martinsville, IL. After that, it is reported that mud and clay caked so much into the bicycle wheels that they wouldn’t move. It is noted that “the riders have the consolidation of knowing that over the roads they traveled a messenger on horseback probably could not have made better time.” In the end, the message arrived six hours later than scheduled.

Jim Grey has another page, The National Road in Illinois, for the road trip in that section. And he has The National Road in Western Indiana, Revisited covering his road trips along that section of the road. While this is an older site, it is very interesting when it comes to his road trips across the state and country.