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.

SR 37, A Review

One of the blogs that I follow everyday is that of Jim Grey. I started reading his blog over a year before I created the Indiana Transportation History Facebook page. It was because of that blog that I asked him to help me admin that group. He was also the one that encouraged me to start this blog…telling me, correctly, that it would be easier to keep track of the information I have been sharing in blog form than in a Facebook group. His blog is called “Down The Road.”

Jim had been sharing his passion for photography and road trips in the Facebook group. His topic has been that of SR 37. Due to those posts, I decided to put together a collection of posts that I have shared over the past 16 months that cover the same subject. Check out his photos on the subject at his blog, or through links on the Facebook group.

Waverly

In the early years of the state of Indiana, a small village located at the Bluffs of the White River became the meeting place for commissioners that set out to determine the location of the new state capital. Two years before that, in 1818, a trail was cut through the wilderness from Brookville that came to be known as the Whetzel Trace. Later on, a road was built north to the new state capital at Indianapolis. Because it went to the Bluffs of the White River, it was called Bluff Road.

Paoli State Road

When the Bluff Road was built, it was included in a longer “state” road that stretched from Indianapolis, through Martinsville, Bloomington and Bedford to Paoli. It would become the basis for original state road 22, and later, the original path of State Road 37.

White River on Indianapolis’ South Side, and its Effects

This article focused more on the effects of the Indianapolis Southern/Illinois Central Railroad, but it DID affect the routing of State Road 37. When SR 37 came into being, it ended at Washington and Meridian Streets, following Meridian Street south to Bluff Avenue (now Road) for its journey out of Marion County. The White River was moved, and the state built a new SR 37 over the old river.

Road Trip 1926: SR 37

On 1 October 1926, the entire state road system was renumbered. State Road 37 was given to what had been State Road 22 from Indianapolis south. The new State Road 37 was designated only south of the capital city.

Winners and Losers, Routing the Dixie Highway Through Indiana

When the committees met to create Carl Fisher’s Dixie Highway, political and personal gain played a part. Especially south of Indianapolis. While Fisher wanted the route to go directly from Indianapolis to Louisville, someone else wanted the same thing…just with a detour through Paoli. The latter won.

Original SR 22 – The “Fight” For the Way to Martinsville

The fastest way to Martinsville from Indianapolis wasn’t always the Bluff Road. When the state started taking over roads, a discussion was had to decide what road would be taken over to get to Martinsville. The choice was between the Vincennes Road and the Bluff Road. Eventually, it would be both.

Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The Indianapolis Southern Railroad was chartered in 1902, and it crossed the old Bluff Road at an odd angle. The Dixie Highway used the route starting in 1914. In 1923, it became State Road 22. In 1925, a bridge was built over the railroad due to increased traffic on both the road and the railroad.

The Dixie Highway In Morgan County

One of the most bypassed roads in the state is SR 37. And very few more so than SR 37 in Morgan County. But this article focuses on the Dixie Highway through the county…and how it was originally routed through the area.

State Highway Department Construction Plans for 1963-1965

This article is included because part of the plan was to build a new SR 37 through the west side of Indianapolis, and connect it to I-465 at Harding Street. The Harding Street connection would be made. It would be a complete reroute of SR 37 from I-465 south to Martinsville. It ended up that SR 37 would be routed along I-465 from Harding Street to East Street (US 31), and be multiplexed with US 31 all the way to 38th Street on the northside of the city.

Expanding SR 37 from Martinsville to Oolitic

The last article about the routing of SR 37 I want to share is the latest one posted. In the 1970s, SR 37 was being moved and widened from Martinsville to Bedford. The section north of Martinsville had already been moved and widened…in conjunction with the construction of I-465 around Indianapolis.

Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The year is 1902, and the Indianapolis Southern Railroad has just been chartered to enter the city of Indianapolis and rumble through the Marion County countryside south of the city. Once the railroad entered Perry Township from Center Township (at what is now Troy Avenue), the railroad right of way followed the survey line one mile west of the Three Notch Road (Meridian Street) and two miles west of the Range Line (Shelby Street). Just south of what would become Stop 8 Road, now Edgewood Avenue, the railroad crossed the Bluff Free Gravel Road.

Rail and road traffic near this intersection of the Indianapolis Southern and the Bluff Road wasn’t a real problem for several years after the building of the railroad. In 1914, the Bluff Road was to become part of the Dixie Highway. This highway, connecting south Florida to Chicago and northern Michigan, actually connected to Indianapolis, the hometown of its creator, in four different directions. This led to a traffic increase along the Bluff Road, creating more problems at the railroad crossing which was at a very bad angle to begin with.

The problem was made worse when the state took over the Bluff Road in 1923, making it original State Road 22. This made the Indiana State Highway Commission responsible for the maintenance of the very old road. In 1925, the state decided that enough was enough, and a bridge was built over the Indianapolis Southern railroad, which had become part of the Illinois Central.

The bridge that was built was a very narrow facility. Two lanes wide, at best. But it would serve its purpose, creating a safe crossing of the Illinois Central by SR 22, or as it would soon become, SR 37. And it did just that until the state started moving SR 37 to the west in 1964, and completing the job in 1965. The overpass then became property of Marion County. And here is where it went downhill.

MapIndy 1937 aerial image of the Bluff Road bridge
over the Illinois Central Railroad.

Reconstruction work on the deteriorating span was scheduled in both 1971 and 1977. The Indianapolis Transportation Board posted a long list of bridge projects for that year in newspapers in mid May 1971 and early April 1977. By 1984, the city was looking at removing the bridge all together. Unfortunately, getting the right of way to do this proved troublesome. The bridge was built with very little clearance when it came to the actual right-of-way used. It was suggested by John Willen, DOT Chief Engineer, that land acquisition was a problem, and that the bridge would not be replaced due to decreased rail traffic at that location.

Legal notice was published in the newspapers in December 1984 that the Indianapolis Department of Transportation, with the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Highways, had decided that the overpass on Bluff Road over what was then the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad would be removed and an at-grade crossing would be put in its place. “The proposed project begins at a point approximately 210 feet south of Banta Road, then extends in a northerly direction mostly along the existing alignment of Bluff Road, and terminates at a point about 750 feet south of Edgewood Avenue for a total project length of 0.42 mile (2,210 feet).” In addition to the removal of the overpass, the following was listed as part of the project: “The portion of Bluff Crest Drive between Bluff Road and Bluff Crest Lane, approximately 280 feet will be removed and Bluff Crest Drive access to Bluff Road will be terminated.”

MapIndy aerial image from 1986 of the
Bluff Road bridge over the Indiana Railroad.

In September 1986, the city of Indianapolis introduced a resolution to implement a five ton weight limit on the overpass. The notification of the resolution in the newspapers of the time stated “whereas, the Indianapolis Department of Transportation Street Engineering Division was notified that certain portions of this structure had a stage of deterioration.” Prior to this, the bridge had had a ten ton weight limit. In May 1987, the bridge was closed completely as the city of Indianapolis decided it would be better off replacing the structure with an at-grade crossing. The city reported that the work would be completed by 15 July 1987. The original plan to remove Bluff Crest Drive was apparently just dropped along the way. That residential street still connects to Bluff Road in the same location as it had before the removal of the overpass.

On 29 July 1987, the Indianapolis Star announced that “Bluff Road, closed since April from Banta Road to Edgewood Avenue for extensive reconstruction, was reopened for traffic Tuesday (28 July 1987).” The project cost the city $540,000 and involved the removal of the “severely deteriorated Indianapolis Southern Railroad overpass built in 1925.” Even in the end of the overpass’ life, the newspaper still called it the Indianapolis Southern instead of the company that had taken it over just the year before, the Indiana Railroad.

Lafayette

Situated near the head of navigable waters on the Wabash River, the town of Lafayette was founded in 1825. At that location, it became an important transportation hub in north central Indiana. As the county seat of Tippecanoe County, it became the confluence of several early state roads and railroads, and a place on the Wabash and Erie Canal. Today, it still maintains that position, albeit with a bit of moving things around for efficiency.

A little history. Tippecanoe County was created from parts of the unorganized Wabash County (which at the time encompassed almost all territory in the state west of the second principal meridian) on 20 January 1826, effective 1 March 1826. Part of this territory had already been, jurisdictionally, part of Parke County. Part of the county’s territory wasn’t ceded to the state until October 1826. Lafayette, platted in May 1825, was made the county seat at the same time. Tippecanoe County is among the very few counties that have not had any territorial changes since its time of creation, with the exception of some unorganized territory jurisdiction until those areas were incorporated into counties of their own.

Other than river travel along the Wabash, the first transportation facilities built into the town were state roads from assorted places in Indiana. These included the Crawfordsville Road (now roughly US 231), the Noblesville Road (roughly SR 38) and the Indianapolis Road (roughly US 52). The original junction of the last two was on the SR 38 side of what is now Tippecanoe Mall. This can be seen in the Google Map image below by the property lines that remain.

Google Map image of the area of the original area of the junction of the Noblesville-Lafayette and Indianapolis-Lafayette state roads. The property lines diagonally from left of center bottom to the northwest show the location of the original Indianapolis road. Image snipped 14 September 2019.

The next facility built that connected to Lafayette would be the Wabash and Erie Canal, finished to the town in the 1840s, although the canal would actually be across the river from the town (through what is now West Lafayette). This canal would allow traffic from Lake Erie, at Toledo, to connect to the Ohio River, via the Wabash and White Rivers, at Evansville. The Wabash and Erie would end up being the longest canal built in the United States, a total of 497 miles. The canal itself competed with another canal from Toledo, connecting to Cincinnati. It connected to Lafayette in 1843. It would be the premium transportation facility to the town for less than a decade. It would be superseded by the railroad, even though canal traffic would continue for decades.

Three years after the coming of the canal, on 19 January 1846, the state of Indiana incorporated the Lafayette & Indianapolis (L&I) Railroad company. This was the most successful attempt at creating a railroad to connect the two cities. The first was an addition to the Madison & Indianapolis to connect to the town. Later laws allowed for this addition to be either a railroad, or if more financially efficient, a road to connect Lafayette to the Hoosier capitol town. (Indianapolis was legally a town until October 1847.) The original plan was to connect Indianapolis, via Crawfordsville, to Lafayette.

The L&I finished construction, on a more direct route, in 1852. On 14 February 1867, the L&I merged with the Indianapolis & Cincinnati Railroad to form the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette Railway. That, in turn, was reorganized on 10 July 1873 to become the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette (IC&L) Railroad. This version of the IC&L would be sold at foreclosure on 2 February 1880, becoming part of the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago (CISTL&C) Railway on 6 March 1880. This, in turn, would be consolidated into the new Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway, better known as the “Big Four,” on 1 Jul 1889. The Big Four would have strong connections with the New York Central system, although it was technically its own company, starting in 1906. By 1930, the Big Four was merged into the NYC, ending its separate existence.

Between 1846 and 1852, a new railroad would be built from the south, starting in Crawfordsville, to connect to Lafayette. While this sounds like the original plan for the Madison, Indianapolis & Lafayette mentioned above, it wasn’t that company that had anything to do with it. Incorporated on 19 January 1846, the Crawfordsville & Wabash Railroad was created to build north from the title town. The 28 miles to Lafayette were finished in 1852, just in time for the C&W to be sold to the New Albany & Salem Rail Road company. This would become part of the ultimate line idea to connect New Albany to Chicago and Michigan City. Seven years later, the company would change its name to better show off its size: Louisville, New Albany & Chicago. This company went from being a (legally) railroad (24 October 1859), to a railway (7 January 1873), to a consolidated railway (10 August 1881), all while keeping the same base name. The last consolidation would include the Chicago & Indianapolis Airline Railway (“airline” in this context means the fastest and most direct route allowed for a railroad). Another name change in the company formed the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railway. It wouldn’t be until 1956 when the name changed to the nickname the line had for many years during the CI&L period: Monon. The line is now part of CSX, like the old New York Central line mentioned above.

The next railroad to reach Lafayette would become the Wabash Railroad. Like the Wabash and Erie Canal, the railroad would connect Lafayette to Toledo. To the west, the line continued toward Danville, Illinois, through Attica. The original company to build the line was the Wabash & Western Railway, incorporated in Indiana on 27 September 1858. After several consolidations, and bankruptcies, the line would come under the umbrella of the nearly 2000 mile Wabash system.

On 13 July 1869, the Lafayette, Muncie & Bloomington (LM&B) Railroad was incorporated in Indiana to connect the title cities (Bloomington being in Illinois). Construction on the line started shortly after the incorporation was passed into law. It would start at Bloomington, Illinois, headed toward Lafayette. From there, it would traverse the Indiana countryside through Frankfort to its terminus at Muncie. The line was completed, for a total of just shy of 36 miles, to Lafayette from the Illinois-Indiana state line in 1872. The other 85 miles, to Muncie, was completed in 1876. The LM&B would not last long as a separate entity after its completion, being purchased by the Lake Erie & Western (LE&W) on 28 April 1879. 1879 was the year that several lines were purchased to create the overall LE&W. The railroad itself would find itself controlled by the New York Central from 1900 to 1922, when it was sold to the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, better known as the Nickel Plate.

These two railroads would become part of the Norfolk & Western (N&W) Railway on 16 October 1964, but in different ways. The Nickel Plate became part of the N&W flat out, via merger. Technically, the Nickel Plate ceased to exist that day. The Wabash, however, was leased by the N&W. As such, the Wabash maintained a more separate existence even through the N&W/Southern merger creating the Norfolk Southern (NS). The Wabash still existed, on paper at least, until the NS finally absorbed, in merger form, the Wabash in November 1991. Stock in the company would be traded until that time.

In 1902, a new form of transportation was aiming to come to the city. The Fort Wayne, Logansport & Lafayette Traction Company was trying to get the tow path from the (at that time) old Wabash and Erie Canal “from the west line of High street in Logansport westward to the county line” condemned for use as the right-of-way for the new interurban line. This was, as reported in the Indianapolis Journal of 27 August 1902, because the company claimed that the right-of-way was “necessary to construct its line in, through and between the cities of Fort Wayne, Huntington, Wabash, Peru, Logansport, Delphi and Lafayette.” The defendants in this action were the owners of property along that tow path. Another suit, involving the same company, sought the same action for the entire tow path, 39 miles, from Lafayette to Logansport. This would culminate in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette (14 December 1902) headline “The Fort Wayne, and Lafayette Traction Company Can Have Tow Path if it Pays the Price.” The value of the land between Logansport and Lafayette was determined to be $38,750.80.

Another line entering Lafayette was built from Indianapolis. By 27 June 1903 (Indianapolis Journal), the Indianapolis & Northern Traction Company, building a line from Indianapolis along the Michigan Road, through Zionsville, Whitestown and Lebanon (roughly following the Big Four Lafayette Line), then through Frankfort to Lafayette was two miles away from the city. This line would become part of the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company, owners of a large number of the routes leaving Indianapolis. In 1930, this line was purchased by Midland Utilities, and consolidated into the Indiana Railroad (1930). After this purchase, the line wouldn’t last long before it was abandoned due to profitability issues.

With the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919, Lafayette would be connected to the state highway system using state roads 29 and 32. State road 29 started in Boswell, connecting Oxford, Otterbein, West Lafayette, Lafayette, and Russiaville, ending at the Range Line Road, then SR 1 (now US 31) south of Kokomo. State road 32 started in Lafayette, connecting to Bloomington via Crawfordsville, Greencastle, Cloverdale and Spencer. State road 29 west of Lafayette would become US 52 and SR 22 in 1926. East of Lafayette, the number would be changed from 29 to 26. State road 32 would become part of SR 43. This would change with the addition of US 231 to Indiana, removing the SR 43 designation in favor of the new US route number, in 1951.

With the Great Renumbering, more state roads were added to, or authorized to be added to, the city of Lafayette. US 52 would follow the old Indianapolis state road to that city. Northwest out of Lafayette, there were already plans in place to move the newly designated US 52. Northeast out of town, a new state road was authorized to be built to Delphi. This was to be designated SR 25. Also authorized was an extension to SR 43 north from the city, ultimately connecting to Michigan City. In the years to follow, Lafayette would also be connected to SR 25 to the southwest and SR 26 to the west. The number 43 would remain north of town, as the new US 231 would follow US 52 and then replace SR 53 north from Montmorenci. The last state road to head toward the city would be SR 38, which roughly followed the original state road from Noblesville.

Many changes in transportation facilities have occurred in Lafayette since the creation of all those mentioned above. US 52 and US 231 have been rerouted around the city. The railroads have consolidated routes for efficiency through downtown. Lafayette is served by both of the major railroad companies in the eastern United States: CSX and NS. Prior to 1999, it was actually served by all three. The third being Conrail. Lafayette still serves as the transportation hub in the area.