1912 Proposed Indianapolis Street Name Changes, Part 2

Today, I want to continue the list of streets that were proposed to have name changes during the City Council meeting of 4 March 1912. The list was quite long. And most of them didn’t happen. Or if they did, they are long gone now. This is a follow-up to yesterday’s “1912 Proposed Indianapolis Street Name Changes, Part 1.”

The first one today never was completed, but also didn’t retain the name it had before the proposal. Cooper Avenue between Lafayette Road and the line that separates Wayne and Washington Townships (now 38th Street) was to become Concord Street. At the time, Cooper Avenue did end at Lafayette Road. But a relatively straight line due south would connect to Concord Street just north of 16th Street (between 17th and 18th, actually). By 1926, Concord Street would be completed from Lafayette Road to 16th Street (also still known as Crawfordsville Road by some). It would have a name change as well…but not to Cooper. Concord from 16th to Lafayette, and Cooper from Lafayette to 56th (Centennial Road), would be given the name Kessler Boulevard. It is still called Cooper Road between 56th Street (Centennial Road) and 62nd Street (Isenhour Road).

Before the subject proposal, Brightwood’s Depot Street, from Massachusetts Avenue south to 21st Street, and (what looks like) Laycook Avenue (hard to read on most maps) from 21st south to 19th would be renamed Avondale Place. A street that connected Pratt to 16th Street would be built, and, with Avondale Place, would become Avondale Street. This never happened. Avondale Place still exists, and from what I can tell, what was supposed to be Avondale Street south of 16th Street became known as Kealing Street. Avondale Place south of 21st Street would be removed for industrial development. Avondale Place would be ripped in two by the construction of Interstate 70 in the early to mid 1970’s. (The interstate opened to traffic in 1976.)

The next street name change also never occurred. The new name for the many sections of streets would be Chase. It was to include the first alley west of Bloomington Street from Washington Street to White River, Inwood Street from White River to Michigan Street, Kane Street from Michigan to Walnut Street and Dexter Street from 18th to 22nd Streets. I am not sure about the alley, but I believe it went away when White River Parkway was bent to connect to Washington Street outside the new Indianapolis Zoo. Inwood and Kane Streets are long gone, buried under IUPUI concrete. Dexter Street still exists.

Another large number of segments that would be proposed to become one name was Blake Street. At the time, Blake Street existed from the White River end of Washington Avenue (the original path of the National Road and location of the National Road covered bridge over White River until 1904) north to Pratt Street northeast of Indiana Avenue. Dett Street at Southern Avenue, Brooks Street from 10th to 13th Street, Isabella Street from Myrtis to Udell, Fairview Terrace from Haughey Avenue and 44th Street, and Crown Street from 44th to 45th Street were all included in this change. Dett Street no longer exists…but did at the White River end of Southern Avenue west of Meridian Street. The original Blake Street still exists, in sections. It runs through the IUPUI campus today. Brooks Street still exists. Isabella Street would become Franklin Place. The last two sections are near Butler University. Fairview Place still exists to 43rd Street. Crown Street is between 43rd and 44th Street. I would bet that the street numbers were wrong in the proposal, and that 44th was meant to be 43rd, and 45th was meant to be 44th.

Thomas Street between Brookville Road and English Avenue, Mineral Street from 10th to 19th Streets and Brightwood’s Foundry Street would actually be changed…but not immediately due to this proposal. Those streets would be changed to the name that the street along that line had between Washington Street and 10th Street – Denny Street.

There are still more on the list. As the Indianapolis News mentioned in the last paragraph of the story: “These ordinances are a part of about five hundred contemplated changes in street names. It is Copeland’s plan to give a common name to several streets of different names on the same line. The plan has been approved by postoffice authorities.”

1912 Proposed Indianapolis Street Name Changes, Part 1

I have been covering Indianapolis street name changes for the past couple of days. It seems that almost every decade along the way had some major changes. I covered a major change with the annexation of the town Irvington and the Tuxedo neighborhood last Friday (Tarkington Street? Not so fast. ITH Blog, 18 December 2020). Today, I want to move into the 1910’s to see what I can find and share.

And it starts in 1912 with a very large proposed change. Most of these never made the maps of Indianapolis in an official way. Councilman Copeland introduced an ordinance that would make a ton of street name changes in the city. These were all submitted to the city council on 4 March 1912.

1905 map of the Arbor Avenue area on the
near westside of Indianapolis

The first one involved was was Shover Avenue on the near west side of the city. The recommendation was to turn Shover Avenue into an extension of Arbor Avenue. And it was. From Oliver to Gillette Street, Shover Avenue became Arbor Avenue. But somewhere along the way, the section from the north alley of Oliver Avenue to Henry Street was vacated for the Chevy plant. Arbor Avenue was moved to the east alley Coffey Street, and Division Street was removed completely. Today, Arbor north of Henry exists for a short distance, before being blocked off by a fence and a railroad spur that served the Chevy plant. Also, Division and Gillette Streets are on the private property side of that fence, no longer accessible be the general public.

In addition to Arbor Avenue, an Arbor Street was included in the ordinance along the same line as the Avenue. The new Arbor Street was to include Greeley Street from Washington Street to White River, Limestone Street from Owosso to Michigan, and Porter Street from North to Walnut. The only section of those three streets that still exist is that of Limestone Street, which now connects the end of the New York Street White River bridge to Michigan Street, where it turns into Eskenazi Avenue.

Another one that didn’t quite make it was the renaming of Mobile Street between Senate and Illinois, and Jackson Place, between Illinois and Meridian, to Bates Street. It is on the line of Bates Street east of East Street. No, the name of Jackson Place didn’t go away. It is still called that in front of Union Station.

Poplar Street, between Union and Chestnut Streets, and Bicking Street between Delaware and East Streets to be changed to Bradshaw Street. Not only did this change not happen, the streets in question are now missing from the landscape of Indianapolis. Both fell victim to Eli Lilly and Company.

Bedford Avenue between Raymond and Morris, and King Avenue between Vermont and Tenth Streets to Addison Street. Both King Avenue and Bedford Street are along the same line as Addison Street, but the change was never made.

Mulberry Street between McCarty and Frank Streets, and Union Street between LeGrande Avenue and first alley north of Schiller Street to Pennsylvania Street. I can tell you that at least the southern section, from LeGrande to the alley, did change its name to Pennsylvania. I used to live practically on the corner of both. The name of Chestnut Street would be removed from maps of Indianapolis, becoming an alley between Union and Talbott Streets from Morris to Adler Streets.

Paca Street between Indiana Avenue and Tenth Street was to become Bright Street. This Ransom Place street still maintains its name.

McCormick Place between Muskingum and Illinois Streets to become Anderson Street. This was the name of one of the downtown alleys. The city directory of 1913 states that McCormick is listed under W. Ohio Street.

Smith Lane, between Merrill Street and Stephan Place to Adelaide Street. Adelaide was the name of the alley between New Jersey and East Streets. This change didn’t happen. Today, it wouldn’t matter as Eli Lilly has mowed the entire neighborhood down.

1945 Polk Indianapolis City Directory S

The last one that I want to cover is one that actually did happen, eventually. On 20 June 2019, I covered the “The Indianapolis end of the Brookville (State) Road.” The original end of Brookville Road was at the National Road west of what is now Sherman Drive. The road that winds behind the shopping center at Sherman Drive and Washington Street was originally part of the Brookville Road. By 1900, the section west of Sherman Drive was called Brookville Avenue. In 1912, it was recommended that it be changed to Ewing Street. At some point, S. Brookville Avenue was changed to Brookville Boulevard, and Brookville Avenue east of Sherman Drive reverted to Brookville Road, the name it had originally. Maps and city directories into the 1940’s still show Brookville Avenue/Boulevard. It would be 1945 until the Polk City Directory would list the following entries: Brookville Avenue – Changed to N. Ewing. Brookville Boulevard – Changed to S. Ewing.

National Road at Reelsville

1952 USGS topographic map of the Reelsville area.

When the National Road came to Indiana, part of the requirements for the building of the road was that it be in as straight a line a possible connecting Indianapolis to Vandalia, Illinois (then the capital of that state). Southwest of Indianapolis, the terrain got a little rough to be able to maintain a straight line. Especially in Putnam County. But the surveyors did a very good job in keeping it as straight a line as possible.

1864 map of southwestern Putnam County courtesy of the Library Of Congress. The National Road runs through the southern part of Section 19, the center of Sections 20 through 23. The Big Walnut Creek bridge that washed out in 1875 is in the eastern central portion of Section 20.

And so, the National Road chugged along for around four decades. In 1875, a bridge over Big Walnut Creek, southwest of Reelsville was washed out…and not replaced at the time. Since the National Road, at the time, belonged to a private company, they decided to reroute the road through the town of Reelsville. This would solve the connection problem, road wise, between Terre Haute and Indianapolis, but would create a few more while it was at it.

The Terre Haute & Richmond (TH&R) Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847 to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis. By 1852, the TH&R had built a railroad connecting Terre Haute to Indianapolis. This railroad, near Reelsville, was to the north of Big Walnut Creek from where the National Road was, and connected to the town of Reelsville proper. There was even a station at Reelsville. On 6 March 1865, the Terre Haute & Richmond became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis.

The National Road replacement route took travelers up a long hill into Reelsville. At the town, the new road, which had been in place long before being used as a bypass, followed and crossed the TH&I several times before reconnecting to the original National Road. These railroad crossings were considered some of the worst in the state, especially due to the angle of the crossing.

1912 United States Postal Service map of southwestern Putnam county showing the roads around Reelsville. Notice that the National Road, marked as Mail Road RE 2 east of Reelsville, does continue after turning north to enter Reelsville proper. The old road did still contain houses, even though through traffic had been gone from the route for 37 years.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad ceased to exist as a separate entity on 1 January 1905. That was the day that the TH&I, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the Terre Haute & Logansport, the Logansport & Toledo and the Indianapolis & Vincennes merged to become the Vandalia Railroad Company. Among the items that were taken up by the new Vandalia was the crossings near Reelsville. Money was set aside in 1907 to correct the problem. By the end of 1912 (October to be exact), the Brazil Daily Times was reporting that no such work had been completed to date.

Part of the plan in 1912 was to return the original National Road route to use. According to the same article in the Brazil Daily Times, this would cut 1/2 mile off of the route then in use through Reelsville. And, the railroad crossing situation, with its inherent dangers, would be addressed…and partially eliminated. But, as with other well laid out plans, this did not go to schedule. At all.

The National Old Trails Road, an Auto Trail that, through Indiana, mostly followed the original National Road used the Reelsville cut off when it was created. The old route was still out of commission at Big Walnut Creek. This situation would not be resolved until after the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919. ISHC surveyors were out in the field looking at ways to improve the situation at Reelsville, with the decision made that a bridge would be built in the same location that had been used over 80 years prior when the National Road, now called State Road 3, was built. The new bridge would be a concrete arch facility.

Even then, the new bridge for the National Road would take some time to get started. Over two years, as a matter of fact. Construction started on the replacement of the National Road in January 1922. The winter that year was relatively mild, allowing for construction to start very early in the year. But it was decided that the new route of State Road 3 would skirt the Pennsylvania Lines (the then operators, later owners, of what was the Vandalia Railroad) to the south, bringing the new National Road closer to the Big Walnut Creek.

Even then, the replacement route would only be in place for less than two decades. The Highway Commission made plans to make a true four lane highway across Indiana along what was then the US 40 corridor (which was original State Road 3 until the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926). The new new road would take a straight course through the area south of Reelsville, the railroad and the old new path of SR 3/US 40. This realignment would occur in 1941.

Editor’s Note: This post took a long time to convince me to write. There are several subjects that I have been avoiding because they are MUCH better covered by others. In this case, my Co-Admin of the Facebook ITH Group, Jim Grey, covered it much better than I ever will. And, generally, he has done a great job covering the entire National Road. His post, “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana,” served as the spring board for this post. The irony is that some articles that I posted in the ITH Facebook group led to the puzzles being solved for Jim. Such is the way of the world in this field. I recommend checking out Jim’s stuff when you get the chance. He is more of a road trip person, going out to see what’s on the ground. I tend to look more into the documented history of the same scenes.

Indiana – Car Maker Capital of … Well, Part 1

1914 Polk Indianapolis City
Directory listing of Automobile
Manufacturers in the city. Not all
were included in this list.

Today, we are going to discuss car makers that were based in Indiana. At one point, there were a LOT of manufacturers in the state. Today, I want to focus on companies based in Indianapolis. Not all of them, mind you. The picture to the left shows the entries in the Polk City Directory of 1914. Even then, companies such as Stutz, which participated in the 1911 Indianapolis 500, weren’t included in the directory. Since there were so many manufacturers in the state, there will be more parts to this subject very soon.

American Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1906 – 1913]: One of the many automobile companies that had the guiding hand of Harry C. Stutz. Mr. Stutz came to Indianapolis from Ohio when he sold his former company to an Indianapolis concern. In 1905, he designed a new car, which would be the first made by the new American Motor Car Company. Soon after, Stutz left to become part of the Marion Motor Company. American went on to create what was best described at the time as “under powered, over priced luxury cars.” Their most well known car was called “Underslung,” where the chassis was actually set below the axles. This required 40″ wheels to keep the car off the ground. Over time, the Presidency of the company, along with that of Marion Motors, fell into the hands of J. I. Handley. It was the plan, in July 1913, to combine all of the companies under Handley’s influence into the J. I. Handley Company. This did not last long. By November, 1913, American would file for bankruptcy. The company would emerge from the bankruptcy in December, 1914, with the plan of starting car manufacturing again. It never happened. The American Company had locations at both the northwest corner of Illinois and Henry, and at 1939 to 1947 S. Meridian Street at the Belt Railway. Plant number 3 was located at 1965 S. Meridian Street.

Lafayette Motors – Indianapolis (Mars Hill) [1919 – 1922]: In 1919, a new motor car company was founded named after the Marquis de LaFayette, a French hero of the American Revolution. A cameo of his face was used as the logo on each car the company made. In 1920, the company started the Lafayette Building Company. The purpose of the second company was to build housing for the employees that were flocking to Mars Hill to work for the car company. Lafayette specialized in luxury cars. The company installed the first electric clock in automobiles. The company would come under new management in 1921. The new President, Charles Nash, was the President of the Nash Motor Company, as well. The fact that the two companies would remain separate didn’t last very long. It was announced on 29 July 1922 that the Lafayette Motors Corporation would be moving to Milwaukee, closer to the home base of Nash Motors. The name Lafayette would continue until full ownership, in 1924, was acquired by Nash. The Lafayette name would be used again, this time by Nash for a low cost automobile. Nash itself would last until 1954, when it merged with Hudson to create American Motors.

Stutz Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1911 – 1935]: This company, founded as the Ideal Motor Company, would be started by Harry C. Stutz and Henry F. Campbell for the sole purpose, originally, to build the Bear Cat, a car designed by Harry Stutz. The first car made by Ideal was put together in five weeks from the founding of the company. That vehicle was part of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911. The company would change names in 1913 to Stutz Motor Car Company of Indiana. Stutz would leave the company in 1919. The following year, stock manipulation led the company to be delisted from stock exchanges. The company produced cars until 1935. In September, 1935, three stock brokers were indicted for trying, again, to manipulate Stutz Company stock. Henry Campbell died in September, 1936, in New York. Although Stutz Motor Company had more assets than debts, it filed for bankruptcy in April, 1937. While working through the bankruptcy, no agreements could be made with the creditors. In 1938, the Auburn Automobile Company started making a formerly Stutz produced vehicle – the Pak-Age-Car. For this, Auburn bought tools and machinery from the Stutz factory in Indianapolis, moving them to a facility in Connersville. This was shortly after the Stutz company was to be liquidated.

Marion Motor Company – Indianapolis [1904 – 1915]: The Marion Motor Company commenced work in 1904 at a plant in West Indianapolis at Oliver Avenue and Drover Street. They produced 50 cars in their first year. James I. Handley would gain control of this company, as well as the American Motor Car Company. His plan in 1913 is mentioned above with the American Motor Car paragraph. The Marion Company would, in 1915, combine with Imperial Motors to become Mutual Motor Company. This would close the West Indianapolis plant and the general offices in Indianapolis when the company moved to Jackson, Michigan.

Cole Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1910 – 1924]: In 1910, Joseph Jeret Cole, founded the Cole Motor Car Company. One of the first, called “The Flyer,” a car built for “long, fast road journeys.” It had a 25 gallon gas tank and was powered by a four cylinder, 30 horsepower, engine. The cost, at the time, was $1,500. Cole was known for its luxury vehicles. After World War I, Cole sold a company peak of 6,255 cars in 1919, second only to Cadillac when it came to luxury cars. The company fell victim to the mass produced, cheaper cars that were very popular after the war. Cole had a choice, mass produce cars or quit making cars altogether. Joseph Cole decided to quit. This was after a failed merger between seven car companies, and even talks with William Durant about becoming part of General Motors. The last car left its East Washington Street factory in October, 1924. The company actually had two factories that are still standing: one known as 730 E. Washington Street, being used, as of the time of this writing, as Marion County Jail II, and one at Market and Davidson Streets, which is currently being used as the Marion County Processing Center. The original factory was in what is now the parking lot of the Jail II, right on the corner of Washington and Davidson Streets. The Cole Motor Car Company began liquidation after the last car was made. But unlike most companies being liquidated, the end result was that the company had money left over. All debts were paid off, and shareholders would get what was left over, roughly $39 per $100 share value. The real estate was sold, but purchased by the Cole family itself. And that is what the Cole Motor Company was after 1925 – a real estate company, leasing office space inside their one time factories. The company was listed as still existing even into the late 1980’s…but with no intention of ever producing cars again.

H. C. S. Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1919 – 1926]: Another company started by Harry C. Stutz and Henry F. Campbell. Stutz started this company, along with a company that made fire engines (known as the Stutz Fire Apparatus Company) after leaving the Stutz Motor Card Company. Incorporated with $1 million in capital in late 1919. The company would build its factory at 1402 N. Capitol Avenue. As with other products created by Stutz, his new company was very popular in the city. The economy after World War I was very unstable, subject to very wide swings in soundness. 1921 was a very hard year for this new company. By 1923, however, the company was strong enough to buy a factory branch at 846 N. Meridian St. In 1925, Stutz left Indianapolis for Orlando, leaving his companies in the Hoosier capital to their own devices. This lasted around one year. In 1926, the company became property of creditors. 1927 saw the end of the company when it was liquidated.

Empire Motor Car Company – Indianapolis [1906 – 1919]: The founders of this company would be instrumental in the success of the automobile in general. One created two of the first Auto Trail roads in the country – the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway. The other two would join the first in buying a large field along the Crawfordsville Road (and future Dixie Highway) where they would build what would become a world famous 2.5 mile rectangle known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carl Fisher, Arthur Newby and James Allison got together to create a car known as the Aristocrat. Allison, Fisher and Newby would put the company in a sort of hibernation in 1911. In early 1912, it was sold to other interests, which would commence building cars almost immediately. According to reports at the time, Fisher and Allison were rumored to want to retire from making cars. The last cars to come out of the Empire Motor Car Company would be the 1918 model year.

This is just the start of the lists. As I wrote at the beginning of this article, there will be more coming soon!

Ben Hur Route

I am sure that almost everyone has heard of Ben Hur. Some even know that it was written by Lew Wallace: Major General US Army, 11th Governor of the New Mexico Territory; Minister to the Ottoman Empire; Adjutant General for his home state; and, oh yeah, Hoosier. The book he wrote, Ben Hur, made him and his family wealthy and famous. Lew Wallace was born in Brookville. He lived, and died, in Crawfordsville. So, it made sense to have an Auto Trail with the name. And hence, it was.

The Ben Hur Route was created in 1918-1919. The ultimate route would start in Huntington, traverse the state via Marion, Kokomo, Burlington, Frankfort, Crawfordsville, Rockville and Terre Haute. The route would find itself, in big sections, left out of the state highway system when it was created and renumbered. As state roads were added over the years, parts of the old road became state maintained.

Starting in Huntington, the Ben Hur route left the town to the southwest along Etna Road. By 1920, this would become OSR 11. The route between Huntington and Marion was covered in my Road Trip 1926 series, the entry for SR 9. The original route would travel through the town of Mt. Etna. I mention this because SR 9 doesn’t. SR 9 was moved with the creation of Lake Salamonie. The current SR 9 is west of the town by about a mile. After the Mt. Etna bypass rejoins the old SR 9, that state road is followed to north of Marion, where it turns on Washington Street.

The Ben Hur Route left Marion via what is now CR 200 to the town of Roseburg. From here, the highway traveled south for a mile along CR 300W. At CR 300S, the Ben Hur Route turned west to travel through Swayzee. CR 300S becomes CR 200N at the Howard County line. The old road then turns south on CR 1100E to Sycamore. There, travelers would make their way to CR 850E, and the town of Greentown, via CR 100N.

At Greentown, the original Auto Trail followed what became OSR 35, now, incidentally, US 35/SR 22, into Kokomo. While SR 22 turns west on Sycamore Street in Kokomo, the original Ben Hur Route turned west on Jefferson Street, rejoining SR 22 west of town, on its way to Burlington. As SR 22 curves to the southwest going into Burlington, the Ben Hur Route continued west on what is now Mill Street. Here, the Ben Hur Route met the Michigan Road and Dixie Highway.

South from Burlington, the utility poles contained three painted signs (Dixie Highway, Michigan Road and Ben Hur Route) from there to Michigantown. The ISHC would take over this section of highway in 1920, creating OSR 15. At Michigantown, the Ben Hur Route left the other two roads to follow Michigantown Road towards Frankfort. It enters Frankfort as Washington Avenue. In Frankfort, the route gets a little hard to determine, with the exception of the fact that one most go from Washington Avenue to Armstrong Street. Whether that be using Main Avenue or Jackson Street (now SR 39), it is unknown by me at this time.

The continuing Armstrong Street is the Ben Hur Route through rural Clinton County. The current road turns due west as CR 200S. At CR 350W, the highway turned south for one mile, then turning west again on CR 300S, also known as Manson Colfax Road. At Colfax, the road turns south along Clinton CR 850W until it becomes Boone CR 1050W. A jog in the road, then becoming Boone CR 1075W, the route encounters what is now SR 47.

Northeast of Darlington, a quick turn west onto CR 500N, then Main Street, into Darlington. The old highway then turns south on CR 625E, to CR 300N. West along this county road brings the traveler back to current SR 47 which takes the old route into the east side of Crawfordsville. Southwest bound out of Crawfordsville, the route still follows SR 47. At least as far as northeast of Waveland. At CR 600W, the Ben Hur follows Waveland Road into Waveland, crossing the town along Main Street (SR 59) until it intersects CR 1150S. Here, it follows that road, and Saddle Club Road to intersect SR 59/236. It the follows SR 236 into Guion.

At Guion, the Ben Hur follows Guion Road to Judson, then Nyesville Road to what is now US 36 east of Rockville after travelling through Nyesville. Out of Rockville, the old road doesn’t follow what is now US 41, but Catlin Road through Catlin and Jessup to Rosedale. From there, the rest of the old Auto Trail heads towards its end at Terre Haute. Rosedale Road, Park Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue brought the old road to end at what is now US 41 in Terre Haute. Lafayette Avenue was, at the time, the Dixie Bee Line, and would become OSR 10. At the intersection of Park and Lafayette Avenues, the Ben Hur and Dixie Bee multiplex their way toward downtown Terre Haute. At the time, Lafayette Avenue ended at Third Street, not Fifth like it does today. And the Ben Hur Route ends at Wabash Street, at the junction of the Dixie Bee Line and the National Old Trails Road.

This Auto Trail was not the only reference to the “Ben Hur Route” in Indiana. The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company, the interurban lines, also had a route called the “Ben Hur Route.” It had been originally the Indianapolis, Crawfordsville & Danville Electric Railway. This small company was purchased by the THI&E in 1912. There are very few remnants of either of the Ben Hur Routes today. While the old Auto Trail can be followed, most of it is county roads with some in questionable shape…at least those that are still intact. It is a trip that someday I would love to tackle.

Indiana Roads Before the 1919 State Highway Commission

In the early 20th century, the Good Roads Movement was taking hold in the United States. This had led to a number of Auto Trails throughout the country. In January 1912, the newly formed American Automobile Association held a “Federal Aid Good Roads Convention” in Washington, DC. It was so successful that another one was planned for 6 March 1913. The goal was to encourage Congress to appropriate money to help build better roads across America. Success in this goal occurred in 1914.

Then, there is Indiana. One of the requirements in the Federal Aid program is that Washington would only deal with a State authority for distribution of funds. No more local roads authority would have access to federal funds. The law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in 1917. This created a “Market Highway System,” which consisted of five roads to be helped with state aid. In 1919, the law was updated, allowing the creation of a complete state road system connecting “every county seat and town with a population of more than 5,000.”

But what exactly did the State Highway Commission inherit when it was created? Indiana, at that time, consisted of a patch work of roads maintained by either county or local authorities. There were some remaining toll pikes, but these were being taken over by county authorities as the others had been. Maintenance depended greatly on the authority in control. This led to some very spotty road conditions…at best. This map of Marion County in 1917 shows the sporadic nature of maintenance levels. (http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/2892/rec/29)

Part of what made things interesting, when it came to maintenance authority, is that every road in Indiana, with the exception of the long distance roads that became toll roads, was maintained by one of the 1,016 government townships that exist in Indiana. (The distinction is made here about the “government township.” There are two types of township in Indiana. One is the government township, which can take any shape and contains a government authority. The other is a survey township, which is [usually] a six mile by six mile square separated by “township lines” on the north and south, and “range lines” on the east and west.)

This led to some interesting road conditions, to say the least. Indiana had, at the time, a “three mile law.” This law required the commissioners of a county to construct a road “when 50 freeholders of a township petition” the county “for the construction of a road not more than three miles in length.” This would then require the county to charge the cost to everyone in the township, whether they use, or even have access to, the road being asked for by petition.

Townships could decide to improve and maintain roads on their own. This leads to interesting situations like a nice gravel road coming to a screeching halt at a township boundary, only to be a dirt road on the other side of that line. An example is in the linked map above. Morris Street (a major east-west road on the south of downtown, mostly on the west side) is listed as “gravel or improved.” At least in Wayne Township. Once across the Center-Wayne Township Line, also known as Belmont Street, Morris Street becomes listed as “ordinary or mud.” (Getting back to the two kinds of townships, literally right in the middle of Center Township is a place where Morris Street is replaced by Prospect Street. This happens at a Range Line, today known as Shelby Street.)

After 1900 or so, as longer sections of road were improved, the county would take the responsibility of maintenance. Basically, the township would pay for the upgrade of the road. Then the county would come in and take over maintenance from that point. This led to a mixed bag of maintenance authorities. It was into this situation that the Indiana State Highway Commission was placed in the middle of to allow the use of federal funds for construction and maintenance. Starting with five roads in 1917 to the current ~12,000 miles of highways today.


Carl Graham Fisher

There are few people that have had more influence on the current state of cross country travel than one Hoosier: Carl Graham Fisher.

Arguably, we owe the complete system of United States travel routes, whether it be US routes or Interstates, to a young man from southern Indiana that was not only interested in automobiles, but was also a promotion genius.

Carl Fisher was born in Greensburg, IN, on 12 January 1874. In the late 19th century, he became interested in bicycles. He opened a small bicycle shop with his brother. His love of bicycles led to his being involved in racing. This, in turn, led to an interest in the new automobile industry.

Mr. Fisher made his fortune, along with his friend James A. Allison, when he bought an interest in a patent to make acetylene headlights. The company formed to manufacture these headlights, Prest-O-Lite, went on to produce most headlights used on cars at the time. Prest-O-Lite began in 1904. It would be about a decade before the electric headlight became common. Fisher and Allison sold Prest-O-Lite in 1913.

While still owning Prest-O-Lite, Fisher had hands in two things that would change not only Indianapolis, but the entire country.

The first was as one of four people that put together a automobile test track in a large field along the Crawfordsville Road west of Indianapolis. That test track decided to put on a car race in 1909, which only met with disaster, injuries and death. Fisher convinced his partners to make some improvements in that track, paving it with 3.2 million bricks. In 1911, the race was tried again. Today, it is called the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The second was a brain storm. In 1912, Fisher conceived a great coast-to-coast road. That road would become the first Auto Trail, named the Lincoln Highway. It was this route that encouraged a then Lt. Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower to support the construction of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, or Interstate System, when Eisenhower became President of the United States.

After the sale of Prest-O-Lite, Fisher had another transportation brainstorm. He had already created the east-west route. Now a north-south route was in order. Starting in two locations, Chicago and northern Michigan, a series of roads was brought together in two paths to connect to southern Florida. According to sources, it was to allow people of his home state of Indiana to vacation in Florida. This highway was to be called the Dixie Highway.

His two ideas, the Lincoln and Dixie Highways ended up having a junction in South Bend.

Carl Fisher went on to work on other projects, just not as transportation oriented. He did create a city in a swampy area near Miami. That swamp would become Miami Beach.

Carl Fisher died on 15 Jul 1939 after a lengthy illness. Although he had lost his fortune in real estate with the stock market collapse of 1929 and following depression, he continued to work as a promotion man for his former partners.

Carl Fisher left an indelible mark not only on Indiana, but on the country as a whole.

Bonus fact: Neither of his highway brainstorms connected to his original home town, and only the Dixie Highway connected to his adopted hometown of Indianapolis. The Lincoln Highway, however, did connect to the namesake town of his hometown. Greensburg, Indiana, was named after the hometown of the wife of the founder of the town: Greensburg, Pennsylvania.