National Road Through Richmond

When the National Road was surveyed through Indiana, it had the distinct honor of being one of the straightest roads in the state…another being the Michigan Road. This was on purpose. Most roads through the state were built around whatever was in the way. Very few roads were built for getting from point a to point b in the quickest way possible. That was left to the state to buy the property necessary to do that.

One notable exception is through Richmond.

The area around Richmond started being settled around 1806. By the time the National Road surveyors got there in the early 1830’s, the town had already been established. And in the way of the nearly straight as a board road coming from the Ohio capital of Columbus. So when the road got to Richmond, it made sense to run it straight down Main Street. And that’s what happened.

However, on the west bank of the Whitewater River, upon which Richmond sits, the continuation of the straight line from Ohio would be continued. This would mean that the road would actually start again south of its location through Richmond. One block south, as a matter of fact. This led to the layout of Richmond, and the road, as shown in the following 1840 map snippet.

On this map, it is labeled Cumberland Road.

As you can see, the Cumberland Road is opposite Walnut Street on the west side of the Whitewater River. That would be South A Street today. The name change of the streets would occur sometime before 1893, as shown in the 1893 snippet below.

The National Road bridge over the Whitewater River would be built in the location shown on the first two snippets in 1832. The same bridge served residents of Wayne County and travelers on the National Road for 65 years. News reports across the state were reporting that deconstruction of the bridge would occur in August 1897. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 13 August 1897) It was reported in the source newspaper that “the work of removing the old National road bridge at Richmond, Ind., will begin next week.”

The slight variations in the location of the bridge between the 1840 and 1893 maps are just that, slight variations and could be attributed to slight errors. A measurement here or there could change the map by a few feet…which looks like the case here. Another map, this time from 1853, shows the same area, more like the 1840 map than the 1893 variety.

The original structure was a very large affair…at least for that time. It was easily as large as the National Road bridge at Indianapolis. The Richmond Palladium-Item of 21 October 1962 did an article on a painter from Centerville that had done two paintings of the old bridge. A picture from the article is below.

Another view drawn of the bridge was published in 1911 in Century Magazine. It would accompany an article about the old bridge written by a Richmond native. That drawing is shown to the left.

In 1916, it was reported in the Cambridge City Tribune of 3 February 1916, that “the total cost of the construction of the temporary bridge across Whitewater at the location of the old National road bridge at Richmond was $4,895, of which the county, city and traction company each pay one-third, or $1,798.” I can find no news story about why a temporary crossing of the river was necessary.

The original route, more or less, of the National Road through Richmond would become Main Market Road 3 in 1917. That designation would be changed to State Road 3 in 1919. The slight difference would be on the west side of the river, where the state road followed First Street, not the river, to travel between Main Street and National Road. By this time, a third bridge over the Whitewater River was serving as the facility to cross that wide gorge. On 1 October 1926, SR 3 would be forever changed to US 40.

1962 USGS Topo map of US 40 through Richmond.

In 1998, INDOT decided to build a new bridge across the river, and reroute the old National Road/US 40 through the city of Richmond. This would put the road on its current path through the city, leaving Main Street out of the mix, at least west of 11th Street, as the major thoroughfare for the first time in almost 200 years. The city of Richmond took over the then abandoned route of US 40, creating a more plaza like environment along the historic street.

The new US 40 bridge that was completed in 2000 was advertised as the fourth bridge to serve as the National Road crossing of the Whitewater. I suppose, in a way, this is true. However, the historic crossing was closer to Main Street, which still has a bridge facility across the wide gorge. Not that I have heard arguments over the issue, it is one that road geeks and historians (or, in my case, both) will probably be discussing for years to come.

Beech Grove Traction

1906. A rural station stop on the Big Four Railroad, originally called Ingalls (or Ingallston), has just been incorporated as a shop town for the same Big Four Railroad. It’s official name at this point became Beech Grove. The new town that grew from the building of the railroad shops, covered in my blog entry “Beech Grove,” found itself barely accessible by anything other than the very railroad that built it. It wouldn’t be long until that would change.

First, the town was actually accessible by route of an old toll road that had been built to reach the farm of a local resident, a Mr. Churchman. That road, for the longest time, had been called the Churchman Pike, even after the county bought it back from the toll road company. The Churchman Pike connected to the town via what would become Albany Street, a survey section line that also acts as the separator between all of the southern townships and the central townships in Marion County. Dirt roads along the other survey lines – which would later become Troy and Emerson Avenues – also led to the area that would become Beech Grove. The old train station, Ingalls or Beech Grove, was at the survey line (Emerson Avenue) and the railroad track. Today, that would be under the Emerson Avenue bridge over the railroad.

But it wouldn’t be long before another method of transportation would make its presence known, and try to work its way into the railroad city. Electric Traction, also known as the interurban, had made its way into Indianapolis, officially, with the opening of the Greenwood line on 1 January 1900. After that, companies started popping up all over the United States. And Indianapolis became a hub for the new transportation form.

But this would create a problem. Steam railroads, which all standard railroads were called at the time, saw the new Traction companies as direct competition. Even though the gauge (width between the tracks) was the same on both, traffic interchange was one of those things that the steam roads were going to keep to an absolute minimum. And since the Traction companies specialized in moving people, this was even more reason for the steam roads to dislike the interurbans.

And now someone wants to add an interurban route to a town BUILT by the railroad? The short answer…yes. The reason for this was actually based in the nature of the steam railroad itself. Passenger trains, taking people from Beech Grove to downtown Indianapolis, weren’t scheduled at very convenient times for citizens of the new town. While the company that had invested in, and created, the town, the Beech Grove Improvement Company, tried running its own special trains to downtown Indianapolis, it was at the whim of the very busy Big Four line from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. In comes the planners of the electric traction.

It started in 1909. A company called the Shore Line Traction Company applied for a franchise to run a traction line from the Indianapolis city limits (point unknown) to Beech Grove. Louis McMains, a real estate agent, put in the petition to the County Commissioners. In October 1909, the petition asked that the Shore Line Traction Company be allowed to use the Churchman Pike from the city limits near Keystone and Churchman Avenues to the corporation limit of Beech Grove. It also asked for some straightening work along the road, and the right of way be widened by 27 feet (adding 13.5 feet on each side). “The petition signifies that the property owners on each side of the pike are willing to part with the necessary land to widen the road.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 14 October 1909)

The county had problems with the widening…especially when it came to the Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek (between Walker and Southern Avenues today). The bridge had been in disrepair for years, listed as such as early as 1891. Whether the bridge had been repaired or replaced at this point is unknown. Suffice it to say, the county wasn’t really likely to spend money to replace the bridge.

The petition mentioned that the plan for the Churchman Pike is to widen it to 66 feet, allowing two tracks to be built in the center, with only one track being built to start the company. The new company already had a franchise in hand for the route inside Beech Grove itself.

The Shore Line Traction Company found itself trying to come up with a new route to Beech Grove when the county balked at the Bean Creek bridge. With that, the company was not heard from again.

But shortly after the above petition was filed, a new company would be incorporated – the Beech Grove Traction Company. This company was officially started on 30 December 1909. It had the same goal as the Shore Line Transit Company – connect Beech Grove and downtown Indianapolis.

There was more progress with the Beech Grove Traction than there was with Shore Line. The Indianapolis News of 2 April 1910 reported that the Beech Grove company had elected its corporate officers and announced that grading work would begin soon on the line. Rails, ties and cars had already been ordered. Work on the new Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek had begun on 28 March 1910. Officials of the traction company were negotiating with the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company “for use of the tracks of the latter company in Shelby Street and Virginia Avenue for entrance to the business district.”

The franchise rights had been awarded by Marion County and the town of Beech Grove. When construction was to begin in April, the company had no agreement with the city of Indianapolis about using the city street railway tracks to enter the downtown area. This agreement would not have been reached until September 1910. This caused construction to be delayed until November 1910.

Even before the track was complete, the first train run over part of the line happened on 20 March 1911. Seven days later, regular service began. The Beech Grove end of the line was on what became Garstang Avenue east of First (Emerson) Avenue. The track then ran north on First Avenue to Main Street. Following Main Street west, it turned north on 17th Avenue (Sherman Drive) for one block, to turn northwest on Churchman Pike (Avenue). The route then turned west on LeGrande Avenue to connect to the city street railway system at Shelby Street.

1917 Map of the route of the Beech Grove Traction Company.

At first, the company found itself very popular. The Beech Grove Traction only owned, at the start, four cars to travel between the two ends. But there were so many people that wanted to use the new train that the company found itself running trains every 40 minutes from daybreak to midnight. The time table showed that first car left for Indianapolis at 0530, with the first car from Indianapolis arriving at 0610. A nickel would get a rider from Beech Grove to Shelby Street and LeGrande. A dime would get you all the way to the Traction Terminal.

Now, one might ask about why someone would get off the interurban at Shelby Street. Rightly so. But a trip to Garfield Park would require a change to a city street car. Or, one could catch the interurban to Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus and even Louisville at the end of the city Shelby Street line…which was at the Greenwood Line Stop 1 at Perry Street, south of Troy Avenue, on Shelby Street.

But business along the Beech Grove Traction line would start falling off rather quickly. The Big Four, with the completion of the traction line, stopped issuing passes to employees and families to ride the steam train. This made the interurban the best way to get to downtown Indianapolis. In the early days, most traffic was Big Four shop employees coming to and from work from their homes in Indianapolis. Due to the success of the town of Beech Grove, these employees were moving to the town. This caused a drop in traffic on the traction line. And due to shops being built along Main Street, the traffic drop wasn’t made up for in shopping trips to the stores of downtown Indianapolis.

By 1914, an average of 24 round trips ran each day along the line, with a schedule of 1 hour 10 minutes between trains. That had slowed down to 16 round trips a day by March 1916. And, as is typical of Indiana railroads of the time, the Beech Grove Traction Company found itself falling into receivership in December 1917, caused by increased costs without the subsequent increase in revenue.

Lawsuits were filed. Newspapers reported that the traction line wouldn’t be necessary for much longer, since with the improvement of city streets, bus service between Beech Grove and Indianapolis would replace the electric traction line. In a strange twist of fate, the operator of the bus competition to the Beech Grove Traction ceased his bus company and took over the traction line as railway superintendent. Fortunes improved…for the time being.

One of the things that the line started was carrying mail from the Fountain Square post office to the post office in Beech Grove. This started shortly after completion of the line until it was discontinued in the late 1920s.

The little line lumbered on for almost two decades after receivership…barely. It was recommended in November 1923 that the line be closed and sold. Revenues increased with the permission given to raise fares. But the company found itself sold to make up $30,000 in debt due to maintenance and new rolling stock in 1925. The new buyer made a condition – if a bus line was approved, the sale would be null and void, and the line would be junked. Again, lawsuits were filed, and a bus line was granted an injunction to operate. And the bus company was purchased by the traction line…and both were operated at the same time. It found itself teetering financially, yet still managing to survive.

The Great Depression hurt the line, just like it did almost everything else at the time. But it managed to survive…for a while. The Public Service Commission of Indiana, on 7 January 1937, officially told the company that it was to close the line. Indianapolis Railways, the power provider for the line, complained to the PSCI that Beech Grove Traction owed in the neighborhood of $20,000 for power…which Indianapolis Railways turned off at 0100 on 8 January 1937. And hence, the end of the Beech Grove Traction line. Some people hadn’t seen the notices about the end of service, and were waiting at stops on a cold 8 January morning.

The last vestiges of the traction company would last until 21 August 1973. The company’s car barn, at First and Garstang, would last until demolition started that day.

Dixie Short Line

In the Auto Trail era, roads were popping up everywhere. Road Associations were being formed to cash in on the idea that people in the United States were more mobile than ever with the explosion of automobile manufacturing. Some became quite famous – and still serve as highway names, in spots, to this day. Some came and went without any real notice. Some were pipedreams that would never really happen. One of those was called the Dixie Short Line.

The Dixie Highway was a multi-route major Auto Trail, connecting the north to Florida. Due to this, the Dixie Highway started having a lot of “daughter” roads, although they were never officially related to the original road. One of those daughters traversed western Indiana as the Dixie Bee Line, a play on words because it was designed to be the “B” route of the Dixie Highway, and a “bee” line to the south, or faster way to the same destination.

Another of these “daughters,” although it was specifically mentioned that the name chosen was not to be an “infringement” on the other highway’s name, was the Dixie Short Line. What made this a “short” line is the more direct route that it took from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. The Dixie Highway followed the National Road east out of the Hoosier Capital, then turned southeast out of Richmond towards Eaton, Ohio.

The creation of the DSL was put together by members of the Brookville Commercial Club and the automobile routes committee of the Rush County Chamber of Commerce. This was announced in the Rushville Republican of 2 July 1915. “The Brookville men agreed with the Rushville people that the short route between Cincinnati and Indianapolis should be listed in the auto guides and this will be one of the first things taken up by the two bodies.”

According to the news story, “the name, ‘Dixie Short Line’ was suggested by Brookville and was adopted. The name is not an infringement on the name ‘Dixie Highway.'”

The Rushville Daily Republican of 12 May 1916 reported that signs marking the route had been paid for, but hadn’t been installed to that point. The Rush County Chamber of Commerce had asked the county motor club to install the “$18.50 worth of signs to mark the ‘Dixie Short Line,’ through Rush County.” “The club has the matter under consideration.”

“The proposed marking of the ‘Dixie Short Line’ is the outgrowth of several good roads meetings here and at Brookville to boost the motor route from Indianapolis to Cincinnati by way of Brookville and Harrison, Ohio, which is the same route that will be followed by the Cincinnati extension of the I. & C.”

The name of the road was used locally quite a bit…mentions of farm sales into 1920 is the location of the sale as on the “Dixie Short Line.” Most mentions of the road were in 1915 and 1916, as the local businessmen were trying to get the road recognized by outside organizations.

The Dixie Short Line started on the east side of Indianapolis. It started at the corner of what is now Washington Street and Sherman Drive. (Sherman Drive is three miles east of downtown Indianapolis.) The DSL commenced going south on Sherman Drive, crossing the Baltimore & Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroads, to the old Brookville State Road, still called Brookville Road today.

From there, the DSL simply followed the Brookville Road to the title city. This would take travelers through Rushville to Brookville. After Brookville, the DSL followed the Whitewater River to cross the Indiana-Ohio State Line at West Harrison, Indiana/Harrison, Ohio.

While my collection of available maps is not inexhaustible, I have only ever seen this road listed on one map – and that is shown below. It is the “Standard Series Map of Indiana,” published by the Standard Map Company of Chicago in 1919. It is available from the Indiana State Library digital collection.

To end the discussion of the Dixie Short Line, I want to share a paragraph from the Rushville Republican of 24 August 1949. “How many remember the short-lived campaign about 35 years ago (1915 to be exact) to rename the Brookville Road (now U. S. 52) as the ‘Dixie Short Line’? The campaign was sponsored by the Brookville Commercial Club and the Rush County Chamber of Commerce as a means of attracting the increasing automobile traffic between Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. We don’t think the ‘Dixie Short Line’ name ever stuck, due principally to the fact that the famed ‘Dixie Highway’ through Louisville got its name about the same time and the proposed name for the Brookville Road was too near like it. Anyway the boys tried and a good share of the traffic came through here even if they didn’t get a fancy name for the route.”

By 1920, the route that would have been the Dixie Short Line was taken over by the Indiana State Highway Commission to be known as State Road 39. As mentioned above, it would become part of US 52 in October 1926.

Lebanon

1919 transportation map of Boone County, Indiana.

Lebanon, county seat of Boone County. Boone County was created in 1830, effective 1 April 1830. Lebanon would become the seat of Boone County after Jamestown was not met with a great deal of approval. The choice was made when Commissioners chosen to find a new site met at the center of the county and basically said “yep, this is it” on 1 May 1831. In 1833, the move was officially made…and the town was given a name. From that point on, Lebanon had been a crossroads town both in trails and trains.

The town would find itself along the paths of several “state roads” the were created in the 1830’s. The first I want to mention is the Richmond-Crawfordsville State Road. As the name suggests, it started at Richmond. I covered parts of this road several times in the past year. It basically follows what is now SR 38 out of Richmond to Noblesville, then SR 32 across Indiana through Westfield and Lebanon to Crawfordsville. This road would connect the town to the cross-state highway called the Michigan Road.

The second road that would traverse the town would be the Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road. This road started in near downtown Indianapolis, leaving Marion County on what was the original US 52. This is a topic we will come back to. This historic route would continue through the town to its terminus in Lafayette, where it ended right at the banks of the Wabash River. Through Lebanon, it would become Indianapolis Road southeast of town, and Lafayette Road northwest of it.

Another road connecting the town would become an important feed to Lebanon in the early 20th Century would be the Frankfort State Road. Frankfort would become the county seat of Clinton County in May 1830, two months after the creation of the county and one month after the creation of Boone County. (Yes, you read that right…Clinton County is one month older than Boone County!) The Frankfort State Road left Lebanon along what is now SR 39. But, like other early state roads, the path between the two towns was anything but a straight line.

1953 (1955 edition) USGS topographical map of Lebanon, Indiana.

The next topic of this crossroads town is the railroad. Lebanon would come to have three railroads connecting it to the rest of the country, and all three would be in the hands of the two largest railroads in the United States east: New York Central and Pennsylvania. The third would be, eventually, owned by both.

The Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad was created on 19 January 1846 to connect the title cities. The route that was chosen took the railroad through Lebanon. (It should be noted that this railroad did some street running in Zionsville on its way to Lebanon.) The Lafayette & Indianapolis would be consolidated into several different companies to eventually become part of the Big Four – Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis.

The second railroad that connected to the town was the Midland Route, which started life in 1871 as the Anderson, Lebanon & St. Louis Railroad. The railroad would find itself in constant financial bad times, as most smaller roads did in Indiana. After one of its bankruptcies, the ownership of the company fell into the hands of both the New York Central (through the Big Four) and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was planned to be used as an Indianapolis bypass. That plan never really came to fruition.

The last railroad that would connect to Lebanon would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort, a Pennsylvania Railroad line that would commence construction from Ben Davis, near what is now the Indianapolis International Airport, in 1913. The road was built because up to that point, the Pennsylvania had no direct route from Indianapolis to Chicago, and it was using trackage rights on other routes to connect to PRR tracks heading into Logansport. The railway was completely elevated through Lebanon, along the western edge of the town.

Before the Indianapolis & Frankfort came to town, though, Lebanon was already the center point of another railroad empire – the interurban. For a smaller city, Lebanon had three interurban routes crossing the town. The Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company connected the town to Indianapolis, Crawfordsville, Frankfort and Lafayette. A short line connected to Thorntown. Unfortunately, the lines would be abandoned relatively quickly when they started going out of business. The Lebanon-Thorntown like would be abandoned 27 August 1926. The Indianapolis-Lafayette line would end services on 31 October 1930. In 1933, the Indiana State Highway Commission was attempting to acquire the right-of-way from Lebanon to Frankfort for SR 39. But the traction company that owned it had quit claimed the deed to the property…causing it to revert to the 66 owners of the land prior to the coming of the interurban.

When the Auto Trail era came into being, Lebanon was included in that, as well. The Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road, into Lebanon, and the Frankfort State Road north out of Lebanon, became part of the Jackson Highway. The Jackson Highway started in Chicago, roughly following the Dixie Highway, usually on a different path, to Nashville, Tennessee. From there, it connected to New Orleans. It entered Lebanon from the north on Lebanon Street, leaving town along Indianapolis Avenue.

Another Auto Trail that came through Lebanon was the Crawfordsville to Anderson. Just as it sounds, it crossed the state between the two titles cities along what would become, in 1926, SR 32. Most of the route is still in the same place, with the state making very few changes in SR 32 over the years (with the exception of north of Nobleville to Lapel). Later, this road would also carry the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway across Indiana. From 1916 to 1922, the PPOO connected to Indianapolis. From 1922 on, it connected (just like the Crawfordsville to Anderson) Crawfordsville, Lebanon, Westfield, Noblesville, and Anderson.

Lebanon also has the distinction of having the very first section of Interstate 65 that was built in Indiana. The section in question was built as a bypass of the town for US 52, skirting Lebanon along the south and west sides. When the interstate system was being created (and it was decided that I-65 would go from Indianapolis to Chicago instead of following US 31 like it did since southern Alabama), the logical route to use was what was already in place around Lebanon…a limited access highway that was wide enough to become part of the Interstate system.

Today, Lebanon sits with most of its transportation facilities close to intact. US 52 had been removed from the city in the early 1950’s. SR 32 and SR 39 still traverse the town. The Big Four railroad line from Indianapolis to Lafayette has long since been removed. The Midland Route to Westfield and Noblesville, likewise gone. CSX now runs trains along the old Indianapolis & Frankfort, which still connects to the title cities.

2019 USGS topographical map of Lebanon, Indiana.