Interurban Freight Service

In the Golden Age of Electric Traction, the interurban lines covered quite a bit of the state of Indiana. This is a subject that I have covered several times in Indiana Transportation History. However, today, I want to cover more than just Indiana, in a way. In 1924, a freight service was created using the interconnected electric traction lines across several states. It was given the name of “the Minute Man of the Traffic World.”

The freight system set up, covering 4,728 miles of electric traction track, covering an area from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, in the east to Chicago and beyond in the west. It was entirely possible to ship something, via interurban, across Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

A statement, issued on 18 July 1924, by Harry Reid of the Central Electric Railway Association, “described the position of the interurban railway as that of a minute man always ready to rush out on a hurry call.” The interurbans were in an ideal place to serve industries and their workers. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 18 July 1924, pp 15)

“The development of the motor car has taken much local traffic off the hands of the electric and steam roads, but the demand for speedy service has more than repaid the electric lines, at least, for the loss of that business.”

One of the advantages the electric railroads had over the steam roads was less than carload deliveries. Steam railroads would spend a great deal of time and money on the creation of truck trailer service and less than carload service. Traction lines used free space to move parcels.

Fresh fruit, for instance, was shipped by rail into places like Indianapolis. Then the interurbans could deliver that produce to smaller towns along the line. Even livestock was transported by interurban. Indianapolis itself, in 1923, received 10,510 car loads of livestock…and sent out 1,086.

The Indianapolis traction freight yards, also in 1923, handled 229,150 tons of freight. “With the development of the new Indianapolis electric freight terminal, and the addition of new rolling stock by all lines, this total should be greatly exceeded this year.”

This freight service would find itself in trouble in less than a decade. With the Federal Government ordering the separation of electric utilities and electric traction companies, and the Great Depression, the traction lines would start failing. Private automobiles also helped in the demise. The Traction Freight Terminal, located on Kentucky Avenue near White River, didn’t last long. And the interurban was completely gone from Indianapolis in 1941.

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.

The Lincoln Highway, The Michigan Road and Rolling Prairie

With the coming “dog bone” intersection completion at US 20 and SR 2 east of Rolling Prairie, I thought it would be a good idea to cover the multiple copies of both of these routes and the roads that were in place before the state highway system was created.

Rolling Prairie, Indiana, showing the multiple transportation facilities around the area. Original image courtesy of Google Maps, snipped 03 September 2019. Colored lines added using Microsoft Paint.

In the 1830s, the state of Indiana created a road that connected Michigan City (a new town created for the end of the road) to Madison on the Ohio River, via Indianapolis. This new road would be called the Michigan Road. One of the things that is constantly wondered about is why the road went through South Bend instead of directly to Michigan City. The reason for that was a very large swampy area known as the Kankakee River. The road was built to stay on dry land as much as possible, simply because it was easier than building across a swamp.

This caused the road to take a very strange detour to the north of a straight line between South Bend and Michigan City. The original path of that road is marked on the image above as the green line. (The orange spots on any of those lines show where the road can’t be followed because it has been moved over the years.) Later on, a road was added connecting South Bend to LaPorte. As was typical of the time with early “state roads,” it would use the then road that was in place until the new road would branch off to go to its new destination. This created the red line on the map above.

In the 1850s, with the coming of the railroads, a line was built from South Bend to Chicago roughly following the Michigan Road for the eastern portion. As is typical at the time, the railroad company basically built in the straightest, most level, line possible. And, being also typical, it didn’t matter to the railroad what they built through. This caused a very dangerous crossing northeast of Rolling Prairie of the old Michigan Road and the new railroad. The town of Rolling Prairie would be put in place to take advantage of both these routes.

1910 USPS map of rural mail delivery in LaPorte County in the area of Rolling Prairie. Image courtesy of the Indiana State Library, available here. (

Fast forward to the 20th Century. The dangerous crossing of the (then) New York Central is still in place. Due to this crossing, even the post office planned their routes around it, as shown in the above map.

In the mid-1910s, with the beginning of the Auto Trail era, it was decided that the coming Lincoln Highway (original route) would traverse this area. The Lincoln entered Indiana on the west at Dyer, exiting on the east southeast of Fort Wayne. A close look at a map shows that there can be a (relatively) straight line between the two points. And, looking even closer, such a line exists as US 30. But it was decided that the road would be routed through Valparaiso, LaPorte, South Bend, Elkhart and Goshen, among other places. This brought the road along the old state road connecting LaPorte and South Bend, passing to the east of the railroad at Rolling Prairie.

With the creation of the original Indiana State Highway Commission in 1917, it was decided that the new “State Road 2” would follow this original Lincoln Highway route. Again, that would be the red line on the Google Map at the top of the page, then the green line leaving the image at the top right. In 1923, the old Michigan Road, completely, from South Bend to Michigan City, through Rolling Prairie, was changed to SR 25, with the Lincoln Highway’s original route becoming SR 42. (The SR 2 designation was moved to what would become the new route of the Lincoln Highway…aka what became US 30 in 1926.)

Things would change (again) in October 1924 (Source: South Bend Tribune, 03 October 1924), when it was announced that “the Indiana State Highway Commission has determined to relocate state road No. 25 on Division street extended and that maintenance has been withdrawn from state road No. 25 between South Bend and Rolling Prairie through New Carlisle and Bootjack and on state road No. 42 between New Carlisle and a point where Division street extended will connect with state road No. 42.” This was a fancy way of saying that the Lincoln Highway and Michigan Road was being from east of Rolling Prairie to South Bend was being returned to county responsibility. This is shown as the blue straight line from the east (current SR 2) that turns northwest at the original Lincoln Highway, connecting to Rolling Prairie’s Michigan Street (historic Michigan Road). According to the same article, this would shorten the distance between South Bend and either Rolling Prairie or LaPorte by 1.5 miles. The other thing at play with this removal from the state highway system is the pending desire to remove a dangerous grade crossing at New Carlisle. With the rerouting of SR 25 at this point, that makes that crossing a St. Joseph County problem, not one of the Indiana State Highway Commission.

It should be noted that the “straighter” SR 25 from South Bend to Michigan City was also determined, in part, by the desire of the Federal Government. That desire was “for the construction of what might be called a military road through this part of the country in as straight a line as possible.” The decision to use Division Street (now called Western Avenue, by the way) out of South Bend was made by an official of the Federal Government looking at the situation. One comment that made no sense is that “the decision was affected partly by a decision to keep as far away from the central business district of the city as possible.” In South Bend, that would be about 1/2 mile or so, really.

With the Great Renumbering of 01 October 1926, the replacement SR 25 would be recommissioned as US 20 through the area, with the old Lincoln Highway branching to the southwest becoming (once again) SR 2. Half a decade later, the original Lincoln Highway from east of Rolling Prairie to South Bend would be returned to the state highway system. In 1932, US 20 was rerouted to the old road. It was at this time that the US 20 and SR 2 routes would change at their intersection. US 20 would be moved again, from Rolling Prairie to the junction of SR 2, to the route shown on the map at the top as the yellow line, in 1940 or 1941. The old (blue line) route of US 20 through Rolling Prairie would become SR 220 in 1945. It would be that way until 1953.

1963-1964 Indiana Official State Highway Map showing the area of Rolling Prairie.

The final modification in this area would be the creation of the current intersection of US 20 and SR 2 in 1963. The map to the left is from the 1963-1964 ISHC official map. The following official map, of 1964, shows the completed, new, intersection of the two routes.

Let me say, personally, I have never understood why these routes were numbered the way they were. To me, it would have made far more sense to leave US 20 where it was, and make the old route SR 2. But that is not what happened. And now, with the construction of a “dog bone” interchange at that location, the road numbering makes even less sense.

The Hazelton Bridge

In the days of the Auto Trails, a second route adopted the name of “Dixie Highway,” this one being the “Dixie Bee Line.” In Indiana, much of this route followed what became State Road 10, and later US 41. In September 1921, work was started on a bridge over the White River north of the town of Hazelton, where the river forms the boundary between Knox and Gibson Counties. This bridge would replace the last ferry on the “Dixie Bee,” a ferry that had been in place for 40 years at the time of construction.

What makes this bridge special is its shear size. According to the Garret Clipper of 28 February 1924, “the bridge is said to be the largest on a state highway in the middle-west.” The massive size of this bridge is especially shown in its length. Including approaches, the bridge was nearly three miles long. The bridge consisted of a total of 29 spans: eight steel and 21 concrete.

Google Map image of the Hazelton Bridge. This image was snipped on 1 July 2019.

Built by the Stein Construction Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and costing $275,000, the bridge was 20 feet wide for its entire length, including approaches. It was rated to carry up to 20 ton (40,000 pound) vehicles. The bridge itself was 2002.5 feet in length, with approaches of 7448 feet (north) and 3800 feet (south). The bridge was “without draw,” or a non-moving bridge, that was 38.5 feet above the low water mark on the White River.

The steel spans had two different lengths: four were 198 feet; four were 84 feet.

The amount of construction material involved was massive: 1.5 million pounds of steel; 350,000 pounds of reinforcing steel in the concrete; 6,200 yards of concrete; and 13,000 linear feet of timber pilings. In addition, slightly more than 90,000 cubic yards of earth was used in building the northern approach.

The bridge had been longed for by residents of both Knox and Gibson Counties. As mentioned, the Hazleton Bridge replaced a ferry across the White River at this point. The problems with the ferry were typical when it came to Indiana weather. In the spring and fall, the amounts of rain received in the area caused the ferry to be put on hold for weeks at a time, suspending traffic flow at the same times. Again, according to the newspaper mentioned above, “traffic often was held in abeyance for weeks at a time.”

It was reported that this bridge “removes in Indiana the last obstacle on what is said to be the shortest motor route between Chicago, Florida and Gulf points.”

Google Map image of the Hazleton Bridge and southern approaches as of 1 July 2019.

All of the construction did have its problems later. The Indianapolis Star, of 15 January 1930, reports that “turbulent flood waters from White river threatened to destroy the three-mile fill leading to the Hazelton bridge on United States highway No. 41, late yesterday.” It was also stated that “the water was rising an inch an hour and highway officials expected the roadway to be covered before morning.” Members of the Indiana National Guard were sent to protect the Hazleton Bridge during this flooding incident due to reports of people wanting to blow up the bridge to alleviate the flooding problem.

The flooding in question affected not only US 41 at Hazleton, but points all along the White River south of Indianapolis. This especially affected areas around Newberry, Edwardsport, Spencer, Shoals, and Bedford. Highway officials were reporting that most state and county roads in these areas would not escape the flood waters.

The Hazelton bridge was in use from October 1923 until it was closed by officials of Knox and Gibson Counties on 03 April 1989. It had been in the state inventory until a bypass was built in 1961. Knox County officials wanted to close it for structural reasons in 1985, but work was done in 1986 to keep it open a little while longer. The weight limit on the bridge had been lowered in the 1970s to five tons for safety reasons. High water in April 1989, and parts of the bridge sinking six inches or more, helped make the decision to remove the bridge from use. According to the Vincennes Sun-Commercial of 6 April 1989, “the closing means an additional two miles for travelers coming to Vincennes from Hazelton.”

Vincennes Sun-Commercial, 06 April 1989

Now, as shown in the above Google Maps images, the bridge stands in a decaying condition, a testament to what had been one of the greatest bridge building projects in Indiana in the early days of the Indiana State Highway Commission.

Old US 52 in Franklin County

Indiana has a ton of old roads that are marked “Old whatever.” Some of them are really old. For instance, there is an “Old SR 34” in Indiana, although there is no SR 34…and hasn’t been one since 1951. But while roaming Google Maps, I found an old state road that never was…Old US 52 northwest of Metamora.

Old US 52 from Lake View to SR 121. Map courtesy of Google Maps.

The above image shows a Google Map that was snipped on 14 June 2019. It shows a road called “Old US 52.” This interested me. Those that have read this blog, or the Facebook group, know that when I glom onto something that grabs my interest, I stick with it to the best of my ability. Well, with a road name like this, I was going to be interested. And what I found was, well, enlightening.

As usual, I will start with a brief history. The road that became US 52 in 1926 was part of the original Brookville State Road from Brookville to east of Indianapolis. On the Marion County end, it is still called Brookville Road. This road connected in Marion County to the National Road almost three miles east of downtown Indianapolis. Most of the old road traveled through rural areas, with only two bigger towns on the route: Rushville and Brookville. And, so, the Brookville State Road was used for this purpose for around 100 years.

1919 Rand McNally Auto Trails map showing the section of the old Brookville State Road from Rushville to Brookville. The circled and highlighted section shows that is now called “Old US 52.”

In 1923, the old Brookville State Road became Original State Road (OSR) 39. It included part of the above highlighted section. The road shown as OSR 39 on this map appears to be completely gone at this point. But the 1924 Indiana Official Highway maps shows that this section of OSR 39 was rerouted to roughly the current route of US 52.

Indiana Official Highway Map, 1923, showing OSR 39 between Rushville and Brookville.
Indiana Official Highway Map, 1924, showing OSR 39 between Rushville and Brookville.

On 1 October, 1926, what was OSR 39 became part of the United States Highway system as Route 52. This was basically a sign change, as the route changed very little between 1924 and 1926. OSR 39/US 52 fulfilled the same purpose as the original Brookville State Road, albeit a bit shorter route. It still does to this day.

But this also begs the question: why is the subject road called “Old US 52” when it, apparently, never was part of US 52. My bet, and this is only a guess, is that it all stems from the old Brookville State Road. The rerouted version became US 52, so the original road was “old” US 52. Again, this is only a guess.

The original route connected again to the current US 52 at the junction of US 52 and SR 121.

Indiana State Road Numbers

As someone that spends a LOT of time looking at maps, I notice that most states have no rhyme nor reason to the numbering of their state roads. Most states number them in the order they were created, or legislated. Indiana is, now, not one of those.

In the beginning, 100 years ago this year, Indiana started creating a State Market Highway system. At that time, there were only five state roads. OSR 1 ran, basically, down the center of Indiana north to south. OSR 2 was the Lincoln Highway. OSR 3 was the National Road (more or less). OSR 4 ran from JCT OSR 5 near Shoals to Lawrenceburg. OSR 5 connected Vincennes to New Albany.

Around 1924, talk was started about creating a “national” road system to take the confusion out of traveling in the age of Auto Trails and the myriad of names and directions. The system was ironed out over the next two years, coming to fruition on 01 Oct 1926.

And that is the day that Indiana did a wholesale slaughter of the state road numbering system.

Indiana decided to do the same thing with the numbering of state roads that the “national” system did: odd numbers travel north/south being numbered east to west, even numbers travel east/west being numbered north to south. For the most part, anyway.

There were exceptions. There always are exceptions. Yet, through some freak of numbering, the new United States highways, for the most part, just plugged right into the system. For example, US 31, US 36, US 40, and US 50 fit right into the Indiana system perfectly.

But the system was simplified, as well. In addition to the directions of the roads, and where the numbering started, Indiana also added the “mother/daughter” system. Main state roads were give one and two digit numbers, with three digit numbers being daughter routes to those. There were/are only two exceptions to the three digit daughter rule, but I will get to that later.

One of the purposes of the “daughter” system was to create a way to insert state roads into the system without totally destroying the order of the system.

The one major exception to the whole system was SR 67. There were discussions about US 67 connecting to Cleveland, OH, across Indiana. The plan was to number it SR 67, and change it if and when the time came. It never did. US 67 ended up traveling, more or less, due north through west central Illinois.

The Indiana numbering system works well. If you know the history. If you look at a map today, there are several things that stand out like a sore thumb. And those are really due to the United States highways that came to Indiana after 1926.

Let’s get back to the two three digit exceptions to the daughter rule. First, and most obvious to map readers, is SR 135. Yes, it is a major state road. No, it is not a daughter route to US 35. It used to be SR 35, until US 35 came to Indiana.

The other exception was SR 100. Ask anyone who knows, and SR 100 was to be a loop around Indianapolis. Unfortunately, the history of the road isn’t that simple. While SR 100 legally lasted (at least from I-465 to US 4) until 1 Jul 1999, it was replaced long before that by the same I-465. As a matter of fact, most of the contracts for the building of I-465 were actually issued as SR 100 contracts.

Now, to daughter routes. Marion County has a daughter route that connects to the Women’s Prison (used to be the Indiana Girl’s School) on, guess what, Girls School Road. It is SR 134. Yet, there is no SR 34 in Indiana. There was. There isn’t now. SR 34 became US 136 in 1951. There also used to be a LOT more daughters of SR 34: SR 234 (through Carmel – not the two that still exist), SR 334 (Zionsville – decommissioned just a few years ago), SR 434 and SR 534 (the original designation of the major part of SR 100 – the part that most locals know).

In southeastern Indiana, there are two daughters of SR 29: SR 129 and SR 229. These exist because before 1951, US 421 was SR 29 from Madison to just south of Boyleston.

I am sure that there are more examples of such numbering inconsistencies. SR 21 mostly became US 35. US 231 used to be part of SR 43 and part of SR 45, among others. Even in northwestern Indiana, there are a lot of x27s that are orphaned because US 27 was replaced by I-69 north of Fort Wayne.

But two roads that I am asked about quite often are SR 38 and SR 47. Strangely, SR 47 ends at SR 38 at Sheridan.

Although SR 47 spends most of the way traveling east and west, it is labeled north and south. As you travel east toward Sheridan, you are on North 47. I have never been able to find a reason for this. Nothing. INDOT has decommissioned part of this route from JCT SR 38 to JCT US 31.

SR 38 is a different story. It DID follow the pattern when it was created. The original SR 38 connected New Castle to Richmond. (Although US 36 didn’t exist east of Indianapolis, this location of SR 38 is between 36 and 40.) The State Highway Commission would eventually add to SR 38, displacing most of the route when it comes to numbering. It would follow the old “Crawfordsville State Road” from New Castle to Noblesville (with the rest of this Crawfordsville Road becoming part of SR 32), and, roughly, the Lafayette Road (Lafayette-Noblesville State Road) for the rest of its journey across Indiana.

So, although there are exceptions, there is some method to the madness of Indiana state road numbering. And, with a little thought and knowledge, it does make Indiana a little easier to navigate.

The Grand-daddy of all Auto Routes: The Lincoln Highway In Indiana

This post appeared originally on the ITH Facebook group on 19 June 2014.

Among those roads displaced by the creation of the US Highway system was the Grand-daddy of the Auto Trails – The Lincoln Highway.

Believe it or not, the idea of the Lincoln Highway, an auto-trail that ran from San Francisco to New York, started right here in Indianapolis. Businessman Carl Fisher had a brain storm one day, and thought it would be a good idea to create a coast-to-coast all weather road.

In Indiana, it ran nothing close to resembling in a straight line…unless you consider Fort Wayne, Elkhart, South Bend, La Porte, Valparaiso, and Dyer in a straight line.

I mention Dyer because it was there that “the ideal section” was created – the perfect section of roadway, showing how the Lincoln should be built from coast to coast.

In 1919, the state of Indiana created the State Highway Commission, and gave the Lincoln Highway the same number from border to border: SR 2. (In my research, this is the only SR I have found that, in sections, had kept its originally assigned number – although it had to be changed back to that number.)

In 1924, SR 2 was rerouted – along a straighter alignment that would become another version of the Lincoln Highway. The original Lincoln Highway was broken into sections with different state road numbers: 42 (Valparaiso to New Carlisle), 25 (New Carlisle to Elkhart), and 46 (Elkhart to Fort Wayne). The new route connected Valpo to Fort Wayne through Plymouth, Warsaw & Columbia City.

With the coming of the US Highways, the new original SR 2 became US 30. The original route was not assigned as a state road between New Carlisle to South Bend when the numbers all changed in 1926. However, the rest of the route from Valpo to Rolling Prairie, and Elkhart to Fort Wayne became SR 2 again.

The section from New Carlisle to South Bend would eventually be added to the State Road system – as a replacement for the originally assigned US 20, which was renumbered as SR 2.

The section from Elkhart (I guess technically from South Bend…but I digress) to Fort Wayne would be changed to US 33 when it was assigned in Indiana.

Now in 2014, most of the original Lincoln Highway route, and the secondary route that became US 30, can be followed, although not easily. Most of both routes have been passed back to the counties as INDOT removed them from the state road system by rerouting or decommissioning. I have made most of this trip. It is one that I would STRONGLY recommend.

US Highways: They are actually State Roads

I originally posted the following in the Indiana Transportation History group on 11 Jun 2014. It has been slightly edited to correct some “oopsies” in my original.

For those old enough to remember (and I, unfortunately, am not one of them) before the Interstate system came into being, and US routes were the cross-country method of auto transport, this post is for you.

Somewhere lost in the history of transportation is the true story behind the US Highway system. Believe it or not, the Federal Government was late to the “good roads” party, and really only joined it half-heartedly. Let me explain.

Near the end of the 19th Century, there was a craze sweeping the nation – bicycling. The problem was that most roads at the time were basically dirt paths through the country. Some were graveled, yes. Some were bricked, but mainly only in towns. Those that rode bicycles started clamoring for better roads to reliably and safely use their new-fangled transportation method.

The US Post Office was also involved in this movement, mainly because mail was that important. And delivering the mail in some rural locations was troublesome at best.

With the creation of the automobile boom in the early 20th century, the Good Roads Movement started including the drivers of the horseless carriage. Again, because most roads at the time were dusty at best, and practically impassible at worst.

Clubs started nationwide to encourage auto travel (the Hoosier Motor Club was one). Clubs were also started to encourage the creation of travel routes that were more than dirt roads to the next county seat.

These last clubs led to many named highways throughout the nation. For instance, Indianapolis was served by the (Andrew) Jackson Highway, Dixie Highway, Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, National Old Trails Road, the Hoosier Highway, Michigan Road, the Range Line Road, the Hills & Lakes Trail, and the Hoosier Dixie.

The most famous of the Road Clubs was the Lincoln Highway Association, which crossed Indiana through the northern tier of counties. On its trip from New York to San Francisco, it passed through Fort Wayne, Ligonier (included because it was the SECOND Ligonier on the route – the other being in Pennsylvania!), Goshen, Elkhart, South Bend, La Porte, and Valparaiso. (As you can guess, it wasn’t exactly a straight line at first!)

In 1926, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads finalized a national route system that became the US Highways. This was to combat the numerous named highways that led to some major confusion among the automobile traveling public. The system was discussed starting in 1924, with a preliminary list issued in late 1925.

Named highways painted markers on utility poles most of the time. It, apparently, was not unheard of to have numerous colored markers on one pole. And new named highways were popping up monthly. (They even kept appearing after the numbered highways started appearing.)

A misconception is that a US Highway is a Federal road. US Highways have a distinctive shield with a number. It can also have, legally, a State Road marker. That’s because US highways were really just state roads that shared the same number for its entire distance. So SR 40 in Indiana was also SR 40 in Illinois and Ohio, and so on. (INDOT has even posted SR 421 signage on SR 9 at the entrance ramps to I-74/US 421 in Shelbyville.)

While US highway numbers have come and gone across the state, most of them appeared in one of two phases – 1927 and 1951.

The original US Highways in Indiana were: 12, 20, 24, 27, 30, 31, 31E, 31W, 36, 40, 41, 50, 52, 112, and 150.

The second major phase included US 136, US 231, and US 421.

Between these two phases, the following roads were added:
– US 6 (1928)
– US 33 (1937)
– US 35 (1934) It required changing SR 35 to SR 135.
– US 36 – Yes, it is listed twice. US 36 originally ended at Indianapolis from the west. It was extended east in 1931.
– US 152 – Mostly followed US 52 (Lafayette Road) north from Indianapolis from 1934 to 1938. It never left the state, so it was downgraded to mostly state road 53 (which, strangely, was added BACK into the federal numbering system as US 231).
– US 224 (1933)
– US 460 (1947-1977)

These were added to the system in sections. For instance, US 6 came into Indiana from the east and ended up being routed along what, at the time, was Indiana State Road 6.

There have been many changes in the original US highways. Some have bypassed towns in many places (like US 31). Some have just been removed from the system (like the northern end of US 33). Some were replaced by the interstate system created in 1956 (like US 27 north of Fort Wayne).

The beginning of the end of the major importance of the US Highway system started in 1947, when AASHO deemed it “outmoded.” This led to the creation of the interstate system with a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1956.