1951: US 421 – A Third “Michigan Road” Route

In 1950, a series of new United States highways were voted upon by the organization that controlled such things at the time, the American Association of State Highway Officials, or AASHO. That organization is not one of the Federal government, but one that is actually the states (and Washington DC and Puerto Rico) getting together to set standards and keep track of interstate and US highway numbers. (There is a lot more to it, but I want to get to the point!)

Whenever a highway is added or removed to the interstate or US highway system, it has to have approval of AASHTO (the successor to AASHO, with the words “and Transportation” added in 1973). When US 33 was removed from Indiana and Michigan, while the two states agreed, it had to be approved by AASHTO. The same for US 460 when it was truncated at Frankfort, Kentucky, leaving the rest of Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri without that highway that was basically replaced by Interstate 64.

So, in 1950, some new US highway was added to the system. These highways were “daughters” to other routes. For instance, US 136 would be the first branch off of US 36, with 136 starting in Indianapolis, and US 36 originally starting there. But today, I want to look at another road that came through Indianapolis for a time…US 421.

When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created (the second time) in 1919, the first state road added to the highway system after the first five Main Market roads was the Michigan Road Auto Trail, slightly different from the Historic Michigan Road, from Madison, through Versailles, Greensburg, and Shelbyville to Indianapolis. The original State Road 6 continued north from Indianapolis via the Lafayette Road, but that is not part of this profile.

On the northern end, original SR 15 connected Michigan City to Logansport via Laporte, Knox and Winamac. In 1923, with the first Renumbering, the Historic Michigan Road from Logansport to Indianapolis was added as an extension of OSR 15. This created a route that connected the same destinations without going the same direction. The Historic Michigan Road connected Logansport to Michigan City via Rochester, Plymouth and South Bend. The new original State Road 15 used a direct course between the two.

Meanwhile, the original State Road 6 from 1920 would come into this story by connecting Frankfort to Monticello through Rossville and Delphi. With the renumbering of 1923, that route would be given the number 44, the original number of what would become the rerouted Lincoln Highway (and US 30).

With the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926, entire route of the old Michigan Road Auto Trail from Logansport to Madison was given the number 29, as was the original State Road 15 from Logansport to Michigan City. The old state road 6/44 that connected Frankfort and Monticello was given the number 39.

To other roads that would become part of this story were shown as authorized additions to the state highway system. First was the road that connected the Michigan Road near Boylestown to Frankfort was to be added as State Road 28, which at the time connected US 31 west of Tipton to SR 9 north of Alexandria. The other was to be added as SR 43 north from Reynolds along the new US 24 due north to Michigan City.

Meanwhile, the original Michigan Road route from Logansport to Rochester was an authorized addition to the state highway system as SR 25. The rest of the route, from Rochester to Michigan City had been part of the system since 1923, most having been part of the system since 1917. Original State Road 1 (later US 31) from Rochester to South Bend was an original Main Market Road, as was Original State Road 2 from South Bend to Rolling Prairie. The section from Rolling Prairie to Michigan City would be added as OSR 25, and the section from Rolling Prairie to South Bend would be given the number 25 as well, since the number 2 was moved to what would later become US 30.

So now that we have the history of the route nailed down, let’s get to the topic of this post.

On 25 January 1951, it was announced that road markers had arrived from the renumbering of several state highways to a new number: US 421. At the time, US 421, a daughter of US 21 that connected Cleveland, Ohio, to Hunting Island, South Carolina, ended at Bristol, Tennessee. The road itself had been truncated to Bristol, as it had previously connected to the Cumberland Gap in Virginia. And once again, it would cross Virginia, on its way to Lexington and Milton, Kentucky, to cross the Ohio River into Madison, Indiana.

Once in Indiana, it would follow the Michigan Road Auto Trail route (again, not entirely the Historic Michigan Road) to just south of Boylestown. This would take the new US highway through Versailles, Greensburg, Shelbyville and Indianapolis. This was the route of SR 29.

At the point south of Boylestown, US 421 turned west for seven miles to enter Frankfort along SR 28. At Frankfort, the new highway would turn north along SR 39 to US 24. West along US 24 to SR 43, then north along SR 43 to Michigan Road.

On 13 March 1951, the new US 421 was officially marked along the route mentioned above. All official press releases for the marking of the route made sure to point out that the old route numbers would be used along the new route until 1 July 1951 to avoid confusion. Thus from Boylestown to Madison, the road would have two numbers: US 421 and SR 29. At least for a while. It would seem that the only two road numbers that would removed would be SR 29, located as above, and SR 43 from US 24 to Michigan City. SR 28 is still, to this day, labelled as such along the US 421 route. And SR 39 is multiplexed with US 421 from Frankfort to Monticello.

From Indianapolis, this new US highway would create the third route with a Michigan City end. And all three followed the Historic Michigan Road out of the city. At Boylestown, US 421 separated from the historic road to follow the route above. At Logansport, SR 29 left the historic route by travelling northwest across the old swamp land that caused the road to turn toward Rochester in the first place. Meanwhile, the original road continued along its old path, connecting to Rochester as SR 25, then to South Bend as US 31, and on to Michigan City as US 20.

The SR 29 route would be changed, as well, to a US Highway from Logansport to Michigan City…when it would become part of the US 35 route. By 1935, the number US 35 was multiplexed with SR 29 from Burlington (west of Kokomo) to Michigan City. In 1942, the section from Burlington to Logansport would go back to being just SR 29, as US 35 was rerouted along the new SR 17 connecting Kokomo to Logansport directly. The SR 29 designation would be truncated to Logansport, thus removed from the US 35 route, sometime in either late 1957 to 1958. The Indiana Official State Highway Map of 1959 shows no multiplex of US 35 and SR 29.

Over the 170 years of its existence, the Michigan Road has been an important route. The city of Michigan City was created to be a point of destination for the road. As technology improved, this important route would be replaced and shortened. Today, the US Routes of 20, 35 and 421 are the ends of the different routes connecting Indianapolis (more or less) directly to Lake Michigan at Michigan City.

Indianapolis: Indiana Avenue Bridge Over Fall Creek

Early in the history of town of Indianapolis, when the state started building roads to connect the fledgling capitol to the rest of the state, a road was built from the northwest corner of the original Mile Square, traveling northwest. That road would be called both the Lafayette Road and the Crawfordsville Road, since it went to both. After the road crossed Fall Creek one mile north of the center of the town, it took a route closer to White River. That section would later be called Speedway Avenue and Waterway Boulevard. But the bridge over Fall Creek, connecting the two sections, would take nearly two decades for a true resolution. And it required the removing of several streets, including the historic Lafayette/Crawfordsville Road.

1937 MapIndy Aerial photograph of the Indiana Avenue & 10th Street area.

The bridge is question is shown on the above 1937 MapIndy photo. At that time, the intersection at the bridge was a confusing jumble of streets running in different directions. At what became the intersection of 10th Street and Indiana Avenue, there were also connections to Locke Street (heading south past the City (Wishard) Hospital, and Torbett Street running north of 10th heading east. Many people still referred to 10th Street between this intersection and the White River Parkway as Fall Creek Parkway…but that was its old name by the time this photo was taken.

Indiana Avenue had become a major route for people leaving downtown Indianapolis for the northwest suburbs. The northern end of both of Indiana and Speedway Avenues were connected to 16th Street, which ran west from Indiana Avenue to the Emrichsville Bridge over White River. The state had connected separate sections of 16th Street from Indiana Avenue east to Northwestern Avenue as part of State Road 34. Traffic, therefore, was heavy across the bridge.

That was until the summer of 1936.

It was then that the city of Indianapolis limited the bridge traffic to five tons. Trucks and busses found themselves having to go around the closed bridge by using 10th and 16th Streets. In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed completely to all traffic. Street cars found themselves now being rerouted around the snarl. Indiana and Speedway Avenues north of Fall Creek simply became cul-du-sacs because they had no southern end at all.

The Indianapolis News of 7 May 1943, in an editorial piece, mentions that in 1936, when trucks were banned from the bridge, the Board of Works announced a $110,000 plan to build a new bridge on the site. “In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed to traffic and a year later the city was promising solemnly to produce a new one almost immediately.”

That was followed in the fall of 1940 by the City Council and the City Engineer coming together to talk about building a new bridge for Indiana Avenue. The City Engineer was “ordered to determine ‘by the next meeting’ the precise status of the matter.” That went nowhere as it was in 1941 that a discussion was held about finding an old bridge from somewhere else to replace the old Indiana Avenue bridge that had, at that point, been completely closed to traffic for three years.

As mentioned above, the editorial was run in the News in May 1943. The bridge was still closed to traffic.

A week later, on 12 May 1943, the Indianapolis News ran another editorial on the same subject. “Mayor Tyndall expresses in one short sentence what many have had in the back of their minds for years about the Indiana avenue bridge over Fall creek. ‘If the army had to cross it, the bridge would be fixed over night,’ he declared. The bridge has stood year after year, closed to all but pedestrian traffic, while tens of thousands of motorists and others have been forced to detour by way of West and Sixteenth streets to get to the baseball grounds and parts of the city northwest of there.”

The News goes on to mention that many times over the past four and a half years, attempts have been made to remedy the situation. Without result. Some of the blame was placed on pending flood control and prevention improvements to Fall Creek. Those improvements still hadn’t happened. The News was advocating for a solution to the bridge issue sooner than later.

And action was taken when Mayor Robert H. Tyndall cut the ribbon on 1 November 1944 to open the newly repaired Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek. Traffic could begin moving across the facility again. Trolley traffic on the Riverside line would start again on 27 November 1944. And everything was great. For almost six years.

The headline in the Indianapolis News of 24 March 1950 read “Indiana Avenue Bridge Out for Baseball Fans.” Simply, it meant that the old bridge over Fall Creek was closed to traffic again. The sticking point, again, came down to whether to spend $35,000 to patch the bridge, or wait until the flood control improvements made it a requirement to replace the bridge. The flood control project, which was estimated to be around $1,000,000, was still in the works as it had been since the early 1940’s.

As it turned out, less than a month later, the city council voted to appropriate $120,000 to fix the old bridge. This was required before bidding could begin on the the contract to fix it. It would seem that it would take longer than expected. It became a political issue when, in October 1951, just prior to the Marion County elections, the political party in charge was blasted for not taking care of a bridge that not only served baseball fans and residents of the northwestern section of the city, but served as an emergency route to Wishard Hospital, which sat just south of the bridge.

The Indianapolis Star said it best in the first paragraph of a story with the headline “City To Spend $120,000 For New Bridge” on 9 April 1952. That first paragraph read “the city is going to sink $120,000 into a new bridge which may be torn down within three years.” While Mayor Clark of Indianapolis was telling the City Engineer to rebuild the bridge, he was also telling the engineer to continue looking into getting Federal money to move Fall Creek 100 feet to the north as part of the flooding control and prevention program.

The flood control issue would finally be resolved in 1959. On 9 August 1960, the old Indiana Avenue bridge was closed once again, this time for good. The bridge was immediately closed and dismantled. It would be replaced by a four lane facility. The flood control project would also require the creek to actually move 100 feet to the north of its then current position, a rerouting of Speedway Avenue, to be renamed Waterway Boulevard, to a new connection with Stadium (Indiana) Avenue two blocks northwest of its historic location, and a removal of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive for the intersection at 10th and Indiana. (The old Torbett Street had long before been cut off from the intersection, becoming a driveway for the old YMCA that stood on the northeast corner of Fall Creek Parkway and 10th Street.)

17 July 1961, Indianapolis News

The new channel for Fall Creek and the new Indiana Avenue bridge was completed in July 1961, as shown in the above photograph from the Indianapolis News of 17 July 1961. The bridge would be opened to traffic as soon as reconstruction of the intersection at the southern foot of the bridge was completed on 1 August 1961. The below MapIndy aerial photograph from 1962 shows the reconfiguration of the intersection, the new location of Speedway Avenue, and the removal of the ends of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive.

1962 MapIndy aerial photo of the area around the Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek.

1850: Status of Railroads In Indiana

In an article published in the Indiana State Sentinel of 10 January 1850, the editors of the paper were lamenting the fact that, when it come to eastern knowledge of Indiana, the state basically did not exist. “When any person, other than a resident of the State, speaks or writes of the improvements and resources of the west, them make but one stride from Ohio to Illinois or Missouri, and step entirely over the State of Indiana.” The article goes on to talk about the great strides the state was making in manufacturing and agriculture. But a good deal of the article was shining the light of information on the 18 railroads that were in use, under construction, or under charter, in the state.

“The Madison and Indianapolis railroad comes first, as it was the pioneer.” The railroad spanned a distance of 86 miles from Madison to Indianapolis. Originally, it was built with strap rail, but that had given way to 60 pound heavy “H” rail. 56 of the 86 miles had been, at the time of publication, been replaced with the new rail, with “the remainder is fast being completed.”

2) The Shelbyville Road. Officially known as the Shelbyville Lateral Branch. It ran from Edinburgh, on the M&I, to Shelbyville. Its total length was 16 miles. By the beginning of 1850, it was in “successful operation,” having been built on strap rail 2 1/2″ by 7/8″. Its “successful operation” wouldn’t last long, however. Within the decade, the Shelbyville Lateral Branch would be abandoned.

3) The Rushville Road. This railroad connected Shelbyville to Rushville, a total of 21 miles. At the time, grading had been completed for the railroad, and was quickly installing the same kind of strap rail that was being used at the time on the Shelbyville Lateral Branch. This railroad would last into the Penn Central era, as it was part of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s collection of lines that bypassed Indianapolis to the south and east.

4) The Knightstown Road. This road also started in Shelbyville, heading off to the northeast to connect to Knightstown. The entire road was 25 miles in length. The official name of the route was the Knightstown & Shelbyville. It was well under construction in the beginning of 1850, and was receiving the same strap rail that was used for the two railroads listed above. This railroad had a shorter life than that of the Shelbyville Lateral Branch. By 1855, it was almost gone. And in 1858, an attempt to revitalize the road failed. From there, it just disappeared.

5) The Columbus & Bloomington Road. “Branches from the Madison road at Columbus, and it designed to run to Bloomington, 37 miles west, where it enters the great coal basin of Indiana. A charter for this road is obtained and a sufficient amount subscribed and guarantied (sic) to insure its completion.” I will do more digging, but I can’t see that this road was ever built.

6) Jeffersonville Road. Starting at the Ohio River at Jeffersonville, this railroad ran north 66 miles to Columbus, where it officially ended at the time. It was designed to allow traffic from the Jeffersonville to use the M&I tracks to Indianapolis. It didn’t happen quite that way. The M&I refused to allow Jeffersonville trains on their tracks, starting a disagreement between the two roads until the Jeffersonville just bought the Madison. The railroad, at the time of the subject report, was receiving its iron in the form of 50 pound per yard “H” rail. This road survives today, having been part of the Louisville line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Today, it is the Louisville & Indiana.

7) Franklin & Martinsville Road. The road that would be 27 miles in length when completed was only located at the time of this article. One half of the route was to be let to contractors in February 1850. The road went through some very hard times in its history. Including seven years of no trains running at all. Eventually, it would be extended to Fairland, and become the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville Railroad. It would become part of the Big Four, and, as such, part of the New York Central. But it didn’t make it past 1950. In 1942, the section west of Trafalgar was abandoned. 1950 saw it removed from service west of Franklin. The extension to Fairland lasted until 1961.

8) The Lawrenceburgh and Greensburgh Road. (Before you ask, yes that it how they were spelled then. The “H” was dropped at the end of the 19th century, with very few towns putting it back.) “Running from the Ohio River at Lawrenceburgh northerly to Greensburgh, a distance of 42 miles, is at present under construction. The road will ultimately be extended about 30 miles from the latter place to intersect with the Madison and Indianapolis road between Franklin and Edinburgh.” That forecaster route never came into being, as it was eventually built to Indianapolis via Shelbyville. It would become a founding part of the Big Four Railway, and survived through the New York Central, the Penn Central and into the Conrail era.

9) The New Albany Road. Starting in New Albany, the road was designed to connect Salem, Bedford, Bloomington, Gosport and Crawfordsville, a total of 120 miles. In early 1850, it was located and under construction from New Albany to Bedford, some 60 miles. Iron had been delivered to cover 18 miles of that distance. “This road will be in operation to Salem next spring, and to Bedford next fall or winter.” It would go on to become a major part of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville Railway…known to most Hoosiers as the Monon.

10) The Lafayette and Crawfordsville Road. This road was to commence at the end of the New Albany road mentioned above. It would continue carrying New Albany traffic another 28 miles to the Wabash River at Lafayette. It was nearly graded, and will “probably be finished next season.” It, too, like the New Albany road above, would form the backbone of the Monon.

11) The Evansville Road. This road was chartered to connect the 28 miles from Evansville to Princeton. It was speculated by the Sentinel that it would probably be extended another 28 miles to Vincennes, “from the latter place it will either run to Terre Haute, 65 miles, or direct across to Indianapolis, 110 miles, and will in all probability as the country becomes settled, diverge at Vincennes and run to both places.” The premonition came true, as railroads were built to both Terre Haute and Indianapolis. The road from Evansville to Terre Haute would become part of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois. The diverging route to Indianapolis would become part of the Pennsylvania.

12) The Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. “Commencing at Terre Haute on the State line of Illinois, runs from thence to Indianapolis, 72 miles, and from there 73 miles to Richmond, on the Ohio state line..” The first section, Terre Haute to Indianapolis, was under construction and would be fitted with 60 pound rail when complete. “The second division from Indianapolis to Richmond, will probably be abandoned, and the road diverted from Indianapolis direct to Rushville, and thence across to Cincinnati, via Hamilton, 110 miles, or from Indianapolis to Greensburgh, and thence Lawrenceburgh and Cincinnati, the distance in either case being about the same.”

There was a lot going on in that paragraph. For starters, yes the road from Indianapolis to Richmond was dropped. It would later be built by another company. In the end, it would become part of the Pennsylvania, just like the section from Terre Haute to Indianapolis. The Indianapolis-Rushville-Hamilton-Cincinnati route would also be built, by another company. This road would become part of the Baltimore & Ohio eventually, and formed part of CSX’s only non-former Conrail asset from Indianapolis to the east. The last route mentioned was added to the Lawrenceburgh Road mentioned five paragraphs ago.

13) The Indianapolis and Lafayette Road. Connecting the state capital to the Wabash River, and hence the Canal, at Lafayette, for a total of 69 miles. It was under construction in 1850, and was expected to be completed in 1851. This road would join forces with the Lawrencebugh road above to become a founding member of the Big Four Railway. It would survive into the Penn Central era, but not much past that.

14) Indianapolis and Peru Road. Another route to connect Indianapolis to the Wabash & Erie Canal, this time at Peru 76 miles away. Parts of the route, as of the time of the editorial, were completed using strap rail. “Some portion of it will be in operation next year.” The I&P would became, in its history, part of the Lake Erie & Western, part of the Nickel Plate, and in the end of its mainline life, Norfolk & Western. Parts of this line survive today.

15) Indianapolis and Bellefontaine. Covered yesterday in the entry “The ‘Bee’ Line,” the 83 miles from Indianapolis to the Ohio state line was under construction, and was said to be using heavy rail.

16) The Michigan And Ohio Road. There was a lot going on with the plan of this railroad, which at the time was just being surveyed in sections. Starting at Logansport, the road was to connect to Anderson on the Bellefontaine line. From there, it would connect to New Castle and Knightstown, where it would directly connect to the Knightstown & Shelbyville, thus creating a line from Jeffersonville and Madison to the Wabash & Erie Canal at Logansport. It was also speculated that the road would eventually connect Knightstown to Cincinnati. There are so many future railroads involved in this plan, I will be writing an entire article on this one.

17) Fort Wayne and Muncie Road. Connecting the Wabash & Erie Canal at Fort Wayne to the Bellefontaine road at Muncie 70 miles away. At the time, a charter had been obtained. A line along this route would eventually be built, forming the Nickel Plate line connecting the two cities.

18) Michigan Southern Railroad. The plan was, at the time, that the Michigan Southern would make a detour south at Coldwater, Michigan, forming a “not less than” 100 mile route through Indiana on its way to connecting Detroit to Chicago. The line would be built. It would become part of the New York Central System in Indiana before 1930 when the Big Four was officially absorbed. It still survives today as a heavily travelled route through Northern Indiana.

The article goes on to mention other forms of transportation in Indiana. But that will keep for another day.

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – New Lines, 1866-1870

Today’s “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday” focuses on

1866. The East Washington Street line commences service. The original length of the line only connected Illinois Street to Liberty Street (now Park Avenue). Service along this line was truncated to Liberty Street until 1883, when it was extended one block to Noble Street (College Avenue). Five years later, East Washington Street became one of the longest mule car lines in the city when it was extended to the new suburb of Irvington, going all the way out to Audubon Avenue, turning south to a turntable near the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that run through the town. Until this time, access to Irvington via street car was via the English Avenue line, which didn’t originally open until 1875.

The extension to Irvington of East Washington Street was due to its residents wanting a more direct route to downtown Indianapolis. I will get to the English route probably next week, describing the route that Irvington wanted to replace. The line was electrified in 1891. Two more extensions were added to the East Washington Line: in 1900, to west of Arlington Avenue; and in 1920, a purchase from the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company Richmond line extended Indianapolis Street Railways to Sheridan Avenue, where a “Y” turned cars around.

The last tracked street car to run along East Washington Street did so on 11 August 1950. This started a combination service using both trackless trolleys and busses.

In 1867, a new line was extended to the then new cemetery at Crown Hill, called the Northwestern Line. The line followed Illinois Street to 12th (21st) Street, crossed over to Northwestern Avenue, followed Northwestern to a spot where 34th Street would be later built. This line was a mule car line for its entire life, because it was completely removed in 1879.

Another 1867 line that commenced service was the Central Line. The start of this line is intertwined with the College Line, as it would for its entire life. In the beginning, it merely followed New Jersey Street from Washington Street to Fort Wayne Avenue. In 1888, the line was extended along Fort Wayne Avenue, then Central Avenue from Christian Avenue (11th Street) to a turn table at 11th (20th) Street. A short detour along Tenth (19th) Street to New Jersey would allow street cars to visit a barn facility located on New Jersey Street.

The line was rerouted in 1889, when it used Alabama Street from Fort Wayne to Home Avenue (13th Street), following Home to Central Avenue. Three years later, the Central line was again rerouted. This time, it would follow the College Line to 16th (24th) Street, turning west to Central Avenue, then north on Central to 26th (34th) Street. This was in 1892, the same year that the line was electrified. A loop was built in the line in 1894. The line was rerouted at the time, moving over to Central from College along the then Tenth (20th) Street to connected to the 1892 line at 16th (24th) Street. The loop then went west on 17th (25th) Street to New Jersey, and back to Central on 16th (24th) Street.

The last electric railed street car would run along this line on 20 March 1937.

1905 Indianapolis. Map showing the River
and Kentucky Avenue bridges.

Street cars would be added to Kentucky Avenue in 1868. The line was short: from the Louisiana Street barn to Tennessee Street (Capitol Avenue), then along Kentucky Avenue to Illinois and Washington Streets. The line was turned around, heading southwest from Tennessee Street in 1890. The line would end at River Avenue, which at that time was at the south end of Greenlawn Cemetery. This was located half way opposite of a point between what is now Merrill Street and Henry Street on Kentucky Avenue. The following year, the line was electrified. The last documented extension that I can find was in 1903, when the line crossed the White River on the River Avenue bridge (there was no bridge at Oliver Street), following River Avenue to Morris Street. I can find no more information on this line. It is entirely possible that it was extended, in 1914, to connect to the Indianapolis suburb of Mars Hill. But another line that started in 1881 might be the successor to this line. More research is needed.

The last line today is the Pennsylvania line. Started in 1870, the mule cars would run along Pennsylvania Street from Ohio to St. Joseph Street, where it turn west to Illinois Street for its trip downtown. 1873 saw the Illinois/St. Joseph turn removed, and the line wet north to Seventh (16th) Street where it turned east to Alabama. In 1891, the route turned north on Talbot from Seventh (16th) to a turn table at Tenth (19th) Street. 1894 saw the line electrified and extended to 14th (22nd) Street. The last car to use the rails would run on 18 July 1934.

SR 49 Bypass at Valparaiso

November 1947. The mayoral elections in Valparaiso have just finished, electing Elden Kuehl. This now first term mayor decides that traffic through Valparaiso needs curbing. He recommends that the Indiana State Highway Commission build a bypass of SR 49 around the city. State Senator John Van Ness goes so far as to initiate a feasibility study for the road. And there it sat.

Porter County has always had plenty of roads crossing it to the east and west. Into the Auto Trails age, this included the Lincoln Highway, which entered Valparaiso from the west, leaving via the northeast. But north-south routes were lacking. Valparaiso itself had SR 49 that went right through downtown.

Mayor Kuehl thought there might be a groundbreaking for the new SR 49 by 1950. As it turned out, in the 1950s committees were formed to try to create a route for a bypass. Some plans included using SR 149 to the west of town. But most of the attention was placed on an eastern bypass of Valparaiso. In 1960, then Mayor Don Will said the plans for the eastern bypass were on the drawing board with the state. He announced that before the Valparaiso Lions Club. Later that year, an official from the ISHC told the same Lions Club that “a 49 bypass was not that day’s answer for moving people through the city.” (Source: The Times, Munster, Indiana, 20 July 2003)

The project was still in limbo into the 1970’s when what would become the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission stated that they were trying to keep the bypass alive. A bypass of Chesterton had been built in relation to I-94 construction. In 1975, Governor Otis Bowen tried to put locals at ease by saying that the bypass was still a high priority, but that the Federal government places a rather large roadblock in the way. The Governor said that there were now 236 steps from start to completion required according to government officials in Washington, DC. Some didn’t see this as honest, since an eight year completion date in 1975 was the same period that the bypass completion was going to take since 1963.

The Times, Munster, Indiana, photo, 20 July 2003. Groundbreaking for the SR 49 bypass of Valparaiso.

That eight years was an accurate statement. On 10 June 1983, a groundbreaking was held to commence construction on the new SR 49 bypass east of Valparaiso. At the groundbreaking was the then Mayor of Valparaiso…Elden Kuehl, the man that started discussions on the project in the first place way back in 1947. It would be exactly six years later, on 2 June 1989, that the grand opening was held.

A reconstruction project on the road in 2001 turned into a two year project when it was discovered that the soil along the route was inferior when it came to road construction. Previously, craks were starting to form in the concrete as the sub-base of the road was being destroyed by the weight of vehicles using the highway. In 2001, the just poured road had to be ripped up and replaced due to the inferior sub-base. A one year, $12 million project turned into a two year, $18 million project.

US 52 at Lebanon

If you ask people that know (or even care), the Interstate system came into being in 1956 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the plan to create a system of controlled access highways that would bare his name later in time. But what most people don’t realize is that the first part of what would become part of that system in Indiana predates that law by half a decade. Although not originally built to be a controlled access highway, the US 52 bypass of Lebanon started in 1948 would eventually be added to what is now I-65.

Lebanon would be the next relatively large town on what, in Marion County, was known as the Lafayette Road. The original road’s starting point in Indianapolis has been moved several times. In the Auto Trail era, the section from Lebanon to Indianapolis would be part of the Jackson Highway. It would become, in 1919, the first state road added after the original five 1917 Main Market highways, as OSR 6. The original state road north of Lebanon was not included in the state system until 1924.

With the Great Renumbering, the old Lafayette Road, in its entirety, would become US 52. Between 1934 and 1938, it would also carry the designation US 152. (US 152 didn’t last very long. There is still a small remnant of this highway as SR 152 in Hammond.) As an aside, originally US 52 north of Indianapolis ended at US 41 at Fowler. US 152, in its short lifespan, would be longer (at least north of Indianapolis) than its mother road, as it ended in Hammond.

The route changed very little around the Lebanon area. Entering from the south on Indianapolis Avenue, then following Main Street to then use Lafayette Avenue north out of town. As the (still) most direct route between Indianapolis and Chicago, this route would see way too much traffic for Lebanon to handle. With the State Highway Commission putting a lot of time and money into the expansion of US highways throughout the state (US 40 and US 31 come to mind immediately), the decision was made in 1947 to build a wider US 52 around Lebanon.

Construction would start in 1948. There was an article in the Indianapolis Star of 28 October 1948 concerning the auto accident death of a man that was employed by the construction company that was building the bypass at the time. The accident would involve three tractor-trailers, a dump truck and two passenger cars. The man killed was driving the dump truck.

1950 Indiana Official Highway Map showing the new bypass of Lebanon under construction.

The Indiana Official Highway Map of 1950 shows the Lebanon bypass under construction. The route taken would completely remove US 52 from the Lebanon corporate limits at the time. The bypass would be shown as complete on the 1951 map, although it still shows US 52 as part of the state highway system through Lebanon. It would be shown this way until 1953.

By 1960, this section of highway become I-65 and would join parts of I-74, I-80, I-90 and I-94 as the first officially completed additions to Indiana’s part of the future interstate system. This section of I-65 would be shown from the Hendricks-Marion County line to the end of the old US 52 bypass northwest of Lebanon.

1960 Indiana Official Highway Map showing the US 52 bypass and first sections of I-65 built.

The northern end of the original bypass would have an exit built to US 52 according to the 1961 map. This would be the location where I-65 would aim more north than the old road. I-65 would roughly parallel US 52 to north of Lafayette, listed as under construction starting in 1966.

There were no more real changes to the routing of US 52 around the Lebanon area since. This section of US 52 joins a small section of US 421 in Marion and Shelby Counties as the only US highways in Indiana that were to become directly part of the Interstate Highway system.